Comgli for delicious pasta and complicated conversation
Joseph is roughly the same age as me, 65 give or take a few months.
We met at University, what feels like aeons ago now. We weren’t even great friends at that time, more like acquaintances. Somehow though our paths continued to cross throughout the next few years, until we discovered that we were suddenly the best of pals.
Still – he had neglected to ask me of the reason why I had thrown my most precious belongings in my car and driven 800 miles to stay with them for seemed like an indefinite period. No queries were forthcoming, Joe preferring to keep to the tried and tested mode of masculinty: simply ignoring the elephant in the room.
Rather predictably it was Maria who, after a couple of days had past with relative ease, slyly suggested a little sojourn to the neighbouring town of Camogli.
Joe was out for the day, playing chess in the park with some fellow retirees.
“Whenever he comes back, he always reeks of cigar smoke. He tells me it’s always them, but I’ve known him long enough to know when he’s lying.”
We set out before midday, driving along the 227, the gorgeous road set in the cliff face of the Portofino coastline. To my right lay the glittering Ligurian Sea, to my left was Maria amiably chatting away to herself, as she was wont to do – lithely avoiding any of the intrusive questions that I knew lay in wait.
Maria was a good decade younger than Joe and I.
At the age of 54 or so, you’d be surprised how much difference that can make to one’s state of mind, never mind the state of one’s body.
She’d only stopped teaching English a few years ago and was still enjoying the challenge of retirement. The house that she had inherited from her Mother had come to her and Joe at the right time, allowing them to move out and enjoy the good life as soon as they finished work. I’d been to visit them a number of times since and had always been a little jealous of their relaxed domestic bliss.
The coastal road soon gave way to the hilly sprawl of Santa Margherita Ligure.
Then it was up and up, through the narrow curves of the town and into the hills, over to Camogli – one of Italy’s best kept secrets.
This village shares much in common with the wildly popular town we’d just driven from – a gorgeous harbour, a thriving fishing community and quintessentially Italian rows of multi-storied houses. However, the defining difference between the two is the world hasn’t heard of Comogli yet, preferring to remain distracted by the starry inhabitants of Portofino.
I knew Maria’s motive of stealing me away for the day.
She intended on pulling at the loose threads of my thoughts that were so evidently in disarray. However, she made a good show at pretending that it was the Spaghetti Aglio Olio e Peperoncino served at Pasta Fresca Fiorella that was really her main agenda.
There are few things that you must eat if you are spending any amount of time in Italy.
The pizza. The gelato. The pasta.
I’ve not yet learned the fine art of making my own pasta and I certainly won’t be learning, whilst I’m staying with Maria and Joe. The artisans at Pasta Fresca Fiorella prepare fresh pasta for cooking at home, as well as serving food to the customers in their restaurant and the hordes of hungry beach dwellers.
Us English have done our best to bastardise the Italian pasta classics. Dolmio pasta sauce for our bolognese. Double cream in our sickly microwave carbonaras. And tinned ravioli, of all things.
Our stunning disrespect for their culture has not deterred them however. Simplicity is at the heart of these dishes, with only a handful of ingredients artfully combined to create a delicious whole.
For Maria’s favourite dish, garlic, chilli and olive is thrown together with spaghetti. Much like her own prying questions, the execution is key here.
Cook the garlic and chilli for too long and the dish will be acrid.
So it follows, if you hastily probe a 65 year-old man going through a very late mid-life crisis, the answers you receive will also be decidedly bitter.