Andiamo al Mare! Posted by Serena on Aug 13, 2010 in Italian Language
Eccoci in pieno agosto! (Here we are in full August!) and Italy is officially closed for the summer. L’esodo (the exodus) has left the cities abandoned to tourists, and families have packed their costumi da bagno (swimming suits), crema solare (sun cream), secchielli e palette (buckets and spades), teli da mare (beach towels), and ombrelloni (beach umbrellas) into their cars ready to brave le autostrade (the highways) which are heaving with millions of other Italians all with the same idea. Andiamo al mare! (Let’s go to the sea!)
From my own experience, which is mainly limited to the Tuscan and Ligurian coasts, the Italian beaches fall in two categories: le spiagge libere (the free beaches) and gli stabilimenti balneari (the bathing resorts), commonly known as i bagni. I bagni are usually delimited along the promenade side by a row of cabine (changing rooms) and docce (showers), which effectively blocks out any view of the sea to the passersby. Near le cabine there is usually a decked area with a bar, un tavolo da ping-pong (a ping pong table), and un calcio balilla (a miniature football-table). Last but not least there is la spiaggia (the beach) with neat straight rows of ombrelloni e sedie a sdraio (beach umbrellas and deck chairs), all color coded depending on which establishment they belong to.
If you are a day tripper and want to go to ‘uno stabilimento balneare’, you’ll have to pay for the use of the ‘ombrellone’, which normally includes two ‘sedie a sdraio’,. ‘La cabina’ comes at an extra charge, and a whole day on the beach can work out quite expensive. Italian families, on the other hand, who already live in seaside towns, normally rent the whole set (‘cabina’ plus ‘ombrellone’) for the entire summer season, which of course works out much more economical in the long run. Generation after generation are faithful to ‘their bagno’, and refuse to move to another one. When I was at university a friend of mine who lived in Viareggio, in Tuscany, was officially engaged to a guy from the same town, whose family went to another resort. She refused to go to his ‘bagno’, even just for the day: either he went to hers, or he would have to wait until the evening to see her!
By law il bagnasciuga (the waterline) is considered ‘free beach’, so if you like lying on a damp towel with your feet in the water and people walking over you feel free to do so, nobody can send you away and you don’t have to pay! If that prospect doesn’t appeal you can choose to go to la spiaggia libera, normally situated miles from any car parking, or facilities such as bars and toilets, and covered in heaps of rubbish and millions of mozziconi di sigaretta (cigarette stubs). Obviously there is a massive difference between the tidy ‘bagni’ and the chaotic ‘spiagge libere’: whereas the sand within the limits of the ‘bagni’ is sieved and combed every day at dawn, the ‘spiaggia libera’ is washed only by the tide, which of course simply adds fresh deposits of flotsam and jetsam to ubiquitous rubbish left by the day’s bathers. But despite the differences there is one element that is common to all Italian beaches (except those for the vey rich): i vu’ cumprà (vuoi comprare?, ‘do you want to buy?). This is the politically incorrect name used for "i venditori ambulanti" (hawkers), who are normally black African guys wearing four or five hats on their head, and carrying masses of sunglasses, beach towels, bracelets, watches, etc., and they tend to target single women who are less likely to be rude to them. If you are not interested in buying any of these cianfrusaglie (knick knacks), politely say: "No, grazie" (No, thank you), and intently stare at an imaginary ship on the horizon for a couple of minutes until they have disappeared.
Of course, if you know where to look, or have insider information from the locals, there are some nice little free beaches or rocky coves to be found. But in order to find them you will have to get up to speed with your Italian!
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