An odd sequence of church bells this morning.
They toll three times. It’s the three-quarter hour, I think. It must be 6:45. Then come five more bells. A pause, then five more. If it’s code, I can’t decipher it.
It’s a summer morning in Pesaro. These are the cool hours in the hot season, mid-July, with more hot and much hotter on the way. It’s been in the mid to high 80’s along this part of the Adriatic coast. We’re heading for 90’s this weekend. Headlines say it was 104F in England yesterday. Headlines say a deadly heatwave has descended on Europe. France and Greece are on fire. In a message from home, I read: “We’ve been watching the news. Are you okay over there?”
Still okay. Very okay.
Around 10:30, after lazing over coffee and brioche, we will go to the beach and stay there all day. But first I decide to go out and look for the church of odd bells.
Down one of these side streets, Tizi and I went with her cousin and his wife to a concert, a recital of all brass instruments, in a small church, an obscure church. That was 40 years ago. That church, I think, could be right around the corner. Maybe it’s also the odd-bell church.
On Via Giovanni Bovio, where I think it must be, I stop a man and woman walking toward me, “Excuse me. I just heard bells,” I say. “Is there a church nearby?”
They look at each other and consider. Maybe San Francesco? They point, away from the sound I heard.
“Altro?” I say. Another church?
Maybe San Giovanni Battista? Go to the end of this street and then go straight. If you hurry…
It occurs to me they think I’m looking for a service. Looking for bells that announced the morning mass.
I thank them and continue walking, in the direction of San Giovanni Battista. They’ll be happy to think they’ve nudged me in the direction of salvation.
Along the way I exercise my Italian, stopping more people.
There is an art to the stop, I’ve learned. You are, after all, a stranger. And they are, after all, going about their own personal business. One year in Venice I shoved my head inside a flower shop and said, Hey, can you tell me where Trattoria Marisa is? The proprietor, who was in mid-conversation with another person, cast a withering look at me. “Excuse me,” he said. “In Italy we say buongiorno.” So now, always, asking for help, I begin with an apologetic gesture, then offer my buongiorno or salve, which I think comes from God save you, or in my wife’s region, the very short, very sweet buon di (bon DEE.)
I know this area of Pesaro, vaguely. My walk this morning is both church search and general reconnaissance.
Is there a market nearby, where I can buy milk and eggs? (I stop and ask twice, to make sure I’m going the right way.)
Will it be open at this hour? (I stop and ask twice.)
Can you tell me where the old fish market is?
What time does this coffee bar open?
I get friendly answers, sometimes long, sometimes, from older men, in the local dialect. People are nice if you try to not be a jerk. (I read recently about Americans’ belief that the French, and especially the Parisians, are rude. The writer made a point of saying that when Parisians greet each other, they say buon jour. It makes a difference. If I ever get to Paris again, I’ll test that theory.)
I find San Giovanni Battista and keep going. People fly past me on bicycles. Another morning, I tell myself, I’ll get out early on my bike.
Pesaro is a city of bicycles. It says so on signs at the city limits.
When I remarked on it once, a friend said, “For me, the bicycle is all about good health, about well being.” Another day a friend describes Pesaro as a city of fifteen minutes. Wherever you are, by bicycle you are fifteen minutes from everything.
In 2005 Pesaro began paving bike lanes along major routes, as part of a European initiative called Bicipolitana. There are now almost 100 kilometers of bike paths throughout the city. “Bicycles,” the Bicipolitana webpage reports, “represent 28 percent of urban mobility in Pesaro.” You go to work on a bike. You go shopping on a bike. You go out for coffee or to dinner on a bike. There’s no search for parking, no fumbling in your pocket to find a two euro coin to pay to park. A bicycle culture cuts down on both air and noise pollution. The city looks different when you’re on a bike. Friendly.
In the past, I watched people zoom around Pesaro as I walked. Here with her family for six weeks, my daughter rides a bike, with one of my grandsons behind her on a seat; her husband rides a bike, my other grandson rides. And this trip, courtesy of my niece and her husband, I have a bike.
We ride five minutes to the sea. As you get close to the water, you feel the cool air coming ashore. The city is flat and the riding is easy. When you ride, wherever you are but especially next to the sea, you are your own self-contained air conditioning unit. From the kids’ apartment, it’s fifteen minutes to the beach.
All summer the Adriatic coast is umbrella-ville. Tens of thousands of umbrellas, white, blue, green, yellow, red, orange. We go to Bagni Bibi, rent one of their orange umbrellas and a couple lounge chairs. There’s a bar (drinks soft, medium, and hard; snacks, ice cream), an open-air restaurant; lockers, showers.
You park your bike, lock it, and hang out. Bibi is a fifteen minute ride down bike lane 2. Whereas the tourists stay in the big hotels back toward town, down the coast, at Bibi and other bagni, the locals come in droves on bicycles to stay by the water and beat the heat. The social traffic and civility you see in the Piazza del Popolo, in centro, you see down the coast at Bibi.
Weekdays in July the crowd is light: senior citizens, grandparents and grandchildren, moms and kids, dads and kids, some lucky ones like us, temporary residents with our lucky kids.
The open-air restaurant provides shade and a quality lunch the locals can reason with: pappardelle, gnocchi, ravioli, fresh swordfish and tuna, cold white wine.
Men standing knee-deep in the water, arms folded across their chests; women resting on lounges soaking up the sun—ask them, they’ll tell you, like the bicycle, like the good food, the beach is fundamental to their health and well being.
Most of the locals are scary tan, dark from years at the beach. For them sun and sea is a way of life, a life-long habit. Italians speak of la malattia del mare, the obsession with being at the beach. As in, He could have worked in Bologna but he has the malattia del mare.
How much longer, you wonder, can they keep it up? How much longer will any of this last?
The next morning I’m on the street at 6:00. It’s a 65 degree ride, so cool down by the sea I wish I had a jacket. As I work my way back toward the apartment, I cruise the old streets and find it, on Via Petruzzi. Chiese del Nome del Dio, del sec XVII, the 17th century church where we heard the concert 40 years ago, by the looks of it still going strong.
You want a good thing to last.