I just lost a toe nail. The second one from the left on my right foot. It had a long and bravely fought battle with my walking boot on a recent three-day hike. I almost thought it might hang on, but alas, it came off at the beach on Sunday near San Vincenzo where we were camping for the weekend. We gave it a full sea burial in the Mediterranean - nail varnish and all.
San Vincenzo is an hour South of Livorno and we got there by taking our bikes on the train. Moving around by bike is especially handy on the coast because each weekend in the Summer every Italian drags his kids, dog, mother-in-law and collection of sunglasses and speedos to the seaside. Everyone drives there, so no matter what direction you arrive from, you end up stuck in sweaty traffic jams both on your way there and back. When you eventually get to the beach you have to find parking, which is almost as much fun as crawling down the Fi-Pi-Li motorway towards the sea at 10kms an hour for 6 hours with all your friends, family, neighbours and colleagues in the overheating cars all around you.
Another oddity about the seaside in Italy, is that the coast is lined with private beaches. You have to pay for the use of a sun umbrella and sun loungers and, unless you're Fabio Briatore and can afford a place in the front row, you usually end up in the middle of rows and rows of identical sun umbrellas and sun loungers, surrounded by other people and far from the sea. To put it bluntly, people go from their cramped hot apartments in the city where they are surrounded by neighbours on all sides, to a cramped hot space on the beach where they are surrounded by people they don't know.
This isn't a problem for most Italians though because (a) there's hardly any concept of personal space here and (b) they just love the sea, il mare. Just say the words 'il mare' and most Italians get this misty look come over them. It doesn't matter if the only sunbathing space is a jagged 40cm wide rock, as long as you are at il mare.
There are also only two tanning options during the Summer months here. Golden brown or dead. If you're not tanned then you better spend the Summer hiding in a cupboard, or at least have the courtesy to look sheepish around your mahogany-coloured superiors. Don't get me wrong, I love having a tan, but it's such hard work for me - being so pale and English - that most years I don't bother. The down side to this is that so many people, including complete strangers, have a habit of staring at you and exclaiming,
'My God, you're so white!' As if they've just found out you have some terminal illness. Mention premature aging and skin cancer and there's a general kind of fingers in ears and shouting 'lah-lah-lah-lah I can't hear youuuuuuu' response.
Anyway, our cycling weekend at the beach was a success, despite being the whitest creature on the beach; despite the tent nearly taking off during a wind-storm at 5am Saturday morning; despite nearly getting lost in the dark in the woods when my other half coerced me into a bit of off-roading (my poor bike, my poor knees); despite cycling 10kms on a busy main road at midnight with no proper lights; despite whacking myself between the eyes with the head lamp while trying to read my trashy Vampire lit in the tent and most of all, despite losing my toe nail. RIP.
After all, (see a misty look come across my face) I just love the sea.