‘… la bimba?‘ I look up. There’s a two year old in a pink bikini standing in front of me with an enquiring look on her face. I realise too late that she was asking me a question. I have absolutely no idea what the question was, but it seems she wants an answer. I’m stumped. I settle for saying ‘si‘ with a bit of an upward inflection and hoping that it will head her off at the pass. Nope. She repeats again, and again all I catch is ‘la bimba.’ Is she asking where my daughter is? I look confuddled. She tries another tack. ‘Dov’è il tuo amico?‘ Well, actually he’s administering an exam for my PON students in Scorrano today, but I have no idea how to say that in Italian, so instead I smile and tell her it’s just me. This, it appears, is not the right answer. She seems to feel that it’s a bit improper for me to be on the beach on my own. She may have a point, actually. I submit to her attempts to engage me in conversation. She’s now saying something about being sandy. I nod vociferously. ‘Si, si – sabbiata!’ She sighs and rolls her eyes at me. I’m not sure she’s realised that I’m English, as opposed to being very stupid, but she doesn’t seem to mind too much, and it’s good practice for me to have to speak to someone who gives no quarter.
She sashays over to her pile of plastic toys and returns with one as a gift for me. ‘Guarda! Pesciolino!’ I point out that it’s blue. She gives me an old-fashioned look. Ah. Clearly she knew that already. It seems she’s erring on the side of stupidity as regards her assessment of me, as she collects a second toy and waits for me to point out that it’s yellow. When I do so, she smiles proudly. Her parents, in the water, are giving me very disapproving looks, seemingly being convinced that I’m some kind of nutter. I therefore beckon the girl to follow me and replace her toys in the pile with the rest of them. Her mother, with a face like someone sucking a lemon, then summons her daughter. ‘Martina! Vieni!’ Martina isn’t too keen on this idea, being more interested in carrying on chatting to me, but her mother isn’t having any of it and swoops in to pick her up and wade back out into the water, where the strange NON-ITALIAN can’t corrupt her. I laugh inwardly and return to my book.
There’s another young boy and his dad playing on the other side of me. The little boy, I gather, is called Gianluca, and is having a whale of a time filling up a miniature watering can and then pouring the contents into a bucket. Sandcastles? Nah. Digging holes? Nope, not interested. Pouring water from one receptacle to another? BRILLIANT. Dad is going demented blowing up dinghies and armbands, but he’s wasting his time. Simple pleasures really are the best when you’re two.
A mum and her young son come onto the beach. It seems that this isn’t a planned visit, as she’s wearing high heels and his arm is in a cast. He’s desperate to go in the water, and she concedes, although fusses about him getting his shorts wet. He merely grins and rolls them up, negating her argument in one fell swoop. She shrugs and settles herself down on the beach to watch him paddle. In the meantime, Gianluca has bored of water transferral and has been coerced by dad into pottering about with a fishing net. There are, surprisingly, given that there are so many people in the water, some pretty big fish swimming about, but Gianluca isn’t interested in those. No, he wants the little black crabs scuttling along under the seaweed, and is concentrating on his task intently. Inevitably, the boy with the broken arm is desperately curious to know what’s going on, and creeps ever closer to try to catch a peek. Finally, he makes contact with Gianluca, and joins in the game. It transpires that his name is Tomaso. I know this because his mother shrieks across the beach at him when she realises that he’s getting his shorts absolutely sodden. She bustles over to tell him off and, realising it’s a lost cause trying to to keep them rolled up, whips them off him and lets him go paddling in his pants. It’s a disaster waiting to happen as regards his cast, of course. Five minutes later he’s delving too enthusiastically into the bottom of the fishing net and dunks his cast into the water up to the elbow. Mum, scolding fit to burst, drags him out of the water and off the beach. He trails, dejected, behind her, casting wistful glances back at Gianluca, who has forgotten him already and is shouting with glee at having found a big crab scrabbling around at the bottom of his net. Il bambino è mobilè.
Kate Bailward (aka Katja) is a trifle-hating, cat-loving English girl who moved from London to the Salento region in southern Italy in October 2009 to teach English. The Italians, meanwhile, taught her how to drive like they do – giving rise to her blog name, Driving Like a Maniac.
Having written for a year about living in the heel, in September 2010 she will be starting a new chapter in southern Calabria, and is thoroughly looking forward to discovering life in the toe.
Grazie mille Kate!
Next stop . . . Basilicata!