When I was exploring Italian towns, rarely were my eyes afforded the opportunity to look down. So there I would be, practically tripping over my own two feet as I navigated blindly over the lopsided cobblestone streets that were positioned below, and thus outside of, my allowable range of vision. The truth is, there was so much to see and I had only two eyes to see it all with! Tripping would have been but a small occupational hazard to my wide-eyed marveling of the details around me.
Residents of whichever town I was wandering were surely observant of my unsure-footedness and probably had to take a few extra strides around me as they passed to account for my noticeable weaving. I of course, didn’t have time to notice my impact on the foot traffic… I was too busy looking at the buildings, the markets, the colors, the road signs, the mountains…
As I sidestepped, miss-stepped, spun around, and sauntered on in my mesmerized state, I often wondered to myself, where in New England could I bring a native Italian to inspire such a state of amazement? The quaint piazzas and ancient architecture that made my jaw drop were little more than the familiar backdrop of their daily lives. Surely they appreciate the beauty of their home country, but not in such a way that they were walking along like me, in what could be mistaken as a drunken stupor. So, where in Northeastern America could the scenery captivate an Italian’s attention to this extreme?
Having returned to the States, this very question often makes me notice little details in my surroundings that might be different enough to be intriguing to an unsuspecting Italian tourist… the set up of our neighborhoods, the usefulness of a cul de sac, the abundance of stop lights, the height of a skyscraper, the novelty of a 24-hour convenience store, an IHOP breakfast. I am also more aware of things that are the same, like many of the store names that were directly extracted from Italian vocabulary. A boutique called “Bella”, a spice and olive oil shop called “Gustare”, a restaurant called “Papa Ginos” (okay, not so much this last one).
Beyond spotting cross-cultural similarities and differences since coming home, I often find myself saying, “I bet an Italian would like this” about things that might be appreciated by a foreign visitor. Say for example, when I am eating my grandfather’s signature barbeque ribs, sipping an oversized coffee from a travel mug, or grocery shopping in the middle of the day. There are also many places that I’ve visited since my homecoming that have inspired this declaration and thereby reminded me of just how beautiful New England really is. Most recently, there’s one destination that I’ve found myself thinking all Italians-in-New England should see…
For the past six weeks, we have been staying at my husband’s parents’ home on Cape Cod since I can commute from there to my summer teaching position outside of Boston. The commute isn’t easy, but coming home to a house a few steps from the beach certainly lessens the burden. The more time I spend on the Cape, the more I come to understand why hoards of vacationers are willing to battle unavoidable and unrelenting traffic to get there on any Friday night or Saturday in the summer only to battle it again on their Sunday afternoon or Monday morning return trip. Quite simply… it’s worth it.
So, what makes the Cape so special? Well, there’s the charm of the towns and the beauty of their beaches. Consider Sandwich, the town in Upper Cape where I am currently boarding with my in-laws. This town is more residential than some of the more popular Cape destinations like say, Hyannis or Chatham. In Sandwich, you can drive along 6A and stop at countless little restaurants, ice cream spots, and jewelry shops. There are several old buildings that stand as beautiful reminders of colonial America. There’s a farmer’s market on Wednesdays and a tiny farmstand that offers delicious ears of corn and a fresh selection of vegetables daily. The homes epitomize oceanside New England living… Cape style constructions with sand dollars adorning paned windows, and “Life’s a Beach” décor signs situated next to blossoming hydrangea bushes in the gardens. Not to mention that most of the sideroads branching off of 6A end at a quiet beach. The ocean, too cold for a girl who grew up swimming in lake water, is nonetheless refreshing. It is clean and clear enough for our dog to perfect his new trick of retrieving rocks from underwater.
Each town along the cape has its own qualities, but they are all characterized by a similar feel to the one described in Sandwich. Even the “touristy” spots along the water maintain this personality. Families flock to Chatham, for instance, where the downtown is always bustling with shoppers and outdoor patios are the place to be for grabbing a late lunch. Lighthouse beach is speckled with sandcastles, sunbathers, and the occasional Frisbee throwers. Seal-spotting (and, as of recent years, Great White watching) is a popular tradition.
Wellfleet is another excellent spot along the coast where the waves are high and the sand dunes are higher. A drive-in theater allows for a fun evening excursion, and a beachtop restaurant is another excellent spot to relax under the sun.
A unique and appreciated component of the Cape is its paved and bike-friendly rail trail. Outdoor enthusiasts can park their cars in Dennis and bike to Wellfleet or Chatham and beyond. And the list of outdoor activities available in this seaside escape goes on…
Yes, the Italians have the Cinque Terre, five towns which are among the most beautiful I have seen in Italy. But I bet that any Italian would look at the simplistic gray-shingled homes set against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean with the same awe that I took in the colorful Italian villas set in the forefront of the Ligurian Sea.