Sunday, September 7, 2008

Stresa -- Sept. 7, Day 5

Today was Pavarotti Day in Stresa, the town just south of Baveno, where our hotel is located. The music of the late Italian tenor was playing throughout the town, the maestro's booming voice bouncing off the walls of the super-narrow paths between buildings. The music truly surrounded you as you walked. I would guess there are few things more Italian than listening to Pavarotti while enjoying a picturesque village on a sunny day (the rain, almost constant during the trip, didn't come until the evening ... with hail).

The atmosphere was lyrical enough that I'll fogive the town for including in the loop a version of Pavarotti singing We Are The World with a children's choir in the background. I do hope he earned a lot of money for that.

Stresa was a great little town. Wonderful food (I had the best plate of spaghetti I've ever had and Scott down a seafood pasta plate on the recommendation of one of our travelers that looked pretty spectacular). We took a boat over there this morning ... you can walk if you don't mind tiptoeing down a winding road for more than a mile without a sidewalk. In Italy ... that's not recommended, although the cars here are so small even if one hits you at full speed it might bounce off. Not that I want to test that theory out.

In Stresa, the shopping was good and inexpensive. Everyone I have to buy for (except my godson) got something. Even me. An Italian leather wallet for 20 Euros (about $35) was just too tempting to pass up. I didn't buy any foodstuffs, though, which is something I like to do during a trip. And I love pasta. Maybe in Como tomorrow.

After we got back, our evening started with a fascinating presentation about modern Italy led by Mara, one of our guides from earlier in the trip. It touched on economics (the Euro hasn't exactly been a friend to Italy ... prices have doubled, wages are stagnant), politics (more than 100,000 of Italy's people, more than 1 percent of the population, directly work in the government), society (the Catholic Church, long dominant, has been losing influence rapidly), and much more. Following that was a "meet the locals" panel discussion that included our travel director Valentina; Geno, an insurance adjuster; and his wife Christina, a nurse.

The questions from our guests ranged from how often Geno and Christina eat pasta (every day) to taxes (they pay too much), commutes (Geno, who works in Milan, often doesn't get home until almost 8:00 p.m.), the Mafia (much stronger in southern Italy) to government (a bit bureaucratic) and a lot more. It was one of the most enjoyable events of the tour.

For the first time dinner at the hotel inluded entertainment ... a piano player. The results were ... uneven. After running through the American Tourist Songbook: Georgia On My Mind, New York New New York, Can't Help Falling In Love ... our pianst pulled out Volare.


It wasn't as good as Dean Martin could do it, but I think he'd be proud. Pavarotti ... I'm not so sure.