Okay, I’m going to try to describe what I have just experienced without going over the top with superlatives and exclamation marks. I’m not going to write in capital letters, but if it were socially acceptable, I would. That’s just how excited I am with what I have just seen.
My Italian friend Stefania told me, “I want to take you to beautiful Nemi. If you leave Rome, you might never get the chance to see this village. It’s the best place for strawberries in Italy.”
I thought: Okay, sounds good. But we’ve got lots of places known for strawberries in the U.S.
We drove through mountainous winding and narrow roads, where thankfully everyone stayed in their own lanes. We found a place to park without too much trouble and began to explore.
A few shops sold cutesy strawberry items like necklaces with a resin hanging strawberry and matching strawberry earrings, or tea towels and magnets.
Stephanie bought me a silver bookmark with a strawberry charm attached to it. She said, “Please remember Nemi and me. Put this bookmark in the book you are writing about Italy.”
Nemi is such a short, unremarkable name for a village; it deserves a much more dramatic name. Its location is most dramatic, perched up on a hill overlooking a caldera forming a lake that the ancient Romans considered lovely enough to dedicate to their goddess Diana.
The emperor Caligula of Rome during the time of Christ built boats here and sailed them in Diana’s honor. When he was assassinated, his ships were scuttled to the bottom of the lake where they resided until they were finally brought back to the surface by order of Mussolini.
There are so many cafes and restaurants and trattorias in Nemi to sit and observe the spectacular view—an inspiration for any writer. I wanted to station myself there with my laptop and spend the rest of the day.
Someone else inspired by Nemi was Lord Byron. I found a street named after him and also this bar. I’ll definitely try to learn more about this.
I went in my first cured meat shop called a norcineria.
They sold long sausages called “Palle del Nonno” which can mean Grandfather’s stick or Grandfather’s ___. (You get it.)
They also sold “Coglioni di Mulo” which means “Mule’s balls,” which you can see hanging behind the sign in the picture.
For sale were these lovely fresh fruit bowls along with some of their wild strawberries, sweeter than any you’ve ever had. Then we bought some homemade custard tarts topped with berries that were almost, I say almost, too pretty to eat.
Store owner and artist Santino Lenzi beckoned me to come in his shop “Nemus Caligula.”
He said he had a surprise for me. I want to assure you that under normal circumstances in the U.S, I don’t go into stores where owners tell me they’ve got a surprised for me. But I’m in Italy. Stefania and I followed him. He took us down a long cave dug into the volcano dirt. I love surprises like that!
I had a train to catch to Pistoia, so we reluctantly left Nemi. On the way to the train station in Rome, we stopped off at an outdoor farmer’s market “Mercato Contadini Castilli Romani.” We stuck up a conversation with Antonio from Sicily who sold cheeses he made himself. He gave me a delicious fresh mozzarella ball.
Right next to the cheese stall was a table to purchase homemade wine for 2 euros a liter. I didn’t take the time to taste it, and now I wish I had.
All this beauty and fun before noon. What is my afternoon going to look like? It seems to me that God is handing me the gift of enjoyment of life right now.