November 22, 2017 | Rome, Italy | °C

Ostia, property of Papà

By Marco Lori
Published: 2016-08-22

Next up we waited for the flags, a ritual on most any public beach. Green meant safe, yellow meant pay attention, and red of course meant dangerous waters. About nine out of every 10 times we went the flag was red, even if the sea looked like a pond.


Tenuta di Fiorano is run by the noble Boncompagni-Ludovisi family.

Years later I found out why: no one ever wanted to bother changing the flags. They just left it red to cover for anyone's mistake. Never mind that parents took it seriously which made for hundreds of glum if not sobbing kids. My father was open to compromise — at least from his perspective. So long as the waves topped out at height of a book he'd let us wade in, though we couldn't move more than a few feet laterally. Making a hole near the umbrella and filling it with buckets of water was just about the same thing.

Once we'd planted the umbrella and furnished our sandy mini-home, my father would pull a lounge chair and take up all the available shade. I'd run back and forth to the water's edge with my brother and little sister. Of course, my mother watched us like a hawk. I never saw her wade in, not once. She couldn't swim. That of course didn't stop her from dispensing detailed advice on swimming techniques. She'd always be holding the towels, and after we'd spent about 10 minutes in the water she'd start screaming that it was time to come back in. She usually had several explanations, which she alternated: she'd heard there were sharks around (at Ostia?), there was a dangerous undertow, and, our favorite, our skin — horrors — was getting wrinkled. If we didn't get out we'd stay that way for life.

I honestly think she just got tired of watching us running around and wanted to sit down under the umbrella. Not to mention the fact that my father was hungry.

In fairness, so were we. I mean we'd been exerting ourselves for 10 whole minutes. The problem with eating, and we all knew this, was that once you committed that risk act you couldn't even think of getting anywhere near water for at least a day.

Why? Well, according to that generation (and the custom persists) you need to sit still for four hours, the time it takes to digest your meal. Anything less disrupts digestion, and it doesn't matter if you've had two cookies or a plate of pasta: digestion is digestion. Ignore it and you take your life into your own hands. Swimming too soon after eating is almost as dangerous as going into an air-conditioning room after sweating. This is skull-and-crossbones, die-on-the-spot stuff.

It also happens to be a myth. Otherwise my American wife and two sons wouldn't be around to frolic, and they are. But childhood lessons run deep. I may not wait four hours after eating a cookie but I do wait three. In my Ostia-memories mind, five minutes too soon can mean goodbye cruel world.

So in those days we waited. We'd have our slice of pizza and park ourselves under the umbrella for, yes, four hours. That was about the length of my father's post-lunch nap. But four hours also meant we'd reached the end of our beach day. If we didn't leave according to the master plan, we'd get stuck in traffic.

These days when we go to the beach I love watching my two sons frolic restriction-free. Now I'm the one under the umbrella with the newspaper. I'm also the one who's just finished a giant plate of pasta. Now I'm waiting for my four hours to start.

I was recently invited to a wine tasting at the U.S. Embassy. I was surprised that the featured vineyard was one I'd been meaning to visit to for a while. Tenuta di Fiorano is on Rome's doorstep, the Appia Antica. It's owned by the Boncompagni-Ludovisi family, which has a longtime noble (and papal) lineage. Tenuta di Fiorano-Fiorano Bianco 2013 (Viognier 50%/Grechetto 50%; Vol. 13.5%; € 25) is a straw-yellow wine, robust and intense. Its aroma ranges from yellow peaches to cocoa, pineapple to almonds, closing with a trace of grass, flintiness, and licorice. To the palate, it's full-bodied, intense with intriguing traces of Mediterranean minerality. The finish is fresh, acidic, and salty. This is truly fine wine.

Since we're in summer, and I've been writing about the seaside, I'd pair the wine it with fish or grilled oysters, the kind of food my mother never brought to Ostia. Maybe they would have taken a year to digest.

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