Italy was very relaxing – primarily because it downpoured nearly the entire time. The rain climbed into my luggage at JFK and when I unzipped my bag in Italy, it jumped out to follow me through my entire 10-day vacation. It rained over the hills of Como and into the city of Milan, to the Alps in Switzerland where it froze into the season’s first snow, and fell in spectacular lightning storms over the Mediterranean in Tuscany.
There’s not a lot to do when it rains except stay snug indoors, eat, drink, and occasionally bundle up and dash between sheltered areas. So that’s what we did.
However, it briefly wasn’t raining when I first arrived in Como. We dropped off my luggage and after a simple ricotta pasta with Fabio’s parents, took off in the mini 4WD to his house on the other side of the lake. Our mission was figs. The fig tree was producing fruit for the first time and Fabio waited for my arrival to pick them. This was not out of kindness; it’s because he is a fig snob and these were lesser figs. He spared the tree so I could try them, eat them for a season, and then chop it down.
We grabbed a plastic crate lined with newspaper and headed straight to the top terrace of the garden, which means zigzagging back and forth. After feeding on a long summer of sunshine and thunderstorms, the garden was like an overrun Mediterranean dinosaur land. Everything was lushly unkempt and growing over and between the stone steps with Frisbee-sized leaves sprouting out of holes in the stone garden walls.
As we walked up the path, Fabio suddenly stopped, staring at some pale green Dr. Seuss-ish golf balls with fuzzy spikes. “Nooooooo. It’s too early!” he said as I kicked one with my Adidas. “They look like sea urchins.” With a cocked eyebrow, Fabio said “They’re chestnuts.”
He picked up a stick and using it and the toes of his shoes, worked off the green husk to reveal shiny brown pods. “They must have been knocked down in the storm last night.” Working our way up the path and under the chestnut tree, we gathered about 40. When I picked one up with my bare hand, it turned out they were not fuzzy, but painfully spiky like an angry porcupine.
We climbed to the top terrace and the fig tree, which wasn’t much taller than me with its hand-shaped leaves. We picked one that was already splitting its sides and broke it into halves to find a gorgeous ruby red interior. But there’s no Tuscan sun in Como to carmelize the insides to sweet jammy goo. Only one summer of Tuscan figs and a winter of his mamma’s fig preserves had spoiled me for anything less.
As we deliberated over whether anyone we knew would eat these figs, raindrops started to fall between the leaves. We ran down the path as the rain picked up pace, then into the house, and up the stairs, throwing open the balcony doors to lay on the bed, catching our breath and watching the boaters darting inland from the rainstorm.