When I first started going to Rimini, Viareggio and other classic, working class Italian beach hot spots I was seventeen and I couldn’t stand it. There were thousands, millions of well oiled Italians stuffed into deckchairs, underneath zillions of umbrellas that lined hundreds of miles of beachfront. I found it shocking that you actually had to pay a daily rate for your patch of sand and that your patch was connected to the water and the cafe bar by a plastic runner. Imagine, paying for the joy of going for a surf? How can people possibly be charged for swimming?
It’s been several summers since I’ve enjoyed a classic Italian beach holiday and the scenery and customs have not changed. The Senegalese still roam the lines of deck chairs with Prada and Gucci handbag knockoffs, ready at a nod to lay out their blanket and display their wares. Little men still call ‘cocco bello!’ – ‘beautiful coconut!’ as they push their cart through the sand (only I saw a motorised one yesterday). Men snap photos of couples and babies then pass you their business card in the hope you’ll pop by their shop later and buy a print. Chinese women stroll by offering neck and shoulder massages. Moroccans duck around you with arms like coat racks, full of cheesecloth beach dresses. Young Bangladeshis approach my teenage kids with books of henna tattoo designs. The beach in Italy is not peaceful, is not quiet and most of all, is not natural. The beach in Italy is like the rest of Italy, a frothing, bubbling black market playground, where a Euro can be made and taxes avoided – as long as you’re quick and adept at rapid fire sales talk.
So Riccione hasn’t changed much. But I have. I am no longer insulted by the incredible comfort offered to families on Italian beaches. I like the comfort now, I don’t resent it. I’m not the sarong-wearing, rebellious Aussie body surfer I used to be. I’m the lady with the big hat and sunglasses, sipping a Spritz whilst browsing a magazine. I still begrudge the 36 Euro a day for my two recliners and umbrella, but, hey, it’s a double recliner! I can lie next to my twelve year old son and cuddle up to him because that’s what all the Italian mammas are doing. Nonnas are cuddling their granddaughters and nonnos are kicking a ball around with their grandsons. There’s such a family vibe here, it’s incredible. Now, I’m OK with Italian beach life. It’s only taken my thirty-three years to get the hang of it.