Saturday, March 24, 2012

Down(market) by the Sea


It's a poor man's Forte dei Marmi. Built as a port for the City of Pisa, Marina di Pisa, in the 19th century, had a period of affluence when the city was laid out in neoclassical splendor. But the dream quickly faded as the town went down on its luck and the future never delivered the promise of its elegant beginnings.

It's a place that's always intrigued me, however, because the city planner in me imagines a renaissance here whenever I come to visit. This is the road that runs along the sea and it's lined with good houses waiting to be gentrified. Some of them already are, in fact, but there's a mentality here of downmarket defeatism that's a lot harder to change than the windblown facade of an old building with good lines and style.

In the main square, facing the sea, is this wonderful old villa, for instance. It needs work, but even if you did it, then what? Look at the unfortunate park renovation it now faces!

Here's one that's just been done up—right across the street is a 180° view of the Mediterranean where on a clear day you can see Corsica.

And there are bits of beach, nothing great, but they're there.

And funny little old bars, like this one with the above described view.

At the north end of town is this old bar where locals like to congregate. Just beyond it is the massive redevelopment of the port, now in progress since 2009. There will be a new marina, shops, restaurants and hotels. Will we like it?

This street artist seems happy with things as they are—he's so hardened to the building site that he seems to see right through it.

We often end up at Oltre Mare, this sidewalk restaurant that looks out at the light-filled glimmering sea.

Let's just pretend that the cars and motorcycles and rocky breakwater aren't really there for a moment. That task completed, with ease, I find that a lunch here at Oltre Mare, on this sidewalk, in this odd and misbegotten seaside town, offers me all the joy and pleasure of its equivalent in Portofino.

There is no better plate of tagliatelle al riccio di mare to be had anywhere—we call them sea urchins in English.

And this fabulous fillet of a rather unusual wild fish called sciolina in a potato crust, divine!

And this just made yoghurt and zagare (orange blossoms) cake, fresh as the morning air—I love the Campari glass for the water, molto chic.


Tara Dillard said...

Been to Tybee island? Misbegotten. Wonderful.

When are you doing a cookbook?


columnist said...

The food you show rather more than makes up for the forlorn sense one gets from seeing the decaying town. At least in Italy forlorn and decaying is very often accompanied by bright susnshine and no clouds in the sky, so it all looks less worse.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Plenty of old and decaying architecture in Budapest, but we find it has a captivating charm. Perhaps this is rather like how you feel towards Marina di Pisa? And, honest food.....there is really nothing to beat it in our book!

Kathy said...

I would hate for you to see the seaside town that I live in, a southern "redneck Riviera". There is much to love. The Atlantic Ocean, Chesapeake Bay, and it's various river and lake tributaries surrounded by parks and beaches are the highlights. But the tacky hotels, t-shirt shops, and wild west photo establishments are a blemish on what could be a charming beach town. When I look at your photos, I see "sleeping beauty" waiting to be awakened by her prince. k

Emily said...

Oh, I agree with "columnist" the fabulous food photos make up for the weathered look of the town ;-) yum!!!!

Reggie Darling said...

I like you appreciation on your blog of both the "high" and the "low." It all comes down to authenticity, I think. Great job, Paul!

YONKS said...

All looks good to me! How can it not improve with that backdrop. Food looks delicious. I love the places you take us.

Michele from Boston said...

I agree with Reggie, the authentic will always be beautiful and worthy of note. I was in this spot in 1980. Not much has changed!

Joseph the Butler said...

Your photos make me just want to move there. And maybe the cold snap we're having in Chicago today plays a part too.

Jenny Woolf said...

Marina di Pisa looks like a relaxing sort of place, although I agree with you about the park. It's strange, isn't it, when there is so much potential that there should be so little imagination. How would you have it? I don't know what the local vegetation is but I find myself thinking of shade and trees.

Paul Gervais de Bédée said...

The only problem, for vegetation, is the fact that it is on the sea, with its winds and salt air. You'd be a bit limited in what you could plant. However, something very nice could have been done, using, perhaps, certain towns in the South of France as example. Thanks for coming by, Jenny!