A Paper Chase Along Italy's Riviera

Morgan of La Jolla is a nationally known magazine and newspaper writer

We eased our rented car into a slip of shade near a statue of that Italian wanderer, Christopher Columbus, who stares in perpetuity at the Mediterranean from the esplanade at Rapallo.

Amid a month of Renaissance marvels and gustatory thrills, of Byzantine mosaics and fine chamber concerts, this day in Rapallo was special. It was a vacation.

It was a day in which nothing was planned, or even contemplated, except to drive along the crinkled coast from the pines and cypress of Portofino to somewhere less heady to buy a copy of the International Herald Tribune, that English-language informant that is marking its 100th year.

Our interest in a newspaper brought a patient smile and slight shrug from the concierge at the Old World Hotel Splendido.

"Will they never learn to relax and enjoy life?" he may have been thinking. Instead, he mentioned Rapallo.

Facing the Season

Other guests on the lush hill above Portofino were turning to face the season, to pull on wide straw hats and translucent robes and sit in elegance on azure tile terraces that matched the sea.

They had no work; they arrived with golden tans. They were reading glossy magazines, if anything at all.

Our interest in the Paris-based Tribune was for baseball scores more than world news, which we could pick up on the British Broadcasting Co. I did not confess to the courtly concierge.

So we drove along the villa-studded Riviera. The sun was soft, the sky was limpid. It was between noon and 3 p.m. when we parked in Rapallo, during the quiet hours when most civilized Italians close their shops and offices and banks and museums and head home for lunch and a nap.

Rapallo is a small, self-effacing city, where in early May couples in jeans and long sweaters amble on the beach. No one was yet in swimsuits, or out of them, but their faces tilted upward to greet the sun.

Pizza in National Colors

Sidewalk cafes were open, though not yet bustling. At the Cafe Vesuvio I ordered a pizza Margherita , with tomato, white cheese and basil, which reflect the national colors.

The waiter volunteered that Margherita was Italy's first queen. I also learned that l'acciuga means anchovy, which may be a more lasting culinary lesson.

The casual search for a newspaper led through hotel lobbies and newsstands and bookstores in which all pointed to the railway station, often the place of last resort for a journal in English.

On the way back to the car, newspaper in hand, we bought a cone of creamy gelato. We took a photograph of the statue of Christopher Columbus. We rolled down the windows of our car and read the Herald Tribune. Our teams had lost.

But this was a vacation. We did not cry.

We shrugged, smiled and turned to the comics. The concierge at the Splendido would have been proud.

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