sea of tranquility: dinner party

It is my belief that anything done well in this world is a balancing act.

It's like magic: someone, an individual or a team, are working very hard to make it look effortless.

And nowhere is that more apparent than at the perfect dinner party.

And no one on this planet makes the more perfectly effortless dinner party than my friend Maryann Kissane.

I don't know if it's because she's half Italian, or because the other half is Irish, or because she was smart enough to marry Jim. But mainly it's because she's an extraordinary woman. She's a still waters run deep kind of woman, who thinks about food, plans ahead, makes lists. But she's flexible. She adapts. She delegates, especially when her friends like Debi and Eileen are such good cooks, too. She's got the balance just right.

Because once the guests arrived, she can listen, with that infinite grace that all women long to possess, and few can. I've never known a couple with more capacity of joy in their lives than the Kissanes.

Maryann and I met when we were 18 or 19, before this photo was taken, before she met Jim and had Julie and Ben, on a semester abroad, in Copenhagen. We travelled together, with other friends, and somewhere between Italy and Greece, we became like family.

And then they bought the mill, in Tranquility, New Jersey, spent ten years renovating it, while Jim built his architecture practice, living in the farmhouse on the property, keeping baby Ben from managing not to kill himself while helping Daddy hammer and saw (I remember once, telling Maryann a story, with Julie, who couldn't have been more than four, waiting for me to finish because she was taught it's impolite to interrupt adults, and when I was nearing the punch line, she finally blurted out, 'Mom, Ben fell in the river again.')

I met my future husband during those years, and would escape the city - New York City - jump on a bus and an hour and a bit later, be in paradise for days on end, running from the inevitable conclusion that, while not as perfect as Jim (who is, really?) he actually was my own particular knight in shining armour.

Now their kids are grown, and are in new romances of their own, and somewhere along the way, we've been sailing together and becoming close with their friends, their extended family.

And in the summer, whenever humanly possible, we convent at the Mill, on the river, and feast until the sun goes down. And then linger, long into that magic hour, over grilled meats and vegetables, baked brie with honey and nuts, freshly baked foccacia with blackberries and rosemary, strawberry salsa: whatever is abundant, and fresh.

Then when it is still dark, the fairy lights come on, and the magic begins.


golden slumbers

A kind of sweet irony: my theme for today's post was photos of Ischia bathed in golden light - because after all, that's all that summer holidays come down to, the cool blue of water, the warmth of the sun - and then the start of this song made me cry. Once there was a way to back homeward.

Sad beyond words that we won't be going home this summer. There will be other beaches, other pools, but still.

All shot at the Hotel Vittorio, Maroni Beach, Ischia. As before. And hopefully, again.


two mexicos

One old (James Taylor), one newer (The Staves).

Both nice.

Shot at Hotel Vittorio, as before.


juxtaposition: vesuvius

Juxtaposition: the ferry ride to Ischia, with Mount Vesuvius, and the rock formations, born of volcanoes, on Maronti Beach in Ischia, at our lovely Hotel Vittorio.


room with a view

It's the strangest feeling.. we're back home in London (a lovely city, don't get me wrong) but I feel like our ghosts are still haunting room 205, at the Hotel Vittorio (on Maronti Beach, Ischia, as previous post).

Our deck - as with all the other guests - was large, big enough for deck chairs and a table, lots of space to sunbathe, but we were always in water: the sea, the warm natural pool, the hot hot pool - all natural mineral spa water, no chlorine (I will never again consider any other 'spa' the real thing, because it's not).

Our view, from left to right. That's one of the guests, the lovely Miriam from Milan, waving. She always wore orange and hot pink - one of my favourite combinations - and became a kind of muse.

Second in my Vittorio series.


hotel paradiso

We have found, simply put, the best holiday in the world. Two words: Hotel Vittorio.

On Ischia, the Italian island near Capri (but better, less touristy), Hotel Vittorio sits on the most private end of the best beach on the island - Maroni Beach - like a white cruise ship, growing out of the volcanic cliff it nestles in. Everything: dining room, every room, has a deck facing the sea. Imagine, if you can, layers climbing up: sea. Sand. Next layer: deck. Glorious pool, naturally warm from thermal, volcanic water - with the kind of minerals people pay good money to bottle and put on their skin (our skin, as Katrina put it, became 'like a baby's). Then, behind the pool, the even hotter pool, shown above - a kind of hot tub, in a grotto. Sauna. Every kind of spa treatment you can imagine (my husband even did the natural mud - the 'fango' - top to toe).

Then layering up and up, three floors of rooms and decks, all with a view. And the most amazing Italian cuisine. Delightful staff, and guests who get it. As people arrived, bear hugging the staff, it was often difficult to tell who were guests, and who were old friends. As we soon learned, it's the same thing. We were the only English guests, and it didn't matter. Soon after our arrival, I started feeling Italian. Swimming in that glorious sea, then the pool.. to wake by going to the sauna, the sea, the hot tub, then the buffet breakfast.. peaceful, blissful days into nights, just the sound of the sea, always the sea.

Perhaps we were lucky: the weather was perfect - not a cloud in the sky, average about 88 fahrenheit - and we had the loveliest neighbours on deck next to us, Katrina and Hubert, from Vienna, who have been coming here every year for twenty years, and who are now our good friends. In fact, we're hoping to time our next trip with theirs. But who knows: we might not be able to wait a year. It was so easy to do - a quick hop to Naples airport, then a lovely ferry ride over (I love being at sea) that we might just do it again this summer - or September.

There is so much more I want to say about this magic place, and especially, all the photos I will share with you. This is a start.

This is paradise.


something tells me we're not in kansas anymore

We're off to Italy! Ischia, actually. With camera. So setting this in advance, hopefully when you see it, we'll already be there. Really into the concept of travelling light, not checking any baggage.. oh and we're leaving at 3:00, so just hope the alarm works.

This isn't Italy, btw. It's Venetian Pool. As before. 


magic water

When I was a young girl, in awe of something (I was awe struck a lot - still am, actually) and I'd say to my dad, wow, it's Magic. And he - an early childhood science education professor, who wrote books called Teaching Science Through Discovery, would smile and say 'It's Science.'

Perception is everything.

When we were at Venetian Pools, in Coral Gables, this winter, I was watching a young man showering. I'm older than him, and - he had appeared out of nowhere, it seemed - I realised he was probably the age my father was, when we first came to this seemingly magical place. I hadn't yet been to Italy, but it was like a Hollywood version of Italy, in the middle of a suburban neighbourhood south of Miami, created by architects in 1923, out of a coral quarry. And as I looked at the shower itself, the wabi sabi way it has aged so beautifully - beautiful decay - I realised that this is the same shower that my mother probably helped my younger sister, my younger self, rinse off when it was time to go.

This was the same shower my dad would have used.

It felt sacred, this water: swimming in it, bathing in it. After all, we're mostly made up of water. We're all connected by water. Which is, if you think about it is quite magical.