Passeggiata is Italian for a leisurely evening stroll along a promenade or through the streets of a town or segment of a city. Although I have travelled extensively throughout Italy, the first place I really became aware of it was in Forte Dei Marmi, a lovely seaside village on the Tuscan Riviera. Every night, sometimes before dinner, but generally after, everyone – visitors and locals alike – go out for what my grandfather called an evening constitutional, a meandering wander through the cobbled streets of the town center, peering in shop windows, meeting friends, admiring new outfits, exclaiming over babies, petting dogs, and licking Principe’s homemade gelato coni. It’s easy to do because cars are blocked from streets, allowing the entire pavement to become a pedestrian zone inhabited by people of all ages.
The shoe stores are stuffed with young women trying on new stilettos while their boyfriends stand, smoking, laughing, and jostling each other outside the movie theatre marquee. Nonne e nonni sit on benches placed conveniently under the trees around the pony cart track or near the Museum of Satire and Caricature, gossiping as they watch their nipoti run freely, chasing each other or weary pigeons. Some of the elderly locals prefer to sit or stand on their tiny balconies overlooking the restaurants on the square, sipping small glasses of homemade wine and watching the show, occasionally poking one another and pointing at an especially interesting scene. Others laugh and call down to friends and family, enjoying the opera della strada as much as the participants.
Italians get dressed up for passeggiata – short, tight dresses with sky-high heels and lots of gold jewelry for the women and colorful silk or linen shirts for the men. The tourists are easily spotted since they are usually wearing shorts and sensible shoes accessorized by colorful, polyester fanny packs or rucksacks.
After six knee surgeries I can no longer toddle around in my highest Louboutins all evening, so I usually wear flat sandals. Other than that we do as the Italians do. We walk slowly into town from our hotel by the Tyrrhenian Sea, dawdling at shop windows and chatting with other visitors and locals. We often head to our favorite pizzeria where the owner always squeezes a dime-sized table onto the pavement for us and begin our evening of eating and watching everyone else doing the same. Sometimes we eat outdoors at someplace fancier, like Il Gatto Nero, where the food is different but the process remains identical. After dinner we begin our progress, wandering slowly through the streets, stopping at the newsstand for OK and Hello and The Wall Street Journal, then hoping to be lucky enough to snag a little table at Principe for dessert before we pass by the pony track, silent now of equines and children, then cross the main road and wander home on the ocean side, hand in hand, under the canopy of stars, while the incoming tide sings in basso profundo on the sand.