Condofuri Marina is a tiny holiday village on the southernmost tip of Italy. The toe that pokes into the Ionian Sea, it's a place for locals seeking refuge from Calabria's intense summer sun. Look west across the Messina Straits and you see Sicily, with the menacing Mount Etna standing tall, and out of sight to the east is Greece. Out of sight but definitely not out of mind for Condofuri is part of the community of villages that is Bovesia, one of the two regions in southern Italy where Calabrian Greek can still be heard. You can read it on the road signs too, sandwiched between Calabrian and Italian. Italian is at the bottom of the list.
"Are you nearly here, my friend? Loredana and Delfina will come and get you." Osvaldo's text welcomed me as I unpacked and within minutes Lori and their daughter Delfi arrived at the hotel, welcoming me like family even though we'd never met nor spoken before. We - I was visiting with Rita Vita Finzi, who'd travelled down from the north of Italy - worked our away along a single dust-covered track to the little house a kilometre away where Osvaldo and his family were staying. And there was Osvaldo, just inside the house on the other side of a sliding door, wearing a smile I'll never forget. We hugged and talked. And talked some more. He lit a pipe. Soon I met young Davide and his collection of sports car books.
For dinner we had a beautiful barbecue of fennel-infused sausages and grilled vegetables before going to the front porch where each of us had a chair that leant right back so that we could stare upwards as dusk turned to darkness. We talked and joked until midnight (Osvaldo: “In Napoli, when they see a red traffic light they say that it's just a suggestion!”), drinking limone granita chased down by the local liquorice liqueur.
The next day I wandered down the stony beach that dropped steeply into the clear blue sea. The stones were hot - way too hot for the too-soft soles of my feet so I disappeared off to a local shop in search of a pair of cheap snorkeling shoes. When I returned, Osvaldo pointed out the largest yacht I've ever seen, berthed out on the horizon. Apparently Flavio Briatore is married to someone from Condofuri and he was in town.
Osvaldo had a large blue chair with JOB written on the back and its big fat plastic yellow tyres meant we could roll him directly into the sea where he'd float in comfort. When it was time to go, the big guy from the little house next door would put Osvaldo back on his chair and pull him all the way up the steep slope of the beach. It looked so effortless that I knew I could do it too. For sure I could. Couldn't I? Unfortunately, no... One step up the slope, two steps back down again. Osvaldo laughed. And Loredana helped me out.
On our penultimate evening - a very, very special evening - Marco Brambilla and his wife Sylvia arrived from Milan. Dinner was at a local restaurant called Bergamot - 80% of the world's Bergamot is grown in Calabria - and we enjoyed trippa (tripe) and capra (goat), sitting in the open with bergamot perfuming the air. Across the courtyard was a 19-strong group of partying locals. A man sang along to a computer generated soundtrack (and an echo on his mike) while the rest of them danced, including a rotund 60-something woman whose light blue, crisscross-strapped dress hugged her large stomach so tightly that her belly button was outlined for all to see. She danced with everybody - including a chair - and laughed freely.
As we left, Osvaldo - happy as happy can be - danced a little jig and waved his crutches in the air.
He was free as a bird.
He is free as a bird.
Vola solo chi osa farlo - Only those who dare to, fly.