Life Aboard LULU

September 4, 2011 (Never a Dull Moment on LULU)
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The other night here in Elba (a delightful surprise of an island) we meet a Northern Italian chef (fat and jolly) at a troppo (means very, here in Italy) gourmet restaurant (foams and nitrogen and troppo teeny portions.)


He tells us we absolutely must taxi over to this nearby farm (these days called agriturismos), where they raise Chianina cows. (They’re apparently white is all I can figure out) and they grill Fiorentina steaks...


And we always listen.  (You gotta kiss a lotta frogs, and now cows, too.)


So, despite a fabulous lunch where I indulged in a brand new pasta dish—Penne al Pistacche (pistachios, touch of cream,  hint of basil, handful of pancetta, maybe a dollop of sautéed onion, what could be bad?)



—we taxied, as instructed, over to the agriturismo, name of Sapereta.

Here’s our report on Chianina beef: our pastas were delicious.

The steak, which was tough, can be compared favorably to Tad’s Times Square. Tasty, we’ll give it that, but no Sparks or Morton’s or Wollensky’s—or even Keen’s. And of course didn’t lay near Luger’s.

Billed as a kilo (2-plus pounds) we were afraid to add an appetizer to our 2 pastas and so we left, if not quite hungry, then unsatisfied.


Some next-day Googling and I discover Chianina are not only white, they are big and strong with big muscles, making them very useful to farmers over the centuries as work animals. Note, not eating animals. Hefty muscles are not really what you want to be sawing through in your sirloin.

So if Chianina is Italy’s answer to Japan’s Kobe, they’ve done some job of branding.

Can we safely call this bullshit?



Do not jump to the conclusion  (just because you know us) that our lives consist of  nothing but cruising from spaghetteria to pizzeria to trattoria, slurping up gnocchis and vongoles and washing them down with Montalcinos and Proseccos,

We also have some washlng-down to do onboard. So after this particular Big Binge Day we settle into a day of serious caretaking. Probably no one will feel too, too sorry for us but stop and think about it. When’s the last time you cleaned the outside of your house?  And waxed it too?

And don’t forget LULU’s a big lady.

Standing in the dinghy I wash the hull, while speed boats zip by in high gear; rock and roll—61 feet x 2 sides. Then I polish the metal—61 feet x 2 sides. Then I wash above decks—61 feet x 2 sides. Plus wipe her all down because the dirty marina water left her all spotty. Then I wax everything white above-decks and cockpit—maybe only 50 feet x 2 sides.

No sympathy yet? Maybe you’re right. Because I was at the very least outside, in the fresh air. Gary got the far nastier job.

Without cover of a telephone booth, without, in fact, a slinky Superhero uniform to slip into, he leapt into his alter-ego role of



Though I wasn’t really privy (pun intended) to the ins and outs, it’s a malodorous day of—well I’ll just let him take over here:

“Boat toilets are very sensitive. Since they just don’t drain into a central city sewer system, all the processing is done in-house, as it were. Our system on LULU is vacuum-powered, that is, when you step on the flusher pedal all the “insult” (as the diaper companies so delicately call it) is sucked into the vacuum tank under our bed. (Only some people lose sleep over this.) Then it’s pumped into another processor and finally gets pumped overboard where the fish also poop.

Now, all these places and pipes and pumps have a propensity to clog…and they do. The first task for Toilet Man is to determine where in this elaborate system the constriction might be. Usually guesswork. That offending plumbing section must be disassembled and cleaned. If Toilet Man guesses wrong then another part of the system must be dissected and curettaged, and again and again until all is well in poopie land. Experience usually leads Toilet Man to sniff out the offending elbow or valve after only one or two attempts. But not always.

Sometimes it’s a broken part, of which we keep many spares, but not always. Broken parts are always in the thick of the problem. Toilet Man goes with the flow, and flow we must.”

I fear Toilet Man is being unduly modest here. He has not mentioned the entirely unstoppered nose, head plunged deep into dark and fetid crannies, the ungloved hands—since his fingers must be available to sense the glitch in the clogged part, and the calm, equanimity and good cheer with which he goes about this entirely repugnant task. Me, I’d be whining, groaning and retching,

Suffice it to say, he did get the tee shirt.

Me, if I did this job I’d expect a tee-ara.

Any of you with art departments want to improve on my homemade efforts, feel free.

The day after the big cleanup we leave Porto Azzurro bound for Portoferraio just around the corner.  A few miles out we see a large military helicopter closely following a small speedboat about 100 feet above the boat, making a great deal of noise. We know something’s up.

I happen to be iPhone-chatting with our SALTY DOG friend Margret, who happens to have satellite TV. Later she calls to confirm our suspicions. An aquatic drug bust yielded 300kg (660 pounds) of heroin.

And we were right there. The COSTAL Nostra is alive and well in Isla Elba.




Description: C:\Documents and Settings\The LULUs\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\Content.Word\DSC00189.jpg


If you’re thinking I’ve gone camera-crazy and this is a shot of the pretzel bow pulpit before repair in Sardinia, you’re sorely wrong. This is the new scoliotic bow pulpit. The Alghero-straightened pulpit lived just 3 short weeks and we now have an addition to the category, Never-A-Dull-Moment-On-LULU.

Just as we reached a possible lull in the scarafaggi war, we hit a 20-foot sea buoy on the way to Viareggio. The newly un-bent pulpit is now re-bent. Anchor likewise bent. Front toe-rail missing some cosmetic (and safety) chunks. Fiberglas under anchor not pretty either, both sides, down to waterline. 

And you should see the other guy.  (Message: don’t tangle with LULU—unless of course you’re a cockroach.)

As our friend, Mike said, “That was no sea buoy, that was a no-see buoy.”

So as we schlep ourselves into the Viareggio harbor, naturally somewhat rattled, we of course forget the warnings of both chart plotter and friend Paul about shoals at the entry.  And promptly go aground—with a small contingent of onlookers ashore doing what onlookers do best.

We then try to pull up to the free sea wall. No room. Either side. Then the dockmaster at the marina shoos us away. No room at the inn. Ditto the Coast Guard. We can’t anchor—bent anchors don’t grab.

Suddenly I remember we’ve ordered a water-maker motor from one of those honcho yacht agencies in Viareggio. Viareggio is the center of shipbuilding for titans like Benetti, Perini Navi and Mangusta. I call and in 10 minutes we‘re tied up at Lusben, a yard where these super-yachts are refit and repaired. We are a mere crumb on a wedding cake compared to these babies, which boast sticker prices of 50- to 100-million dollars.  Maybe more.

There will be no problem repairing us here. Our deductible of $10,000 (!) will, maybe, cover dockage. Our insurance company is Pantaenius. We’re hoping they can afford this yard. I begin to worry about an insurance company with every vowel in its name but that very significant 0 you find at the end of $$$ signs.


Cruising in our current state of disrepair is out of the question.  Viareggio is unheralded by guidebooks but cognoscenti tout it for seafood excellence. With little else to do we’ll take drown our sorrows in vongolis, calamaris and scampis.

Da Cicero is highly recommended. The Spaghetti a la Scoglio (clams, mussels, calamari) is great and the mussels are among the freshest and plumpest I’ve ever tried.  But the grilled dorado is actually overdone. When I tell the waiter he says, essentially “Signora, “alla griglia,” as if grilled is something only a Martian would order. You should have had it “al forno.”  Duh, so why didn’t you mention that?  You thought I spoke only Martian?

Really annoyed, I gather my resources and Google-Translate into my iPhone,

“We’ve eaten grilled fish before. This fish was cooked too much.”

Unfortunately translator programs do not deliver Italiano hand shrugs or Jewish sarcasm or my-ex-husband’s devastating “I’m pissed.”

All I get in return is the un-sorriest “mi-dispiace” I’ve ever heard. If we were any of the obvious heavy hitters surrounding us I’m sure we’d’ve gotten a giant ugly monkfish (in Italian pescatrice) which goes for around a 100 euros, and a fine bottle of prosecco.

We’ve got a lot more fish to fry around here. And, tough luck, a lot more time to do it in…



The insurance company sends adjusters to assess the damages, haggle with the yard over costs, to ultimately settle on an acceptable package. This will take time.

Gary expected getting us whole again would come in significantly under our deductible but within hours the estimate approaches $40,000. (Remember here the Euro reigns, we’re in super-yacht, super-profit territory and on top of that the Italian government requires a document which, translated roughly to English estimates the risks, both on land and on shore, of having work done to the boat. Like what—should it topple over onto the tarmac at the stroke of a paintbrush?


This piece of fluff costs 1,500 euros—$2,200. 

Moreover this document gets printed and charged out twice if we leave the yard and return. I begin to wonder if the Brother Printer Company is a Sicilian operation.

Repairs can’t go forward without insurance company approval, so we buy a new anchor. The yard straightens our anchor roller and patches the hole in our starboard side, so we’re safe to travel.  Gary pulls back the bow pulpit best he can. We’ve got a Hebraic hook nose and we’re sure not pretty, but we can cruise for a week or so.

LULU assumes genetic makeup of her owner

No repairs for another reason. No one works in Italy in August. Everyone’s on holiday.

It’s called Ferie (pronounced FEHRR-ee-ya.) All the beach towns we visit are crowded with the workers we’d prefer working on our boat.

A word about Italians and their beaches. Italians do love their beaches. You see the results nightly in the honeyed cleavages and chestnut calves appearing in slinky dresses and skin-tight miniskirts.

The problem is there are no beaches as we Americans know them. The Italian coast is rocky, the available sand minimal, and for the most part black and gritty. Umbrella cities stretch for miles. Some even more crowded resemble refugee camps. Your next-door neighbor is inches away. You need a GPS to make it to a bathroom and back.


Virtually anything is called a beach.  Narrow strips of gray pebbles or golf-ball size stones are beaches. Any flat wall can be a beach. People throw their towels down on sidewalks. You see them spread-eagled on hillocks of sharp rocks. Actual cliffs function as beaches.




You wonder after a day lying on these “beaches” how these people can walk at night, but it does go a long way to explaining how the women manage to glide by cobblestones on stilletos …and riding bicycles.


We take ourselves first to Portofino, Gary’s fantasy of “returning to Italy,” the charming little seaside village where he spent his honeymoon going on 50 (!) years ago.  Today Portofino gets a ferry a minute, teems with tourists, is home to Gucci, Pucci and teeny 600-euro metallic disco bags. We drop into a café for a spaghetti lunch that rivals the cost of the boat repair. One fantasy checked off the list. But we get the picture to send home.

We return to Santa Margherita, where we remember a lunch in the town’s sole café, high over the water There we first tasted the dollar-a-bottle local table wine—now the famous upscale Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. And today Santa Margherita is a big, big city. But it’s fun to anchor there in our own sailboat, despite the rolling that eventually drives us to another port.




Like it was yesterday, 48 years ago we spoon-fed him Gerber peas and carrots. Today he spoon-feeds us restaurants.

Almost wherever we go our son Bobby, has a food we need to eat, a restaurant to try, a friend to meet—or all three. While in Sicily, he zipped us an email recommending a drive past Ragusa to the unheralded village of Chiaramonte Gulfi so as not to miss Majore, which turned out to be a yummeria specializing in only pork dishes.

This tight 25-mile coastal area we’re cruising now is no exception. Here we need to visit Forti dei Marmi, and eat at friend Luca’s beach club, Bagno Silvio. Most important, we need to eat panigacci (something mysterious and terrific, something about meats, something about cheese, something about some kind of bread—just go eat it. It’s found only in La Spezia and he can’t exactly say where. Just ask friend Franco, who owns a bar called Cicciotto in Portovenere, a town we must, must visit anyway.

Now, no cruiser goes to La Spezia, unless he has to. And only by bus—it’s got no real anchorage. But for panigacci, whatever it is, if Bobby says so, we go. La Spezia is sort of on our way.

But Franco speaks not a word of English. And Italian, much less my telephone Italian, isn’t up for complicated conversations…

While we’re in Portovenere we should try and meet Giuseppe, another friend. Maybe Giuseppe speaks English? No luck.

Okay, so I phone Franco and tell him I’m the madri di Bobby. 

“Ah, Bobby!!!” (Bobby must’ve downed many a limoncello at Franco’s bar.)  Somehow I explain I want to eat panigacci…(Probably not a request he gets daily, I can almost hear the flailing of arms.) But Franco rises to the occasion. “Panigacci? La Grigliata, seguro, La Grigliata!”

I call La Grigliata.

“È aperto per pranza?” (Are you open for lunch?) I manage, straight from trusty Google-Translate App. “Sì,” someone tells me.

We motor to La Spezia, anchor in the non-anchorage, hoping the Guardia Costiale will not tow us away in this (hopefully) hour-long snack detour. 

We can see the closed gate from across the piazza.

Apparently my telephone Italian has failed me. They must have answered “NON aperti per pranzo.” But how could I mistake a Non for a Sì? I wonder.

Just another case of Italian son-worship.



Franco welcomes us with open arms and brimming wineglasses. Then takes us by the hand to Tre Torre, the best restaurant in this fairytale-perfect fishing village-cum-hill town, with red-and-white banners festooned from colorful buildings, massive gray protective walls and a Rapunzel castle above all.




We are seated on a pleasant terrace no more than five minutes when a man appears behind me just outside the window and taps me on the shoulder. It’s the smiling Giuseppe, holding a 3-pound fish dangling by its tail. He’s brought it for the madri di Bobby and he’s going to have it cooked.

“Alla griglia?” I ask.

“Al forno!”  (What’s wrong with me? Have I entirely forgotten my Martian lesson courtesy of that contemptuous waiter in Viareggio?)

As we finish our pasta the fish appears surrounded by potatoes, carrots, onions and zucchinis.


Served by another dish, also perfectly delectable, as far as my husband is concerned.



From Portovenere we ferry to the Cinque Terre: five villages, dating from 643 AD, hewn from the forbidding mountain rock terrain by the hill-dwelling settlers themselves over centuries. More than 8 million cubic meters of sandstone made habitable with no concrete mix, no heavy machinery, no cranes.

Each quaint, colorful, cobbly, churchy, sometimes even castled, and now-thoroughly restored village climbs its own steep hill up from its port.


But these are still working villages. Above them the land has been, over the millennia, amazingly terraced, layered and contoured with low stone walls into fields, gardens and vineyards that today produce fruits, vegetables, focaccias, pestos, some fine Cinque Terre white and dessert wines. Most of the villagers seem to be elderly, bench sitters gossiping among themselves, unfazed by the tourist hubbub.




The Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has no roads, is linked to the rest of Italy solely by ferry or by a single 19th century railway burrowing through the mountains from La Spezia. Villagers and more intrepid tourists hike a 12 km trail, in parts steep and strenuous that was once a mule path.

We walk, not hike, along the baby-step Via dell’Amore running along the cliff from the first village, Riomaggiore, to the second, Manarola, then ferry to the fourth Vernazza, passing the third, Corniglia, which is inaccessible even by ferry.  There we enjoy a scrumptious lunch, high on a terrace under blue umbrellas.


                                    Via dell’ Amore                                                   Lunch on the Cliff



We rent a car and  make a dinnertime run to La Grigliata for panigacci.   We’ve gleaned only that panigacci are these baked things that meats and cheese are plopped either into or atop. We arrive before La Grigliata opens and walk around back. There see dough being mixed in 5-gallon paint drums with huge electric drills. Okay, so we’re not drooling yet.

As they open we watch small dough dollops poured into shallow ceramic dishes, shoved into the wood-burning oven, emerge toasted, get popped out and stacked up. The panigacci?


But no one speaks enough English enough to communicate complicated procedural information. We order our panigacci and are soon delivered an appetizing plate of assorted salamis, hams and prosciuttos, along with a soft white cheese. Next, some hot, crispy pillows— hard-to-ignore pastry We not sure these aren’t the panigaccis themselves.

So we fill them with the salamis and prosciuttos and slather them with the cheese, which melts into the hot crispy dough. Yum. But then someone brings over those discs from the oven—the real-deal panigacci—and then there isn’t much meat and cheese left. We had no idea we’d shot our wad and aren’t getting any more.

For us they’re not going to replace Spaghetti Vongole.

But we only think we’re finished with the panigacci mission. Becaue next we stumble on another panigacci manifestation in the Marble Mountains around Carrara.

We’ve now decided the local specialty may be a peasant v. aristocracy thing. Down in the valley (La Spezia) among the peasants it’s the La Grigliata do-it-yourself affair. Out of the fire, slap ‘em on the table—warm if you’re lucky—with plates of meat and a slab of cheese. Nothin’ wrong with that.

But some 20 miles away high up in Castelnuovo Magra, where the aristocrat landlords presumably lived, the tradition’s entirely different. (And no less authentic, according to the former grandees.)  Up there, the panigacci are crepe-like affairs: lighter and thinner and ready-to-eat: sprinkled with expensive oil and dimpled with a complex cheese, possibly aged Parmigiano or Pecorino. Or spread with perfect pesto. Very yummy. Not going to replace Spaghetti Amatriciana either, but closer.



We tour the surrounding mountains from the water, which resemble snow-capped Alpine ski trails. But these are Carrara’s famous white marble quarries. We drive around, getting fabulously lost on steep roads until we happen on the incredible view we’re seeking—high above the quarries.




We drive to Genoa.  Bad, bad move.  What we find is a fake pirate ship built for some Roman Polanski epic we’ve been lucky enough to miss—so far. (Cruisers sometimes run out of movies...)


Otherwise Genoa is a ghost town.

Big cities are what all Italians workers desert to enjoy Ferie at the beaches. We can’t even find lunch. We drive from Genoa’s famous waterfront—the seedy sailor back alleys and the completely sanitized urban-renewed docks, around the big piazzas and rococo palaces, through the shopping streets and out to the suburbs for two hours trying to find lunch.

At first a recommended lunch. Then a good lunch. Then just any lunch at all.

Just two McDonalds. Only thing open is Eataly, which if you’ve been hiding in middle America or the Caribbean is a Mario Batale (famous New York and Cooking Channel chef) extravaganza that brought to America typical Italian street markets, salumerias, frommagerias, pizzerias and spaghetterias under one enormous and thrilling roof in lower Manhattan. But which is totally dull and superfluous in Italy.

Who needs a big box concept store when the concept is reality everywhere you look?

Truth is, we do this particular Saturday in Genoa.  Other truth: the food is dull, lifeless and uninspired.

“Eataly is Italy” is their slogan. Hardly.  For us “Big Cheataly is Eataly.”


Returning to the boatyard to fix the damages from that rambunctious sea buoy, everybody’s still at the beaches. We’d been promised plenty of workers but really why would the best people be working during these plum vacation weeks? We find a skeleton crew—with pretty much skeletons to do our work, says Gary.

But first we get hauled. The biggest lift LULU’s ever seen is a 100-tonner; Lusben’s is 600 ton, could lift, say, a ferry boat. Its wheels are taller than any man. LULU looks like a kayak dangling in its slings.



We move into a comfortable one-bedroom crew apartment, not a luxury hotel, but overlooking the harbor in the yard’s work area. Actually LULU is directly under our terrace, so we can watch the work being done and also the work not being done. We are the only sailboat here. All the other yachts are at least 100 to 300 feet long with crews of up to 15.




Now, as part of the insurance coverage, we are allowed a cost-of-living stipend while off the boat. This is to pay for the apartment and meals and laundry. That’s nice.

But the rules are nuts….We are permitted to spend and be reimbursed for, up to $5,000. But for only one week: that’s one week: seven days and seven nights.

We could bunk at the Four Seasons. But remember, all the hotels are full. So we easily interpret this to require a feeding frenzy (again).  

Who better than us to answer this challenge, with our decades-long commitment to out-of-house dining, ranging from lighthearted tri-state detours for Atlantic City hoagies to more serious 24-hour, 13-restaurant gourmet Kansas City-getaways. Rack of lamb for two, just for one, hey, that’s straight out of Lulu’s wedding vows…

The first night we are able, with some effort, to put a dent in the commitment, $340.  For two. The wine is $120, the rest food. Tuxedoed waiters, decanted wine and truly superb food.


Romano, Viareggio

Lulu immediately doubts Gary’s commitment to the project. Accuses him of shirking, of holding back, of feeling sorry for an insurance company.

 “In the face of a 100-Euro, superior-vintage Tignanello,” she writes the children, Gary opts—can you believe this???—for a piddling 2004 Volkswagen, a mere 85 Euros. It actually made me blush!”

Son Bobby (he of the panigacci hunt), concurs. In a flash he answers,

“I am surprised at what penny-pinching pensioners you have become -- not in the bilking of the evil insurance company, that's fine.  Rather, in the unimaginative inability to drop some serious cash: a 100-Euro Tignanello is hardly vintage, more like a pitcher of Kool Aid in the land of Sassicaia and Gaja.  Sad, and embarrassing.”


Second night we drive back up to Portovenere to meet the FEISTYies. Alas, Portovenere, though a tourist town, is yet unspoiled, still pretty but not yet Prada-fied. So in terms of this project, it bursts our bellies but goes too easy on the VISA.

Next the SALTY DOGs, Sandro and Margret, find the most pricey place in Lucca, a 6-table ristorante hidden behind a salumeria. Imagine a deli lit with crystal chandeliers and a toilet bowered by fuchsia flowers. The check boosts the bottom line nicely.


Il Cuore, Lucca

We drive to Forte dei Marmi, more or less Italy’s answer to San Tropez and Cap d’Antibes. There we eat at its Number Two Trip Advisor winner—The Bistrot (anything but.)

We leave Number One—Lorenzo—for later in the week, maybe for a Grand Finale.

Are you myopic? Forgot your reading specs? No worry. At The Bistrot, merely incline your head menu-wise and a Baccarat plate of every magnification reading glasses is whisked to your—a spaghetti of eyepieces, if you will.

The Bistrot plates are fabulously sculpted and the kitchen achieves occasional touches of brilliance—for example, the warm amuse bouche a crème of celery and finocchio with a haunting crisp of bacalao. But the rest is pedestrian nouvelle fare. Gary’s steak (80 euros) arrives well-done instead of al sangue, and is sent back.


The Bistrot, Forte dei Marmi

Meanwhile and predictably, we do not skip an interim meal, but it’s literally a drop in the bucket. A spit in the ocean, a fart in a hurricane. Lunches nestle in the $50-$60 range.

Midway, amid these extravagant Italian meals, with wine, plus our many years of experience and on-the-job training, we doubt if we can approach the required $5,000 for the week.

Naturally we continue giving it our best shot but we’re going to have to try a lot harder in the home stretch.

We redouble our efforts. It actually gets to be like work. Yeah, right.

Diets resume seriously on Wednesday, at dawn. Yeah, right.

Life is good…

Love, G&L, burp.





We’ve eaten amid fun outdoor street scenes, alongside sunset beaches, in candlelit wine cellars and restaurants that could easily cater your wedding.






And we’ve sampled some spectacular individual dishes (at least I  have.)



But just after mid-week Gary gets fed up—literally.


From Gary:

Forgive me, Giuseppe, for I have sinned. I think I’m getting bored with the Italian food here. All the restaurants have exactly the same menu. Only the prices vary. We’ve had $500 dinners and $100 dollar dinners and only difference seems to be whether the waiters are wearing tuxedos or not.

You want spaghetti with clams, or spaghetti with mussels, or spaghetti with clams and mussels? In the shell or out of the shell?  Red sauce? Fahgeddabouddit.

The red sauce? Half a dozen cherry tomatoes chopped up and tossed on top.

Ah, you want shrimps? Three varieties: shrimps, prawns and langoustines, don’t ask me which is which. All grilled with the shells--heads, tails and feelers attached.

A lobster, with claws or without claws?  Both so tiny they would be illegal in the States.

Maybe it’s fish you crave? Whole baked or grilled, starting at about $80 per person.

Occasionally you might see a lamb chop or a steak. Sometimes tuna. Never, ever chicken or pork.

The bread mostly stinks, stale, usually and baked without salt almost always Hopefully this is only this northwestern coast of Italy.

Inland Tuscany might have some thick yummy red sauces and maybe a piece of pork--like BBQ’d ribs or chops. I’m praying, Domenic.

Nobody ever heard of General Tso’s Chicken or Wonton soup. Egg Foo Yung would be like talking Chinese.

Traveling for a week or two could be okay, but month after month, the same same, no variety. I think I’m going out of my mind, Stefano. Certainly putting on the pounds searching for a new taste.

There are no KFC’s for a diversion. And no simple lunch places for a tuna sandwich, or forgive me, Antonio, a corned beef on rye. A cheeseburger, never. Every meal is a two hour event if you start with pasta. Three if you start with antipasto—which THEY do…

And you wonder why the economy is in trouble, Vito?


Your humble, hungry servant,



We cancelled at Lorenzo—too hoity-toity, probably Alencon lace-over-white tablecloth and possibly faux-gourmet. Instead we finished at La Dogana, in the velvet-green hills above Viareggio, and he is forced to recant.


                                                              La Dogana, Cappezzano Pianore


Apologies to Guido, Salvatore, Dominic and Marco. Only a few days after my Italian food rant and on the final day of our ‘free’ dinners on the insurance company, Lulu takes me to La Dogana.

This has got to be probably the best meal ever in one of the prettiest settings ever. And not the standard Italian menu.

Ten splendid courses beginning with a gorgeous chopped chicken liver (Lulu corrects me, chicken liver terrine) beautiful breads; shrimp with beans (Lulu says scampi), ravioli in a veal sauce (addition—veal sauce called STINCO, really tender, Stinco being the shin—Lulu once ordered and ate a whole stinco) tuna tartare; some kind of pork pate; really excellent spaghetti vongole; sliced steak with porcini that really came al sangue…it goes on and on.

A spectacular bottle of Sassicaia at only $160. (Sassicaia? See, I’m a fast learner.)

Maybe there is a God after all…



From Lulu:

In the end we decide that the cute little lunch joint, Santa Monica, run by the friendly Italian family just outside the shipyard, which we fall into daily, makes the best food around. Super-fresh ingredients cooked to the minute and served hot, bread actually made with salt; even the occasional red sauce…and Stefano, the chef out of the fabled Lorenzo who orates operatically as he tosses vongole and flips spaghetti in midair.


Chef Stefano crooning and flipping

The perfect twist: Michele, the son, recommended all the “expense accounts” restaurants and it’s his that makes us consistently happiest. 



Santa Monica, Viareggio

And Luciano, the father, a jolly, roly-poly paisano who I adore, can’t wait to ask every day, “Cuanto, Luisa, cuanto? Cuanto, the wine cost? Cuanto, the dinner?” And “Cose mangia?” What did we eat?

Luciano only wants to buy us a steak at his  favorite steakhouse. When that too proves to be closed for Ferie he invites us to his house for dinner.  Fun, so much fun.


                                                       Luciano                                              Teresa, his wife



So how’d we do in the Spend-All Free-For-All?

All our hard work and heartburn got us only to $4,200. And that includes the $500 supermarket bill. (Didn’t we need a stock of sundowner wines and prosciuttos and cheeses? And a week’s supply of bromides and toilet paper for digestive-system retaliatory attacks? )

And then we really find out what also-rans we are. While we were engrossed in pissing away our insurance company money, Steve Jobs was probably pissing away yours. (Doesn’t everybody own an iPod, iPhone or iPad by now?)

Seems the post-retirement Jobs was here in Viareggio last week with two of his honchos looking to buy a giant Perini Navi sailboat (to call iBoat?)  

Effortlessly, in one multi-hour dinner at Henri’s, Michele (who got it from Henri, whose restaurant is just upstairs) tells us Jobs racked up a tab of 9,900 EUROS! That’s $14,256 DOLLARS.


Bobby had it right. We’re just penny-pinching pensioners. Chicken Liverians are no match for Belugarians.  Mere Chiantians don’t even belong on the playing field with the likes of Petrussians, people who never learned how to prononounce Pauillac, much less order it.

Pathetic, isn’t it—poring, flabbergasted, over two-inch-thick wine tomes, eyes swinging inexorably right to the price list?   




LULU defeats scarafaggi!   September 1, 2011

Thousands dead. 

Seven fumigation gas attacks, dozens of night slaughters, three selective seek and destroy missions, Lulu’s bug cookies, 3 brands of ‘guaranteed’ spray killers, two kinds of roach motels, some poison pills (See leftovers photo below.)

And a fierce determination for extermination.

Don’t fuck with LULU.  No free loaders. You want to visit, better bring a bottle of good wine, or you get the treatment, and it’s not pretty.

If they dare come back, it’s Napalm.

One of the biggest complications of using so many chemicals on these critters is the risk of dramatic mutation events. One extreme mutation example we’ve heard of: they become 5-feet long and look like Jennifer Lopez. We have thus far not observed this particular phenomenon, but we did see one that from certain angles resembled Cindy Crawford…or might have been Lindsay Lohan. (The Virgin Mary or Elvis or Hilllary or JC himself or...) It ran too fast to tell. But, we sprayed it. Gone.

The Terminators,

Gary and Lulu

Scarafaggi Overkill: We begin to understand the U.S. Military Budget


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