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Aqui Terme. Town of roses and water. Show-off fountains and sparkling expanses of wet marble. Sulpherous water gushes out of two rusty pipes in the best piazza in town: Piazza delle bollente. Steam rises up and a smell of rotting eggs. It is for drinking - a purgative. Magnolia grandiflora as street trees, ribbon of roses hiding parking spaces and the date spelled out in houseleeks.
Acqui Termi is in Piedmonte and from Genoa the drive is through long tunnels and bridges on stilts over gorges. Past terraced patches cracked out of the nearly bare rock to eke a living. Once over the Alpi Marittimi, the landscape becomes kinder with pocket sized vineyards and hay laid out to dry in the fields. The weather is July's and the swifts are here screaming over the town. Just now drowned out by the squeal of school going children.
A market town and magnet for the surrounding hill villages and with a peppering of foreigners. The Tunisians, Germans and swiss who have emigrated into the area, or bought second homes give a cosmopolitan feel. Its heyday is over - patronage of the Kings of Savoy has left grand galleries and basilicas with 19th century interiors. Sal du Bel Epoque. An echo left in frosted glass on the windows of the Grand Hotel hinting at Spa town glamour. The trains arrive in the imposing station and sleep
for hours. But the life of the town lies in the market. We haggled with a bangladesh trader for a belt and moved to the core. Vegetable square with spring onions the size of cricket balls. Zinnias and lobelia and basil with different sized leaves. My sister in law bought 2 trays of Basilico genovese to take home by plane. Added to this we haggled and bought packets of seed: borlotti beans and squash Marino di Chioggia. Too late for tomatoes but the best, most sincerely the best on the seedling stall is deemed to be Cuor di bue. Oxheart. Two plants are going home to England today. We are on the family quest for the most tomato flavoured tomato of all.
I have come to Italy for a month of the WWOOFING life and today will travel south to join Luca Zappa on his Tuscan farm. see what it is all about. Woofing is about working on an organic farm - swapping labour for board and lodging. A sort of aupairing without the pocket money. Getting on board is simple: pay 25 euros and then trawl through the list of subscribers. So many farms. Which to choose? "Accomodation is in a tent pitched in the house as it rains a lot in the evening still" did not attract. I went for a farm that had a website. Reassured by beaming in on some images of what is in store. Last night came in an email from my son "my friend Theo went woofing last year and ended up having to flee under cover of darkness, so mad was the owner". Hope this is not in store but feeling a little bit nervous about how the day will unravel. I have the station names, beads on an expensive bracelet: Genoa, Pisa, Florence and San Giovanni di Valdarno.