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Living in Ponza, Italy

David Cicconi The terrace at Ristorante Il Tramonto, high above the port at Il Forno, one of two towns on Ponza.

Photo: David Cicconi

Ponza is really, really tiny. Once we’d met Gail and Laura, we ran into them all the time—at the pizzeria, the openair fruit and vegetable market, the cash machine. There are just two towns (officially they are called "zones"): Ponza, the port, and Le Forna (which is a little larger than Santa Maria), on the island’s other side. One bus loops up and down the main road between them; you flag it down before it goes lumbering by. Le Forna is home to Le Piscine Naturali, a series of grottoes, naturally enclosed pools of ocean water that have collected in lavarock basins. We spent much of our week either there or at Frontone, when we weren’t renting boats for excursions to beaches around the curves of the island. At the Piscine Naturali you have to climb down a steep stone staircase to the water while greatlooking Ponzesi teenagers giggle and smoke on the surrounding cliffs, one of them every so often performing a deathdefying swan dive to impress the others. There’s a "beach" at the bottom of the rocks (also lava), and chairs to rent if the hard surface proves too tough on your vertebrae. It was a bit of a trick sliding into the sea off the rock and past the sea urchins, but then the mindbendingly gorgeous grottoes and caves one swims through to get to the lava pools were well worth the effort. Even a few stings by la medusa (jellyfish) didn’t destroy our pleasure.

On the night Gail’s boyfriend, Luca, arrived for the weekend, he took us all to dinner at his favorite restaurant, Il Tramonto, near his family’s home at one of the highest points on the island. The road got very steep as the taxi made it up the mountain, with Luca, a charming character, stopping the cab now and then to pick us all flowers. When we got out across the street from his house, the road was nearly empty, and with the sun setting, it seemed to lead us straight into a cloud.

Chainsmoking all the way, Luca led Gail and Bruce into the restaurant, but the kids and I hung back. His daughter Laura wanted to take our children with her to a nearby yard to see some baby goats. I hesitated. We were in the middle of nowhere (fabulous nowhere, but nowhere still) on a mountaintop, my kids didn’t speak Italian, Laura spoke no English, they were all eight years old or younger, and, well, we barely knew these nice people. I started trekking along after them when the proprietor of the restaurant emerged, enticing me inside by holding out a glass of Prosecco.

My children. Prosecco. My children. Prosecco.

While I weighed my options the kids disappeared down the road. I took the champagne glass and went inside.

The tables on the terrace of Il Tramonto have the best view in all of Ponza. Across the sea—which was now a warm silver in the dusk, the orange setting sun bleeding its rays into the water—was the uninhabited island Palmarola. We’d been there too, with Gail and Laura, earlier in the week. We’d been warned that Palmarola was even more magnificent than Ponza, which hardly seemed possible, except that it was true.

Now, sitting with Luca and Gail at the tippytop of Ponza, high and happy and about to embark on another fourhour meal, we could see mainland Italy to our right, just above the horizon. The children came back to a table full of food (fried seaweed puffs, anyone?) and totally inebriated parents.

"You can see the shape of the earth from here," said my daughter.

And it was true, even with my head spinning, I could see the planet’s curve.

Finally, it was time to go home. On our last evening, we were invited upstairs to the Mazzellas’ terrace for farewell drinks at six. Giovanni’s gracious wife, Ofelia, fried up two heaping platters of zeppole, one dusted with powdered sugar, the other with cinnamon. She had also baked cakes and slathered them with Nutella and then layered them with more cake, as if they were sandwiches.

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