The four of us stood enthralled and not a little befuddled by the noise and splendor. We’d rented a small apartment in Maria’s Aunt Linda’s boarding house, the Casa Vacanze Rosa Dei Venti. When I’d asked for the address back in New York City, Maria told me that there were no addresses in Ponza. "Just tell the taxi driver you are going to Linda’s," she said. But the docks were flooded with the San Silverio crowds and I had no idea where to find a taxi. Suddenly a handsome middleaged man dressed in white came out of the crowds.
"Are you the Americans?" he said.
I guess it was obvious.
He was Giovanni Mazzella, Maria’s cousin, the doctor. Somehow he found us a cab, paid the driver, and sent us on our way, staying behind himself to watch the festivities. As our driver circled the port, San Silverio and his little boat were launched onto the water. Our cab navigated hairpin turns and skinny roads, steering us through two tunnels carved by the ancient Romans out of the rocky island. It’s dark inside the tunnels, but that didn’t stop whole families with kids in strollers and teenagers on bikes from narrowly passing us and the Vespas and the trucks that jockeyed for space in barely two lanes. I held my breath, only letting it go when we emerged in one piece just as fireworks began exploding over the water at the far end of the harbor. At that moment, I realized that Fellini wasn’t a fantasist, he was a documentarian.
The drive took seven minutes. We were deposited at Aunt Linda’s, mother of the gallant Giovanni, in Santa Maria, the port town’s blocklong suburb. Her home and the boarding house sat on a small beach where boats were repaired in the sand. Next to the boat repair was Silvia’s, a pensione with an openair restaurant under a thatched roof. Down the block was Zanzibar, where the natives get their morning coffee and cornetti. This was the place for gelato and espresso in the afternoon, and in the evening for aperitivi and, from outside tables on the patio, the sunset. After that there was Pizzeria Da Luciano. What else?A pay phone. Docks where suntoasted Germans parked their boats. That was Santa Maria. And for the next week or so, with the laundry on the line, the local dogs, the playing children, the friendly locals, it was home.
The following day, we packed a picnic and boarded the water taxi to Frontone, which Giovanni said was the best family beach on Ponza. Most of the island’s beaches are inaccessible by land unless you are in the mood to rappel. People rent small boats and sail from cove to cove or take these taxis. The Frontone one left Santa Maria every 15 minutes or so and the ride took less than 10; the roundtrip set us back a euro apiece. Frontone is a large, crescentshaped cove with a rocky waterfront and a couple of stands renting lounge chairs and umbrellas. Giovanni had sent us shopping that morning, easy enough here; we just walked through a tunnel and found a latteria with beautiful cheese, a bakery, a vegetable stand. Being such a small island, Ponza imports almost everything, including water. (Huge tankers full of it arrive daily in the main harbor.) At Frontone, if your picnic of newly baked rolls, salumi, figs and apricots, buffalo mozzarella so fresh it weeps milk, and biscotti doesn’t suffice, you can also eat at one of two good restaurants on either end of the cove. And happily, if you are traveling en famille like us, you can scream at your children to your heart’s content along with the Italians: "Raffaeli, Simoni, basta!" What a relief to let my children run wild with these loud, tan beach urchins. My daughter Zoe made a friend, Laura, who spoke no English but had come with her Roman father’s American girlfriend, Gail. So I made a friend, too. In the late afternoon Gail and I stumbled along the rocks to one of the restaurants, treating each other to espresso.