Serenipitous Traveler: Day 12, Portofino

By Leah Marie Brown
Portofino has long been the vacation destination for the rich and famous.  Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Sophia Lauren forsook the artifice of Tinsel Town for the natural beauty of Portofino, a picturesque Italian fishing. 
When Stephanie and I began planning our grande aventure from Provence to Tuscany, I insisted a day in Portofino be added to our itinerary.  For me, it wasn't about Grace or Humphrey.  It wasn't about Sophia or Elizabeth.  It was about Rex.
Rex Harrison.  The legendary British actor who starred in one of the most romantic movies ever filmed.  The Ghost and Mrs. Muir(Yes, I just sighed.)  I was a child when I first discovered the cinematic greatness of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, a romantic fantasy about a young widow who falls in love with the ghost of a swashbuckling sea captain.  Rex Harrison played the sea captain.  He was my first crush.  TI think I fell in love with him the moment I watched suddenly materialize on screen, a bearded, scowling apparition, lurking in the shadows.  I know he took my tender heart when I heard him utter, "Blasted, woman!" 
So, when I discovered Rex Harrison had once owned a home in Portofino, that he had considered it the most romantic place in the world, I knew I had to visit it.  I wanted to retrace the steps of my first crush.  If the most romantic, dashing ghost in celluloid history thought Portofino was the most romantic place in the world, how could I not dine in her cafes, walk her narrow streets, gaze at her harbor? Read more about Rex Harrison in Portofino by clicking here.
My first view of Portofino was from a distance.  I thought it looked like God had gotten out His Crayolas and colored Portofino using nearly every spectacular color in the box.  Neat, rectangular homes painted burnt sienna, ochre, and rusty red tumbled down the side of the cyprus covered hills and lined the cerulean sea.  
I maneuvered our Fiat along via Montebello, the serpentine road that leads to Portofino, and pulled into a parking spot close to the piazzetta.  
Stephanie and I followed a steep path leading from the piazzetta to the Church of St. George, a yellow painted church perched on the top of a hill, with panoramic views of Portofino and the sea. 
We paused on the way back to town to look at the fishing vessels and yachts bobbing in the harbor.  A couple dining on the deck of a sleek yacht caught my attention and I found myself daydreaming about the old Hollywood set who had once visited Portofino.  I imagined Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart hosting a booze-fueled fest aboard their pleasure craft.  I saw Princess Grace in cat eye-sunglasses and a swanky one-piece lounging on the deck of a yacht.  I imagined Sophia Loren gliding through the cerulean sea like a mermaid.
We were almost back at the piazzetta when I remembered a story I had read about Rex Harrison.  In 1965, Rex Harrison returned to Portofino from Hollywood after having won the Academy Award for his performance in My Fair Lady.  Understandably festive, he hosted a party at one of the port side cafes.  Drinks were imbibed.  Toasts made.  More drinks were imbibed.  And soon, the party-goes were completely sloshed.  What happened next has become part of Portofino's history.  Harrison accidentally knocked his golden statuette into the water.  Oscar took a dive.  Thankfully, one of Harrison's more sober and quick witted friends dove into the water and rescued the much coveted award.
As we entered the Piazza Martiri dell'Olivetta , I wondered which restaurant had played host to Harrison's celebratory post-Oscar evening. Stephanie and I opted for Ristorante Puny, a bayside restaurant known for its romantic ambiance and fresh, local cuisine.  I ordered fusilli alla arrabiata and sat back to drink in my surroundings. a light, sultry breeze blew flirting with the hem of my skirt.  I couldn't help overhearing a conversation taking place between two elderly couples seated at the table beside ours.  Their banter was light-hearted, their manner brimming with joie de vivre...or as the Italians say gioia di vivere.  One of the women made a joke about her husband's bald head.
"Don't listen to her," I whispered, leaning towards the follicularly challenged gentleman.  "Haven't you heard?  Bald is the new sexy."
"Is that so?" he asked.
"Yep, just look at Bruce Willis, Chris Daughtry, Andre Agassi, and, my favorite, the Rock."
The bald man fist bumped me and the table errupted in laughter.  I learned that the man and his wife were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  They were joined by another couple, their friends, who had been married almost as long. 
I had a delightful time learning about their lives together and their many travels.  Our age difference didn't seem to matter.  There, under the green and white striped canopy, beside the sparkling emerald bay, we were merely kindred souls, joyful world travelers sharing a meal, a glass of wine, some bonhomie.
Our ebullient spirits caught the interest of a professional photographer who happened to be dining nearby.  He approached us and asked if we would allow him to take our photograph.  We smiled as he took two photographs.  I'll be honest, I didn't expect to ever receive a copy of the photograph.  So, I was surprised when I checked my email the next day and discovered the photos in my Inbox.  The photographer's name was Scott Cuming and he titled the photo below Joy and Good Times Remembered.  I call it, People You Meet Along the Way (or Sexy Bald Man and Friends).
Joy & Good Times Remembered
By Scott Cuming
I never did discover the restaurant where Rex Harrison nearly drowned his Oscar, nor was I able to visit his home, and yet, I feel as if I walked in his footsteps.  Rex Harrison called Portofino his part-time home because he found it a perfect setting for life, love and accidental adventures.  I couldn't agree more. 

St. George
by Leah Marie Brown
After a steep climb, we discovered
this small, yellow church and
an amazing view of the bay.
Ocean Steps
by Leah Marie Brown
This little look-out, stretching over the
bay, is located off the narrow road
leading to Portofino.

The Good Life
by Leah Marie Brown
No, the couple on board are not
Bogie and Bacall.

By Leah Marie Brown
Stephanie and I standing in Portofino's main
piazza, overlooking the harbor.  If you look
close, you will see my treasured turquoise necklace,
which I purchased in China and wear on every
summer trip.

Clock Tower
by Leah Marie Brown
Portofino's painted clock tower looked
beautiful against the deep blue

by Leah Marie Brown
This Juliet balcony immediately
captured my attention and had
me thinking about star-crossed
lovers and sonnets recited by

by Leah Marie Brown
One of the buildings in Portofino undergoing a face lift.

Decrepit Beauty
by Leah Marie Brown
This sad, neglected home is situated
just outside of Portofino's village
limits.  My artist's eye found it
utterly appealing. 

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