La Maddalena, Italia: Adopted by the Locals

Adopted by the Locals

By Craig Johnson

La Maddalena mapIt was the spring of 1982 and I had just spent three days as Command Duty Officer on the USS Orion AS-18. Normally I stood CDO for 24 hours once every three days. This is because we had three officers qualified for the watch. The reason I had the duty for three days is that as CDO I had secured all small boat traffic late Friday night do to a storm with high winds coming up from North Africa that made it unsafe to operate them between the islands in the Maddalena archipelago, in Italy.

Lamaddalena 22014-02-10_1812

The storm did not subside until around 0400 on Monday morning.

USS Orion (AS-18)  Santo Stephano Island

USS Orion (AS-18)
Santo Stephano Island

The Orion was moored at the Island of Santo Stefano, in the Mediterranean. When I secured all small boat traffic the crew that was ashore on liberty could not come aboard to relieve us. When Captain Branch and the Executive Officer came aboard they gave direction for the officers and crew that had been aboard all weekend to be given the day off.

Once I was relieved I was able to catch the 0900 boat to La Maddalena, where I shared a two bedroom apartment just off of Via Garibaldi with the 1st Lieutenant. When I stepped off of the small boat at Banchina Commerciale I decided to stop by the fruit stand that used to set up in the Via Garibaldi and pick up some fresh fruit for the apartment. When I got to the produce stands the vendor that I always bought my fruit from was late. I understood enough of the local language with hand gestures that he was on his way. It was a beautiful day and I was not in a hurry so I took a paperback book out of my bag and sat down in his empty stall to wait for him.

fruit vendor 2014-02-10_1831

I sat there reading my book enjoying the sunshine and the cool breeze passing through and forgot the time. Sometime later the fruit vender arrived and unpacked his vehicle and got ready to sell his produce. Once he was ready I bought some fruit and walked off to do some additional shopping on the way home.

street scene lamad 2014-02-10_1832Via Garibaldi is surrounded by commercial shops, restaurants, and bars. This allowed me to stop by shops and get other items such as bread, cheese, and wine. I did not think anything about what had just happened, other than I had enjoyed a very relaxing morning. And I was thoroughly enjoying this time off. I was joining in with the local’s attitude, and keeping a slow pace.

ristorante -02-10_1840That evening I went to my favorite restaurant just off of Via Garibaldi. I loved this restaurant as the family that ran it actually recognized me whenever I choose to go there. They made their own bread, pasta, and wine. The mother made the best calamari that I have ever tasted and was always consistent with it. She also made this spicy zeta pasta that was to die for. My favorite things on the menu were their fresh bread with local butter served with dolce (sweet) cheese and their white wine from their vineyard.

Calimari 2014-02-10_1844

Since I had been coming to this restaurant around once a week for over a year I looked at it as mine.

bread and cheese 2014-02-10_1852

This night was different than any other night that I had gone here though. I was taken to a table right next to the kitchen. The daughter brought me a bottle of wine with a whole dolce cheese ball and a basket of bread for our table. I had my roommate with me. What was different is that we had not ordered anything yet.

wine glasses 2014-02-10_1855Normally they would take our order and we would have a three course dinner with pasta, main course, and dessert. This night they never asked us what we wanted. They just started bring us courses that included our usual dishes, but other dishes kept showing up until I was ready to explode. When it was all done we had eaten a seven course dinner having never ordered one item.

I can tell you right now that I have never had a better meal in a restaurant anywhere in the world.

Italian spread 2014-02-10_1903The two of us were on our third bottle of wine and feeling pretty good and had discussed that this was going to cost us an arm and a leg, but had decided early on that it was well worth it.

The Daughter brought the bill and it was exactly the same as the normal bill from our other visits. We were incredulous at this.

We paid the bill and asked the Daughter why the special dinner. She asked us to step outside so we could talk privately. We followed her outside as she led us out into the square away from everyone except a group of locals. She introduced us to everyone and explained that because I had shown loyalty and graciousness to their family member, the fruit vendor, that we were now being treated as family.

This meant that on La Maddalena, until we went back to the United States of America, we would pay family prices and have family meals. This resulted in my land-lady who turned out to be a sister of the cook in the restaurant starting selling me 2 liter bottles of white wine for 95 cents US. The other officers onboard the Orion used to warn us that it was rotgut wine and would eat holes in our stomachs. That must have been jealousy talking. When we were in Genoa we found the same wine being sold in a local wine shop at over 30 dollars US.

I was adopted by the locals because I had patience and treated them well. No doubt I was happy to be the well-fed, American son of these fine Italian people.

Here is another Story by Craig Johnson, about his experiences in this beautiful part of the world:

Enjoying our homeport in La Maddalena, Italy

Posted on February 11, 2014 by  

I had the sailors set up the grills on the upper part of the beach, next to the grassy area and the shelters on the area above the beach line. We brought a volleyball set. Instead of putting it on the beach, we put it in the surf Continue reading →


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2 responses to “La Maddalena, Italia: Adopted by the Locals

  1. Thank you for sharing this story. I served on SANDLANCE from 81 to 83 and was in La Maddalena quite a few times. I remember the restaraunt well. The family was very nice, and treated us well for consistently dining there. La Maddalena was the safest, most welcoming port that I ever visited in my 21 years of service.

  2. I spent a couple years there too, in ’87 and ’88. It was amazing. I hope to go back some day. I bet it’s changed a lot!

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