The Italian art of the stroll: Bringing the passeggiata to Los Altos Hills

Madison Ivy/Special to the Town Crier
Ernie Solomon, from left, Tom Sperow, Leah Frei and Ingrid Sperow partake in a passeggiata, or evening stroll, in July.

If you see a group of people on a leisurely after-dinner walk along the twists and turns of Los Altos Hills pathways, they might be on a passeggiata.

Thanks to the efforts of a few avid travelers, the Italian tradition of the evening stroll has made it to the area.

After traveling widely in Italy, Los Altos Hills residents Gail Solomon and her husband, Ernie, were well acquainted with the passeggiata.

"It’s a walk after dinner when everybody wants to be away from their hot apartment," she said, adding that it’s a multigenerational affair there, with everyone from babies to teenagers and grandparents joining in.

Some of the other local strollers also expressed a special fondness for Italy. When Ingrid Sperow first saw a Nextdoor post about the Los Altos Hills incarnation of the event, she said to her husband, Tom, "Hey, there’s a passeggiata - these people must be cool!"

Sperow, chairwoman of the Los Altos Hills Parks and Recreation Committee, also helps with getting the word out via email and Nextdoor.

"I find that a lot of people here in Los Altos Hills look for ways to build community," she said. "That’s why I think it’s so great that Gail did the passeggiata."

Sperow pointed out that while there are plenty of events in the lowlands, such as at town hall, it’s different when you live farther up in the hills.

A social event

After last year’s inaugural gathering, just before the Fourth of July, Sperow invited the group to a neighborhood block party she was organizing, which further cemented the new friendships.

There are now 13 names on the email list for the passeggiata; the biggest group so far was 12 walkers. One of them last year included the Sperows’ mini horse.

The pace is leisurely, and the goal is not exercise, though they do get a bit of that. Aside from the neighborly camaraderie, getting out of the house after dinner is one of the walks’ main benefits.

"You do feel better after you get home," Solomon said, "instead of sitting at home watching the news."

Sperow, who once lived in Rome, noted that the passeggiatas are part of life in Italy.

"Everyone will do it in their little village or in their neighborhood," she said. "There will be a piazza or there will be a closed-off street, and it’s just a stroll up and down the street. Everyone dresses up. There’s a saying, Fare bella figura," which she translated loosely as "putting on one’s Sunday best."

Although the Sperows’ children don’t participate in the Los Altos Hills strolls, things were different in Italy.

"I remember in Italy, there was no discussion - you just went," Sperow said. "Because for the little kids, there was always an ice cream along the way. … It’s a real social event. And you might go get a coffee at one of the local bars, or a gelato."

Asked if they’ve ever considered strolling elsewhere, like in downtown Los Altos, where they might be able to stop for a drink or coffee afterward, Sperow said the group prefers to meet closer to home. Last year participants met at town hall and walked from there a few times, but they found even that a bit far. The walks are scheduled in the summer months, when it stays light into the early evening for the drive back.

A walk in the hills

The route of the July 10 passeggiata wended around Elena Road. Along the way, there was talk of fruit trees, mountain lions and deer, the conversation muffled by an occasional passing car. Gail said the group sometimes practices the foreign languages they know during the walks: "Parli Italiano?"

After 20 minutes or so, the group reached Foothill Lane - the turnaround point. There was no gelateria in sight, but there was a blackberry bush. Tom Sperow proved most adept at gathering the juicy berries, producing a handful to share with the group. His wife quipped that if they were more plentiful, they could make blackberry wine for the last passeggiata of the season.

Blackberries eaten, it was time to mosey back, minus participant Leah Frei, who, after walking from home to the meeting place, now said goodnight. When the Solomons reached their street, they also bid arrivederci. Until the next passeggiata. r

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