Thursday, June 5, 2014

Rinascita (n.): rebirth, revival

In October 2011, flash floods from a vicious storm devastated one of my favorite little corners of the world—the Cinque Terre, a hamlet of tiny fishing villages perched on the rocky cliffs that line the southern coast of the Italian Riveria.

Vernazza, in particular, was hit hard by the mud slides that followed. Just a year before, with a belly full of pesto and focaccia bread, I had snapped a postcard view of the town on a warm summer’s night, a memory fit for a daydream. The following winter, while knee deep in snow and ice back home in Vermont, I found that if I closed my eyes I could summon the bells of the lemon yellow church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, and I could imagine the rows of pastel houses that fold back from the snug harbor, watched over by the ancient Doria Castle and a fleet of small boats bobbing in the teal green sea.

The storm that fall brought a rude awakening. A headline in The Telegraph in London announced: “Villages All but Wiped Out as Storms Batter Italy’s ‘Cinque Terre.’” The scale of the disaster, they said, was “unimaginable.” A raging river of water and sludge had poured down the steep and narrow streets, which acted like a miner’s sluice, burying the towns in as much as thirteen feet of debris. The harbor in Vernazza, so stuck in my mind, was left silted and dry, its boats splintered like matchsticks.

Rick Steves, a long-time champion of the region in his guidebooks, said it was “as if nature had murdered someone I loved.” He was right. I felt it, too.

Nearly three years have passed and I’m eager to go back, but nervous, too, of all that has changed. Literature is replete with the notion that you can’t go home again. I’m about to find out, but first I’m having a lazy morning at the apartment in Florence, finishing chores of laundry and dishes. I pack a small suitcase with rolling wheels and listen to its rhythmic sound on the sidewalks and cobbled streets all the way to Santa Maria Novella station, where I’m booked on the 12:30 train to Monterosso al Mare. The journey is an easy one, with a change at Pisa Centrale, and before long I find myself pressed against the window of the train, excited by the quick snatches of sun and sea, as we hurl through long, dark tunnels towards the station.

It’s three in the afternoon when I step out into the sun and onto the platform. A row of palm trees frames my view of the turquoise sea, and I pause for a moment to breathe in the air and to enjoy the energy of the tourists crowding the New Town promenade. Instinctively, I turn left, walking past symmetrical rows of beach umbrellas, and a sign (in English) that reads: “Homemade Sangria, Experience the ‘Drunk Ass’ Bucket.” I push onward, through the tunnel, and when I emerge into the quaint streets of Old Town, I see a dark-skinned man in a fedora, playing the accordion. I toss a few coins in a basket and then bend down to pat the belly of his dog, who is napping lazily at his feet. He nods at me and grins widely, and with that simple gesture, I know that life goes on and that people are resilient.

The Cinque Terre is alive and well.

I check into my room at the Hotel Margherita, where the tangerine stucco and green shutters look just as I remember. In fact, I settle into the same room as before, although the fragrant garden of basil and lemon trees I remember so well has been replaced by tomatoes and oranges. I kick back on the bed and think about how to spend my time. Over the next few days, I intend to head north, by train and by boat, to a collection of small seaside towns along the Italian Riveria— to Rapallo, Santa Margherita Ligure, Camogli, San Fruttuoso, and Portofino. But tonight, I long to see Vernazza.

The train ride is short, and the summer’s night long with possibilities. I stroll down to the harbor to admire the view, and the rows of pastel houses that slide toward the sea like a melting dish of rainbow sherbet, but before long my stomach is begging for dinner.

Remembering Rick Steves’ colorful review, I decide to try Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre, a casual eatery owned and operated by a pair of Sicilian brothers name Gianluca and Massimo. To be fair, the food itself is nothing memorable, but the conversation certainly is! At the table next to mine, a woman from Boston is enduring a lecture on how “real” cannolis are made with ricotta. Nearby, an American couple has dared to order the chocolate cannoli, which earns a forceful rebuke. It seems I have stumbled not into the “Cannoli Twins,” but rather into the “Cannoli Nazis.” By the end of my meal, I’m half tempted to order the chocolate myself, to see if Massimo’s head might explode—I truly think it would—but I haven’t the heart.

It’s nine by the time I arrive back in Monterosso al Mare. The sky is fading into a dusky pink, and the colorful chairs and umbrellas that line the beach have been folded away, standing guard like sentries awaiting the dawn.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Rocambolesco (adj.) – fantastic, incredible, as in an experience

I’m walking to the train station again this morning, taking my familiar route down Via Roma and Via Feglina to the long dark tunnel dividing the “old town” of Monterosso from the “new.” When I emerge into the light and see the rows of beach umbrellas before me, I also see my fedora-wearing friend, the accordionist and his dog, and he pauses to wave hello.

Even on a slow regional train, the trip to Camogli takes only an hour, which seems well worth the effort for a village that Condé Nast Traveler recently called “one of Italy’s best-kept secrets.” I scan the article again as I make my way up the coast, the rhythmic sound of the tracks ringing in my ears. There is a description of the same “multi-story palazzi, painted in the muted pinks, yellows, and terra-cottas you find along this coast,” in towns such as Rapallo and Santa Margherita Ligure, “their deep-green shutters framed by trompe l’oeil flourishes.” But there are also assurances that Camogli is “far from the madding crowds” and “just-sleepy-enough” with its “under-the-radar calm.”

Perhaps. But not on a dazzling Saturday in June.

By the time I find the stairway that descends to Camogli’s waterfront, a wide stretch of pebble beach that arcs gracefully towards the 19th church of Santa Maria Assunta and the far more ancient castle of Dragonara, there are scores of sunbathers lounging on towels and deck chairs, and wading happily in the sea. The entire scene is so convivial that it has me rethinking the obsession American tourists have with “hidden” treasures, with experiences that depend not only on isolation, but also exclusion. Suddenly, it all seems rather churlish. I scan the crowd and see a young boy with a rod and reel fishing from a rocky ledge, a couple with a baby floating lazily on an inflatable raft, and a woman reclining with her knees bent, lost in the pages of a book.

In the late-19th century, Thomas Hardy famously used the phrase “far from the madding crowd” as the title of one of his novels, but the phrase originates with Thomas Gray, an English poet who years before had penned “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” It’s become something of a derisive catchphrase that urges escape from the frenzy of civilization.

I look again at the languid view before me. Personally, I think I’m already there. And I don’t mind sharing.

I scan the shops along Via Garibaldi and find another focacceria for lunch, this time settling on a thick slice of bread slathered in tomato sauce and cheese from Revello, as well as a hazelnut cookie, rolled and pinched on the sides, called a “camogliesi alla nocciola.” I stop at a jewelry store, Robe di Cuoio, and buy a corded bracelet with two seashell charms and a silver starfish. But mainly I wish I could stay longer.

It’s early afternoon and time to push on to the abbey at San Fruttuoso, which is accessible only on foot or by sea. It’s a warm day with a blistering sun and I have limited time to explore, so I opt for the ferry.

It’s a fascinating place, nestled into a secluded cove between promontories marked by castles and lighthouses, and I wile away another hour or two discovering the monastery’s medieval cloisters and the burial vaults of the Doria family.

By the time I board the ferry again for my final stop of the day, I’ve grown weary and my shoulders and neck have reddened with a wicked sunburn. Yet as the boat rounds a bend and enters the harbor, the view unfolding before me nearly takes my breath away.

I’ve arrived in glamorous Portofino, and I’ve never seen anything like it.

There are Italianate villas perched high above the town on hillsides studded with palm trees and cypress. Tall masted yachts are anchored in the harbor alongside smaller pleasure boats that gleam with brass and polished wood. And the town itself is a gauzy confection, hung with streams of colorful flags that create an atmosphere of perpetual celebration—a holiday without end—which is, I suppose, what it’s like to be rich and summering on the Riviera.

I spend some time window shopping for diamond baubles and silk scarves in shops like Rolex, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Louis Vuitton, half expecting to see Elizabeth Taylor emerging from Dior on the arm of Richard Burton. Then I head up the long, sloping path towards Castello Brown, stopping short at the tiny, tangerine church of San Giorgio. My legs are in open revolt and the view from here is stunning enough.

Back down at the harbor, I decide to sit and relax for a bit with a fruity cocktail at Caffè Excelsior, where the steady stream of well-heeled couples passing by reminds me of the way Robin Leach used to close each episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous back in the 1980s, by wishing his viewers “champagne wishes and caviar dreams.” This is, I think, the closest I will ever get.

The ferry carries me back to Santa Margherita Ligure, where a train completes my circle back to Monterosso al Mare. It’s nearly eight o’clock by the time I slide my sunburned body into a quiet seat in the alley outside of Gastronomia San Martino. It’s a no-frills kind of place, where the menu is written on a chalkboard and orders are placed at the counter, but the chef is gregarious and kind and when a young woman delivers a cardboard plate of food to my table a short time later, the pansotto in walnut cream sauce that it holds is exceptional. The entire meal costs all of €11,50—less than the drink I had on the luxurious harbor front in Portofino—and that suits me just fine.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Risvegliarsi (fig.) – to reawaken, come alive

Sometimes, I bite off more than I can chew when planning my travels. Ideas that seem inspired on a snowy day in February, at times look far different once I’ve arrived and logistics begin to take shape. Today, I had hoped to go to Genoa for the Regatta of the Ancient Maritime Republics, a rowing competition that rotates annually between the towns of Genoa, Amalfi, Pisa, and Venice. Frankly, though, I’d rather not. I have a weakness for festivals of all kinds, but the information I’ve found online is sketchy at best and without a decent strategy for how to get to the venue, it feels more exhausting than adventurous. I decide to stay here instead. After days of jet-setting up and down the Italian Riviera, a quiet day in Monterosso al Mare is exactly what I need.

I take a slow stroll about town, stopping in Gioielli del Mare to buy a silver pendant I’ve been admiring in the shop window for days, one that reproduces the Gothic rose window in the church of San Giovanni nearby. I buy a sundress hanging on a rack outside a clothing store. I sip a glass of lemon granita. I unwind and relax and the hours melt by.

It’s nearly two in the afternoon when I find myself on a park bench in Piazza Garabaldi with a fragrant slice of focaccia bread in my lap. There are children playing on a swing set behind me, and the sound of their laughter mingles with the clinking of silverware at nearby cafés, and the cadence of rapid Italian as neighbors sit in the shade and gossip. Close by, two violinists are playing for spare change under the railroad bridge, but somewhere, too, is the unmistakable strains of an accordion—my friend and his dog. It’s a curious symphony for the senses, and I’m reminded of that scene in Paris Je T’Aime where a middle-aged woman finds herself in a similar park on a similar kind of day.

“Sitting there, alone in a foreign country,” she says in a voiceover fraught with repressed emotion, “far from my job and everyone I know, a feeling came over me. It was like remembering something I’d never known before or had always been waiting for, but I didn’t know what. Maybe it was something I’d forgotten or something I’ve been missing all my life. All I can say is that I felt, at the same time, joy and sadness. But not too much sadness, because I felt alive. Yes, alive. That was the moment I fell in love with Paris. And I felt Paris fall in love with me.”

Alive.

That’s what I feel. Fully present and alive.

I think again about the woman in Rapallo, the one with the bikini who stood reading a newspaper while the sea lapped about her feet. And suddenly, I know exactly what I want to do.

I’m going to go swimming!

I rush through the tunnel into New Town and stop at a beach store facing the promenade. I have things to buy. A beach towel, €12. Turquoise bikini, €10. Matching sarong, €7. Swimming in the Ligurian Sea on a lazy Sunday afternoon? Priceless.

The sand is hot and the shimmering water cool to the touch. My toes slip in first and sink gently into the loose pebbles, and I feel the ground shift with the ripple of the waves. I inch forward little by little until my entire body is floating as light as a feather. It’s exhilarating and I find it hard not to laugh.

Much later, when I sit down to dinner at L’Osteria, the evening mass at the church of San Giovanni is just letting out. The door is ajar and I can hear the parishioners singing. On the street, a dog is barking playfully at a tabby cat, who retreats under the patio in utter indifference.

The symphony continues. And for the first time in a long time, I feel as though I am the conductor.

After dinner, I take a walk up to the statue of St. Francis of Assisi, and then down to “Il Gigante” and back, bumping into Scott and his son Ian along the way. The sun has set, the air is cool, and they’re eating gelato and brimming with enthusiasm for the Cinque Terre. They tell me it’s a magical place that will be hard to leave behind.

I smile and nod. Of course, I agree.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Ondata di caldo (n.) – heatwave

It’s a beautiful morning in Monterosso al Mare, and with a reluctant heart, I’m heading back to my apartment on the Arno. When I emerge from the Old Town tunnel, I see my friend with the accordion, as I have every day, and I stop to scratch his dog on the belly and behind the ears. The man smiles, sees my luggage, and wishes me ciao and arrividerci.

It’s a hot day, so I’ve splurged on a 1st class ticket for the IC train to Pisa Centrale, which has lovely, private compartments with good climate control, but the regionale train that pushes on to Santa Maria Novella is stifling. By the time I step off, I’m drenched in sweat.

I’m back in Florence in time for the summer’s first heat wave, which already has me longing for the cool waters of the Ligurian Sea. I find myself veering towards narrow, shaded lanes on the walk back to my apartment, but along Via de’ Tornbuoni I’m grateful to Armani, Prada, and Gucci, who all have their doors standing wide open, allowing bursts of arctic air to spill out onto the street.

I spend the afternoon unpacking, doing laundry, grocery shopping, and straightening up. I eat dinner at home, but venture out later for some gelato at La Carraia, which melts nearly as fast as I can consume it. As I turn back, I retreat from the bustling lungarno in favor of Borgo San Jacopo, where the shops are dark and shuttered for the night. A wave of loneliness passes over me as I push open the door to my empty apartment and sink into one of the lime green armchairs. I send an email to a friend back home that reads: “Feeling a little homesick tonight… How are you?”

Just before I sink off to sleep, he writes back: “Looks like you’re having an amazing time! Homesick-shmomesick!”

I decide to shake it off, because he’s right. I am having an amazing time.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

This morning, it is time to leave the rolling hills of Tuscany and Umbria and head for the sun of Liguria and the almighty sea.

It’s just after 10 in the morning and I’m on a train to Monterosso al Mare, the largest of five small fishing villages that make up a region known as the Cinque Terre, or “five lands.” It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and a national park, but it’s also a major destination for U.S. travelers. Arezzo isn’t even mentioned in Rick Steves’ guidebook, but the Cinque Terre has an entire chapter all its own, which has me a bit apprehensive about the crowds.

As I change trains at Pisa Centrale, the weather also has me worried. The villages of the Cinque Terre are connected by hiking trails that wind up and down along the cliffs, but according to some online message boards, recent downpours have forced the closure of many of the paths for sake of safety. Still, the air has been unseasonably warm these past few days, so as we speed by La Spezia and I crane my neck toward the window to catch brief glimpses of the ocean between tunnels, I am hopeful that things have dried out.

It’s nearly 1:00 PM by the time we pull into the station in Monterosso al Mare and I drag my luggage from the train along with scores of other passengers wearing shorts, sundresses, and flip flops. I stop briefly at the tourist information window to buy a three-day Cinque Terre treno card, to cover entrance to the trails and to the local trains that connect Monterosso al Mare to the towns of Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

Emerging from the station, I turn left toward my hotel in the Old Town, but feel compelled to stop and stare at the scene before me. I’ve never spent much time at seaside resorts. I’ve never been to California or the Caribbean, and I’ve seen Florida only once, so this is new and exotic to me. There is a long stretch of sandy beach, decorated with rows of colorful umbrellas and chairs, set in a perfect arch along the shore. Palm trees strung with streamers of yellow and green line the street, and there are shops selling racks of postcards, sunglasses, tote bags, and beach balls.

I have not travelled far on this trip. The distance from Rome to Florence is just 182 miles—roughly equivalent to the drive I might take between my house in northwestern Vermont and Brattleboro, the city at its southeastern corner, near the border of Massachusetts. From Florence to the Cinque Terre, it is just 116 miles, which at home would get me only as far as White River Junction. And yet from the urban intensity of Rome, to the rustic charm of Tuscany and Umbria, and now the brilliant seas of the Cinque Terre, I am finding that the geography of Italy is astonishingly diverse.

I make my way through the pedestrian tunnel and up Via Roma until I reach the front door of the Hotel Margherita, a friendly place painted in shades of tangerine with green shutters. I check into room 101 and begin to unpack as a warm breeze through the louvered windows draws in the scent of lemon and basil from the garden below.

I feel energized when I make my way back down Via Roma toward the beach, and more so after grabbing a sandwich and a bottle of water. I climb a set of stairs by the Obertenghi Castle to the Aurora Tower, and continue up to the statue of St. Francis of Assisi. My legs are still feeling fresh on the descent, so much so that when I reach the sign at the end of the beach reading Per Vernazza, I decide, with little hesitation, to walk there for dinner, despite having just half my water left.

I had not planned on hiking any trails until tomorrow morning, especially the first leg to Vernazza, which is said to be the toughest climb, so this is either a moment of divine inspiration, or one of supreme lunacy under the heat of the afternoon sun. According to Rick Steves in his infamous guidebook, he often gets e-mails from readers “who say the trail was tougher than they expected,” but he assures us that while “it’s a bit of a challenge, it’s perfectly doable for any fit hiker… and worth the sweat.”

I spent months on a treadmill preparing for this, with the incline set to its highest point, so to believe that I am anything short of a “fit hiker” would amount to personal failure. Besides, I have already taken Assisi, Cortona, Orvieto, and San Gimignano in stride—hill towns all. Surely, this can be no worse.

Except that it is. That much is clear early on.

As the trail starts to climb, I can feel the burn in my legs. Before long, I’m stopping to catch my breath. Soon, it’s not so much a hiking trail as it is a never ending staircase.

The countryside is beautiful, to be sure. The path leads me along terraces of grapevines and olive groves, by crumbling stone walls overgrown with wildflowers, through the woods and over streams, but always uphill. Ceaselessly uphill. It’s late afternoon, the sun is scorching hot, and I don’t have nearly enough water. I start to ration it into the smallest of sips.

As a father and son approach from behind, I can overhear snatches of their conversation. They’re carrying fully inflated inner tubes. This seems like a bad idea on so many levels, although it occurs to me that if they happen to slip off the edge of the cliff—the footpath is narrow and there are, in most places, no guardrails—that it might actually break the fall.

The son is bounding forward, while the father lags behind and grumbles about wanting to turn back. I can’t say that I blame him, although as we meet others coming from the opposite direction, some wearing flip flops and others ballet flats, I am forced to question whether I am indeed a “fit hiker,” or merely a middle-aged woman in sensible shoes. As I march on, I begin to formulate a letter to Rick Steves in my head about how the trail was “tougher than I expected.”

When I cross paths with a group of friendly Australians heading from Vernazza, I dare to ask them about what lies ahead. Am I almost there, or almost to the ridgeline, at least? “Oh, dear,” the woman says. “Oh my, no.”

I’ve been on the trail for nearly two hours when, at long last, I reach a clearing high on the hill. The view from the summit takes my breadth away, although this time not from exertion, but out of sheer euphoria.

I am looking down upon the tiny village of Vernazza. I’ve arrived at the top of the hour and the bells of the lemon yellow church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia are just beginning to chime. I can see rows of pastel houses that fold back from a snug harbor, watched over by the ancient Doria Castle, and a fleet of small boats bobbing in the teal green sea. It is a picture postcard, perfect in every way.

Perhaps I won’t send that letter to Rick Steves, after all. It was worth the sweat, just as he said.

I make the descent into town and walk for a bit through the lively streets, but decide that it would best to head back to Monterosso al Mare, after all. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished—the hike is one I will long remember—but for now I’d like nothing more than a long, cold shower and a nice lie down before dinner. I head back on the train.

It’s 7:30 when I venture back out and, mercifully, the heat of the day is beginning to lift. I stop for dinner at Ristorante al Pozzo and relax on the outdoor patio, studying the menu and chatting with folks nearby. There is a couple from Australia on my left, and a young woman from San Francisco named Amber on my right. She’s quit her job and has been travelling solo around Europe for the past five months. She reminds me of Serena, who I met on the train from Assisi, and I find myself envying them both.

Italian cuisine is regional cuisine, and like Tuscany with its ribollita and wild boar, Liguria has specialties of its own—namely, anchovies, lemons, focaccia bread, and pesto. I’ve seen a dish called trofie al pesto on restaurant chalkboards all over town, and rows of basil are growing right outside my hotel window, so trofie al pesto it is.

Trofie is a variety of pasta made with flour and water, and not with egg. It’s rolled into thin strips, cut into pieces, and then twisted like a screw, with channels into which a sauce can cling. Famished from the day’s exertion, I gobble it down in astonishing speed.

Afterwards, I take a short walk around town before crashing into bed.  And in a conscious effort to reward to myself, I don’t set the alarm clock on the nightstand.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

When I wake up at last, it’s 9:30 in the morning. By the time I laze around and dress and take care of a few small chores—including a batch of laundry—it’s after 11 and I’ve missed breakfast at the hotel entirely.

I drop into Ristorante da Ely for a take-away slice of foccacia bread and a della de casa walnut torte, and this time—just to be safe—two extra bottles of water, and then sit on a bench in the shade overlooking the Old Town, eating and listening to the waves and the market below.

To start the day, I head up the long sloped stairs to the Capuchin church of San Francesco, to appreciate its quiet interior and the stunning views out along Fegina beach, all the way north to the Giant statue, and then make my way to the train station for the quick hop down to Riomaggiore, the southernmost village in the Cinque Terre. Today, the plan is to start at the bottom and hike north, as far as my legs will carry me. And if I am forced to stop for the sustenance of gelato in each and every town along the way, so be it.

There is an elevator in Riomaggiore, and it takes me to highest elevation in town, which allows the luxury of exploring downhill. I visit the church of San Giovanni Battista and the tiny oratory of Santa Maria Assunta, and gaze up at the castle and clock tower, but really the attraction here—and throughout the Cinque Terre—is the town itself and its easy charm.

The stucco houses are densely packed and painted in alternate pastel colors, regulated (I am told) by a commissioner of good taste. There are shades of lemon and peach, strawberry and lime, and together they remind me of a scoop of rainbow sherbet. There are open windows with green wood shutters, and laundry hangs in the sun to dry. The whole effect might be characterized as a kind of Mediterranean “shabby chic.”

From here I follow signs to the Via dell’Amore, or Avenue of Love, which connects Riomaggiore with Manarola, its neighbor to the north. It’s a beautiful path, wide and well paved, and it clings to the edge of the cliff in reckless abandon. After World War II, it became a romantic rendezvous where couples would meet and commemorate their love in amorous graffiti, a tradition which continues today. Layers of graffiti—some of it quite skilled—are caked onto the walls of the tunnel, and in a spurt of creativity, carved deep into the leaves of cactuses. And then there are padlocks. There are padlocks everywhere, locked onto signposts and fences and marked with initials.

I wonder if Nat and Lewis are still together? Or, Ludo and Giuppi, who wrote: Sei il mio primo pensiero al mattino, e l’ultimo alla sera. Grazie di esistere. Ti amo. “You are my first thought in the morning, and my last before bed. Thanks for being there. I love you.” At least I know that Aldo and Jnge are, since they wrote their names above a heart in 2007, 2008, and again just two months ago. There are hundreds of stories here, left dangling and unfinished, and I find myself wondering about them on the path to Manarola.

The next few hours slip by pleasantly, almost unnoticed. There are more tiny Gothic churches, more pastel colored homes, more stunning views out to sea and along the cliffs, and gradually my early prediction about gelato is fulfilled.

At about 4:00, I weigh the next step of my journey, from Corniglia to Vernazza, and decide against it. My body is weary and the hike would be the longest of the day, about 90 minutes. Perhaps, I think, I’ll tackle one that tomorrow. But I know I won’t.

Corniglia rests high on a promontory of rock, the only town in the Cinque Terre without a natural harbor. To get there, I had been lucky enough to snag a free bus to the top, but when I retrace my steps to where I got off, there is a sign warning that bus service has been discontinued for the day. And so I head down the “Lardarina” to the train station, a long set of switchback stairs—377 in all—my knees groaning in protest on every one.

Back at the Hotel Margherita in Monterosso al Mare, I rest up and head out to dinner a few hours later. At l’Altamarea, I dine well on some bruschetta, followed by pansotti in a walnut cream sauce, and a plate of grilled vegetables.

By now I’ve gotten a second wind, and so rather than heading to bed, I take the train to Manarola to watch the sunset, and then set up my tripod for some night shots. I follow the footpath north to the next jut of land

and look back on the village—my favorite of the day, second only to Vernazza. The sky is falling into a deep and brilliant blue, and there is a warm breeze on my skin. I slow the camera’s shutter, and the effect creates a dreamy mist on the waves as they crash towards the shore, and turns the pulsing of the street lights into a constellation of finely pointed stars.

Veramente questa è la vita.

This truly is living.