Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cinque Terre in October

We are in our third day in Italy, staying in the town of Levanto (in the photo above). I hesitate to use the word jet-lagged for how we feel. We are in another atmosphere, landed on a planet where night and day roll around each other with no distinction. Sometimes my eyes snap shut with such force that it shocks me. The chemicals of sleep bathe my brain, and I have no control, dropping off to sleep with my head lolling. Unfortunately this rarely happens at bedtime or in the middle of the night, when I am wide awake. I have had two nights of two hours of sleep; one over the Atlantic, the other here in Levanto at the Agriturismo Villanova. I have finished two novels in those long night hours, and stayed up without napping during the day in the hope of sleeping well the next night.

One of the graces of traveling to Europe is sleeping through most of the flight. If one can. The tortures of the too-small seats--I had less than two inches on either side of my mine--and the upright posture are vague disturbances if you're asleep. Awake, they are acutely inescapable miseries; the flight is interminable. I pity those larger than I.

But meantime, we are in Italy and the weather is beautiful. We are staying near the Cinque Terre, a series of five Ligurian villages that are linked by paths that run above the ocean on rocky slopes and cliffs. The only way to reach the towns was by train or ferry. A new highway opened the area up for tourism, and they are enjoying a new source of economic growth.

Our town, Levanto, has a nice beach and boardwalk, and the shops have terrific food. We got a pan of take-out lasagna bolognese that was the best ever. One of the glories of Italy is the prepared food in the markets and shops!

As we eat in the beauty of the terrace of the Villanuova, with the picture-postcard view, Giro keeps us company.

The truth about the Cinque Terre, just to set the record straight for those who think of it only as a hazy, sun-soaked stretch of unspoiled Italy, is that even in mid-October, there are many, many tourists here. There is nothing undiscovered about it, and bus loads of Germans, teenagers on fall school jaunts, and guided tours unload at the train stations.

Back in Santa Fe, Chris and I had imagined rustic hidden villages that had languished intact, out of contact with the 20th century, until they were opened up by modern transportation, for this is what the media says about it. While this may be true to an extent (Monterossa was a Roman outpost two thousand years ago), they are all filled with recently built (by Italian standards), second-half of the 20th century, uniform apartment buildings. The buildings are much more interesting here in Levanto; the wild coast is the draw of the Cinque Terre.

The trains are packed. The locals (at least the ones not in business) seem put-out by us. Some give us dirty looks--if they don't ignore us altogether. There is a concerted effort by the Cinque Terre trade and development association to bring economic viability to this otherwise subsistence farming and fishing area through promotion; that is why we're here. We've been drawn here by what we've read about the unspoiled villages. But really, this is October, and the scene that we've encountered in a few places is reminiscent of the Spanish Steps, where every tourist in Rome seems to have gathered.

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