Saturday, December 31, 2011


“I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.” - Dalai Lama

2011 brought me some wonderful things - I moved to Italy, finally got my visa straightened out, finished my masters at NYU with honors and started a new, wonderful life here that really made me realize how blessed I am. But, 2011 also showed me the worst it could have - friends and family with illnesses they don't deserve (does anyone?), hurricanes, and a flood that helped everyone realize how quickly your life can be flipped upside down.
This blog was originally for me to write about my experiences here, and, as I said in the title, a girl "living her dream" in the Italian Riviera. Sometimes your dreams don't go as planned, and it's true that when life twists its direction, all you can do is move on.
I wouldn't trade this year for anything, because you can't just think of the bad things that have happened, but I hope that 2012 will bring something just a little bit easier for us. A road that can be just as twisted and windy, but with fewer bumps. That's all I ask.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

There is no mud in Manarola...

...and they've got some intense Christmas lights.

Mario Andreoli, a resident of nearby Manarola, has spent the past several decades illuminating a hillside of the Cinque Terre with a larger then life presepe, or nativity scene, for Christmas. The display takes over 15,000 light bulbs and covers over 4,000 square feet of hillside, overlooking the winding streets and typical leaning houses of the "second" town of the Cinque Terre. Since I heard about this nativity scene and saw this youtube video, I've been a little bit obsessed with it. It looks staggering in the pictures, and I was eager to see it with my own eyes - plus the video makes me weep, for some reason. It opens in early December and goes until February, thanks to Mr. Andreoli's passion and is alleged to be the largest nativity scene in the world, according to this website. Tonight, we're in a bit of a slump between Christmas and New Years, and though we are fortunate to have a few bars and cafes and one restaurant open so soon after the flood, there's really only so much time you can spend drinking and eating inside them. We hopped on the 10 minute train southeast to Manarola, and explored a little bit.

Manarola, in between bigger Riomaggiore and beautiful hilltop Corniglia, gets a bit overlooked in my book. Monterosso is the big kid, with the resort like beaches and the long "boardwalk". Vernazza has been called the "cute little sister", with it's "typical" street (singluar) and castle, Corniglia's got some wild stairs and a hell of a view, and Riomaggiore is a twisted, bewitching, hillside tangle of houses crashing into the sea.
Manarola is sadly to me always the town next to Riomaggiore. The one at the other end of the Via Dell'Amore. A stop before Corniglia.
I can confess, though, that I never gave it a shot. I walked thorough it in 10 minutes, never up the hill, and my only lingering memory of it was the day Italy sent troops to Lybia, and a man who started his night of drinking far too early yelling about it in the streets. However, tonight, alone winding up dark, lonely streets peering into the inky blackness of the same ocean that transfixes me a short train ride away, I realized how wrong I'd been. The light display is huge. Staggering. I hate the phrase "you have to see it with your own eyes" really don't do it justice. Certainly not mine.
Manarola is just as charming as it's sisters and brothers, and has the same passionate residents as the other towns in the Cinque Terre, judging by one older man's devotion to lighting up his vineyard covered hillside for his fellow Manarolese. They've got their own thing going on here, their own tradition and passion, and though they might technically be considered a fraction of Riomaggiore, they certainly find their ways to stand out.

And they do it enchantingly well. Especially at Christmas.

Belgian Gifts

Check out today's post from Rebuild Monterosso about the truckload of goodies delivered from some wonderful people in Belgium.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Christmas Marathon

Now, I know when Manuel told me they EAT at Christmas, I laughed it off, and knew it would be like the holidays I was used to.
Having said that, it's like going from running a mile every day to running the New York City marathon. I haven't left the table in 3 days.
After Christmas Eve, there is Christmas lunch, which consisted of salted anchovies, lemon anchovies, smoked salmon, russian salad (assorted vegetables in a mayo-like sauce with beets and pomegranate seeds), stuffed eggs (like deviled eggs, but filled with chopped giardniera, mayo, capers, and so forth), fresh oysters, raw scampi, shrimp salad, cappon magro leftovers, crostini, crackers with a salty cheese spread, goats cheese with herbs, a special Christmas cocktail Manuel and I invented (lychee, mandarin orange, vodka and prosecco)...and then we ate our fist course. That was just the appetizer. Ravioli with ragu followed, then steamed monkfish with oil and salt over greens, then dessert - tiramisu. Then figs, dates, torrone, cookies, panettone, pan dolce, pan forte, chocolates. Then we had dinner.
I wish I was kidding.
We sat BACK down at the table for tortellini in brodo, cima, roasted potatoes and fruit. We started at about 1, and finished at a little after 2 in the morning.
Today, the 26th, happens to be the birthday of Manuel's uncle, as well as Santo Stefano Day, the name day of his cousin, Stefania, and his grandmother, Stefanina. So today consisted of the same again, just with different dishes. Risotto with scampi, fried lamb, and flaky, fresh soglia over sauteed Tropea onions and pomegranate seeds. These people do not kid around.
For dessert, I fashioned a birthday cake in Italian-American style - chocolate chip white cake with a Nutella buttercream frosting, shaved chocolate and whipped cream. Definitely delicious, but now I'm entering a food coma that I have never before experienced.
The mood here for Christmas is truly incredible. For a community that has been through so much, everyone is in remarkable spirits - it truly reflects the feeling of how lucky we are to have something still after so much loss and such a few hard months.
It's never far from your mind, though, as every turn through town brings another image of the flood - but this time, instead of sighs, it's accompanied with a surprised face of progress. Even on a drive a few days ago to La Spezia to finish our Christmas shopping, we drove over the destroyed highway, through buried tunnels and the land on either side, in Brungato and other towns, where it looked like a bomb went off. Trees swept into piles on either side of a mild-looking river, the only sign of its hidden danger and strength seen in the debris swept forcefully down in the current of October 25th. But though we were driving, I let out a light whistle of astonishment at the damage this whole region sustained, then a few seconds later quickly realized the road we were driving on was perfectly fine, trucks slowing traffic and closing a lane as they painted the new asphalt on the road.
It's one thing to see the incredible damage, and be blown away by it, it's another to realize just how far we have come in rebuilding Monterosso as well as the region, though I know there is still so much to do.
The next few months after Christmas will be hard, but it's comforting to see this area during a season full of people realizing their blessings, and how incredibly fortunate we are to still have a community, a family, a life - and something we can rebuild, and one so worthy of the effort.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas and Cappon Magro

It's my first Christmas in Italy, and due to a number of reasons, it's much different then I anticipated - in being that it doesn't feel that different at all. Yes, looking out my kitchen window to the big blue ocean stretching below, squinting in the sun reflected off it's glassy surface, it's hard to believe that this is a day where I hoped for snow for most of my childhood, albeit several thousand miles from here. But thanks to Skype, I can have an "e-Christmas", a few hours off, with my family. And growing up in an Italian American home, most of the foods we eat and then having to run off to a midnight mass isn't that foreign either. Especially the part where everyone loses track of time and hurries to mass late. That's definitely a scene from my childhood.
Cooking all afternoon, then sitting down to eat at a table crowded with family, mismatched chairs to fit everyone, rubbing elbows and shouting to pass the bread - that's the same too. However, my introduction to cappon magro is something quite different, and something I'm incredibly happy about. Cappon Magro is an incredibly traditional Ligurian dish served for Christmas eve, and an insanely labor intensive one at that. Manuel's cousin explained to me that the dish, a huge platter of fish and vegetables, steamed and served in a large tower atop vinegar soaked crostini, dressed with a vinegary salsa verde, is something of a fisherman's joke. As in the old days, the fishermen were too poor to afford to eat a turkey or a large bird of Christmas (a cappon), they made this with old bread soaked in seawater and vinegar, and whatever fish they had around. Magro means skinny. Get it? A "Cappon Magro".
Regardless, there's nothing skinny about it now, and Manuel's Aunt remarked to me the irony in that this dish started as a poor, humble fisherman's food, and now, due to the amount of time and fish in it, has turned into quite the opposite. Bread is soaked in vinegar and water, and placed at the base of the platter. Then a "napoleon" of sorts is fashioned, consisting of steamed vegetables (potatoes, carrots, zucchini, green beans, cauliflower and even beets) and fish (whatever white fish and shellfish are around, and in large quantities) are layered carefully, dressed with oil and salt and lots of salsa verde, which really makes the dish. It's a mixture of cooked egg yolk, salt, parsley, oil, vinegar soaked bread, capers, cornichons, salted anchovies, and cocktail onions, blended until it's a smooth, vividly green topping for the whole delicious pile. Manuel's family kindly made me my own little cappon magro with just fish, since I'm allergic to shellfish, and though it was huge, I ate the whole thing. It's annoying to make, as every ingredient needs to be steamed separately before assembling, which is time consuming, but in my opinion, worth every minute. This is one Christmas tradition I'm ecstatic about.
What does make it feel definitively like Christmas is the same spirit I've felt intensified since the flood. That warm spirit of community has been everywhere, and now it's reflected even more in the sense of the holiday. Our faithful A.N.P.A.S. tent in the Old Town, that has been a dining room, a concert hall, a meeting place and so much more since the 25th of October was last night turned into a church, as midnight mass was held inside, spilling out to the street. We finished with a procession to the cleaned up church in the Old Town, where we crowded inside, saying our final prayers and blessings. Trying to keep my eyes on the service, it was hard not to wander over to that water line, stretching high on the inside wall. You remember the flood, but then look around at all the faces, the smiles and hugs wishing you a Merry Christmas, stop to have a cocktail after at one of the bars open in the Old Town underneath some twinkling lights, and realize that especially now, Monterosso feels so much more alive. It's residents are here, celebrating - a town with a family, a past and a future. Christmas, wherever you are in the world, makes everything sparkle just a little bit more brightly.
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Just in time

There are Christmas trees all over Italy - some of the most impressive and beautiful are at the Vatican, the Colosseum, all the usual places. They're huge, immaculately decorated and every square inch (centimeter) is lit perfectly. However, I'd wager none of those trees have as much heart as this little guy that just got decorated in my living room.

Santa Claus is Monterosso

My return to Monterosso for Christmas apparently coincided with Santa's as well. Last night, after a long trip home and a longer side trip to Ikea (which is in Genoa and on the way home from the airport. It's a nightmare every time), I was finally alive enough last night to leave my unpacking and cleaning and able to go down to the ANPAS tent in the Old Town for a bit of Christmas cheer. It's hard for it to really "feel" like Christmas for me here. Even in the U.S. it seemed a bit forced, but maybe it's the sunny weather, or my Christmas garland I twisted over our terrace overlooking the sea, but something about the ocean doesn't really yell "It's Christmas time!" to me.
Last night, however, it really started to sink in. The Lion's Club of Chiavari and the folks helping us so, so much in Levanto painstakingly read (with Santa, of course) every letter written by every child in Monterosso. After a Christmas sing-a-long, Santa appeared with a gift for every child in town, and more then that, it was exactly what they'd asked for. Nothing compares to the grins of children who have just received exactly what they wanted from Santa himself, except maybe the hilarity of watching these children then turn into toy obsessed zombies.
Regardless, it was nice to see smiles and hear the incredibly deserved applause of the volunteers and people helping out Monterosso, especially at Christmas. Maybe there's no snow on the ground, and maybe I don't have to angrily scrape off frost from my car this year, but I think the spirit of the season is even stronger here. Certainly Santa thinks so - he's here almost every day.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Packing Essentials

I'm trying to cram my life into 2 suitcases for my flight Monday, and I have the uncomfortable feeling that I'm heading straight into an overweight baggage fee. Even with two suitcases. This will be my first Christmas in Monterosso, and I'm excited and anxious to get back. A sea storm hit yesterday sweeping in much of the debris that was so painstakingly cleaned out, and damaging the soccer field. As much as I've really psyched myself up and geared myself towards seeing a "new" Monterosso, the thought of taking a step back is disheartening, but I'm trying to put aside any expectations until I get there. The real work will start after Befana.
So, some of the things I'm deeming indispensable for my next year in Italy are a bit odd, and I'm wondering what customs would say upon opening my suitcase. Manuel brought the Christmas stuff when he flew back Thursday, and is now busy getting the tree ready, and I'm in charge of bringing a bit of Southeast Asia to Liguria.

Some of my more random items include:
Preserved lemongrass
Jarred kaffir lime leaf
Jarred Thai Basil
Cellophane Noodles
Spring roll rice paper
Green chili paste
Brown Sugar
Cream of Tartar
Rose water
Smoked paprika

Now, I know I could find these with some effort in La Spezia or Genoa...but when the craving for pho hits, who wants to take a train to go shopping to satisfy it? I'm far too lazy for that. I might actually cave in and mail most of this, as I don't think the Italian Christmas season will grind to a halt for lack of a Northern African spice blend, and I'll still be able to save my back health by not trying to tote this across several states and regions. I'm in Northern NJ, flying out of JFK, flying into Milan but live in Liguria, which is a bit of a trip, and it's also a bit difficult wrapping my mind around the fact that I most likely won't be back in the USA for another year.

I'd better buy more kaffir lime.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


For those of you into Twitter, Rebuild Monterosso has started a Twitter account, at

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Trails Open!

Thanks to fellow Monterosso ex-pat Megan, I discovered this article - the National Park is planning on having the majority of the trails open by Easter of 2012, and is going to start a website to monitor it's progress. The article is in Italian here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Too lazy to click a link?

It happens. I'm not here to judge.

But, from, here is what your donation goes towards, and what's going on...

"The administration of the township of Monterosso is diligently working towards restoring the social and economic life of the village.
The immediate concern is to restore the town to a point where the residents will be able to return to their homes comfortably. Already utilities of primary necessity have been reactivated. Most of the village now has gas (for cooking, heating and hot water), telephone service, electricity and drinkable water in their homes.

In the coming weeks, efforts will be concentrated on the following projects:
  • Reactivating the Volunteer Firefighter’s headquarters
  • Cleaning and opening the Senior Citizen’s Activity Center
  • Securing and reopening of the preschool as well as the street that it is located on, Via Gioberti
  • The extreme renovation and reopening of the middle school, as well as securing the containing walls that surround the school complex
  • Restoring the sports field on the new side of the village
  • Rebuilding the playpark and gardens in Piazza Garibaldi
  • Replacing the greenery, street lights and public benches in the historic center, all of which were washed away during the flood
  • Reactivating immediately the public medical clinics
  • Cleaning and making available the public exibition areas located within the town hall building.
These are just some of the projects that your donations will go towards- each one of these listed above will benefit every resident and many will benefit visitors as well.
Obviously a great deal of money will be needed to complete these and future projects. Therefore, every donation, large or small is important- both in the financial support of the village, as well as the moral support of the population."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Beautiful photos of the "before"

I found this photographer, Elia Locardi, and his amazing work on the internet, especially his incredibly beautiful photos of the Cinque Terre...his website is here.

Paypal donations

Rebuild Monterosso, the English version of the site started by the town, has posted a paypal link with very detailed instructions. The paypal donation site on the website of the Comune of Monterosso al Mare is in Italian, but VERY detailed instructions (and photos) are available on this link to explain every step to you. You can reach the link to donate with english insructions here.

The total damage from the flood is over 1 billion euro. Government money has been earmarked to help us clean up, but it's not nearly enough, and most people and businesses don't have insurance that covers natural disasters. That's not anyone's fault- it's standard in Italy, but what it means is that every little bit helps. I know it's Christmas and the economy isn't the best in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, but for those of you who have been to Monterosso al Mare, please try and donate what you can, and pass it along. The memories and moments you experienced in this little slice of paradise won't fade away, and whatever you can give will help us rebuild to the town you so fondly remember.

Grazie mille!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Digging away...

I'm really eager to get back to Monterosso. As I've said, I'm not sure still if I feel like I'm coming home or going home, but I think it's totally fine to have two places that you can feel the same warmth towards. The updates we're getting several times a day from Manuel's family (mothers are the same everywhere in the world) and our friends paint a different picture from a few weeks ago, in many ways. As you can see on the blog of Kate Little, another American living in Liguria, the streets have been pretty much demolished in the old town, specifically Via Roma, which has been the most photographed. However, the other streets (like Via 4 Novembre, which the B and B is on) are in the same situation. The asphalt and road that was covering the small canals underneath had to be hacked away so that the underground canals could be cleared of debris, and the above roads rebuilt safely. What remains are streets that are now fully of gaping holes stretching down to the area below, but, to mirror Kate's sentiments in her blog post, in a disaster situation, progress can wear many different and surprising masks.

What I'm happy about is that they're doing this now. Most things grind to a halt in Italy over Christmas and up to La Befana (January 6), so I'm glad everyone really did as much as they could until this period, when everyone can take a nice, well deserved break. At least a little one, especially considering the situation. The well deserved four month vacation most Monterossini take in the winter obviously isn't happening this year, and there is nothing more disheartening then working yourself to the bone with the end in sight, only to have the end turn into the beginning of a nightmare. I was reluctant to leave Monterosso for Thanksgiving, but the tickets couldn't be changed, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit relieved to get away from it for a few weeks. I'd even have settled for a day or two.

Another great development is that Monterosso has also focused it's efforts on what needs to be done in order of importance. As the blog of the Comune lists, the majority of the work will be focused on helping rebuild the basic infrastructure of the town, such as Via Roma, Buranco, Molinelli, 4 Novembre, etc. It goes without saying that streets are imperative in the functioning of a town (unless you're Venice), but the other things we're missing or throwing together are just as important.

Schools are another big one that the Comune has listed as an important step in the rebuilding of the town. Monterosso is small, and compared to an American public school class size, laughably so. It doesn't mean that the kids here have any less of a right or the town any less of a responsibility to education, and they embrace this head-on. After an understandable week off, the children were moved to a makeshift school on Padre Semeria, but for children in the middle of a grown-ups worst nightmare, it's not an easy transition. The headaches ranged from the big (where can we have a school?) to the small (Manuel's nephew left, OF ALL THINGS, his english workbook in the flooded, muddy old school. I tried not to be offended).

Just keep peeking at the blogs around the internet, and as I've said, though we're off the front page of the paper, we're still working just as hard. When I see people around me, lamenting about what size Christmas tree to buy, or where to put the lights outside, I can't help but realize how truly thankful I am to still have a house, friends and a family - in two countries.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cinque Terre everywhere

As I've been here in the NYC area for a few weeks with Manuel, what's going on in my other home is never far from my mind. Calls to family and messages from friends a few times a day ensure that though technically we aren't standing in the mud, we're still surrounded by it's aftermath. It's like a mini-vacation to my home from my home, but it's deceptive. I know what we have to return to.

But first, there's Christmas.

As you've seen in some previous photos, we lost all of our Christmas decorations Man
uel's family has acquired through the years. This means that some serious shopping has taken place around New York City markets and those "pop-up" Christmas warehouses on Route 17 in Northern New Jersey, where I was born and raised (i.e. the opening of The Sopranos). I'm pretty jaded to the suburban jumble of lights and reindeer, but it's nice seeing it through the eyes of another person who grew up without front lawns. Manuel loves the stuff that I rolled my eyes at - think an inflatable 12 foot Santa that plays music on your front lawn - and it's a little contagious. I'm just as excited as he is to have a little bit of a celebration and holiday normalcy after a nightmare-ish autumn.

As we were wandering through one of these giant, generic Christmas stores mobbed by
housewives scrambling for the last icicle lights, we were laughing and talking about electric voltage conversions, lawn ornaments and our shopping for family in what is sure to be a downscaled holiday. We had a moment to just be caught up in the spirit of things. As we rounded the corner of the store, completely out of place amidst the fake evergreen and dingy shopper-worn carpeting, we were faced with our reality again.

This picture of Vernazza, labeled simply as "Italian Town" (and, of course, waterproofed for outside hanging for only $199) was hanging nonchalantly
on the wall. Manuel laughed in surprise, and we stood for a few minutes, shocked at the complete randomness of it all. Now, I could look at this as just a strange coincidence, or even as something simply unexpected. After all, the Cinque Terre is famous, especially with Americans. And shopping in an American store, should I be that surprised?

Maybe I read too much into things, maybe my imagination is a little wild, or maybe I've been taking my yoga-esque philosophy too seriously, but for me, it was a sign. Like a little smile or a wink, or a curtain peeking slightly back from the window into the future. Like my new home popped into my old one, stubbornly, just to say again, "I'm still here. And I'm not going anywhere. See you when you come back!"

That's exactly what I hope people are taking from my blog the past few months, or weeks. After things move off the front page, and we get swept back up in our own madness of the holiday season, just remember - Monterosso and Vernazza are still here. And when you least expect it, when your mind wanders, they're still inviting you to come back, in the middle of everything else.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Manuel's Mom on TV...

...along with the rest of Monterosso, courtesy of a video I found posted on the Monterosso blog, Manuel was most excited about the image of an armchair he found in the garbage that he hopes we can salvage somehow. Those of you that have been following the blog know my feelings about this.

It's in Italian, but the video and images need no translation. The woman in the beginning of the video is Manuel's mother, and you can see what a mess the B&B is BUT keep in mind, this was a few days after the flood. It was much worse. And before I came to the US for Thanksgiving, those muddy floors were spotless, thank you very much.

You can watch the youtube video here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Prima e Dopo...ancora

This time, we're starting with what the town looked like right after the flood, and what it looks like now. There's still so much to so, but as you can see, so much has been done - and it's not an exaggeration to say that everyone's support (financial and otherwise) has been incredibly important to us.

The Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, put this compilation together. The link to the pictures can be found here.

The Facebook Effect

I read something recently that said that due to Facebook and the popularity of social media in the world, we are getting closer. That whole "6 degrees of separation" is now something like 4.3. Being in the United States for a little while has meant many reunions with friends and family and former co-workers, many of which who have run up to me asking about the flood. A visit to the bar I used to bartend at turned into a sad reunion of sorts, as many of my former "regulars" spend the majority of our visit asking questions about Monterosso, Vernazza and the recovery effort and progress. I was really surprised and heartened, again, to see how many people are cheering us along.
What I was also really inspired to see was the amount of people that told me they forwarded an article, my blog, a You Tube link or Rick Steves article about our recovery to their friends, telling them to pass it on to THEIR friends, and so forth. When this all gets figured out and we're back to our beautiful little beach town, we're going to need all the visitors we can get. So, use that 4.3 degrees of separation. And I hope to see you all next summer :)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

One Month Ago.

A month of my life has now been devoted to this flood, and I know it's not ending at that. It's a little unbelievable to think that for a month, my feet have not left the muddy ground of Monterosso al Mare. We went to Levanto Saturday night for a pizza, and I didn't realize how much I psychologically needed to leave my flooded little town. It was strange, because the group of 11 of us wanted to eat a pizza at 9:30, and at this time and at this point in the season, you wouldn't expect every restaurant to be completely full. What we hadn't taken into account was that Levanto isn't just Levanto anymore - it's also the majority of evacuated residents of Monterosso and Vernazza. There was the surf competition, but there were no waves in Levanto for the past week, so they moved to another town where they could finish their constest.
We drove there again on Sunday, this time with Manuel's family, for a short stroll and some fresh air, and could barely walk half a block without stopping to talk to a friend that
was now living here. The sighs are the same, the comforting shoulder pats and hugs, as everyone checks in on each others progress in the recovery and rebuilding. But, after a month, the progress has been incredible. I can't stress that enough. The Cantina is at a bit of a stalemate, as it's completely empty and we wait to figure out insurance wise and so forth what exactly we can do. However, other restaurants have made progress that blows me away. Lorenzo's place, Ciak, as you've seen and as I've written, is more or less mud free. As you can see, in the photo, the flood revealed a beautiful brick wall that was covered up - and the lamps hanging from the ceiling give a reminder of how high that water and mud was.
I'm coming back to New York for a few days, then Thanksgiving, and it's desperately
needed. When you can step back from the strange reality you've been faced with, it helps give you a clearer perspective on how much we have to do still, and what we've accomplished. Still, looking at the photos from a month ago today shocks me. It's something I never thought I'd have to deal with here, and I'm obviously not the only
one who feels that terrible sense. The best way to deal with it is to simply work and try not to dwell on what has happened here, but I'm incredibly glad to see New York City and wear normal shoes for a little bit.
However, the forecast calls for rain. Go figure.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Normalcy and Nonna

The past few days have, for lack of a better word, sucked.

We've been emptying out more muddy, half-ruined stuff, but since it's the end of November, it's a little cold in the shade. We're bringing everything outside into the street, using a few buckets and a power hose, rubber gloves that get holes in 5 m
inutes, and old sponges to attempt to scrub off the sticky, oily mud before we begin the aforementioned cleaning cycle. Standing in cold muddy water all day is getting old, and it's hard for me to believe I've been doing this exact thing for about a month. We're keeping our spirits up as much as we can, and laughing a bit too much, which for me is an indication that we may be going a little crazy. We need a break.

Today, Manuel and I spent the day with his grandma. A bit of normalcy is what we need, and it's funny - even the moments when we're not knee-deep in the remnants of the destruction of the flood, it's all anyone can bring themselves to talk about. Manuel's grandma is 80 years old and fantastic, as most women who are that age are. The kind of woman who complains that she can't taste the liquor in her cocktail. More then that, the kind of woman who still goes OUT for cocktails with her friends, and has no problem navigating the flights of stairs all around this town. She cracks jokes and speaks a fluid and confusing mixture of Italian and dialect and cooks lunch, dinner and everything else with the motions of
a woman whose been doing it her whole life. She's a little stubborn and really strong, like everyone else here - I guess that's the mark of a Ligurian. Since the flood, she's been watching the news, like everyone else, but I can't imagine how it could be for her, having been born and raised in Vernazza, then having raised her family here in Monterosso. I couldn't imag
ine seeing what I knew my whole life in this condition.
It's people like her, the little old women I see sitting outside Franca's (the little grocery store on Via Fegina) or in front of the Church that really make me smile, and give me hope for what this town can achieve. These people are incredibly resilient, and they might sigh and shake their heads, but they pick up the pieces quickly and move on. Ligurians are a sturdy lot, and Monterosso, especially it's women, are a great indication of that.

Not surprisingly, she can cook. Ligurian food is something I'm still trying to get the hang of, since my kitchen experience oddly consists of a mix of latin american, southeast asian, indian and southern italian. Ligurian cuisine is an interesting experience for me, as many of it is familiar - think pesto and minestrone - but more of it is unique - have you tried farinata? Or can you even guess what it is?

Thought so.
Today we made fritelle di mele, which is Italian for apple fritters. As I followed her, taking pictures and asking for measurements, I encountered the same problem I have asking my own grandmother for recipes. These firey old women don't measure a thing. Is the milk hot enough? Stick your finger in it and find out. Watching me carefully whisk an egg white, Isolina took the whisk from me and laughingly chided, "You can't cook without getting your hands dirty". Manuel peeled beautiful apples, while I tried to pay attention to his nonna. She put together the batter of flour, butter, a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of oil, a spoon of sugar, a bit of baking soda, a pinch of salt, enough acqua frizzante for it to look "good enough", a splash of milk, an egg yolk, a whipped egg white (you see my issue with the measurements), we then fried thin slices of apple from Alto Adige in sizzling peanut oil then dusted them with sugar. The apple melted into the dough, and the whole thing was devoured by a hungry, flood-exhausted family at the end of a long day.

It's the same batter you use for baccala, or zucchini, or anything else fried. Just add sugar instead of salt. And if you don't have butter you don't need it, she added. Also, don't think too much about the water, you can use naturale. The apples are better if they are the green ones, she threw in, but don't worry. She shrugged about the oil, too, "You can just use what you have around". Singing quietly to herself as she leaned over the stove, frying happily away, I was again reminded that what we're working so hard to rebuild. It's hard to find
something so resilient that can also be so adaptable, be it an old recipe from a grandmother and her tradition, or a little village steadfastly reconstructing in the mud. The recipe will still cook, but you just have to work with what you have. Pick up the pieces, see what you've got, hum a tune and get to work. After 80 years, grandmothers have easily acquired this beautiful trait - and after so many centuries, clearly Monterosso has as well.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Surfers helping out

For those of you who don't know, you can surf here. In fact, the waves in Levanto are so well known that they merit the Bear Pro world championship in longboarding, which is going on until November 20th. Unfortunately, I've been a little preoccupied and haven't made it there, but the surfers instead came here. Or rather, to Vernazza, but the sentiment is really moving, and the video they made is great.
You can really get an idea of what happened here through the video, and appreciate how much we have to do...and there are some beautiful images of this great big sea on our doorstep.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Things we have...

Well-timed and creative rest breaks, as you can see by Ema's relaxing.
Fashion. La moda di Monterosso this month is rubber rain boots and jeans, and they have to be muddy. Yellow fishermen suits and fire or army uniforms are, of course, also very hip. On a side note, I hunted far and wide for beautiful rubber rain boots this fall that everyone wrinkled their noses at in disgust - "How ugly, Cri!" Little did they know what a trendsetter I'd become, just one week before.

Rhythm. As you can see, Ema and Piero are dancing while power hosing and cleaning the Cantina. Not easy on a slippery metal gate!A free Via Molinelli - the mud line still remains on the garage doors.
Beautiful fall foliage overlooking a stubbornly large and undraining puddle.
The world's most picturesque garbage drop off...
Soccer! (on the right)
And, clearly, a sense of humor to go along with it all.

more ways you can help us, besides coming here and showing your lovely face in 5 months

A big, muddy garage sale

Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Proof! The Church of San Giovanni Battista has made huge progress, but you can still see in the corner the line where the water rose to.

Apparently I wasn't the only one who was able to find and save a beautiful painting.

The things that can be saved...

Newly liberated from mud - as you can see from previous pictures, this used to be completely submerged.
Look inside the supermarket on the left - people are working so, so hard and it shows
When I look to Vernazza, in the distance, I have such sad feelings. The day of the flood, talk was on Via 4 Novembre, then turned to the Old Town, since we could only speculate how everything fared. At one point, that night, we looked towards Vernazza and saw the lights in the harbor and up to the castle. We all had grim thoughts, but no one knew that they had suffered as horribly we did. Now, when I look over to the harbor, I see construction, even this far away (you can probably see the crane looming over the town), and again, that's a great sign for me.
There is such a thing as the "fishbowl effect". It occurs when you are in a situation that results in being observed from the inside-out, similar to a little fish in his glass abode, with big human eyes staring in.
This is a feeling I felt a little bit yesterday, as I noticed a handful of tourists filming and snapping pictures as we worked outside hosing off our muddy kitchen and bar, and the framework that we can save from the inside of the Cantina. It's a feeling that I also get when I see a train pass by overhead of Piazza Belvedere in the Old Town - not as much now, but a few weeks ago people crowded the windows of passing trains with curious faces, observing what the flood had done to the lives of this little town. Now, I'm so happy that people are looking down at progress and construction and at the dramatic difference. There's mud, yes, but it's coming from cleaning up this mess. With everyone hosing off and cleaning what can be salvaged from the newly freed storefronts and businesses, the affect is similar to a muddy garage sale. Belongings littering the streets, and everyone pitching in as the walk by - for a minute, for an hour, for a day or two. We have people I never saw before helping us in the Cantina. This is just as heartwarming as the comforting smell of bleach and ammonia. It means "clean", and it means progress - and it means that the people have something to see when the look out the windows. I hope this muddy garage sale effect has the same positive feeling for them it does for me. And I hope those pictures that the tourists snapping get sent home with stories to accompany them of a huge flood and devastation - and a community working hard and fast to eagerly move past it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

For those of you not already following Kate, please check out her post today about Marco, who has helped us so much the past 20 days - and his beautiful quote about Monterosso.

And the mountain keeps growing

This morning inside the Cantina...we got everything out, as you can see
What our "ocean front" dining looks like now.
What we can save in the kitchen. Ha.
All of this needs to be taken out.
Two days after the flood - the water still hadn't gone down.
Happier times this summer
Ema and Elia at our mojito party in August behind the bar
One of our dinner and concert nights this summer
Terra Mia release party and concert
What the entrance used to look like...and will look like again :)

Just when it seems like we've really started to make some progress with cleaning up this flood mess, the work pile keeps growing. We're closing up the restaurant and have cleaned five of the six rooms in the bed and breakfast, which was a nightmare. We had to go through every single thing - lamp, picture frame, foot of a chair - and clean it. Then bleach it. Then clean it again. Then dry it. Then sanitize it. Then move it to another room that had already been cleaned and sanitized. Then clean the walls. Then clean the ceiling. Then clean the floor. Then bleach the walls...

You get the idea.

So, now it's more then a little daunting to tackle the Cantina, which sustained the most damage. Though we didn't have mud, we had water that didn't drain for a few days, which as I've said, ruined everything. The effect is the same - mud or not. All we have an empty space we need to build again, and we've started with the kitchen.

I wanted to post these pictures as we rebuild, so you guys can see what we started with, what we have left, and how much we need to do. Then, when we have our fantastic reopening party in April for next season, you can all "oooh" and "aaaah" at how much work we did to fix everything here. I have no doubt we'll do it. It's not easy work, but it's getting done - together. And I'm learning all sorts of handy words like bleach (candeggina) and ammonia (ammoniaca) as well as learning to work a power washer. Certainly not things I thought I'd learn when I moved to Italy, but again, the word of the year is "adaptability".