Saturday, September 24, 2011

Il primo giorno d'Autunno

The first day of fall is usually marked by that snap in the air - that looking forward to halloween, drinking pumpkin beer, and the unloading of boxes of warmer clothes from the attic (or, for many people with small apartments, from the other part of the closet). Here, I embraced my old life and my new one by making an "American" apple pie, then going to the beach. The weather here is still about 80 F and sunny, and though the water is a little cold, it's crystal clear and empty, which makes for perfect, lazy days at the beach soaking up the last of the summer sun. Beautiful sunsets, like this one, are seen every day during my "commute" to work, which is a 7 minute, 147 step descent with some beautiful views. Corniglia, in this photo, can be seen in the distance. Perhaps the most "picturesque" town in the region, up some 390 steps from the sea, it sits snugly perched precariously in the cliffs like a beautiful woman leaning over to get a better look at the crashing aqua waves below. At night, the temperature drops significantly and the smell of wood burning fires wafting out of neighboring chimneys brings me back to the correct season - it is, in fact, fall.
The business at the Cantina is in an American rhythm. It's busy during normal American dinner times, say 7:30-9, then most tables leave by 10:30-11, which means I can sit peacefully and do my Italian homework, something I have mixed emotions about. I am at the point where I really just need to start speaking more, and though I am trying, it's frustrating having someone interrupt me every two words to correct my pronunciation. I know I need it, but it makes telling a story difficult. Also, I'm beyond learning simple past tenses and now onto learning the "fun" stuff, like "I would have gone to the party if they had it". It's as annoying in Italian as it is in English. My textbook, however (which I bought off Amazon before coming here) is of endless amusement to my friends, and they all want ones in English. It's probably pretty easy to find, but when I informed a few of them there wasn't a lesson on American curse words, they lost interest.
Curse words are used more here than in the U.S., and it's really amusing to me when a parent freely throws around phrases like these in front of children. They have varying degrees, however, some as mild as "crap" and some like the "f" word with all sorts of references to god mixed in (those are the REALLY bad ones, not for children and of course, women). The milder ones are kind of funny, especially considering their actual meanings. Cavolo means literally, cabbage, and is used to mean, "like hell" or "like heck", or any sort of mild curse exclamation. For example, "Col cavolo io vado al cinema con lui" is "Like heck I'll go to the movies with him", but literally means "Cabbage, I'll go to the movies with him". Moms, grandpas and children all throw it around, though children more often then not get a nasty look from their elders. Fantastic, isn't it?
Also, "porca" attached to anything is bad, and the worst is when it comes before "vacca". So, in essence, it's not odd to see angry men shaking their fists and yelling "pig cow" at each other on the street. It makes me crack up every time, which is even worse. Someone, in all their misery, cursing, and a strange American girl laughing with tears in her eyes muttering "pig cow! He said pig cow!" on the sidelines is not what one would expect to see. I'm trying to control myself.
One thing I could not control myself about was a recent post on Tripadvisor that left me shaking with rage, and Manuel just as annoyed as I. When we told other friends, they also felt the same. Someone wrote how "her" Vernazza, one of the other towns of the Cinque Terre (and seen far in the right of the above photo from the beach at the Stella Marina), had become commercialized, over-touristy, over-populated and disgusting after her first and only visit there 15 years ago. What followed in that message board thread was a small rant by other tourists about how there were too many tourists (ironic) that ruined the region. The same woman said the locals were annoyed about the visitors, and lamented that their children were no longer fishermen or working in the vineyards.
The message was a long one, but those were some of the points that annoyed me to no end. I hate when I read things encouraging people not to make the Cinque Terre a stop in Italy. Though I agree, the tour buses and the hoards of groups trying to do it all in a day are too much, people making this place a stop for a few days are making a great decision. There is a certain kind of charm here that is only matched by the incredible, rugged beauty of the region, and the locals here are doing everything they can to balance the tourism and the protection of what Manuel calls "their gift from God". It's an undeveloped coastline that will remain so - a UNESCO world heritage site, and a beloved Italian national park. There is no reason I'd tell someone to stay away, save for August, but that can be said for many places not just in Italy. The woman, writing about "her" beloved Vernazza, had that same connection with the Cinque Terre that many people, including myself, have felt. What she ignored was the fact that this region has historically been a poor one. Anchovies weren't salted because they liked them that way. It's simply all they had to eat here. They had anchovies and they had salt, and not much else to ensure they could eat through a cold winter if the sea wasn't providing and the stubborn mountains wouldn't grow food. This land is hard to farm from and the ocean can be cruel, and before roads or trains, women - like Manuel's grandmother- had to walk days to the next city over these sloping mountains to sell homemade sea salt so they could have some sort of income. The rocky paths are not for a scenic exercise route, but created out of a need for these poor, tiny villages, to be able to interact with each other. More then that, this woman is ignoring the reality of life here. Tourism is how these people make their money - families just scraping by are now sending their children to university to study interior design. Living with chickens in the backyard might be the same, but now you have a fridge. Though being a fisherman might be a romantic idea, it's a very hard life, and one that most parents wouldn't want their children to have to do if they had other options. While it's true that only 2 out of every 10 fishermen here have children following in their footsteps, it's by no means a dying profession, no more then making wine is. As long as their are people to drink and eat, there are people to produce these products to satisfy that need, in the same ways they have for centuries. Tourists might like to picture Italy's small towns as full of charming, comical local fishermen and nonna's in front of churches, men sipping espresso in the piazza and well worn clothes hanging out in the ocean breeze. These things still happen, but Italy doesn't exist in a vacuum. The only people who want it to stay like this are tourists who don't see the hard part of a life like this in a tiny beach town. It makes for a beautiful story, like for this woman, and a romantic vacation memory, but Italy isn't entirely "Under the Tuscan Sun" and the residents here are grateful for an easier life. The world is changing, we all know, but Italy has a long and stubborn memory, and is doing its best to preserve the old and embrace the new. Keeping practices like Anchovy Festivals and Bescantà alive ensures that this region will stay as special and unique as it's always been regardless of the tourists. Cavolo, that woman who missed "her" Vernazza shouldn't have come in August.

From what I've seen so far, the beginning of Autumn is clearly the time to be here.

1 comment: