Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Una "Piccola" Gita

We have been discussing, more and more, what we are going to do next year at the Cantina without Andrea and Silvia, who are leaving to open their own restaurant in their hometown of Levanto (about a 4min train ride north of us on the Italian Riviera). Though I'm glad to see them achieve their life-longdream,it's going to beimpossible to replace such great employees. All of this means, in a nutshell, that next summer Manuel and I will be working some pretty long hours. In the face of this realization, I decided now was as good a time as any to begin to explore a little more of the region I'm now calling home. Manuel needed to work in the morning, so with my day free until 7 pm, it was more then enough time to begin my exploration. Liguria isn't just the Cinque Terre, and the Italian Riviera is a beautiful stretch of coastline that covers this tiny region (Italy's 3rd smallest). Since it's a unique shape - long and thin, like a boomerang - it ensures that no where in Liguria istoo far from the sea, and the mountains creep along the middle. The same dramatic views that are seen from the Cinque Terre stretch into other parts of Liguria, and after having consulted some train schedules, I figured out some easy day trips to take this week, since the weather is still sunny and warm.Yesterday I pried myself out of bed and got on an early train to Santa Margherita Ligure - about 40 minutes from Monterosso. Santa Margherita Ligure (or, SML) is a beautiful harbor town of about 10,000 people which makes it more of a city compared to my little Monterosso, which hovers around about 1,000 residents. It feels like much less here since
I'm almost positive 2/3 of the Monterossini are over the age of 125 and can't leave their homes, but that is another story.
SML is home to a huge harbor and, like many Ligurian towns, a 16th century castle that was built to defend the Santa Margheritesi from Northern African pirates plundering the long stretch of coast. There is also a beautiful basilica, hotels, shops and tons of yachts. A decades old resort town for well-to-do Italians, it's a great base for tourists who want more of a city feel, and parts of the comune are included in the parco nazionale of nearby Portofino. During the high season, boats run directly here from Monterosso,
but this time of year I had to take the train. As I walked down into the town, full of fresh baking foccacia smells and free of hoards of tourists this late in the season, I followed the shore til I saw a ferry. Just in time, I hopped on and took a short 10 minute ride to Portofino.
Portofino is a quintessential Italian Riviera town - for some, perhaps it's THE Italian Riviera town. In the 50's
it was a world famous destination for the rich and famous and those pretending to be either, and not much has changed today. The town is tiny - shockingly so - only a little bigger then Monterosso's picturesque neighbor, Vernazza. The streets are littered with Dior, Louis V, Prada, Cartier, and other high end shops of the same pedigree, with bored looking saleswomen who can appraise you in a few seconds and decide you're not
worth their time. Portofino is where celebrities stay, and at these prices, they are the only ones who can afford it.
It is beautiful however. A small, half moon harbor full of mega-yachts and vintage sailboats, full of outdoor cafes perfect for people watching while sipping a 6 euro cappucino. I decided to forgo all that and walk up to the lighthouse for some beautiful shots of the Riviera. The walk is about 20 minutes up a windy road that is the "street" for some breathtaking villas belonging to those rich and famous, judging by the video cameras and not-so-hidden security features along this walk. On my way back, I was subjected to some curious heckling as I walked by the call boxes for entry to the villas "Sei bellisima" called one, and "Sei proprio bella", another, as I walked quickly by,
realizing that these people could see me through the camera system, and feeling remarkably uncomfortable as I coudn't see them. Back in town, that feeling of being "watched" didn't leave.I know people watching is an Italian past time, but it was a light tourist day and the only other people in town were old British couples on a cruise daytrip.
As everyone sat, silently observing me, I realized it wasn't just the obvious display of wealth that made me feel uncomfortable in Portofino.
I found a trail and began to walk back to SML. Ema, my coworker, assured me it was only about 30 minutes, but with pictures and a coffee stop, it took me an hour and 10 minutes. It was,
all in all, about 4 miles of breathtakingly beautiful coastline weaving the shore back to SML. As I squinted into the sun and looked into the crystal water, I thought, "Just when you think you've seen all the shades of blue in the world..."
Every day here, Liguria surprises me. It's not just the Cinque Terre, but seeing more of my new "home state" helps me appreciate how special my small little corner of the country is. Liguria might not be a name rolling off the tongue of every tourist, but there is no reason it shouldn't. Granted, the soft sand of Monterosso is, in most other places, replaced by large rocks softened by years of sea and sun, still viable for sunbathing, snorkling, and swimming, spending the same lazy days at the beach. Liguria, and this whole Riviera I'm so fortunate to live in, is a tourist's dream. It's a scrappy little region with more beauty then I could imagine - I'm just glad I've started trying to see it all.

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