Monday, January 23, 2012

Back to school

Veggie-centric dinner
Today was the return to my life as a commuter.  After my many years fighting with New Jersey Transit, the MTA, and several assorted bus companies, you would think I'd be incredibly thrilled to never have to commute to anything again.  My walk from my house to the Cantina is 4 minutes, and a beautiful 4 minutes at that.  However, I was ecstatic to get up early, buy a weekly ticket, and start my first day of language school in Chiavari.  The 30-40 minute ride is right next to the ocean, cutting through mountain tunnels here and there, but otherwise beautiful, and much more preferable to the Northeast Corridor or the A train.

Braised beef with red wine
This nerdy excitement is due to a few things, first being that I'm really eager to improve my Italian.  I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and it makes me cringe inwardly when I hear myself say something wrong, or when I can't make myself understood, so I'm very happy to have this time to practice.  Every morning this week I'm going to the Nel Blu language school in Chiavari, which was highly recommended by several people I met - even Manuel took an english course there several years ago.  With my fresh new notebook and pens, I showed up early and grinning.  I may have scared them.
Ravioli from Chiavari with Tuscan
jarred tomatoes from Manuel's Uncle

Second, I was just excited to get out of Monterosso.  It's been a heavy time here, emotionally, as we try and rebuild everything that was lost in the flood, and I'm of little use.  The design negotiations and insurance company mess can't be handled by someone with baby-level Italian, and the knocking down drywall and lifting refrigerators is best left to someone with more upper body strength.  I've been spending the majority of my time cleaning and cooking.  I've made braised beef and red wine stew.  Bought every vegetable I could find and spent a week cooking them in various ways (broccoli rabe is awfully difficult to cook in 7 different ways), started the makings of some homemade limoncino with Monterosso lemons, and cleaned the whole apartment.  Several times.  As I was swiffer-ing for the third time one day, I saw Manuel quietly eyeing me.

"What?" I asked, slightly embarrassed to be caught in this incredible display of obsessive cleaning.

"We really need to get you out of this house," he laughed in response.

Finally, I like Chiavari a lot.  It's a town I visited on one of my summer field trips, and I initially was a little annoyed by the fact that it was a little city of about 27,000.  Nothing compared to New York, but about 27 times bigger then Monterosso.  I wanted more quaint fishing villages.  Stretches of rocky coastline.  I wasn't ready for horn honking and serious shopping.  Now, with a clear head and no expectations of what a town should or should not be, I find the long archways that cover the seemingly hundreds of small shops really beautiful.  There are bakeries, bread shops, butchers and open air markets.  Genovese style palaces stand amidst the typical Ligurian pastel buildings, alternating between charming and ornate, showing the incredible history of the region.  The beach here is know for it's crystal clean water, and the town has a long boardwalk and several gardens and lovingly tended public spaces.  There is a yoga school, which was another huge plus in my book.  I found a little shop selling homemade, fresh pasta that I can pick up and bring back to Monterosso for lunch.  Also, Chiavari is heavy on the Italians, light on the tourists.  Unlike the nearby Cinque Terre, where for several months out of the year, English is arguably as spoken as Italian, Chiavari is a city with a small amount of tourists, especially in January.  English will not get you far here, and I'm really happy that especially on my own, I get to speak Italian more in situations with strangers, and the Chiavaresi are very friendly.  At the bookstore, the pasta shop and the office supply store, I struck up small conversations with people who were naturally curious what I was doing here.  After telling them my story, they immediately asked about Monterosso, with sympathetic faces.  Today, again stopping at the same bar for coffee, the woman again inquired about the situation after the flood, getting a co-worker, and explaining that everyone's thoughts were with us.  More then their thoughts, as well, as the Lion's Club and other civic organizations in Chiavari have donated time and money, bands came to play, and some Chiavaresi even organized Christmas gifts for the children in Monterosso.

First thing I saw this morning from the apartment
Granted, at the end of my unpleasant subway rides, or stand-still traffic M8 bus headaches, or NJTransit  induced migraines, New York was on the other side.  7 minutes to eat lunch, 13 minutes to make it to yoga, then the run down Broadway to make it to class on time, with 22 seconds exactly to stop and get a coconut water from the man on the street.  Here, I'll take a short, seaside train ride to a town with great shopping and food to learn Italian and maybe throw in a yoga class.  It's interesting how dramatically one's life can change in just a few months, and even more so when you realize that you are getting incredibly accustomed to it.

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