“I believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful—an endless prospect of magic & wonder.”
Since last evening, I’ve been trying to figure out how to start this post, and I decided I should just be honest. I miss Italy more than I could ever tell you. Friends are telling me that I’m lucky I’m not there right now. Please refrain from telling me that. It doesn’t ease my pain at all, in the first place, and the US is in the same situation, anyway.
If you haven’t heard the story, I wasn’t wild about Italy the first time Mike and I went there (1996). We were there 10 days in Rome, Naples, and Florence, crowded cities even then. Not one to fight multitudes of people, I wasn’t wild about heading back. When I started writing about my grandmother in 2008, my world exploded. I needed to find where she and Grandpa were born.
In 2010, Mike and I returned to Italy, intent on seeing only small towns. We spent three weeks exploring the hill towns, the coastal villages, and my grandparents’ birthplace. We started to see the quintessence of the land of my blood.
Today I share a little of the world that made my heart expand. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)
The people who originally inhabited Italy—Etruscans, Sabines, Latins, Greeks, etc—built towns on hilltops for defensive purposes. My friend, Peppe Tacconi, told me that the towns sit in a way that they could communicate with each other by flag. Mike and I stayed in Vezzano Ligure, a hill town in the region of Liguria,
From Vezzano Ligure, Mike and I explored the west coast of Italy, also known as the Italian Riviera. Not as well known as some of the other towns along the Ligurian coast, Portovenere has high cliffs, caves (see photo above), and colorful houses.
More well-known along the coast is the Cinque Terre, a collection of five coastline villages built into rugged, steep cliffs that overlook the sea. They may be far from my grandparents’ Abruzzese village, but it was durimg our time walking through two of the towns that I started to realize how my grandmother tried to recreate her beloved Italy in Ohio.
Getting to the towns is still a little difficult as one cannot drive to them; trains and a ferry connect them. Each village has its own charm, and while visiting one might give you a flavor of the area, visiting all of them gives you an appreciation for their differences. For me, Riomaggiore (the southern-most village) was the most beautiful from the sea.
The northern-most village, Monterosso al Mare, is the only one with a beach. Vernazza, just below it, is still a fishing village and has a nice marina. A tremendous rain sent tons of mud down the mountain into both Monterosso and Vernazza in 2011. Both have since recovered.
It was in Corniglia, the smallest of the five villages and the only one without direct access to the sea, that I started to connect my grandmother’s life in Ohio to her life in Italy. To get to Corniglia from the other villages, you have to either walk or take the train. From the train station, you must then either climb 382 steps from the station to the town or walk along the steep road. While we walked along the road, we passed farms that resembled the huge gardens my grandmother had nurtured during her life in America. The huge boxes of lemons reminded me of her affinity for citrus—particularly oranges and lemons.
In Manarola, the second smallest village, we trudged up the narrow paths to homes decorated in front with bushes of hydrangea. You can probably guess who had hydrangea in her yard all the time.
Side note: Sciacchetrà, a wine with 18% of alcohol, is a specialty of Manarola. They make it by drying the grapes for a few months in a very dry place. It’s not cheap. The last time I was there, a bottle cost about $75.
Next time: The interior is beautiful, too.