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Friday, October 28, 2011

The Essence of Vernazza, the Spirit of Renewal


My heart goes out to all of those affected by the rage of nature that hit Italy earlier this week. The people, their villages, the landscape, the history; the destruction is felt worldwide. Think back to a FWiF story several weeks ago… Monterossa al Mare, “red mountain at the sea” to some – color pallet of the Mediterranean to me, where umbrellas stand in a long row at silent attention, sometimes opening in a symphony of color. Remember that image? Now, sadly that symphony of color is cloaked in mud, and the next southern-most town of Vernazza, has also suffered badly. The following story remembers my experience in Vernazza, a picture perfect place to envision as your eyes flutter shut and you float off to dreamland.

Vernazza is a cliff side town in the area called Cinque Terre (five lands) on the Mediterranean coast. Its arms stretch up to the sky, over hillsides of terraced vineyards and olive groves, and its toes dip down into the tide. There are no cars on the cobble streets. There is also no measureable time here – just the clock of the sun and the stars, and the snooze alarm of the soft sea breeze. Nothing is required of you here, other than that you experience and enjoy.
It is an unassuming village where all ages intertwine and cross paths with the unspoken rhythm of practiced respect. People take time to enjoy the air and water, chat with a friend, or bask in the sun. A man and woman actively converse in the middle of the street as men speak in hand gestures behind them. Four middle aged men pass the time playing cards in an outdoor cafe. Two seniors, without a care in the world, sit on a stone bench contemplating the vast fields of blue beyond.

Wet laundry is shaken out of second story windows and hung on the line. Shopkeepers sweep the doorsteps and restock bottles of lemoncello. Restaurateurs, readying for lunch, pile baskets high with lemons and smooth the tablecloth wrinkles. The only distraction here, if you want to call it that, is the uncanny feeling of getting lost in the easiness of the village. I learn from a waiter that the distraction of ease is often experienced by travelers who, caught up in the calm of the moment, miss the last train of the day and, without complaint, stay just one more night. 

I notice many more cameras hanging around necks than being used to snap photos as the real time experience far outweighs the captured digital moment. The friendly colors of the buildings wrap you in a comforting glow and the bold colors of the boats force you to smile as they bob in the water like bathtub toys. Two fishermen in a motor boat share camaraderie and float around the protected harbor with no apparent intension of heading toward open water or catching fish. They wave to a woman on the shore who wears an apron and carries a basket. She nods back with a wide grin.
Walking from the train station through the town, you instinctively know that Vernazza is a place of contentment and that the peace found here is the town’s complimentary gift to you. This is a genuine place where a fast-beating heart comes to find quiet and over-active children are content watching the water ebb and flow. The pace is slow, as you might expect to find in a Riviera beach town lost in time. Walk the narrow streets up to the church, or up the path overlooking the harbor, or sit for hours-on-end doing nothing. No one seems to be overly interested in what you’re doing, or how long you do it.

To the tourist, Vernazza looks and feels easy. There is a quiet solitude here, the kind that’s usually only found internally. You see it in the body language of locals and visitors alike. You see it in the casual way the laundry dries in the warm air and the way the buildings hug each other close. It is the essence of Vernazza – it is the refreshing language of simplicity, a reminder that life does not have to be complicated. Monterossa al Mare and Vernazza, the two northern most charms on the coastal bracelet called Cinque Terre have been tarnished, but their long history of resilience and undying spirit will help them thrive again. I’ll keep the serene and vibrant images of these precious towns close to my heart as they build a new future. I’ll recall a little boy lost in thought, staring at the clear blue water, and I’ll wonder if he’ll remember this lazy day by the tiny bay and someday bring his children here to share the special feeling of this tranquil fishing village.

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