27 September 2013

The real Italy (first impressions)

Vernazza Leaning Tower of Pisa

Sometimes when you are about to leave a place, that is when it appears to you in its essence. Crabbed to this cliff edge in Vernazza by knotted logistics of travel plans and eroding priorities of purpose; pressed out of the streets and alleyways by the relentless streams of tourists from America, France, Australia, England, in hiking boots, cargo pants and tank tops, who chuff red-faced up the cobbled path to the inter-village trails of the Cinque Terre; budget burned by the pedestrian 20-Euro restaurant meals of skimpy pasta and salad; ears blunted by the assault of American English filling the piazza pizzerias; I find refuge by this window over the sea.


Behind the green wrought iron filigree curled in wavelets, the pale waves wash in the morning onto the gray rocks, oblivious to my concerns of the moment as to all the human history clotting these shores with empire, architecture, art and commerce. The nobility of the human enterprise is reduced to this essential: the pure genius of stacking rock upon rock on the bedrock of the cliff; turning raw nature into habitable space, into havens where one can sit sheltered, graced by pleasing colors of ochre and white plaster, terra cotta, brick and dark wood. One can sit removed from the bustle of what passes for culture and tradition, sit connected with the source of it all.

The real Italy, the one before tourists, the one before art and reputation, sits facing the sea, its essence arising in the dancing waves, the grace of the morning light, the play of motion and stillness, the warm-cool sensuous air, the soothing hum and crash of the foaming tide. The Italy of history awaits beyond all this, in the stories of the mind and scratchings of the scholars, heaped in stones rebuilt and repainted over centuries, bringing wave upon wave of visitor to catch glimpses and pass away again.

Manarola Manarola

This enterprise of building an edifice of words arises too like ephemeral shifts of wave and light, and falls again into the motion of the current, fades again into the white horizon. This empire too shall pass, leaving, if it is well enough constructed, a window standing high on an ancient cliff, open to the sea.

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