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.

14 September 2013

Sketches of Croatia

Sept. 5-8 Drasnice

Clear transparent luminous pebbled turquoise water, devoid of coral or large fish, tropical warm, facing islands west to Italy. The host family, apologetic on the snafu that made us drag our luggage down the long track from the highway, then surly after we renegotiated our reservation for less money and fewer days. Or maybe it wasn't about us, but about them, middle age in a second-rate resort outpost, burnt out after high season.

Sept. 9-10 Dubrovnik
Bombed-out fortress walls restored, tourist hordes renewed with extra fascination, war in our time, how incongruous! Red-tiled roofs again reflect brilliant sunshine, contrast with azure Adriatic, Ottoman navies repulsed like Yugoslav dive bombers, cafes awash in Euros, pizza everywhere, and world-class ice cream at every lip.

Sept. 10-11 Korcula
Embraced in the intimate splendor of Korcula's clear pebbled bay, wild swimming, footsteps from the ancient walled port. A sleepy languor of island life, in view of a long green peninsula ridged by gray stony mountain. The narrow alleyways choked with cafes, the harbor promenade and obligatory fish on ice, more café bars three per block, we saunter five minutes across the old town, fifteen around, clicking each step slower.

Sept. 12-15 Komiza, Vis
Sweet brown village at end of remote Vis island, ancient wood shutters closed on deserted alleyways while tourists flock at harborside restaurants and cafes, tour boats lined up to ferry them to rare blue cave and sand beach coves, skies pure blue till chemtrail cross-hatch over empty stone church, grapes purple and green at harvest, cake of apple and carob to wish us onward to Italy.