No, I haven’t suddenly jumped on a plane headed to Italia, but Manarola could do that to me! This is a writing from our Karma-Free Writing Group in response to Joshua’s prompt on ‘a special place.’ (On, an aside – the Cinque Terre suffered some devastating floods recently and the stunning village of Vernazza was practically wiped out. I think they’re still in recovery mode. But they will, because it’s what they do.)
The Cinque Terre on the Ligurian Coast, Italia
Ahhh, Italia. The land of my ancestors, the land of love and food unequaled anywhere on the planet. Don’t just ask me, everyone knows that’s true. Although I do have one friend who returned from Italy and said she didn’t like the food – all that pasta and cheese – yuck. She actually said that. Huh? I looked at her with a kink in my neck and an upturned mouth resembling nothing like a smile; and there was simply no place inside of me that could register or make sense of what she could possibly be thinking.
Was it National Geographic or National Geographic Traveler? No idea. But I was transfixed and transported the moment I turned the page and came across this place of the Five Towns. It must have taken over a decade before I actually landed there. I showed David the photos and said, “We got to go there, really we do.” There was no argument. I planned the trips and he went along for the ride. We were grand traveling partners, if not life partners, and so the dreams and fantasies were set in motion. Our round-the-world trip was coming up and the Cinque Terre was high on the list. Like one of my other favorite places on the planet – Big Sur. Same same, but different. Where the mountains meet the sea. Where 1500 year-old small villages are built into the mountainsides. Where lemon trees and olive groves drip down the hillsides. Where there are no cars, only dirt trails along the cliffs that along with the train, look out over the Mediterranean Sea and connects the five towns of Monterrosso, Corniglia, Vernazza, Manarola and Riomaggiore, Make sure you’re pronouncing those with feeling now, with the Italian accents just where they belong and your hand gesturing like it ought to. And give the r’s plenty of roll, plenty of roll.
Ahhhh, the Cinque Terre. And now it was becoming real! We had our tickets, we had our plan and we were going! The anticipation was palpable – in the air, in our talks, in my body.
But then something happened, something happened to our marriage and we were done. 17 years and now we were done. No time here to go into all that, but with everything that I gave up, at least I didn’t have to give up going to the Cinque Terre. But I was alone. All alone and dreadfully lonely. I never imagined looking out on this vista without my husband by my side. While the marriage needed to end, did it really need to end before we got to go to the Cinque Terre together? Ohgod, really? Did I have to be tortured with experiencing this place all alone? Have no one by my side to stand stunned and stupefied silly with when the vista over the sea opened up and I stood there with tears streaming down my face, the beauty and the loneliness overwhelming? Did this really have to happen in the vacuum of a solitude I was nowhere near ready to welcome or embrace?
Well no, not exactly.
Ohsure, the tears were there. And the loneliness was there. And the gorgeosity stunned me. I walked and cried and looked and laughed and then became paralyzed in rapt attention at how the place, this place, the Cinque Terre – how it could be even more beautiful than my imagination, all the photos, all the anticipation couldn’t begin to touch. And so I said so, to myself, as I am wont to do out here traveling around. “Wow, this is un-fucking believable!” I hadn’t noticed the men sitting on the cliffside behind me. No, I hadn’t noticed that three of them sat there, two of them singing Italian songs as they strummed their guitars. That might sound crazy – I mean, how could I have missed the music? I hadn’t missed it – I heard it, of course; but it just seemed like it was built into the landscape, like of course there were Italian men singing Italian music on the cliffside above Manarola. What else would be happening there? Wasn’t that a given? I hadn’t given it a thought. It was all part of what made it that un-fucking believable I had shouted out earlier.
And then one of them replied in a voice that was accented, but definitely not Italian. “Yeah, it is, isn’t it amazing?” I turned and looked into the greenest eyes I had ever seen. The brightest smile I had seen in a very long time. And in that moment, it became clear. No, I didn’t have to experience this all alone. And for the next week, I would be on the trails, on the train, in the restaurants and the bars and in bed, oh in bed, far, far away from alone.
The Cinque Terre. Manarola. The only land I ever return to – over and over again. And where – every time – there’s another lover to gaze and play with. The land of lovers – Australian, then Italian and American and German. The land where the Via del’Amore is more than just the way to get to Riomaggiore. It’s in the air, in the water. It’s a way of life. It’s the way of love. It’s the way the pesto drips off the pasta. It’s the red peppers marinated in fresh olive oil. It’s the tomatoes that taste like real tomatoes, like tomatoes somehow stopped tasting a long, long time ago. It’s the crusty bread that crumbles all over your lap while you’re eating it. It’s the al fresco dining over the sea. It’s jumping into the sea, the warm water as refreshing as the stracciatella gelato at the stand just near the dock. It’s the fresh limoncello that quenches the palate after every meal. Just like love, here in the Cinque Terre, the five lands – connected by a dirt path. People living here for 1500 years. You don’t like the food? I don’t know if you can be my friend anymore.
A train whistle blows and tells me it’s time to go. Tears stream down my face again, but it’s okay; because it’s the Cinque Terre, the five lands. The only place I ever return to. So I know not when, but I know I will return again. And I know I won’t be the least bit lonely.