Well it has been a week since I almost missed my flight because of the dreaded AM/PM thing. A lot has happened in a week which I think is the usual when one is traveling. When it comes down to it, I guess that that is really what draws most people away from their safe and happy homes in exchange for delayed flights and seat mates who poke them in the arm in the middle of the night just as they’re dozing off to sleep. A lot happens when you’re traveling. It’s not profound, but it’s true.
Something more profound might be, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” And since I’m in Italy once again, it certainly applies. I went back to Monterosso – one of the beautiful villages of the five villages called Cinque Terre – this week. I lived in Monterosso for several summers many years ago, so going back was very nostalgic for me.
They were fantastic summers and I was so happy to be there again and so happy that my cousin Susie was with me to enjoy the stunning beauty that is Monterosso for her first time. We stopped by my old place, a small apartment secluded behind a stone wall and surrounded by lemon trees. The green door to my secret garden was locked and I was a little bit glad – I want to always remember it the way it was when I stayed there.
For me Monterosso, which means Red Mountain, is a bit like Santorini in that the magically unique meeting of land, sea, and sheer cliffs cannot really be described in words. Monterosso along with Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corneglia, and Vernazza, are the five villages that are perched on the rocky coastline of northern Italy, just at the top left side of “the boot”. Originally the towns were completely isolated, but now they are connected by train routes, mountain trails, and tour boats.
On a very hot, sunny June 16th, Susie and I check into La Rosa Dei Venti on Via Vincenzo Gioberti, our three room hotel in the heart of Monterosso. The owner leaves us waiting in the sun while she runs over with her two little boys in tow. Later she leaves me an email, “Sorry for the delay but I was across the country and kids did not walk so fast too hot.” The two little boys are adorable and I try to practice my Italian and teach them a little English at the same time. They seem shy and very sweet. Their mother tells them that is it “molto importante” to learn English.
I message my old friend Enzo who still runs the Internet cafe. He is the unofficial mayor of the town. He tells me that he is in the shop, as always. It is so nice to see him and to be reminded that he is one of the nicest people I have ever met. He tells us that of course people don’t need computers the way they did ten years ago, so there are only two left now and the rest of the shop is filled with souvenirs. He tells us about the flash flood of 2011 that drowned the village. He recently got married at the spectacular black and white striped church in town and he now has a gorgeous two month old baby boy. One of the greatest pleasures in life is seeing old friends and finding them healthy and happy. Susie and I buy bundles of soaps that look and smell like the lemons that I used to take from the trees in my garden to make lemonade.
We carry on to find strawberries with my favorite flavor of gelato, fior di latte, on the terrace of a restaurant on the beach. Later, we have caprese salads and spaghetti with the best pesto in the world. No, really, it is. My friend Gail messages me to bring a few jars home for her. She even tells me where to get them- at the Artisanal Pesto Lab. Yes, there’s a pesto lab. The 1,522 Monterossini take their pesto, lemons, olives, and grapevines very seriously. We buy every variety even though the jars are heavy and they will be hard to travel with. We also buy jewelry, pottery, art, and anything else we think we can manage to take with us on the train back to Florence.
Many, many things – in fact too many to mention – happen to us on our way to Monterosso, in Monterosso, and on our journey back to Florence. But I’ll write about those things in my journal and spare you the details. Suffice it to say that the trip was just as lovely and extraordinary as Monterosso itself. Oh, and we stopped for more strawberries and gelato on the way to the train.