Day 48, Tues, June 20 – Once we were sorted out,
the ride was fairly peaceful and we awoke to the lilting sing-song sounds of the
Italian language (replacing the somewhat harsh sounding German of
“Achtung” and “Verboten”) signaling a new phase of the journey ).
Naomi had never been to Italy, much less Venice, so I was anxious to show
her some of the things I liked so much about Italy in general (the combination
of sights, tastes, culture, art and history is like no other country) and Venice
in particular (the most unique and romantic city in the world - at times).
What can be said about Venice that hasn’t been said a million times
before by millions of visitors? It
is unique, beautiful, quaint, romantic and charming. It is a living museum with “the most beautiful street in
the world”. It is all these
things, but it can also be busy, crowded, hot, dirty, overpriced, smelly, phony,
overwhelming, and completely overrun by tourists.
On three previous trips to Venice I had always focused on the enjoyable
side, putting the bad aside and I was rewarded with some of my most memorable
days. To me, the hours in the
beautiful churches and museums, lounging about a lazy canal, and endless walks
in the deserted back alleys with only the sound of a city sleeping are worth all
the “hassles”. And although Venice is a world unto itself, we mustn’t
forget we are entering Italy as well (although some Venetians are quick to point
out this has only been since 1866) – the land of history and art, but also of
Latin temperaments and four great passions – food, football, fashion and fun
(although some writers and filmmakers might add a fifth word with similar
beginning). Regarding food, we were anxiously awaiting our first plate of
fresh homemade pasta, our first creamy gelato and my first tiramisu – not to
mention real (i.e. non-Starbucks) cappuccino in the morning.
Regarding football, we were fortunate to arrive while Italy is on a
winning streak in the Euro 2000 championships.
The piazzas and bars should be full of screaming fans in the days ahead.
Regarding fashion: well, that’s really Naomi’s area of expertise so I
will leave that up to her to write about, although she has been reluctant to
contribute to the journal to date. In
my humble opinion, modern fashion is a colossal waste of time, energy and money
that could be better spent on the other great passions rather than celebrating
vanity and stroking the fragile egos of designers and beautiful people.
There, I said it – their goes the Italian support for our cause.
Note from Naomi: “I can’t believe I’m traveling around the world
with such a dork”.
We knew Venice’s bridges, canals and narrow alleys would be a hassle with our luggage, especially since we had no hotel reservation (we are starting the part of the journey in which we “wing it”, although I sometimes use a different euphemism in certain company). We therefore checked Wheely Beast into storage at the train station. As is the custom, you don’t really arrive in Venice unless you take the vaporetto up the Grand Canal to Piazza San Marco. The ramp to the boats is literally steps from the trains, making it one of the most unique transfers in the world. The route and the views have remained virtually the same for hundreds of years, the only difference brought on by the 20th century are the motors on the boats and the ever-present construction machinery for palazzos and churches “in restauro ” (restoration). The trip was wonderful and we luckily got a seat in front to watch the palazzos glide by in the bright sunlight, an experience Las Vegas couldn't even attempt to mimic. The flowers are in full bloom on the balconies and windowsills. Unfortunately, photos don't really do this trip justice.
Once on foot, the adventure begins, as the unusual geography and terrain of Venice has led to the most confusing street map in the world. Imagine a half-plate of spaghetti dumped out on a blue napkin and you’ve got an idea of the alleys and bridges crisscrossing the canals. But this is also part of the fun of Venice, as you never know what view will surprise you around the next corner. Thankfully, it only took an hour or so to find a hotel although it was a little expensive since this is the beginning of the high season. The season was evident by the thousands of tourists cramming every boat, alley and bridge. We met more Americans in one hour than we’d met in the past 47 days through Eastern and Central Europe. Unfortunately, many of them fit the dreaded stereotype of loud, obnoxious, uninformed and inflexible: “Hey, ain’t this where they filmed that prissy Merchant-Ivory movie?” “Wow, it looks like we didn’t bomb the hell out of this place when we won the war”, “What do you mean you don’t take American Dollars?” “That sign says Focaccia – maybe that’s the name of this town.” It’s pretty embarrassing sometimes, but for every day-tripping doofus we meet, we also encounter a sincere, ambitious backpacking student or romantic couple eager to learn the culture and history of the people and place. And what a history it is. The location on the East of Europe (at that time) allowed Venice to develop the marshy, unpredictable tidal waters of the Adriatic into the trading gateway with the Orient and champion Byzantine city for Christian crusaders. The riches pouring in helped fund some of the palazzos, museums and artists of the area, as well as fill the coffers of San Marco, creating one of the richest and most powerful empires of the 12th-14th centuries. Although the empire slowly lost ground to other European powers, including Napolean and Austria, it never lost its beauty or fame. With the fame and riches came tourists to wander at the sights – and they have never stopped coming, especially artists, writers and romantics. Residents have included famous natives Marco Polo, Machiavelli, Titian, Tinoretto, Bellini, Canaletto and numerous Doges as well as expats like Goethe, Mozart, Wagner, Lord Byron, Shelly, Keats, Henry James, Mark Twain, Robert Browning, Hemingway, Thomas Mann and Peggy Guggenheim.
A 16th century bust of a tourist trying to navigate Venice streets
Anyway, after checking in to the hotel, we had a great pasta lunch and checked out an internet café. Unfortunately for me, the news of the day was that the L.A. Lakers had won the NBA championship by beating the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 yesterday. It was very disappointing because the Pacers had never won before and the Lakers have won many (in most sports I almost always support the underdog – especially if they are from the state where I grew up). I guess I will be hearing from my good friends Brenda and Scott about this one. Some Lakers fans showed their true class by starting a street riot and setting cars on fire (oops, there goes our LA support).
As we were both tired from the journey, we decided to take the boat to the Lido and lounge on the beach. I had never done that before. It was an odd change of gears to go where cars zipped down the street instead of boats and gondolas. It was very relaxing and peaceful on the beach. We returned to Piazza San Marco as the sun was going down and the light changes everything as it bounces off the water and marble. We sat in Piazza San Marco admiring the Church façade changing colors as the sun set in front of it. Children fed seeds to pigeons (luckily a safe distance from Naomi), and live classical music was coming from the famous Florian Café to complete the scene. We considered getting a coffee or wine there, but could not justify the extortionate prices – about US$10 per cup. We finished the day with a great lasagna and Chianti Dinner at a small al fresco trattoria. It was very quiet except for the small crowd cheering Romania’s defeat of England.
Day 49, Wed, June 21 – The breakfast included in our room rate left a lot to be desired, so we went to one of Italy’s famed stand-up espresso bars. We bought a large book on Italy since we didn’t want to haul one all around Eastern Europe. Our first stop was Venice’s most famous site, San Marco, nearly a millennium old. The lines were unbelievable. It was boiling hot in the square for the wait and although there was no mass in process, tourists were not allowed inside with shorts or tank-tops (exactly what we were wearing!). The wait allowed us to admire the intricate stone carvings of the façade and the mosaics above the portals (and run back to the hotel for a change of clothing). The interior is even more amazing – crammed full with wall-to-ceiling gold mosaics and intricate inlaid marble floors. Some of the treasures brought from foreign lands were on display as well. From 1075, all ships returning from abroad had to, by law, bring back a precious gift to enhance the Church. We continued upstairs to see the famed bronze horses stolen from Constantinople in 1204 and to walk around the outside balconies. We tried to block out all the noise and imagine the views across the immense piazza and across the Grand Canal as Marco Polo or Dickens or Byron would have seen them.
We had a fresh panini snack and continued to one of the outlying churches, the gothic San Giovanni e Paolo. The vast airiness was a contrast to San Marco’s almost overwhelming sparkle. We returned to Pizza San Marco to visit the Palazzo Ducal, where the ruling Doges lived and held court. The most amazing room was the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, with one of the largest paintings in the world, Tintoretto’s “Paradise” covering one wall. Also of interest was the prison and the “bridge of sighs” where the condemned saw their last view of Venice. To complete the trip to the Piazza, we took the elevator(!) to the top of the red-brick Campanile tower. The elevator was added in 1912 after the original tower of 1173 collapsed - pretty convenient for weary travelers. It was from the top that Galileo demonstrated his telescope to the Doge.
For sundown, we couldn’t resist the allure of listening
to the music of the Piazza again. The
city really does calm down at night, after day-trippers have left, shops and
museums close, and most people are in restaurants or in bed. I took a long walk in through the alleys and canals, getting
turned around and lost numerous times, but enjoying every minute, as the only
sounds were boats (some with singing gondoliers), water lapping the stone
“curbs”, tinkling glasses and dishes, and conversation in Italian.
The stars were visible above the laundry flapping on clotheslines above
the canals. This is the Venice I
love (slightly different than the hotel in Las Vegas). Unfortunately, Naomi was
too tired to join me, but I resolved to show her before we left.
By the time I got back the hotel had locked up the door for the night and
there was no sign of a night watchman. I
had to yell up to the window to wake Naomi.
Since she didn’t answer I was kind of worried I was barking up the
wrong tree and on the verge of waking an irate Italian.
It seemed like I was the only person awake at that hour.
Finally, a well-placed wine cork rattled the window and I was relieved to
see Naomi (although she was drowsy and a little pissed off).
When she came down stairs, the night watchman scared the hell out of her,
and politely showed me the (hidden) buzzer to get in.
Needless to say, I won’t be making that mistake again (I hope).
Day 50, Th, June 22 – We wanted a change of
scenery so we headed toward the Accademia bridge over the Grand Canal.
Naomi was somewhat intrigued by the three-shell game being played on the
bridge steps, but I was able to convince her that it was all a scam.
Maybe it was the friendliness of the “winners” and “losers” or
the way they scattered when the police arrived. We visited the “Friari”
Fransiscan church, with its amazing carved wood monk’s choir stalls and the
nearby San Polo. We then did a
little Rialto shopping and gelato scarfing.
The chocolate is as good as ever, but since my last visit, they’ve
taken my favorite candy, Bacio, and made it into a Gelato flavor as well.
Naomi’s favorite is mint (After Eight they call it-also a new flavor)
or Straciatella (chocolate chip) when she’s feeling decadent, otherwise it’s
fruit flavors for refreshment.
We talked to some people on the way, who have mentioned “health, food and romance” as the most important things in life, but Italians have been the most reluctant nationality to date to go on camera. Some of them spend a lot of time worrying what they look like and may either be a little too shy or possibly vain to go on camera. One painter on the Grand Canal was excellent, his two word answer: "the colors". Hard to disagree with him in Venice.
dinner we took the vaporetto to the quiet neighborhood across the Grand Canal to
the Baroque Santa Maria della Salute to see the view back across the water and
stroll in a more residential area. We
found a nice pizzeria and were surprised by an outdoor jazz concert in Campo
Santa Margherita (so this is what the hip youngsters do at night!).
Afterward we took a very peaceful and romantic late night gondola ride
through the narrowest of canals and out to the Grand Canal, under Rialto bridge.
It was very expensive, but an indulgence we decided to give ourselves
with reference to the “you only live once and life is short” motto.
Our gondolier was great, telling us about the various bridges, canals,
palazzo and Marco Polo’s house. We
ended back at the gondola dock behind San Marco and listened to live music until
2:00 AM. It was a wonderful last
night in Venice that (as hoped) rescued us from the initial chaos of high
Day 51, Fri, June 23 – We checked out and got a seat on the vaporetto to the station which allowed me to film most of the journey. The bright sunshine brings out all the colors of the windows and flowers on the banks of the canal. By the time we got organized and retrieved Wheely Beast from storage, we had to run to make the train. In the process, as I was running, I felt something dripping down the back of my leg and realized one of the cans of Coke was leaking. I stopped to unload and dry things (particularly the cameras) as Naomi ran ahead. By the time I got there, whistles were blowing and the wheels were starting to creak. I collapsed in a heap of bags and sweat inside. We were pleasantly surprised that the 2nd class car was air-conditioned.
The views of the Tuscan hills were beautiful as we headed into Florence. On arrival, we waited an hour in the hotel information line with dozens of tourists only to find out that their policy was to pay their rates sight-unseen and the cheapest room was outside our range. We trekked out on our own and found, Hotel Joli, a nice little family-run bed-and-breakfast two blocks from the station. Firenze is one of those rare towns where the station is close to all the major sights, so the location was perfect. We headed for the Duomo area for a delicious Tuscan meal outdoors within sight of the dramatic 15th century orange dome. We’ve taken to asking for the “tourist menu” as this provides three varied courses and includes many of the traditional “hiddens” like service, tax and “coperto” (cover). Of course, we have yet to have a bad meal in Italy. Like I’ve always said, a taxi driver in Italy is a better cook than most American cooks. I think it’s in their blood. The differences between Venice and Florence were immediately apparent. We traded a museum city that lives for tourists for a real living city with people going about their daily routines which have little to do with tourism. Unfortunately, it appears about 80% of these citizens ride mopeds, creating an all-day whine that is somewhat louder than the lapping of water against concrete. Of course, it didn't bother us much since we still had access to gelato.
Day 52, Sat June 24 – We headed toward the historic tourist area of Piazza Signoria. If Venice is the city of architecture and romance, then Florence is the city of art - the virtual birthplace of the Renaissance, the 15th century cultural and artistic reawakening in which artists like Giotto, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Donatello, etc. tried to outdo each other in new humanistic and naturalistic representations. This unprecedented burst of creative energy was funded by some of the richest people on earth, most notably the Catholic church and the Medici family. It is also a living, working city in which the gondoliers and boats and are replaced by businessmen and Vespas. The constant whine and speed of the scooters is quite a shock if you’ve gotten used to gently pace and hum of boats. Piazza Signoria is full of statues showing the grace of the age (Michelangelo's statue of David) as well as the power of the Medici (e.g. the statue of Perseus holding up Medussa’s severed head). The nearby Uffizi gallery was crowded with the Saturday tourists, so we crossed the famed shopping bridge of Ponte Vechio to the Pitti Palace – named after rivals of the Medici family, but ironically bought by Medicis when Pitti fortunes collapsed. The palace is stuffed with furnishings and works of artists patronized by the family such as Titian, Botticelli and Raphael. We were hiking up the steep paths of the Boboli gardens outside the palace when I had my first major back event of the trip. I laid down for a while, but had to return to the hotel afterward. I had been very lucky to date, having been prepared very well by my physical therapist, Lorraine. I had been doing my prescribed exercises, but not as diligently as I should have. This one was a real scare, like the twisting knife of last year, a pain from the body that tells the mind “what the hell is someone with two bulging lumbar discs doing jaunting around the world for a year!!??”
thankfully, a hot bath, long rest and a couple drugs later (not to mention some
great nursing from Naomi), I was well enough to wear my back brace
to the fireworks display. We were
lucky enough to be in Florence on the day of San Giovanni, the patron saint of
the city. To commemorate, the Florentines put on parades, parties and a
nice long pyrotechnics display over the Arno River. We also had the added bonus of another Italian victory in
Euro 2000! This time it was in the
do-or-die quarterfinals, so they advance to the semis.
Unfortunately, they play Holland, the favorites for the tourney, next.
Day 53, Sun, June 25 – We made it to the Uffizi
Gallery, reportedly Italy’s
greatest. It houses some of the most famous
paintings in the world, including Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”,
Caravaggio’s “Bacchus”, Michelangelo’s “Holy Family”, and Titian’s
“Venus of Urbino”, the painting Mark Twain called “the most disgusting
picture ever created” and Dan Akroyd called “a great picture of a broad on a
couch” on Saturday Night Live. Take a
look and judge for yourself. As the saying goes, there’s no
accounting for taste.
We continued to the Accademia Gallery, the showcase for the first academy established in Europe for studying art (in 1563). Its primary attraction is the original marble version of David, moved from Piazza Signoria in 1504 and replaced there with a copy. David’s casual stance and bearing is an example of the humanist, emotional art developing all over Italy at that time. I preferred his series of unfinished sculptures called “four prisoners”, with the subjects struggling to emerge themselves from the marble.
For dinner we met a Servas member, Elena, at her house.
She is an art teacher, so she was a wealth of information about Florence.
I asked about the rivalry between Leonardo Da Vinci and the brash young
upstart. She said Michelangelo was
so arrogant that another painter broke his nose for dismissing his work.
We were joined for dinner by her brother, Emilio, and his two energetic
little kids. The discussion turned
to our trip and we discussed the war. Emilio
said the Allies didn’t really win the war because of the Americans, but
because of the Italians. Supposedly,
the Germans often had to deplete their resources on other fronts in order to
support Italian troops. Elena
wisely added that the reason it is difficult for us to understand the Nazi
mentality is because it was so irrational and we are trying to look at it
rationally (like trying to paint with a sculpting chisel).
After dinner, I tried to get caught up on writing, but I am
continually behind. In some
respects, this journal is more work than I imagined because I don’t want to
forget about anything. It has also
put us woefully behind on emails, a situation we hope our friends and families
will forgive us for (hint, hint).
Day 54, Mon, June 26 –We saved the most famous Florence sights for last, Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo), the related Baptistry and incredible Campanile designed by Giotto. The exterior of the Duomo is an amazingly complex design in white, pink and green Tuscan marble. The sculptures and carved reliefs making it look like a church turned inside-out, like a giant inlaid Moorish jewel box. Brunelleschi’s famous orange tile dome (the design copied from the Pantheon in Rome) is still the highest point in town 500 years after it was completed. After the exterior, the interior is a little disappointing, notwithstanding the inlaid marble floors and the incredible visions of hell in the “Last Judgment” frescoes of the dome. We then stood in a separate line for taking the 300+ steps up to the top of the Dome. I know I was stupidly taking another risk with my back, but I felt OK and wore my brace. The long wait was eased somewhat by a double-scoop gelato. The climb got us even closer to the horrific visions of hell on the dome and the summit offered great views over the city and nearby Tuscan hills.
Naomi went down ahead of me to film the unfurling of our flag from the street far below. My favorite part of Duomo square is the much smaller and tranquil Baptistry, with its bronze door reliefs depicting various biblical scenes and the interior covered in 13th century gold mosaics illustrating the Last Judgment and various other biblical scenes. The artwork and visions are incredible, not the least of which is the artists' visions of hell designed to strike fear into the faithful. They did a pretty good job depicting the unpleasantness.
On to Santa Croce, which contains sensitive early frescos by Giotto and is the final resting place for many famous Florentines, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Marconi and Fermi. We then visited San Lorenzo, with Donatello’s last works, the bronze pulpits, and the Dominican Santa Maria Novella with some incredible stained glass.
As the sun was setting, we took the bus to the most famous postcard view over Florence from the south side of the river at Piazza Michelangelo. We were starving. The only food up there was beer and chips but I could have enjoyed nothing more than sipping a cold beer while watching the sun go down over the Arno reflect off the white marble of the Duomo and Campanile. We could almost imagine a “Room With a View” moment if it wasn’t for the crowd of film crews shooting the sunset as well.
We found an excellent little trattoria near the hotel and
crashed after such a long day. We
feel good about what we are accomplishing in just a few days, but we could
really spend weeks in each place we visit without getting bored.
Sometimes, there’s just not enough time in life.
Day 55, Tues, June 27 – When we checked out of Hotel Joli, the family felt bad about ongoing construction and gave us a discount from the quoted rate and the mother even gave Naomi a going-away present of typical Florentine stationary. They were very sweet. We much prefer the small pensione/albergo/bed & breakfasts run by local families to the Hiltons of the world (although we do miss the saunas, air conditioning and bathtubs at times).
The summer has brought an early heat wave, sometimes into
the 90s. We’ve taken to having
cool showers after getting home just to cool down – we’re going to have to
get used to cold showers by the time we start our 14-day camping safari in Kenya
in August. Anyway, with the heat
stifling us in the big cities, we decided to modify our journey plans and visit
some of the famed Mediterranean coastal towns rather than Spoleto.
We decided to head to La Spezia in Luguria, and visit the nearby
“Cinque Terra” area of 5 small villages clinging to the coast, all joined by
a hiking trail. We had heard and
read wonderful things about this area, which is meant to be just as beautiful
but less touristy than Amalfi and Positano. And to be honest, we were more than
a little homesick for the ocean and beach and needed a little break.
Since the train to La Spezia stopped in Pisa anyway, we decided to join the throngs of tourists visiting the famous leaning tower for a few hours. I had seen a special on TV about the recent efforts to correct the lean with stabilization cables and counter weights. These are the latest in efforts that began in 1173 before the tower was even finished. This time, the efforts are apparently starting to pay off. I thought I had even heard that they were letting tourists up again, but unfortunately it was closed when we arrived. When I first visited in 1987 I remember how disorienting it felt walking up the spiral structure while actually walking down in relation to the ground. Anyway, the attraction now is really the tourists, all striking the same poses, acting like they are holding the tower up or leaning against it. This behavior definitely crosses all nationalities – how’s that for support of One World Foundation’s ideals? The angle of the lean still looks precarious, as though it could topple over at any moment. The Duomo next door gets much less press, but is more beautiful, with its four-tiered façade and horizontal marble stripes inspired by contacts with Moorish Spain and North Africa. We listened in on an English tour guide’s explanation of how Galileo performed experiments in gravity, motion, and pendulums by swinging the lantern in the church and dropping things off the tower. After which, he would be called to Rome to defend charges of heresy (like many other scientists of the day) because his ideas were counter to the church position that the earth is the center of the universe. All of this reminding us of the Copernicus discussion in Krakow - it’s great how our experiences across Europe come together in surprising ways. Unfortunately, we had to skip the museums in Pisa because we had to catch our train.
When we got to La Spezia, we spent most of the time looking for a hotel before settling on Hotel Corallo near the port. We rewarded our efforts with a great seafood dinner on a boat moored in the bay and (of course) gelato.
Look - it's Naomi's favorite part of the trip. Note how well packed and organized her luggage is!
Day 56, Wed, June 28 – We figured out how to take the short train to Monterosso, the last of the 5 “Cinque Terra” villages. The train station is one of the prettiest I’ve seen, with flowering trees lining the platform overlooking the rocky beach. It seemed like the perfect antidote to busy Florence and Venice, but any thoughts we had of being the only foreigners to “discover” this little village were shot down immediately. Apparently, this area is now a “must” according to all of the English-language tourist books. It took us three hours of hiking around town checking out ten albergos and private hotels before we found a room not yet scooped up by the hundreds of backpackers. The town is a tiny fishing and grape-growing village, so the ratio of natives to foreigners was ridiculous. Our place, Moretto, is a wonderful family-run restaurant/albergo with cute rooms decorated with colorful impressionist paintings of the area by the family matriarch. It came complete with a rooftop “solarium” overlooking the town and a sparrow’s nest in the loggia on our floor. We took it as an ironic symbol of our “three little birds, on my doorstep”.
We had a great dinner at a seafood restaurant tucked under
the tracks (better than that sounds), and afterward I wrote on the rooftop.
It was the most comfortable place to write since the Hotel Poem in
Day 57, Thurs, June 29 – We were lucky to be in town for Monterossa's weekly market day. Fruit, meat, cheese, clothes, dry goods, all in busy booths that completely changed the way the tiny town looked. After hanging out there for a while, we took the boat past Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola to the first of the five villages, Riomaggiore. The views of each of the villages were spectacular, with the brightly colored houses clinging to the cliffs and rocky outcroppings. We got fruit and focaccia at a small market and had a wonderful picnic on the rocks of the small harbor before taking a refreshing, cool swim. We walked the 30-minute “Via del Amore” along the cliffs to Manarola. Although some corners had some dubious smells, it could still be “the way of love”. We enjoyed another great swim in Manarola admiring the gravity-defying houses (it was a very hot day to be hiking). We decided to continue on the next leg of the famed 5-hour hike to Corniglia. On the northern edge of town is a touching peaceful cemetery with grave markers and portrait-engravings overlooking the sea – one of the most beautiful final resting places we could imagine. Further along the trail we bought a watercolor of the coast from a painter. When we got to Corniglia, we realized we lucky to have chosen Monterosso to stay in because of the 300+ stairsteps up from the train station to the town - it would have been murder with our stuffed backpacks. We carried on for the next 90 minutes of the trail to check out Vernazza. This took us far up into the surrounding vineyards. We went so high at one point we cold no longer hear the waves pounding the rocky shores. The views were incredible – a combination of forest hike, the Pacific Coast Highway in California, and the Cote Azure in France. We even saw a cypress tree that reminded us of Pebble Beach. The trail guide says this used to be a mule track, but some areas made us seriously doubt that – I had difficulty getting around some corners, and although my waistline is growing with each gelato, it’s not quite mule-sized (yet).
met this painter, Gleb, selling his works along the hiking trail. At first
he was taken aback by our question, but then he had a lot to say:
"Everything is important in life - even the dust, so you must behave
yourself. Be independent and try not to be in a bad situation all the
time. It is important to have someone near to you and to keep in contact
with your parents because they are the only ones to tell you some truth.
We arrived in Vernazza dripping in sweat and had the best swim yet and the most refreshing beer we’d had on the trip. After the break, the oddest thing happened: We ran into these two sisters from Virginia for the fourth time in Italy! It was a pretty wild coincidence – first they were at our hotel in Florence, then we saw them at the train station in Pisa, then hiking at Riomaggiore, and finally sunbathing on the rocks at Vernazza. It was so weird, we had to have dinner together – they were very nice, on a break from school for the summer. Before dinner, we watched the Euro2000 match between Holland and Italy in a castle-turned-bar overlooking the sea. After regular time and two overtimes, it was still scoreless (due to some great goaltending and terrible penalty kicks by the Dutch), so they went to penalty kicks. The bar erupted as Italy clinched the victory. This was very fortunate for us as well since we will be in Rome for the final on Sunday against the French! Dinner in the small harbor was great, I joined the local kids in a little volleyball afterward as Naomi laughed her ass off at my woeful volleyball skills. After gelato with the girls, we caught the last train of the day from Vernazza back to Monterosso.
Day 58, Fri, June 30 – We awoke after such a great day yesterday that we changed our plans entirely and cut out Orvieto altogether in favor of another day here. The combination of the hot sun, great scenery, cool water and warm people was worth it. We spent the afternoon at the beach next to a dramatic statue of a giant at the shore.
Jamie taking sunbathing a little too seriously
Afterward, we collected the fruit and wine ingredients for a homemade sangria at the market. I’m sure the Italians would think that we have ruined their famed local wine and the Spanish would think that we’ve degraded the name “sangria”, but it tasted all right to us on the rooftop with cheese and bread as the sun went down. Some have said that it really takes a month to get to know a place, but with the right kind of experiences you can get to know the rhythm of a town in a few days by watching the boats go out in the morning and unload the catch at sunset, the younger crowd frolic on the beach with toddlers smiling naked in the sand, the older folks taking their evening stroll (pasiagetta) around town, the cashier you saw at the market go into church later in the day, the waiters from breakfast putting out the wine for dinner, and the same kids eating gelato and playing soccer in the street every day. I had a perfect stroll myself as I headed out for interviews at dusk. I talked to a few people, then saw a great scene of an elderly nun in her habit playing soccer with a little kid in the cobblestone square.
Vito: "Family and work are the most important things in life"
Pepe: "Free time and women. My advise is to find a job you enjoy, not one to make money"
This older group of fishermen sitting around joking with each other let me join them, but one said if I really want to know about life, go inside the bar up the street. I didn’t really know what he was getting at, but intrigued, I walked up there and told the bartender what was said at the beach. He said “just look out that window”. I stepped over and saw a group of older guys – in their 60s and 70s playing baci ball in a narrow sand courtyard below the window. The bartender continued: “that’s the most important thing in life – old friends getting together, laughing, having a good time, they just want to enjoy the sunset and the cooling of the day without worrying about anything”. I watched awhile as each old guy in turn grasped and rubbed a metal ball, bent slightly at the waist, then gently tossed the ball a few feet with a body language that was part matador and part ballroom dancer. As the ball rolled toward the target colored ball, the crowd all leaned in for a better view before grunting or exclaiming the result. At the end of each round, they all joked around a bit and someone kept score, but everyone knew that wasn’t the point of it all. It was very similar to lawn darts and horseshoes I remember as a kid, but at that time I never would have thought I would be watching a similar game on the other side of the globe years later and contemplating the meaning of life. “But I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”.
Most important thing in life: " I want a real car!"
To Follow our adventure, please click here: Photojournal July 1 - 9.
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