There are thresholds we pass in life, some of them physical and some of them metaphorical. Sometimes you know you are crossing a border as it happens, in others you only realize it on reflection in how far you have come.
Stepping off the ferry and into Monterosso, I was at first struck by the melding of the quaint charm of Manarola and the busier Vernazza with a seaside resort feel.
A huge stone cliff separated the town in two and an elevated railway blended into the buildings above. Sprawling piazzas with bars and eateries dotted around and people enjoying the afternoon sun.
Within the church of St. John the Baptist there was a memorial wall with many black and white photos of young men in 1930’s-40’s.
Although I didn’t know at the time the details I could surmise these men never came home. As I discovered later it was a memorial to many of the freedom fighters belonging to the resistance movement against Mussolini and his fascist regime.
I could hear music echoing from inside the stone cliffs, investigating there was a tunnel with a man playing classical guitar, its acoustics adding a beautiful reverb. The Siberian and I let it wash over us as we viewed a number of artful dioramas behind glass within the walls of the tunnel.
As we approached the other-side of the tunnel, there could be heard accordion music blending with the classical guitar, until we crossed into the other side of the tunnel. It felt like crossing the border from Italy into France. An old man sitting on a box played his accordion with a small dog sitting next to him. I put some euro coins into his accordion case.
“I can play this.” The Siberian said making the accordion motion.
“Really? I can play the guitar, maybe we can steal these guys jobs here.”
“Maybe, I could yes, but you might starve.” She laughed a small lapse in her stoicism shining through.
The familiar bright umbrellas of the pay beaches hugged the coast, along the railing we noticed a number of touristico in a throng with wives having to pull their husbands away by the arms from the railing, naturally we wanted to see what the point of interest was.
In the rocks below there was a a scantily clad model taking part in the photo shoot, doing her best to look alluring at the camera while balancing on the sharp stones. In truth she looked rather uncomfortable, whether it was the unanticipated audience or the environment I couldn’t say.
The Siberian and I raised an eyebrow each and kept walking.
The oceanfront was lined with trees gelaterias and benches! The addition of benches made it feel like another country. I had come to appreciate the key to Italian health was not the diet it was the cultures jihad against sitting down. Coming from a sedentary (or sedimentary as I like to think) job this came as shock to my doughy system. I came to see the extra I would pay in the bill for a table at a cafe as sitting down tax. Although by this stage I had been walking 8 hours+ daily and was used to it. Italy despite its sleepy relaxed perception was a country always in motion. I could understand why, every step I took the beauty of what was around, gave me strength to see what was around the corner and the next after that.
After coming to the end of the cove we about faced and retraced our steps to the ferry as this was the last one out for the day and we didn’t want to get stranded (foreshadowing). We entered the ferry early and took a spot on the roof to take in the sights of all the towns on the way back, the sun was lower in the sky as it was late afternoon and the ocean breeze had picked up. The Siberian shivered.
“So how cold was it last winter for you?” I asked.
“Minus 34 C.” She said matter of factly
“How does anyone survive the night, with those temperatures?” I was genuinely astounded
“It may surprise you to know I do not live in the street, New Sealand.”
“I just mean it gets to 10 degrees in New Zealand and we start complaining, I can’t comprehend 44 degrees C lower than that.”
“Our houses are designed to withstand this, yours maybe not.”
“That’s true we would make our houses out of cardboard and twine and sheep if we could.” Thinking back to the leaky building crisis caused by lazy building practices.
“And what about you? Are you designed for the cold?” I grinned.
The Siberian, covered in goosebumps, shot me a steely look.
“Just as well I brought this then.”
I fished my light but very warm Inner-Mongolian Angora sweater out of my day bag.
“No, you will be cold.”
“Cold, is one thing I wont be feeling for some time.” I said my skin casting a radioactive red glow.
“Da, still pomidor.” She chuckled.
We enjoyed the sights a second time round on the trip back to Le Spezia, Porto Venere welcoming us at the start of the day and now bidding us adieu.
Back in La Spezia, I cast my thoughts to dinner, as we had a train ride back to the station in Carrara. I had decided we would catch a taxi back from Carrara station I had more than enough walking for today. After briefly surveying a few dairy’s to see if they sold fresh pasta and pesto maybe a bottle of wine, I decided to hell with it its been a long day lets dine out and I wasn’t sure if any of the stores back in Carrara would still be open. It was around 6pm by now and many of the restaurants were not open yet as dining in Italy ( much as everywhere in the Mediterranean) was normally later in the evening. One of the effortlessly beautiful places that was open had a elaborately long bar with many varieties of wine, glass cases with huge cured hocks of meat and an apparatus for shaving tiny slices of parma ham. I felt like something light so I ordered an anti-pasto selection of cured meats and cheeses and a slice of honeycomb presented on rustic slabs of wood. The Siberian chose a Lambrusco for the wine. Combined with the breads this was a good way to unwind, although I did salaciously regard the table across from us having pizza. Walking out with a bit of a buzz on it was time to make our way to the train station.
Only to find there was a 2 hour gap in the train schedule from 8 until 10pm. I groaned, my time saving measure of dining out had doomed us to spend another 2 hours in La Spezia, it would be a late return home. I had learned quickly that some things just happen, delays happen. In times past things like this would sour my mood, spark arguments of who’s fault it was and multiple “if only” scenarios.
“Poor people, miss the train.” The Siberian half mocked.
“Poor people stuck in this beautiful place.”
One late night train ride later, likely-hood of taxis operating back at Carrara station, zero.
“Poor people, having to walk home.” The Siberian continued.
“Poor people, such a hard life.” I grinned.
It was on this walk home I stole a rose from a garden, The Siberian told me I would “get arrested like gypsy.” while she was adjusting the rose in her hair for best effect.
The last few steps to the door home were the longest I had ever taken.
We were both exhausted, but despite everything buoyant from the day.
Despite constant mocking from the Siberian and constant fail and clumsiness on my part, a complex and beautiful day had occurred. Planning only gets you so far, improvising gets you the rest of the way. It was at this point I looked at how far I had come as a traveler and in the distance the journeys end loomed. Tomorrow we would leave for Florence.
It is the moments of chance in life that leave room for the moments of greatness.