Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Savoring the Riviera: Another Tidbit from Italy

Some days, I'm ready to buy furniture, get a dog, and finally be settled. Then there are days when I especially miss the thrill of living and traveling overseas. On those days, I read through my old essays and journal entries from Italy, and I realize that I'm not quite ready for a puppy. The essay that put that spirit of adventure back in my heart today is about my first full weekend abroad:
We arrived in the quaint beach town of Levanto, just north of Cinque Terre today, and I’m enchanted. I had heard the Riviera was beautiful, but somehow my preconceptions of the haunting Mediterranean prevented me from believing it could really be the “beach lover’s paradise” my guidebook described.

There’s something about all beaches that is universal, and I sensed it here even stepping off the train: the salty smell to the air, brightly colored buildings that glisten in the sun like little jewels, and—once you catch a glimpse of the water—the waves crashing upon distant crags of rock, becoming more evident as the tide comes in. A strange feeling of being at home sweeps over me, an odd phenomenon, considering I’m from the middle of the Illinois prairie.

But then, there is also something so European about this place:
focaccia stands on every corner, little girls running topless into the surf, Tuscan style buildings dotting the shore behind me, rocks stabbing my feet as I wade into the water. And then I remember. This is not just a weekend escape to the beach, or one of my endless excuses to spend time baking in the sun. I’m in Italy—a whole semester to explore and to try to find myself at home here.

This past year, my writing has been more anthropological than anything. I’ve been digging through rubble in hopes of uncovering my memories. But this semester, I am writing to preserve memories, for I have learned that they slip away too easily, a ship quietly pulling away from port until it is only a white-tipped spot in the distance. This semester, a perky young teacher from Minnesota warned me when we met on the train, will slip past in the same way. “Cherish every moment;” she smiled wistfully as she gave the command.

But how to explore the all the material—the people, the emotions, the places, and the scenery—how to really capture it all on film, much less on paper? I know that I cannot keep it, anymore than the harbor can keep the ship. And yet I wish I could bottle it up to drink deeply of on days to come when life doesn’t seem so golden or the future so deliciously ripe with the unknown.

Photos (from top to bottom): an Italian girl sunbathing below the hiking trails, a Vernazza fisherman bringing in the day's catch, brightly colored beach umbrellas in Monterosso, getting ready to set out on our [very long] hike from Levanto with a weekend's worth of stuff on my back.

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