Ritratti italiani, Due

Sunset in Manarola

This, right now, is one of those moments I think all dreamers have dreamt of. I know I certainly have. To my right, I can see grassy fields, and further on, mountains. To my left, I can see the Mediterranean. I am at my seat, laptop open, typing away. I get chills every time I pause to look out the window. Is this real? Am I truly here? I am on a train in Italy, surrounded by coastal landscapes, heading toward Cinque Terre. The only thing I can want in this moment is a more exact pen (figurative, of course, as I am typing), so that I can share my experience.

In the fields, there are small houses every so often. One has walls of pastel beige and pale orange terracotta tiles for a roof. Some are more faded than others. The door is red and the window just next to it is small. An unpainted wood picket fence surrounds a nearby vegetable garden. A few trees dot the surrounding scene. These trees stand tall on skinny trunks. They are each bare for about twenty-to-thirty feet or so before the branches of vibrant leaves reach out in a ten-foot crown. Miles beyond this little house and its similar neighbors lie the Apennine Mountains.

The Mediterranean is just outside to the left of the train now. We must be riding right on the coast. I cannot reasonably explain how much the sea means to me or why. All I know is that I am drawn to the coast. Whether it be the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Mexico, or the Atlantic Ocean along Georgia’s southeastern border, I am drawn to the sand and the sea. The blue sky extends into the horizon, meshing with the water’s far edge. The line that separates the two bodies seems almost invisible. Leading to, “Where does the world end?” … “Where does it begin?”

The train begins to steer inland, away from the coast. I feel like a part of me is pulling away. But soon I am in La Spezia for the night. Next, morning comes and I am on the train to Monterosso al Mare. Here it is, the sea. This is the northernmost town of the five known as Cinque Terre. And this one has a beach. The wind is blowing, the water is freezing, and I can see a storm brewing in the distance, but I cannot help myself. I take off my shoes and socks, roll up my pants legs and let the tide waters meet me at the shore. I stand for as long as I can bear the cold, but this is such a joyful moment I am barely bothered by it.

Here, there are some pastel shops and other buildings. I think Monterosso al Mare is known for its beach. The other towns do not have beaches of their own as they are built into the cliffside. Vernazza is like this but close by the water. Here, small fishing boats line the street, covered, waiting for a calm morning before they set out with their fishermen aboard. The waves crash around the rocks and dock splashing the tourists too near the edge.

Corniglia is the middle town, and the highest in altitude. This village was built into a high cliffside. Again with the steps I go. And again, I am not disappointed. Here, the sea seems far off , but the waves are still heard. Sunlights streams down the slim alleyways and brightens the soft blues, pinks, oranges, and beiges of the houses. Here, the sun begins its descent.

Turquoise. Pure, gemstone-esque turquoise waves dip and crest under a pink setting sun. The colors seem unreal, impossible, but here they are. The sound is sombering from my perch in Manarola, the crash of Mediterranean Sea against rocks. I think I have found a place called Heaven, and it is here. Pastel houses are built into the cliffside, one house on top of another, making room for others all around so that they can share this evening scene. The hypnosis of the turquoise waves, rhythmically greeting the rocks below, reflecting the pink sun’s light, is entrancing, captivating. Eternal and too short.

The dark night sky lays to rest the sun too quickly in my opinion. I am released from the spell and make my way to Riomaggiore for dinner.

I will not soon forget the magic of those five places. Indeed, I hope to return very soon. The setting sun of Cinque Terre over and into the Mediterranean is a high I cannot soon let go.


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