This is the second of several postings that I could not make due to problems with Safari.
The Cinqueterre was wonderful. Internet reception was worse than in my apartment in Alba Adriatica. I never thought such a thing could be possible. But, with only 3G available in a tiny community along the seashore hemmed in by mountains, I suppose it was to be expected. This is why all my postings are so late.
It was great to see my good friends, Chuck and Lorie. It felt nice to have a bit of home here. And that home experience is going to continue because I have two more friends, Mike and Marilee arriving the week of May 25. A month later, my traveling bud, Barry, arrives for upwards of two months to traverse Europe. I’m going to be a happy (and busy) camper.
The weather cooperated quite nicely in the Cinqueterre. Only rarely did we have clouds, and even then, they dissipated to reveal a clear sky and the crystal blue waters of the Ligurian Sea.
I had visited the Cinqueterre twice before so I was somewhat familiar with it. Charging around with Chuck and Lorie was fun because I got to play tour guide and use my Italian. I was surprised at how few people spoke English, especially since the Cinqueterre is a a world-famous tourist area.
We spent most of our time in Riomaggiore and Monterosso. I was only with them for two days. We trotted around the towns, swooned over the viewscape and walked down lonely paths. We had gelato and basked in the atmosphere on the promenades as we walked along the waterfront.
The Cinqueterre towns are quite affluent, something that is apparent when one notices how clean they are and how well-kept the buildings are. Graffiti is non-existent. Newer homes and businesses are immaculate and beautifully maintained and older buildings are also in good shape. Outdoor restaurants abound allowing people to eat al fresco. We even ran into two couples from Oregon who were touring Italy. We all enjoyed sharing our experiences and our impressions with each other.
The apartment Chuck and Lorie rented was quite large—and up nine flights of stairs. I was able to keep up my cardio regimen because of this. We ate several of Lorie’s wonderful meals on their patio, looking out at the tree-covered hills, the blue sea and a lovely hotel across the lane.
After leaving the Cinqueterre, I stopped in La Spezia to visit my cousin Debra and her family. I contacted them at such a late time that I only expected to perhaps have lunch with my cousin. Instead, Debra insisted I stay at their house for as long as I wanted. I arrived Thursday morning and left Sunday morning.
I hadn’t seen Debra since the wedding of my cousin, Sergio, in 2009. It was great to see her and her husband, Enrico, again. I had forgotten how loving and affectionate she is, always putting her arm around my waist or placing her head on my shoulder. Enrico, her husband, is crazy like Sergio. He knows no English, but loves to joke and abuse others. He was chagrined to find that I had lost the stomach I had apparently sported a few years ago. I was no longer “uomo sostanza”—a man of substance. He now had to find another insulting nickname for me!
Visiting them also allowed me to meet their children, Davide and Elena, fifteen and ten years old, respectively. Debra and her family took me around and we visited Debra’s parents, Gioberto and Ivana.
I had met Gioberto and Ivana back in 2000 when I came for New Year’s with Sergio. They were not aware I was coming this time around. Gioberto and Ivana, as typical Italians, love to feed people. Initially, they didn’t recognize me. But when I took off my glasses, their eyes widened and they threw their arms around me. We then sat down to enjoy a feast of barbecued (yes, BARBECUED) ribs and local artisan gorgonzola and mozzarella cheese along with a magnificent Lambrusco.
Afterward, we stopped at the home of Debra’s sister, Tania. Tania is now married with two children so I was able to meet her little family, too. With a sick child, they had not been able to dine with us at Gioberto’s.
Throughout the visit with my family in La Spezia I was overwhelmed by their generosity and hospitality. They kept asking when I would be back and I promised I would return in late September after I hook up with Oregon friends in Florence. La Spezia is only two hours by train from Florence, so I’ll be in the neighborhood.
The three days in La Spezia served to strengthen a resolve in me to remain in Europe. Italy is not looking like an option for work due its economic crisis. A lovely friend of mine is putting in a good word for me with an Amsterdam company. If I can’t stay in Italy, why not go to Holland? My family will be only a couple hours away by plane in Italy and Ukraine. My brother about six hours away in Kazahkstan.
This experience of living in Europe continues to resonate with me. When I least expect it, I’m overwhelmed with hospitality, love and a genuine desire from people to see me. And to return. And to live.
I hadn’t expected the reception I received in La Spezia. After a relatively short visit fifteen years ago, I had assumed that a return would be met with a yawn. Instead, I was met with enthusiasm. Gioberto and Ivana insisted I return over the weekend for a feast of mussels and spaghetti al vongole liberally adulterated with Italian wines and appertifs. I visited Debra’s office at the Red Cross and was invited by her colleagues to a dinner to watch Juventus, the Italian soccer league, continue its trajectory up the playoffs ladder.
The stronger determination to stay is causing me to feel more comfortable with that very possibility. Even though I’d be leaving all my friends behind in America, everyone back home is excited for me and even considering trips to Italy, which would allow me to see them. Next week will provide yet more warm fuzzies as I hook up with my friends, Mike and Marilee. Funny, but it’s hard for me to remember being lonely.