Friday, October 14, 2011

The Last Day of Summer in the Cinque Terre

     The amazing spring of Beautiful Florence 2011 was mirrored in an exceptionally warm and sunny September and October, with almost no rain.  Up to now, residents are still wearing their warm weather clothes with a sweater on top.  Sandals (except for those packed by tourists) were put away only this past Monday.  Having a heavy workload, apart from one excursion to a Tuscan beach, I was unable to take advantage of this incredible weather, which, as I write, is continuing, albeit a little cooler.

With the intuition that Sunday, October 9 would be THE LAST DAY OF SUMMER, I decided to go to Monterosso in the nearby region of Liguria.  Monterosso is one of the Cinque Terre, which, thanks to publications by Rick Steves, has unfortunately become overrun by hordes of Americans who hike and swim there during tourist season.  My intuition proved correct--the day represented the sunset of summer, with very few tourists in sight.

See the autumn colors?

 An early riser when going to the beach, I arrived from Florence at 10 am, to find the sandy beach nearly empty of umbrellas and sun beds.  I walked to a lone establishment that I am familiar with at the far side of the beach, and rented a sun bed for the day (six euro).  After handing me a receipt, Mauro told me, "this is our last day, we want to pack up around 5."  I said, "I am leaving at 6, but will go and have an aperitivo (glass of wine or cocktail)
before I go."

Initially, there were not many people on the beach;  although warm, there was a stiff breeze blowing from the north.  I lay comatose on my sun bed soaking in the rays with a smile on my face.  Around lunchtime, five German women--ranging in age from 25 to 40, showed up and rented sun beds close to mine.  Perhaps because they were a group who came later, they were charged 5 euro a head.  After lunch (a sandwich and beer), I fell asleep like a baby, stomach down.  I woke up around 2:30 to find the formerly empty beach pleasantly inhabited with (mainly) Italians and people in the water.  Deciding "it's now or never," I went for a swim (remember this was Oct. 9).

The water, a little less cold than Maine, was clear and gorgeous.
One of my German neighbors joined me in the sea, followed by a fair-faced twentysomething wearing white bathing trunks down to his knees.  His demeanor reminded me of a friendly puppy.  In fact, he started to chat with the German girl in English--she responded by returning to the beach.

The bathers watched a small boat arrive out of nowhere.  It was bearing a bride and groom,
 powered by a man who was rowing in back.
The boat anchored in a rocky cove, while a crowd that spontaneously gathered on the beach cheered.  The groom in a formal suit carried the bride in his arms and deposited her, white dress, high heels and all, on the sand.

Wouldn't you know it, when I finally decided to get out, the wind whipped up.  I treaded water for a while, then ran out, wrapping myself in a towel (unheard of in Italy).  "See, I told Mauro, "I even managed a swim."  His expression said it all, "she (and everyone elseis crazy to get wet."
Then the wind died down for good and the atmosphere began to change.

The five German women had glasses of spritz (spumante and Campari) from the nearby "Starfish Beach Club (Stella Marina) bar.  The boy timidly approached and identified himself as (first name?) Schmitz, resident of Buenos Aires.  The women said they had fled lousy weather in Germany, flying from Berlin to Pisa on Easy Jet.  Getting into the groove of the moment, one of the bikinied thirtysomething women and the boy cut an impressive figure by tango-ing on the sand.

Mauro, who decided to mellow out, went and fetched complementary beers for us from the Stella Marina, whose trademark starfish wears beach trunks and sunglasses.
Two obvious tourists, taking a rest from hiking in the hills above, walked along the shore, he in shorts held up by suspenders, she is a frilly skirt; neither cared that their clothes were getting wet in the tide.  Ditto for a mother who accompanied her children in the water fully dressed, as were they.
On our part, we bathed in the golden light, our party growing larger.

When shadows finally began falling on the beach, and Mauro starting putting away the sunbeds, I walked to a café above to have, following the German's example, a spritz.  From my vantage point over the water, I heard the Argentinean boy call out to the German women,  "See you on Facebook!"  Although it was nearly 6 o'clock, there were still people swimming.

I also ordered some delicious hot pizza, gazing over the coast to see the rest of the Cinque Terre towns:  Vernazza in a V shape, Corneglia snuggled on the crown of a hill, Manarola perched unobtrusively near Riomaggiore, which appeared to be spilling down a hill into a fisherman's cove.

Below the café, some men showed up, laughing and joking, appearing to be a priest, complete with a pompom-ed hat, and sailors.  "They are just kidding around," said the barman.

The scene was so unbelievably laid back that I looked down and thought "everyone here has had sex on the beach."  Then I turned and saw, on the café's video screen, images of John Lennon's and Yoko Ono's famous bed in, to the sounds of the Beatles' song
 "All You Need is Love."

My train to Sarzana, with only seven minutes to change for a direct train to Florence, was 15 minutes late.  Someone waiting at the track advised me to get off at La Spezia.

On the train, I decided to ask the green uniformed conductor complete with mustache and hat, what to do.
"Don't get off at La Spezia," he said.  "At Sarzana, there is another train following this one that will take you to Pisa."
I was dubious.  "What time is the connection?"-- I don't want to get stuck in SARZANA!"
A young couple on the train going back to Sarzana overheard me and snuggled closer.
Two elderly ladies across from me said, "this is vacation."  "Yes," I said, "but I need to get back to Florence."
As we were passing though the various Cinque Terre towns,

(above is Vernazza)  one pointed out, "look at the sunset!"

After La Spezia, I asked the train conductor again about getting to Florence.  "If we miss the seven minute connection, the next train--to Pisa--is an hour and a half later." he said.

     Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he admitted:  "I have talked with the conductor of the connecting train.  I told him there is a 90 year old on board who needs to get on his train, along with five teenagers (they were sitting across from me) en route to Viareggio.  This train has been moving fast, and if we are not too late, he will wait for you."

As the train pulled into the Sarzana station, his cell phone rang.  "We are nearly there, he said, "we will pull up alongside your train, and they will walk across the tracks (which, incidentally, is illegal in Italy).   They would lose too much time going down into the underpass."

So it was.  The five teenagers bounded across the tracks.  My feet in beach sandals sunk into the gravel, so the kind conductor took my arm and accompanied me to the train.  The driver was leaning out of the window.  "This is the 90 year old," he joked (look at my picture by clicking on the book on Beautiful Florence home page).

Clearly, I had lost sight of the fact that, in Italy, man-made law is suspended and natural law celebrated on the

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