Monday, November 16, 2009

Our Cinque Terre

Our Cinque Terre is November Cinque Terre – when you can count tourists on your hands and everyone you meet says they’ll be closing soon. The bars are out of limes, but the white-haired gelato man is still making cinnamon, pistachio and tiramisu.

Our Cinque Terre smells salty and sun-roasted. Cats compete with late season flowers to fill alley nooks, and dimpled flatbread winks from behind counters.

In our Cinque Terre, smoke drifts across the cliffs, carrying the smell of burning groves. Boats bob by occasionally, but mostly the fisherman occupy their social corner of the Vernazza plaza.

The pesto tastes as if the parmesan was wrapped in smashed basil and pine nuts by good elves, and the cook has time to bring out fresh floury potato pumpkin gnocchi and tell us how it’s made. The limoncino hits the back of the throat and the legs with equal zest, and the wine comes from across the cliff in Manarola.

In our Cinque Terre, the vineyards have turned yellow and no one is staffing the ticket booths on the Via Serra. As we walk the trail, a trio of older ladies darts into the woods in search of seasonal white truffles and two men creak by with a huge cask (pressed grapes? Olive oil?). A woman pruning vines sings softly as we follow the path beneath her patch of cliff.

Our Cinque Terre carries us – exhausted - through sleep on a wavy ride. It wakes us at 7 with a 37-bell salute from the church tower twenty yards away.

In our Cinque Terre, no one disturbs us when we pause to see it all: the tiny piles of pastel houses on the hills, the boat-filled harbors, the vines stretching around corners made of cliffs.

The only competition on the path is a preying mantis, and he doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry.

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