Published: April 22nd 2010April 22nd 2010
Finished my stay in Firenze (Florence) last Saturday and headed straight to Cinque Terra - about three hours by train, with a change at the La Spezia station to a local train to Monterossa.
It was soooo nice getting out of the big city for awhile and into a small town environment with hiking trails, beautiful vistas, few vehicles (and the ones that are here move very slowly and quietly), et al. Cinque Terra - literally, “five lands” -- a region along the Ligurian Sea (northwest) coast consisting of five small towns, originally fishing villages, but now heavily tourist-oriented and each one accessible to the others by train, boat or trail. The trail-walking is the best and ranges from a fairly arduous trek on the north end to a relatively easy stroll between the two most southern towns. One can mix and match with ease, hike one or more segments, return by boat or train, or any combination that strikes you at any given moment. Another delight is that each town is very different from every other one. And, since there’s not much else to do here besides explore, eat, drink and sleep, it has been a welcome interlude before I pick up and do some more schooling in the coming weeks.
Observation: It seems that Italians talk a lot more and louder than most Americans. In fact, so far, my experience of Italian “energy” reminds me of the pace and intensity of New York and I’ve wondered if some of the newyorkedness of New Yorkers comes from the influence of the heavy immigration from Italy in the early part of the twentieth century. Of course, that’s not all of it, since New York was a pretty crazy place - different from the rest of America -- even as early as the early nineteenth century (and perhaps before that).
Another thing: a lot of Europeans still smoke -- young and old. It’s like America some decades ago, except for the fact that, thankfully, it’s prohibited in most indoor public spaces. But, if you happen to sit down in almost any outdoor location, where there are locals or European tourists around, before long, the wafting of cigarette smoke will surely enter your nostrils. At the school in Florence, among the students, all in their twenties, about half of them lit up (on the outdoor terrace) during the breaks, although that probably was exceptional.
At the home I stayed at in Florence, the seventy-five year-old signora/owner, Rina, also smoked. (I hadn’t thought to ask the school about that before they set it up for me.) On the second day, I walked in and the place just reeked of the stuff and it struck me that there was no way that I was going to be able to spend three weeks in that environment. So, that evening, I brought it up with Rina, who, in response, promised me she would only smoke in the bathroom. I said “even when I’m not here?” and she said yes. Plus, the weather was usually warm enough to keep windows open and the house aired out tolerably well. But then, she started cheating by smoking in the apartment again when I wasn’t there and then more openly and one evening I told her that she’d need to put out her cigarette when she was smoking in the kitchen, so that I could have dinner. She complied but wasn’t happy about it. In fact, she kind of went into a funk and stopped talking to me for about a day and a half. Then, just about when I had had enough of that, she snapped out of it and we evolved into a nice relationship for the rest of my stay, with her “being good” most of the time and me being less insistent now and then.
Sometime, during that period, her forty-six year-old daughter came by and we chatted for awhile. The next day, Rina told me that her daughter said I was real nice and Rina said that she had replied, “No, lui è malo; non mi permette fumare!” (“No, he’s bad; he won’t let me smoke!”) to which her daughter had said, “Good for him! He’s right”, all this conveyed to me with a mischievous smile. As it all turned out, we wound up good apartment mates and comfortable with each other. During my last few days there, a young student from Turkey also took a room in the apartment.