Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Life across the sea

Amongst the trip to Italy that E. and I did was the differences we saw of life in the five places we visited.

Venice where the Calle, crowded with people flowing in an endless stream towards somewhere.  Their version of a human freeway as it lacked cars.  Hands holding cell phones, bits and pieces of Italian entered my ears.  When you merged into the narrow, twisting turning flow it all worked seamlessly.  Those who stopped caused traffic jams, where like an ant colony, the flow would effortlessly bypass and the flow would begin again.  Just as suddenly you would find yourself where the crowds have disappeared.  The quiet, the utter quiet, like being in a church.  There we might hear a radio from an open window behind lace curtains or nothing but silence.  We would pass a lone woman pulling her metal shopping cart to buy her food for the day.  Around a corner a coffee / bar / pasticcini with men and women taking their morning cappuccino or a quick shot of espresso with a tasty morning pastry.  As a day goes on it would be for lunch items and well into the night a place for wine.  The place to be to say a morning greeting and chat with the barista.  The many pastries from the panificio we drooled over, through glass windows,  sweets that tantalized us with powdered sugar thick as a layer of finely dusted snow.  Heaven in a brioche.  Venice an island of contrast.  We wondered how many of the Italians we saw were tourist like us or did they live on the island or just come in to work.  Venice that felt like a movie set or Disneyland at night without the fireworks.  The soft stroke of an oar from a gondola, sleek, dark, elegant, romantic.  I think a gondola at night would be the finest time to ride upon for the shadowy canals, quiet and empty of gawking tourist over the multiple bridges.

Vernazza with all the charm you would find in an Italian movie but it was for real.  Colors on the buildings changing to a different intensity as the sun or shade hit them.  A train would arrive in the morning unloading a new group of tourist.  They all would head down as the station was at the top and the sea at the bottom.  Tiny shops selling their tourist fare, cafes bustling all the day.  Gelato in a cone as the day warmed up would be in so many hands.  Licking the sweet tasty flavors that are hard to decide upon.  Early evening where the tiny take out shop had a line as it was selling calamari and shrimp in a brown paper cone.  The on the go appetizer.  Many bought bottles of wine to take to the breakwater with glasses that shops would loan them.  Everyone so relaxed, smiling, content.  Everyone which meant the locals and the tourist.  Time meant nothing.  To live in the moment, to enjoy and savor where you were.  to watch the sun set as the waters lapped calmly this time of year.  This idyllic seaside town.  People watching from above as I would look out our window on the street below.  I would see our landlord as he helped at the pizza cafe his brothers owned.  Setting up the tables early in the morning.  I passed him on the street a few times where we greeted each other in passing.  So kind and friendly.  E. thought she could live in a place such as this.  I wondered how I could.  I could visit here for awhile as were doing.  I would not want to live here as it was too perfect to want to lose that feeling if one stayed too long.  It is better to have the fondness of wanting to return that I would want to keep.  Being here you felt fully alive.  Up and down with your legs on steps, stairs, hills, the sky the sea.  I slept so well here.  I ate so well here.

Lucca where I finally felt lost which I did not in Venice.  I couldn't quite find where I was till I kept track of the street number on the main street that our Bed and Breakfast was off of.  So many shops that looked so similar.  Lots of people on bikes zooming by, lots of people filling the streets where a car was a rare sight but were allowed.  Who wanted to drive though?  Why?  A bike would be much quicker and can dart in and out of the mob of people with the ring of a bell.  So many times I wondered about the near misses of being run over or into a bike.  Charming old bikes with baskets.  Round and round the city the streets circumvented the old wall.  When we took the walk around the town on the wall I felt free of the narrow streets.  I could see out and above where I could not down below.  I can understand why this broad walkway is appreciated by the town locals and kept up so well.  The lovely branch spreading trees that shade so much of the circle.  The manicured wide lawns that are outside the walls below with more trees along the road that circles the wall that obscure the car traffic beyond.  Amazing that it was never bombed in WWII.  This walled town was full of locals going about there day to the Pharmacia, the bookstore, the clothing shops, the cafes, the markets.  Kids crowded one square where for their siesta they hung out.  Watching the tourist?  We looked at their styles compared to American kids.  Not much different though they didn't wear low rider pants.  Skinny jeans were it.  We saw two teen girls who appeared to be pregnant.   A few guys wore mohawks of sorts with their curly hair.  I thought how our school kids would like a longer lunch break as in a siesta time.  It seemed like they went to school in the morning and had a break for an hour and half or so and then went back to school for another hour.

Barga was as quiet as an empty church.   Our journey began on an early morning bus ride that was headed for this medieval walled village.  After we left the main road out of Lucca we started to climb via a narrow switch backing road.   Gorgeous wooded hills that we traversed through.  Out of the bus we wandered through the main entrance of Barga.  No one else passed us for quite some time except one car that surprised us when we walked on the one narrow road a car could go on.  Then the town revealed it's charm of narrow walkways up and down, views that showed off the distant mountains, the Tuscan stones on old buildings, gates, doors, archways, an ancient aqueduct that was above a lush green narrow ravine.  Everywhere we looked we were spellbound.  Yet where were the people?  I don't think many lived in the walled town.  We heard the sounds of people inside an open window and saw some at a couple of cafes.  Small shops in the town were mostly closed or empty.  We ate at a very pleasant cafe and admired the quaintness of this rarely visited place.  Sleepy town?  Certainly clean, positively quiet.  We walked to the newer area of Barga where there were town people going about their lives.  Working, eating, living.  Normal shops for hardware, flowers, food and cafes.  A lazy feel except for the buses that went by every once in awhile or the occasional car.

Lastly was Florence where I have been three times after this trip.  Florence felt like the warm welcome of tourist season had passed.  It needed a rain to clean it's soiled cobblestone streets, marble statues, fountains, and old buildings.  There were more gypsy beggars than I had ever seen on previous visits, who were as persistent as flies.  So much going on everywhere you looked.  Food, food and more food.  Gelato every third place you walked by.  People milling about looking up, waiting in a line, talking, taking pictures.  Horse carriages going by or waiting for the tourist who would hire them.  Artists with easels set up drawing Florence scenes.  The decadent flourish in the windows on the Ponte Vecchio, so many baubles of jewelry of silver and gold.  In the old town of Florence I felt very few locals lived here.  One day we waded through a sea of market carts, filled with scarves, leather jackets, belts, bags, trinkets.  It went on down the street forever the carts.  The lure to have you buy something from a wagon was high.  No lacking in finding any trinket to bring home, the last of Italy to fit into your luggage.  How to bring home the memories of a trip?  I was weary the last few days of our trip.  I looked at the familiar sights with mixed pleasure.  Of high was sharing the inside of the Palazzo Vecchio with E. which she had not seen.  We admired the fine  detailed  frescoes on the walls, of how they could be frivolously funny or wickedly sinister.  Like a dream state we walked and studied the walls, the ceilings of gilt, paintings, details so small you could not speed through unless you had no interest.  This has to be my favorite place in Florence.  What would life have been like?

To leave the city was a bus ride to the airport.  A wake-up to the dread of travel.  Packing up, cramming in all the clothes, camera equipment, the ill fitting shoes, the last of the carefully measured toiletries.  Walking with E. getting her last two gelatos, yes two.  Walking to where we would find the bus near the train station but having trouble finding it.  Rick Steve's directions lacking the right info or decent map.  Struggling to ask a couple on the street where it might be.  The lack of understanding and then a kind gentlemen telling us where to go.  Just barely making the bus!  Riding in a bus with no air, the windows that could open all closed, sweating.  Arriving and the check in, the last cappuccino for me as I stood at the bar.  Going home.  Going home.

On the plane I thought of the island of Burano we visited while in Venice.  The vibrant colors of the homes and businesses.  It was suppose to be known for its lace but how can lace compete with shocking pink, orange sherbert, pistachio green, lavender, coral, contrasting colors side by side that made you want to go home and buy paint to do just the same on your own home.  Happy, expressive, tranquil Burano.  Surely those who live here must be filled with joy.  One house we came upon, with all the windows wide open, someone played a piano.  We stood there and listened.  One moment for us as we listened and watched sashes on windows, curtains over front doors, laundry hung as though they were art.  One moment that made me as happy as I could be to share this with my dear E.

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