Our lives are all glamorous when you look at the bullet points:
- graduated from fill-in-the-blank college
- got a good job
- moved to a beautiful city
At a quick glance, we are all envious of another person’s fortune, how lucky they must have it, how good his life is, but you don’t see all the boredom, frustration, and contemplation that goes into it (of course!). Like a movie montage you see a chunk of years summarized in two minutes, the character’s victories highlighted and the hard parts skimmed over. Even my accounts of Italy are just the nice bullet points. The in-betweens include smelly Italian excuses for toilets (porcelain holes in the ground with foot rests for squatting) and the sweaty dragging of luggage across a foreign city. You know that phrase the grass is greener on the side? It’s true right. Just remember that – no matter which side of the fence you’re on, the grass is always greener. (The secret to life: Don’t let it be).
Vernazza is one of those towns where you look at the people living there, along side the water with the beautiful views and the miles of hiking trails, and think of how grand their lives must be. You see this idyllic, seaside town and try to imagine what it’s like to live there, you assume sunny skies day in and day out, swimming in the Mediterranean, and eating delicious food every day. But you know, those are just the bullet points (and only for some people). Just reassure yourself that most of the people living there are probably just living normal lives (just somewhere else than you). Maybe they’re really happy or maybe they’re really not. Just because they live in Italy their lives aren’t inherently better, right?
For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Cinque Terre is a collection of five villages, the fourth of which is Vernazza, along the northwestern coast of Italy. These seaside towns were built into steep hills so they all boast plenty of stairs and hiking trails for the exercising types. They each have their own personality and they are all connected via trails or trains. Two years ago a major flood hit Vernazza (and some of the other villages) and its citizens scrambled to make repairs, knowing how important it was for their livelihood to get the town back in order. The damage was extensive, but they have recovered amazingly since then and we enjoyed the village (and its sister villages) as lovely as they had ever been. If you didn’t know about the flood though, you would’ve hardly noticed they’d suffered.
After taking a stroll through the brief strip of “town,” we spent the afternoon hiking towards Monterosso, enjoying the breath-taking views (Sam: “I need to remember this view when I’m back at work in a few weeks”) and stumbling upon beautiful churches built way up in the hillside (how did they get all the building materials up here?). Every once in a while we’d a house way up in the hills or a above-ground cemetery adorned with colorful flowers. As we climbed the views got more gorgeous and the trail was steep up and down.
After a few hours of hiking, we came back down and changed for dinner. The choices are limited when staying in a tiny village, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t delicious. This pizza place pictured below looked promising.
We opted instead for seafood in the seaside town. We sat outside and enjoyed picturesque views from sea level.
We each ordered our own giant bowl of pesto pasta (having learned our lesson to not share delicious pasta after Bologna’s tortellini), having read that the villages were well known for their pesto and focaccia.
Three of us also ordered our own grilled fish, which arrived whole on the plate, black and browned from the grill and decorated with carrots and lemon. I felt like a far less-seasoned Julia Child as I tried to delicately pry the flesh off the tiny bones, though I don’t know that I succeeded. The fish tasted mild but fresh and went well with my giant plate of trofie al pesto. The night ended with a gelato of course – this one in tough competition with Bologna’s second round. They had my absolute favorite flavor, cinnamon, and a delicious amareno, which was a creamy gelato with dark, sweet cherries folded in.
We sat on the steps along the water as the sun began to set, thinking how sweet and slow life felt at that very moment. If this is a normal day for a resident of Vernazza, my musings of greener grass can’t be that far off, I think as my feet dangle over the darkening, blue water of the Mediterranean.
Then again, we are nothing more than strangers stumbling upon a village with moving parts and people, speculating on the wonders of everyday life in a town that has worked so hard to rebuild after a major natural disaster. The grass may look greener leaning over the fence, but down into the roots and far into the field, the color fades and the work behind it remains hidden. I salute the people of Vernazza for restoring their town so wonderfully and giving me a chance to see it as an idyllic world in a bubble. I hope their own grass seems greenest to them.