Thursday 21 August 10:00 a.m. Monterosso al Mare
Tuesday morning I greeted the day on Monterosso’s pier with a book – finishing at full day with G. M. Hopkin’s famous poem Pied Beauty, marveling at this place, at the local fisherman standing patiently just a few feet from me, going through his daily motions. We set out together for the train to Vernazza, a darling old town, perhaps the most picturesque of them all. We ate delicious pastries for breakfast sitting on the edge of the water. We caught the next train to Corniglia and wished for much more time to experience it. It was secluded, quiet, unbelievably beautiful, with panoramic views and a long staircase down to the train (we took a bus up). We sat on the platform almost an hour, waiting for a late train back and reading Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. We went out to the beach after returning and braved the chilly breeze to swim the tall waves. They definitely got the best of us, but we were satisfied, fearing the week’s forecast of rain. Rain it did, and we fled in it, back to our hotel for hot showers and our planned quiet evening. (But first, when the sun broke through again, a run back to the city center for wine and focaccia – we’ve eaten SO MUCH focaccia.) We sat in bed eating grapes, plums, tomatoes, cheese, focaccia (all but the last bought this morning at Vernazza, where we’d gone in pursuit of its weekly market.) We read for several hours. Skyped the kids. I dozed. Afterward we did some yoga and wandered back out to sit over the waves in a cafe with books and gelato in the sun set. One of the more magical moments of our week: talking of N.T. Wright’s “priests and kings” explanation of humanity’s telos and worshiping at the thought of all that implies for our relationship to creation on a small scale and a large. We wandered home.
I think you’ll agree that this is a description of a nearly perfect day. And while there is no denying that it was perfect – really, there was no denying it in the moment, either – for me there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction and frustration, which will make sense if you read between the lines: the short visit in Corniglia. The hour on a train platform. The cold, windy beach. The run home in the rain.
It started with the weather forecast, which we checked upon our arrival on Monday. To our disappointment there was an enormous amount of rain forecast all week, with highs barely up to 80 F. We’d trudged chilly London with a vision of baking in the sun on the beach, not moving for hours. Now it looked like a real possibility that our whole week would be rained out. While it’s true that Genoa was practically flooded that week, and that the whole region was met with strangely cool temperatures for a mediterranean August, we began to suspect by the week’s end that “50% chance of rain” (or more) was something the people of this region expected every day, as they waited to see what would roll in off the water. In actuality, it barely rained our whole visit, but we were always waiting for that shoe to drop, scrambling to prioritize the things we wanted to do just in case we got rained out. I found this stressful and I even brainstormed about canceling our reservations in Lenno for Thursday night to gain an extra day in this region. (I’m glad we didn’t do that.)
Not only was the actual cold and the potential rain a force to be reckoned with, I began to be sorely aware of how insufficient two full days and two half days would be even to scratch the surface of these five unique villages. So on this first full day in Italy I felt myself simultaneously clamoring to move on to the next thing and fighting to really sink my toes in. It was pretty disappointing to pay 10 euros for beach chairs & an umbrella only to run home in a deluge after an hour, and even more disappointing to find, upon stepping out of the shower 20 minutes later, that the rain had gone and the locals were all back on the beach. To indulge in a luxurious afternoon in? To go back out and reclaim our pricey chairs?
By the next morning I saw this is as a straightforward failure to choose contentment and thankfulness, and Wednesday was as delightful and peaceful as Tuesday was stressful. Even in the moment on Tuesday I knew better than to voice my restlessness so Mike really didn’t have a clue until I told him about it the next day. I learned something valuable about myself in the process; as I chose to fully enjoy Bonhoeffer while sitting, stranded, on a concrete slab by a train track, feeling the only heat the sun would offer for the whole day, wishing we were in the water already; as I closed my eyes to sleep instead of fighting with the swimming text as I lay in bed with a full belly and an empty wine glass. These choices don’t come naturally to me, and I knew that already. When I was a sophomore in college my mom’s oldest brother sent me a birthday card that hung on my desk for three years. The front of it read “I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.” I wondered that he could’ve so completely captured me in a greeting card. I’ve never forgotten those words. They sum me up to a T. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I find sleep a tedious waste of time – a distraction from what there’s never enough time to enjoy. But on this anxious Tuesday in Cinque Terre I started to see that my “zest for life” isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes it’s a liability and a weakness – a distraction from the joy available in the moment. I’m finding that this new wisdom is sinking in this year, slowing me down, rendering me happier and maybe even less sleep-deprived.