Lucy Ferriss

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I've called this blog "Travelin' Thoughts" in the past, because I kept it mostly as a journal to record impressions of new places and cultures. But in a way, it's still a place for traveling thoughts--ideas that move through and past me, and out into the world. Some of these are literary, some just about life. It's a good place to open up the conversation, and I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Adieu, Corsica; Ciao, Italia!

July 15, 2016

Last post before leaving Italy.

Overlooking the sea near Canari.

Finished up the workshop in Corsica with a cabaret evening where we all performed for each other. Huge amount of talent on hand. My contribution was slight, but I did gather a posse to perform a great French drinking song, in which the main figure dies and is carried to the wine cellar to drink the fruit of the vine forever.

Lucy by the Desert des Agriates, en route home from a concert.

Then I closed out the evening with a recital of Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much with Us,” which had been in my head almost since arriving in Corsica, where you can indeed imagine Proteus rising from the sea.

Took the ferry across to Livorno and train to Pisa, where we joined the line of tourists waiting to experience the leaning tower. It was more of an experience than I’d anticipated. The tower leans, definitely, but what you don’t expect is the sensation of its leaning as you climb the circular staircase to the top.

Lucy is standing straight; the tower is drunk.

It’s like being in one of those funhouses where you can’t get your balance. One second you feel as though you’re about to fall into the outside wall, the next as though you’ll fall into the inside wall. Stunning views from the top. Also a quiet Pisan lunch on a side street where the proprietor was amusing his granddaughter.

Lucca was, as promised, higher on the special scale and worth the two nights we spent there.

St. Michael's square, by our hotel in Lucca.

The old city is entirely contained within an intact wall that doubles as a city park, and we rented bicycles to ride the circumference and drop down from time to time to check out the Botanical Garden and various stunning churches. Lots of churches; you wonder what the cause of building so many was, since the population hardly needed more space for congregants. Rival church builders? Anyway, inside the walls is basically no auto traffic, though the pedestrian traffic and celebrating can be quite noisy at night. We took Lonely Planet’s recommendations for dinner, with our first night at a very local Luccan place deep down a side street, after which we collapsed from a day that had begun in Canari at 5:30 a.m. Next evening we were surprised by the Feast of St. Paul, the patron saint of Lucca, which was held with parades, drums, dressed-up cross-bow archers, juggling of flags, and speeches in all the main piazzas of the town. Also an olive oil fest (Lucca is known for olive oil production), where we could taste those varieties that sting your throat with their intense acidity; bought two carry-on bottles for home. Then an hour in the church where an eternal Puccini festival is held. (Lucca was Puccini’s birthplace; we also visited his home, though we skipped the museum outside town.) Obviously meant for tourists, but the pianist, soprano, and tenor were excellent—especially the tenor, who was blind and sang beautifully, and I thought how he can only perform like this, in concert, sometimes in physical touch with the soprano for a duet so they can time their duet. Lovely dinner that night, and departure early the next morning for the Cinque Terre . . .

. . . which was a disappointment.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre.

First, my cell phone was stolen, undoubtedly as I was exiting the train. There were warnings about pickpockets, but somehow it didn’t occur to me that someone would want my cell phone, because how can they use it without the access code? Well, I suppose they can, somehow or other. Not a good intro to the area, nor was the two-hour delay on the train, which put us into Vernazza at midday rather than mid-morning and meant we were surrounded by swarms of day-tripping tourists. Escaped to the hike from Vernazza to Corniglia, which was lovely but brutally hot and also full of fellow hikers. A poor dinner, though high above the harbor at least, away from the tourists who were thinning out by then. Oh, and I tried to go swimming and got stung by a jellyfish. So I recommend the Cinque Terre for a trip in March, or October.

Much better luck next day with Camogli and Stella Maris, an old “resort” out on the peninsula south of the town.

Rough seas by Camogli, an ancient castle.

Portofino is on this same peninsula, farther south, and you can hike the whole thing if you have the legs. Don’s knee was hurting badly, though, so the afternoon we arrived we just went swimming in the lovely water off the rocky point and then poked around the town before dinner. You get everywhere by boat in this area; Stella Maris and the little villages of the peninsula have no auto access at all. Next morning, I had hoped to hike to San Fruttuoso, where there’s a 10th-century abbey, but Don’s knees were a problem and he was anxious about time, so we made it up only to Batterie, which as its name suggests is a collection of cannon emplacement left from WWII, capping the headlands of the peninsula. Impressive stonework for such a ridiculous cause, and beautiful views. We left and returned before breakfast, to catch the brief cool of the morning. The seas were rough that morning – I took a final swim off the point, but only a short one where the rocks protected me from the growing surf – so the early boat to Camogli was canceled (not something you get notice of), so we could have made the hike to San Fruttuoso, but by then it was too late. Instead, where the boat finally came, we rode it out to the Abbey and then back into Camogli, just to get the views and see the abbey from the outside before heading north to Genoa.

Genoa’s a port city, grungy in many parts, the side streets filled with fruit and vegetable stalls run by African immigrants.

Genoa cathedral; typical Tuscan patterned marble.

But vestiges of its former glory abide in the urban palaces lining the Via Grimaldi, and we walked around with what strength we still had in our legs. Ended up at the art museum of the Palazzo Rosso, Palazzo Bianco, and Palazzo Tursi: old Italian masters painting masochistic Christian scenes, along with a few of the great Flemish painters of the 17th century. Collapsed for a gelato. Collapsed again back in our room at La Superba, a B&B on the 7th floor of a grand old building down by the old port. Carolena, our landlady there, had recommended not only a walking tour but several restaurants, and her suggestions were spot on. Lunch was at a typical Genovese enoteca, specializing in pesto, crowded and noisy and cheap and delicious. Dinner was around the corner at a fish place, where we sat in the quiet little piazza while a guitarist strummed folk songs from the 60s. We were the first to take an outdoor table, but within 15 minutes the outdoor seating filled up – and then, almost as soon as everyone had been served, the heavens suddenly opened up.

Playing Simon & Garfunkel, just before the hailstorm.

I had seen not a drop of rain for almost a month, and now we and the others were grabbing our plates, wine, and bread, and scrambling into the restaurant; the poor guitarist had to pick up his equipment before it was swamped. Five minutes later, the rain turned to hail, and the cobblestone outside the restaurant were hopping with white balls. When we left the restaurant the temperature had dropped perhaps 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but the skies were clearing. We stopped at La Superba to get our jackets, then rode the funicular up the mountain for a view of the city as the stars came out. The funicular itself isn’t really a tourist attraction, but part of the rail line, meant for people commuting to the city from suburbs up on the mountains. But there’s a panoramic terrace, and it was very romantic. Next morning, a stroll around the old port, then time to say good-bye.

I’ve been gone from home a long time. I’ve done no “work”—no fiction writing, no Lingua Franca blogging, no prep for fall classes. At the same time, for at least three weeks I felt as though I was working, learning the Corsican repertoire, trying somehow to become a better singer. Not completely sure I achieved that goal. I still believe in what Village Harmony is doing, and several of the leaders were extraordinary not only in their musicianship but also in their sense of connection. Couldn’t connect with the main leader of the group, whose rough edges don’t precisely soften as you get to know her; something hard and self-protective there, and not always professional, though I realize she’s got a big task with all of us. But the harmonies still ring in my head, and I'm going to keep trying to sing this stuff; it's too beautiful not to. All the driving in Corsica exhausted me more than I had expected, though I grew to love the terrain, especially the many centuries’ worth of stonework in the endless walls and village houses. My Italian grew exponentially by forcing myself to speak it here – this also felt like work, though like the music it’s work I’m choosing – and with a month in the country I feel as though I would be speaking with a certain amount of fluency. With 20/20 hindsight, I would skip the Cinque Terre for another night in Lucca or Camogli (and hang on to my phone!). I continue to feel that I don’t make a very good tourist. I prefer to explore the nooks and crannies of a place. I want to speak the language, to talk to people and not feel I’m gawking at sights, extraordinary as those sights may be. I loved playing tennis for an hour on the crappy court in Canari, with crappy racquets. I loved wandering Lucca, feeling my sense of its geography settling in. I loved getting to know the épicerie guy in Canari, who ordered vanilla beans just for us. I loved the cool waters off the point at Stella Maris, how they cupped the back of my head and cradled me. And tomorrow, I’ll be swimming in fresh water, back at our little place in Becket. Lucky, lucky me.

The clear, dear water of the Mediterranean.
View from Batterie: ghost ships.

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