time travel

As many times as I’ve stepped onto an airplane, crossing a continent, it never ceases to amaze me how in mere hours you can be transported through time, or so it feels. Most recently I flew from Pisa, near Monterosso where my Italian and I spent the weekend with his family and friends…

Monterosso

…to New York City, to visit my family and friends. From what felt like the past, to the future.

NYC

Could there be any two places on the earth more different yet equally loved? Yes, certainly there are. But these are mine. Two very distinct and disparate parts of the world I call home. One for it’s calm and beauty, and one for it’s energy and innovation. And both for their culture. Not to mention all the other parts of the world that became home even for a brief moment. Ah yes, and then there’s Paris…

sweet harvest

This time of year I look forward to the grape harvest in Italy. My first real experience paying homage to the grape was two years ago, and still I drink the wine in memory of those days. This year the harvest was not as plentiful, but my Italian and I set to work and picked every grape we could find.

We decided we would make the local sweet wine, Sciacchetrà, made of select, dried grapes. A real delicacy, and my favorite domestic wine from the Cinque Terre region.

The views alone were reason alone to tangle my way through the vines.

We set the 50 kilos of grapes to dry on a metal net and covered them. In six weeks time the dried grapes would be pressed, natural fermentation would take place, the wine would be filtered, and voilà! Ready to be savoured during the Christmas holidays, to compliment a good dessert.

Cheers to the best Sciacchetrà of Cinque Terre!

summer celebrations

These days I have much to celebrate. Even simply the path that led me to the city of lights. It’s now nearing 3 years since my move to Paris and the start of my blog, which came to life shortly before that. And inevitably I’m soon to be another year older, on July 29th to be exact. Since Leos love to celebrate, and my Italian knows this well, he has planned a surprise birthday adventure. Four days exploring an unknown landscape. Where, I haven’t a clue, and I am happy not to know. Soon the adventure begins…

For the rest of our time away, I will be sitting beneath the shade of these umbrellas, on the beaches of Monterosso, staring at the sea. Celebrating all that I am grateful for.

following the sun

Adventures on the Italian Riviera continue. This time upwards. The sun was shining and we decided to follow it, all the way from Monterosso to Levanto, the neighboring village. A two-hour hike high above the calm of the sea and into the wild of the woods. Ready. Set. Go! A long way up…

Finally we arrived to the top. A moment of awe.

A slight detour into the remains of a historic church.

The journey continued into the woods…

Until we reached the other side, met by the setting sun.

Over two hours and many awes later, Levanto at dusk.

Now it was time to follow the moon.

village reborn

On October 25th, 2011 Montorosso, one of the most charming and picturesque villages in Italy (yes, I’m slightly biased) experienced devastating flash floods. Over 20 inches of water poured from the sky in a matter of three hours, leaving the ground floor buried beneath mud and debris. Neighboring Vernazza suffered even more severely. The days following would never be forgotten.

My first trip back to Monterosso was during Christmas. My heart sank at the state of this once picture-perfect village. Already the hard work was well under way and sounds of opera filled the air as the local wine bar made a toast to the village. Resilience redefined. I returned again for Easter, my second Pasqua in Italy. What I discovered was a village reborn. Much like I remembered it.

The beach cleaned up, with several remaining boats resting upon it’s shores.

A street once ravished by the flood, bustling back to life.

The much frequented wine bar resting pre-aperitif hour.

A village in bloom, ready for the spring.

The famous pasticerria newly renovated and re-opened.

An acclaimed restaurant, ready again to serve it’s regional specialities. (Mmmm, pesto!)

The main road no longer concrete, but a mix of wooden planks and grates.

There remain parts of the village that have yet to come back to life. In time.

Crossing from the new part called Fegina, into the historic village, it’s difficult to imagine the scenes that took place just months earlier. The waters now calm and clear, the sun smiling down upon the growing numbers of tourists… a village filled with vitality. What the last 6 months have proven is the incredible strength and unity of a village and it’s people. Next stop… Vernazza.

Click here to find out more about Monterosso’s continued progress. Better yet, come to visit!

the heart of a village

view of Monterosso from the sea

Much like with a person, it’s possible to fall in love with a place. I experienced this several times during my journey around the world. But it was Monterosso al Mare, and the breathtaking landscape of Cinque Terre that captured my heart. A serendipitious encounter, or coup de foudre as they say in French, much like the meeting with my Italian. Little did I know this place, that I had promised at least a piece of my heart to, would in time become my home.

Monterosso as the sun sets

This weekend, my Monterosso born Italian and I should be serenely tucked away amidst this dramatic landscape, celebrating his parents’ wedding anniversary upon the same setting where we recently celebrated our own. Instead, the ever unpredicatable mother nature had other plans. As the world is well aware, these 5 towns, particularly Monterosso and Vernazza, have suffered terribly due to intense flash floods.  Global warming being the cause. Several lives lost and many people without homes and businesses, being the result. Within only a few hours, this past Tuesday the region was suddenly hit with 20 inches of rain, causing rivers to overflow and sweep through the villages. Thankfully, my Italian’s family, friends and most villagers are all safe.

enroute to Vernazza by boat

My heart breaks for these people who I have gotten to know through the last few years. Amidst the language and cultural barriers, I have been accepted into this land, not only by my Italian’s family but by the many kind-hearted and hard-working locals. My thoughts and prayers are with all those going though such hardship in Monterosso, Vernazza and neighboring villages.

view of Vernazza

Why I am writing this is not to post photos of the devastation and mourn the loss of a village, quite the contrary. My purpose it to celebrate the strength and resilience of this village and it’s people. Already, only a few days after this natural disaster, so much has been done by the locals and their neighbors, to assist in the clean-up and reconstruction. Even my Italian’s sister has been aiding in cooking for the many left without homes, food, or gas. His aunt, uncle and cousins too. Proof that the heart of a village can overcome even the toughest of obstacles.

a vision of natural beauty

Cinque Terre, and my beloved Monterosso, will remain one of the most beautiful places on earth.

staring at the sea

I was born a beach girl. Westhampton Beach that is. I have always thought of the journey of life as a walk along the beach, the setting and rising sun marking the passing of time. And forever near a beach I would like to remain. Thankfully, my Italian is a boy of the Mediterranean. Very often we travel to his sea. Monterosso al Mare. Incidentally, the only one of the Cinque Terre with beaches.

With the many tourists in town as well as sun-seeking Milanese, safer to hide beneath an unbrella.

These last summer days I am exploring the wild and less inhabited Levanto beaches. Molto bello!

Staring at the sea I reflect upon the many beaches I have walked thus far in my life. And have come up with my top 5. (Not including my local Long Island beach, those of Monterosso, and the turquoise waters of Corsica.)

1. The 17 barely inhabited beaches of Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

2. The many remote beaches of the Fourni Islands, Greece

3. The beach island of Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

4. The elite sands of Jose Ignacio, Uruguay

5. The beaches of Tulum, Mexico

The next 5 remain to be discovered…

at last

At last, the wedding song. Did we have one? Not officially.

Many months ago when the fairytale began, my Italian and I happened to be in my hometown of Westhampton Beach while the great Etta James was performing. She being one of my all time most loved singers. Me being ecstatic to see her perform live, to say the least. And yes, she sang At Last.

This could very well have been our wedding song, as it is for so many, but instead it remains discreetly in the soundtrack of our love story.

What the wedding singer did perform was a Napolitan classic, requested by my dear friend Maria, a Napolitan girl herself. Not planned yet perfectly timed, Ti voglio bene assai became our song.

Here, where the sea shines
and the wind howls,
on the old terrace beside the gulf of Sorrento,
a man embraces a girl
he wept after,
then clears his throat and continues the song:

I love you very much,
very, very much, you know;
it is a chain by now
that melts the blood inside the veins, you know…

He saw the lights out on the sea,
thought of the nights there in America,
but they were only the fishermen’s lamps
and the white wash astern.
He felt the pain in the music
and stood up from the piano,
but when he saw the moon emerging from a cloud
death also seemed sweeter to him.
He looked the girl in the eyes,
those eyes as green as the sea.
Then suddenly a tear fell
and he believed he was drowning
I love you very much,
very, very much, you know,
it is a chain by now
that melts the blood inside the vein you know…

The power of opera,
where every drama is a hoax;
with a little make-up and with mime
you can become someone else.
But two eyes that look at you,
so close and real,
make you forget the words,
confuse your thoughts,

So everything became small,
also the nights there in America.
You turn and see your life
through the white wash astern.

But, yes, it is life that ends
and he did not think so much about it
on the contrary, he already felt happy
and continued his song:

I love you very much,
very, very much, you know,
it is a chain by now
that melts the blood inside the veins, you know…

I love you very much,
very, very much, you know,
it is a chain by now
that melts the blood inside the veins, you know…

homemade traditions

One of the most memorable chapters of my life took place on a recent sunny day high up on a cliff, overlooking the Mediterranean. Throughout our Greek island-hopping honeymoon (many adventures which I will soon share), thoughts of our wedding left me feeling warm and somehow, complete. All the many months of planning this international affair (with the aid of a certain gracious Italian sister and uncle), were well worth it. (Originally we were tempted to elope!)

As so well articulated in my Italian’s speech, our love story is a cross-cultural one, with roots in the US, France, Poland and of course Italy. This was represented by our mix of friends and family as well as in our celebration.

We enacted the beautiful Italian tradition of the groom greeting the bride at the door of the church and handing her the bouquet. (What a moment!) The church service was a religious tradition which we had both grown up with. No bridesmaids or groomsmen but rather, four witnesses to acknowledge our union.

Being covered with congratulatory cries of “Auguri!” and rose petals was a moment to cherish.

So many other details set the scene, each proving how much love and care was expressed by all.

Compositions of pale blue hydrangeas mixed with white roses and a touch of lily of the valley, representing innocence on the sea (my interpretation), carefully selected by the local florist.

My bouquet of white roses and white ranunculus composed by my mother, flowers being one of her passions. (This designer mom also made my veil!)

Following an apero, a 12-course meal began (Italian style), filled with tastes from the sea. Apparently an Italian wedding is not a good one unless the guests have eaten more than enough.

The meal ended very sweetly, with a local dessert wine, sciacchetra, expertly concocted by my Italian’s father (with our names on the label – surprise!)

The cake was a special (secret) recipe from the local pasticceria, delicious! My Mom lovingly crafted the ceramic couple to top it off. Perfect.

What my Italian and I were happiest with in the end was all the fun that was had. Evident in the singing and even, dancing! Someone once told me Italians don’t dance at weddings. Certainly we challenged this tradition. The revelry began as the sun set beyond the cliffs. And it went on, and on…

Only to arrive home to the final surprise – a bed filled with rice. Another Italian tradition.