"Schlaraffenland", the German Arcadia.

Monday, May 12, 2014

7 Snapshots of Europe, Spring 2014: 3. Manarola Inside Out

Manarola can be a little hard to get to. Apple Maps infamously sent drivers deep into the Australian Outback where they had to be rescued, but Google Maps need not be too smug as it sent us down a serpentine Ligurian road towards a dead-end that had been created over a year ago by a mudslide. So we backtracked, returned to the main road and took a circuitous detour to approach Manarola from the other direction.
If you've ever received a calendar from a real estate agent you've seen it. It's one of the five fishing villages that make up the Cinque Terre on the northwest coast of Italy. It's a multicoloured Lego brick town jammed against a cliffside. Paul Klee could have painted it. The harbour is so small that the fishing boats are hauled up on rollers and parked in front of the houses on the only road, and that road is only open to local traffic and then only for a few hours in the early morning. Visitors park above the village and walk down, their rolling suitcases making that characteristic rattle on the cobbles. Only one road even though 800 people live here. This is because all the other streets are in effect really just open-air hallways. Narrow, winding open-air hallways, interrupted and connected by staircases, in some cases very steep and long staircases. There are no bicycles and very few fat people. These "hallways" are often only as wide as you can reach. The house we rented was one small room wide and five floors high. The front door was on the first floor and the back door on the fourth floor.
The effect was bewildering and delightful. When the church bells rang and children raced ahead and disappeared around corners I felt like I had stepped into a classic Chef Boy-ar-Dee commercial and I laughed. When Alexander raced ahead and disappeared around a corner - really disappeared - I felt like I had stepped into the opening scene of a made for TV drama and I shouted. We eventually found him, of course.
If we had stayed a few more days we would have cased every odd little side passage and stairway and inevitably the strange topography would have become familiar and even ordinary. But the maze spreads outwards, up and down the steep wine terraces to the next village and then the next and the next, so I don't think I would have become bored.

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