We must say goodbye to Florence, city of art, antiquity, renaissance and style. To bid farewell, Martin and I walked to the Ponte Vecchio just before sunset. Lingering at a wine bar on the banks of the Arno awaiting the culmination of the day, we suddenly leaped up. The hour had arrived — 6:35 to be exact. Down on the table went the euros and out the door we dashed, cameras in hand. I kept walking down the river to follow the light and capture the light. As light dimmed, night’s lights emerged.
Martin and I are tucked away safe in our cozy apartment. It is on the second floor of an ancient stone building, within a maze of twisting and turning steps and tiny courtyards. The walls are two feet thick, chunky whitewashed stone. The wooden ceiling is suspended by roughy hewn two by fours and whole pine tree trunks. The floor is terra cotta. All is dry. Radiant heaters warm the room. For the moment, all is still.
The main street of Riomaggiore nestles in a gorge that nature cut between two soaring mountain ridges that cling on the very edge of the land, on the Ligurian coast. Martin and I arrived yesterday afternoon in the rain, barely getting a glimpse of the dramatic coastal plunge into the sea.
Today, as we ventured out for groceries and some lunch, shops and cafes were closed and shuttered — even the international bar. Were they all taking a lunch siesta? Signs on the doors: So sorry, closed for bad weather. Bad weather? Aww, they just want the day off. Are these Italians afraid of a little rain? Why, we have been to Denmark and Norway. We aren’t afraid. Even the tourist information center was not opening its doors. We stood at the darkened entrance mystified. A kind Italian-speaking Swede enlightened us: Bad storm expected, a “red” designation, schools closed, high alert. Advice: Get food now.
As we walked up the street,one brave bar was open. I’m sure it will have some loyal patrons today. Further up the street, only Mama Mia’s open, and doing quite a brisk business. We snapped up whatever we could carry, and home we went.
Hit the internet before electricity goes out. The European “Meteoalarm” indicates “red” alert for Liguria — rain, lightning and wind. What does red mean? “The weather is very dangerous. . . Exceptionally intense meteorological phenomena . . . threat to life and limb . . . Follow orders and any advice given by your authorities . . . be prepared for extraordinary measures.”
Well, the only orders that are being obeyed is to not report for work or feed tourists. I am wondering what “extraordinary measures” are required. There was no place to buy candles, or matches for that matter. The wine shop was shut. We have procured, however, an immense paper cone of fried calamari and another one of fried anchovies. To round out our rations, we have a supply of onion focaccia, white pizza and thin chickpea and cheese pancakes. God bless Mama Mia.
Some “intense meteorological phenomena” did manifest — lashing rain, wind crashing the shutters shut, water cascading down the roofs, and thunder pounding on the mountains. Church bells began tolling. I started to think not about God, but about the name, Riomaggiore. Wouldn’t that mean something to the effect of major river? However, there was no major river. Would the name imply that the major street becomes a river?
Well, you will just have to come back and read of the further adventures of Martin and Pat to find out.
I am in a state of absolute Duomo delight. Our apartment is about eight blocks away; its deeply resonating bells are the first thing we hear in th morning. We pass by it everyday, and every time notice something new. It is a sweet confection. Walls of creamy carara marble, frosted with rose and graced with green. Columns of spun sugar. Tiers upon tiers, graced with flowers, saints and angels. Among the divine are the rich and famous Florentines and the demon-driven sinners falling into hell. It is so large, it is impossible to take a picture of without the assistance of a helicopter. Every square inch of its exterior displays marble carving of infinite delicacy and detail.
Did you know that this was the first church to give mass in “vulgar” Italian dialect, in order to serve all the people, not just those educated in Latin? I’ll bet you didn’t know that the statues in the alcoves and on the tiers are faithful replicas, replaced every fifteen years. The reason? So tall is this edifice, that if even a finger were to fall off of one of the statues, it could kill or blind someone in the square below. This was the first unsupported dome ever built, by Brunileschi, using a revolutionary herringbone design in the laying of the bricks, and its dome is even larger than the Vatican.
I could go on: Martin and I spent hours on tours and in the museum that archives the original works and how it was created. We climbed 248 steps to the top of the dome. Instead, I will show you views of the beautiful city that created this wonder.
What change is wrought by the seasons! We Californians don’t experience this. Never before have I ever noticed change of season while traveling. Of course, I’ve never traveled for two month, either. This naive Californian is amazed.
First of all, the temperature has plummeted by about 20 degrees, to a bracing high of 48 degrees. The grass was frosted in the morning. Yipes! It’s suddenly winter to us, though Danes comment on how nice the weather is this week, since there is no rain and lots of sunshine.
During the summer months, the resort town of Blockhus is lively with vacationers. The sand is dotted with tiny, white beach huts. Cafes, ice cream stores and shops are bustling.
On October 1st, life in Blokhus suddenly changed. All the little huts were rolled off the beach and tucked away for winter. Only a few shops and restaurants are open now; most are locked up tight. Most of the summer homes are now shuttered in preparation for winter storms. Only a few lights twinkle among the grassy dunes at night.
People who flocked here for the summer have migrated back to their winter homes. The summer house is a way of life here in Denmark. The season even triggers a change in residence. Storekeepers suddenly have no store to keep. Even the baker stops making my beloved spelt bread when the summer season ends. People’s lives change with the seasons.
The whole landscape even changes with the seasons. Winter storms wreck drastic change upon the land. Here in northern Jutland, the shore piles high with dunes. Martin, Lizzy, Flemming and I climbed to the top of one of these. It was like being in a mountainous desert wilderness of windblown sand. The giant dune moves five to ten meters eastward every year, pushed by the fierce and persistent force of winter winds. It has completely buried an entire farm. Within years, it will devour the forest in its path. In a decade, it will reach the sea on other side of the country, and form a huge white cliff of sand.
Yesterday, we visited a lighthouse which will fall into the sea within a few years. The dramatically high dune is being washed away by waves and wind. Already, the light keeper’s house and surrounding buildings have been buried in sand. The walls have been pushed down by the force of the moving sand. The dune will engulf the lighthouse: In five to seven years, the dune will be invisible. Storms come in the winter, and by spring the terrain is altered. What you could once walk on, is no longer there. What you could see before, becomes invisible. Change. Unstoppable. Relentless.
This post is a visual poem. It is an ode to one of my very favorite places of all, Annecy, France. It is one of those delightful places that says at every turn, “Life is Good”. The pictures I have taken say it all.