— Jenny Neill

Cinque Terre: Help and Hope

view of vineyards from trail between Vernazza and Corniglia in 2003

Vineyards viewed from trail between Vernazza and Corniglia in 2003.

I didn’t plan on writing about travel this week. I was going to tell you I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo this month. (Hey, looks like I just did!) Thing is, I kept coming across the subject of Cinque Terre and photos of the damage done to it by torrential rains while doing novel-related research. So like any distractable and procrastinating writer, I went looking for more news, more photos, more information.

Memories of Medieval Monterosso
I found much of my current passion for food and wine in Monterosso. I made pesto for the first time at Hotel Marina. Thanks to a tourmate ignoring the chef’s instructions I learned that the traditional mash of garlic, basil and pinenuts need not have a whole or even half a head of garlic to be authentic and flavorful. The chef explained, after tasting my tourmate’s batch, the point of pesto is to let the freshness of all the ingredients express themselves.

This northern-most of the five villages is also the first place I can recall meeting a female sommelier, Susanna Barbieri at Enoteca Internazionale. I had my first real lesson in understanding all the aspects of what wine stewards call “terroir” tasting a Sciacchetrá from Riomaggiore while there. Traditionally made by allowing Bosca and Albarola grapes to wither on the vines before being pressed, this rare gem still sets my standard for how a botrytised wine should taste.

prized bottle brought back in 2003

Bottle of Sciacchetrá we brought home in 2003.

I dined with my family shortly after September 11 at Il Pozzo, a restaurant in the old part of this town. I started a tradition with my sister of eating cozze when traveling where any local mussels can be found. Now, “…[you can see] only the sign, the ground floor [is] filled with debris.” (Translated by me from Il cuore delle Cinque Terre non c’ è più or “The Heart of Cinque Terre is No More.”)

Vernazza Visuals
The sea water once separating the beach from the dock has been pushed out by mud in Vernazza. It was on that dock I first laid eyes on Rick Steves, one of this village’s biggest promoters. He was there when I was in 2001 filming for his TV show. And he is among many tour operators reflecting on how best to help with the recovery process now.

view of Vernazza, Italy from trail in 2003

Vernazza as seen from trail between Monterosso and Vernazza in 2003.

This photo journal shows how one couple witnessed the flash floods while traveling. Escaping the destructive rush of water mixed with earth and rocks lead them to have “a surreal cultural interchange in the most unlikely of circumstances.” The locals who hosted them for the night taught them how to make pizza dough. I think Rick would be proud.

More Floods Possible
Today, another storm threatens the area with even more rain. News of more wet weather on the way is not good. Parts of Monterosso and all of Vernazza have been evacuted again.

But many Italian villages have survived floods before and clean-up efforts have already begun. Though the danger may not yet be over, I’m holding out hope that these medieval hamlets will remain destinations for world travelers for many years to come.

For information about recovery efforts and how to help, watch these sites:

One final note: If you decide you want to contribute to the Italian Red Cross, Kate of Little Paradiso offers some excellent advice about how to deal with the online donation form:

When you go to the site, make sure that on the drop down menu, you select EMERGENCY TUSCANY AND LIGURIA. If you are donating from a foreign country, leave the ‘state’ field — and the ‘nation’ field will be written in Italian. If you are from the US, the nation will be ‘Stati Uniti’. IF you have problems with the zip code fields, try 00000. I encourage all of you to give what you can, large or small, to help rebuild the towns that have been hit so hard in Liguria and Tuscany.

All photos reused with permission. © 2011 Mike Russell. All rights reserved.