It was twenty-five years ago and I was on a train going through southern France, or perhaps it was Spain, I honestly can't remember. But I do remember running into this guy in the dining car, called himself Chris. He was a cheesecake guy; the first five minutes talking to him, like the first bite of cheesecake, was flavorful. The next ten minutes, like the next few bites, were pretty good, although not quite as good as the first bite. And then, out of nowhere, the fried calamari, the six pieces of bread, the Caesar salad draped with anchovies, and the steak that looked like an entire side of beef catches up with you and you can't stomach even the thought of another bite. This is what the next hour of talking to Chris was like, only with lots of gas. Imagine hoping for a bout of cholera or other highly infectious and unpleasant disease in order to encourage him to find someone else to tell his embellished stories to. Of course, I can only blame myself, as there were clues early, such as when he was extolling his virtues as a marathoner and claimed that his best time was 2:05, which would have made him the world record holder in every marathon in the free world.
Why did I stay? Well, it was a long train ride and you can only look at so many olive groves. And there is also the bus crash phenomena, the idea that I had to stay in case he claimed he had won a Nobel prize in astrology or mentored the Dali Lama. I was about to leave when he came out with it: "Dude, you gotta go to the Cinque Terre," and then proceeded to tell me about the 'five lands' in detail. At some point, I made the mistake of asking him when he had traveled there. "Never been there, dude. I read about it in a book."
Exit stage left. I made my way back to my seat and told my buddies about my adventures, whereupon my friend Bill told me that the Cinque Terre was, in fact, on our agenda for the following week. When I asked him where he had heard about it, he admitted that he had "read about it in a book."
A week later, we arrived in La Spezia and and piled into the local train for the Cinque Terre. A few hours later, we filed out of the train in Monterosso al Mare, a little village tucked into a rocky inlet of the Ligurian Sea. Right away--and I hate to say this--I knew Chris was right (and, no, not about Knight Rider being the best show on TV.) The Cinque Terre was a smorgasboard for the senses. (And, yes, I did borrow that term from Chris.) The smell of caper blossoms and frying anchovies haunted the air. The sea breeze tasted of brine and spiny lobsters. The Ligurian Sea sparkled in the Mediterranean sun. Gulls cried. Waves slapped against the rocky shore. The sandstone felt warm against my bare feet.
I can't remember how long we spent there, because time stands still in Liguria. I will say this, though, however long it was, it generated a lifetime of memories and a yearning to go back and stay indefinitely: to hike the terraced slopes lined with vineyards: to swim in the sea green waters as clear as a swimming pool; to drink the local wine in the courtyards by the sea; to stroll along the cliffside walkway connecting the five villages. I could go on, but I don't want to sound like Chris. (Too late, you say?)
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