I have the feeling that an impending doom is approaching. Whether it is economic collapse (Jeff Thomas has called this period of the economy the Twilight Zone, after the old TV show), the current phase of the cultural revolution, the sordid election, potential wars (even a civil war) or the pandemic, they all leave me queasy. Perhaps the most telling danger in my mind is the new post-human world the elite have planned for us as explained by James Corbett. “The #ExposeBillGates movement is deadly serious, and it aims to alert the public to the real dangers of the world that are coming into view: a world of lockdowns and quarantines, masks and vaccines, checkpoints and immunity passports, cashless payments and biometric IDs.”
In his memoir, The World of Yesterday: Memoirs of a European, Stephen Zweig has written evocatively and elegantly of the summer before the impending doom of the Great War in Europe. “Even without the disaster it brought down on the whole of Europe, that summer of 1914 would have been unforgettable. I have seldom known a summer more luscious, more beautiful, I am tempted to say more summery. The sky was a silken blue day after day, the air was soft and sultry, the meadows warm and fragrant, the woods dark and lush with young green growth. Even today, when I say the word ‘summer’, I instinctively think of the glorious July days that I spent in Baden near Vienna that year……It was a beautiful summer, and promised to get even better; we all felt carefree as we looked out at the world. I remember how a friend and I were walking through the vineyards on my last day in Baden, and an old workman there told us, “We’ve not had a summer like this many a long year. We’ll have a great vintage if the weather holds. Ah, folks will remember this summer for a long while to come!””
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I have the sense that our summer of 2020 has the mood of that summer in 1914. And like the summer of 1914 for Zweig, it is incumbent on us to still enjoy life. Back in 1990 I met and became friends with a regular writer for The Spectator. Besides my friend’s column, I enjoyed Taki’s High Life and Jeffery Bernard’s Low Life (now written by Jeremy Clarke) column. From the Wikipedia description of Bernard, “He was given a column in The Spectator in 1975. His column, entitled “Low Life” was contrasted with the “High Life” column by wealthy socialite Taki Theodoracopulos, writing as “Taki”. While Taki’s column described a life of yachts, casinos, and grand hotels, Bernard’s was described by Jonathan Meades as a “suicide note in weekly instalments” and principally chronicled his daily round of intoxication and dissipation in the Coach and Horses public house and its fateful consequences. This was mixed with anecdotes, many of which were repeated in the play Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell, and ponderings on life. His lifestyle had an inevitable effect on his health and reliability, and the magazine often had to post the notice “Jeffrey Bernard is unwell” in place of his column.” For most of us it is important to have gratitude for our good life. For me this includes having a house in the countryside in the south of Burgundy and being able to take vacations with my family. Though traveling with a 12-year-old adolescent can be a challenge as this is a good life, not a perfect one. This year we made a sojourn into Italy to visit the Cinque Terre UNESCO World Heritage Site, on our mission to deliver our daughter for a week with her friend on the Côte d’Azur of France. We headed south from Burgundy near Macon on the Autoroute A6, then East at Lyon to the Frejus Tunnel to enter Italy. My title is misleading in that on this trip our lunch was in Piedmont just south of Turin, not Liguria on the coast; in the picturesque village of Neive in the wine country of Italy.
Our route on the first day.
Italy and the Cinque Terre from this site.
The view from the terrace of the restaurant in Nieve.
We spent the night in Piedmont, in the countryside near the agricultural town of Caneli in the Agiturismo Rupestr. My wife made all of the arrangements for the trip so I had no anticipation for the wonderful experience we would enjoy. The Agiturismo was founded and is run by Giorgio Cirio, a man who loves the people, the land, and what they produce together; what he calls the Six Bigs of white truffles, hazelnuts (for cakes and candies) wine (e.g., Barolo and Barbaresco), fruits and vegetables, meat (beef and game), and cheese (a goat’s milk cheese called Robiola di Roccaverano). And his mission in life is to share these wonderful things with the world as is explained in the whimsical memoir he wrote and sent to me. The ambiance was more like visiting the large house of a friend than a hotel. Giorgio showed us to two different rooms and let us choose the one we liked best. My daughter loved the little pool, playing there for hours during the hot late afternoon. But the dinner was the highlight of our stay. Course after course of dishes made from the local ingredients with a local wine. The guests had individual tables but there were many conversations between tables. In the dining hall there are several banners on the walls including one that states that “The Table is King of the World and the Bottle is his Queen.”
The pasta course at our grand meal at the Agiturismo Rupestr in Piedmont.
The next day after the grand meal we packed the car, adding purchased wine and olive oil, plus gifts from Girogio. He also led me down for a tour of his wine cave/museum. We drove through rural roads until we met the Autostrade (highway) in Liguria. It may be an overestimate, but not an exaggeration, to say that 90% of the Autostrade around Liguria is either through a tunnel or over a bridge (viaduct). The biggest bridge is the one that runs over the river in Genoa. The Morandi Bridge crossed the Polcevera valley, a river, a railway depot, a densely populated area and several large factories at an average height of 45 metres above the ground. A section collapsed on August 14, 2018 killing 43 people. The new bridge was designed by Genoa native and star architect Renzo Piano. It opened just two days before we crossed (on August 7, 2020) on our way south. To rebuild the bridge in less than two years is quite an achievement in today’s world.
Destruction of the old bridge and the replacement in Genoa.
We decided to stop somewhere along the coast south of Genoa for lunch and a swim. Taking the advice of a very friendly man on a motorbike who we met at a gas station, we chose Camogli. He explained that Camogli is very nice and family friendly compared to the famous and chic Portofino that shares the same peninsula.
Believe it or not, there was social distancing for Covid on the pebbled beach at Camogli.
That night we stayed at a bed breakfast in the hills overlooking Levanto, the gateway town to the Cinque Terre villages (see map above). These villages were founded in the Middle Ages and were only readily accessible by land with the coming of rail service in the 20th century. Even today they are not all served by roads for cars. The best way to visit is hiking on trails between the villages. We took the train from Levanto to Corniglia where there are 400 steps to reach the village from the train station (I counted 361 to keep my daughter’s mind occupied). We did the trail along the coast from Corniglia to Vernazza where we had lunch. There is not more that I can add on the beauty beyond the photographs below.
Levanto from the terrace of our BB.
View of Manarola on steps rising to Corniglia.
Arriving in Vernazza.
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We ended our trip in St. Tropez. Our neighbors near Paris have a daughter the same age as ours. The two girls have very different looks and personalities. But like yin and yang they love being together. The grandmother is a native of St. Tropez, with a house just a few minutes walk from the center. But she is a very warm and friendly person and has none of the glitz of the people in the big yachts docked along the quai. The evening atmosphere reminded me of the frat parties along fraternity row when I was a student at the University of Florida. I felt as out of place in St. Tropez as I did way back then at UF. But our two families had a nice meal along the water in the old village that was enjoyable. With so much charm and natural beauty, it is no wonder that St. Tropez became such a hot spot, if now the crowds, traffic, and conspicuous wealth is so distasteful.
I am happy we had this opportunity now. Like the summer of 1914, will the summer of 2020 be the last opportunity for a vacation for a long time? Only time will tell.