As we traversed the cobbled sidewalks of the Cinque Terre this week and navigated the bustling cafes, something was different. From Manarola to Vernazza to Monterosso, we listened to Americans talking, walking, singing, and shopping. I have not heard or seen American tourists in a very long time and I was unsettled to completely understand people again and take in all of their words as I comprehend their meaning. This past year, I have found an ignorant peace in my inability to eavesdrop or communicate in small talk. Suddenly my senses were being assaulted.
Just as I was feeling a bit like running for the hills, I overheard an American student talking about all the annoying American tourists that were flooding the place for spring break. I admit I missed the misty morning drizzle of Monterosso in February and the hallowed December streets of Manarola, but when I really started to listen to all the voices echoing off the cliffs, I heard the sound of appreciation.
Fellow Americans were sharing stories as they descended partially washed out trails and picnicked on the rocks. They were talking of beautiful things like the sea, their adventures, and most of all their home. They were connected in real ways to this beautiful place they worked hard to see and I felt them gripping for every last second they could squeeze in before the next train arrived.
Cinque Terre is busy and far from a hidden gem, but it still brings out the best in visitors. With not a museum in sight, Mother Nature and her bounty are exalted by all. I found that what people do really well in Cinque Terre is stop completely because they are stunned to be in such a magical place. That is the power of place. No matter how crowded or busy a landscape becomes, even one we see every day, coming to a complete halt will reveal magnificence. It takes strength to lean into stillness, but the alternative means I am blaming someone else for my lack of presence … and that ship has sailed.