Portofino is picture perfect. The drive to this flawless harbor village is stunning as the road tumbles along the Italian Riviera past Sestri Levante and Santa Margherita Ligure. Portofino is visually everything you want it to be. The screen saver image is in tact, well preserved, clean and noble. There is, however, something missing.
Portofino has not been a quaint fishing village for hundreds of years. The old fishing houses are renovated and occupied by glittering fashion boutiques. The remaining fishing boats in the harbor are used to taxi billionaires to their yachts or remote seaside villas. It is said that you not only pay for the food in the restaurants but for the very air you breathe! Because of this long history of elite tourism, there are very few year round residents outside of those that serve the villas of the rich and richer.
I will never forget the perfection of Portofino. I appreciate its ability to live up to its Google image. So many places we have ventured have not. I feel, however, like I wish we had met before. When is before? Before it became the poster child of a quintessential fishing village. I would have loved to hear the din of fish mongers laughing, pulling up catches, throwing fish and mending nets. I would have loved to see people living life in such a paradisiac place.
As I stood on the dock, with the sun on my face, listening to many languages swirling around me as day-trippers passed, I could almost hear the sound of the villagers hundreds of years ago. I could imagine echoing voices bounding around craggy peninsula walls, as boats rowed into the harbor giving thanks for the reflection of the frescoed buildings on the glassy, emerald sea.
I could almost hear it, but the voices have long been silent.