After Madrid, I got on a train to Italy, stopping only for one meal in France. I headed straight to the Cinque Terre. I'm almost afraid to tell this many people how wonderful it is, but I can't do it any more harm that way than Rick Steves already has with his Europe Trough the Back Door series. [Addendum 2002: I don't really mean to say that Rick Steves has harmed the Cinque Terra. Who wouldn't rather make a living off of reasonably OK tourists than off of working a farm on indifferent land? The locals in the Cinque Terra all seem reasonably well disposed toward Mr. Steves and his effect on the local economy.] Imagine the Southern Oregon or Northern California coast with nice little Italian towns sprinkled along it within reasonable hiking distance of one another. And Ligurian cooking is as good as any in Northern Italy. This is where they invented pesto.
For an area where tourists threaten to outnumber locals, they handle it with a lot of grace. I think the key to this is that they are prosperous enough that they live lives comparable to those of the tourists. Cinque Terrans think nothing of heading off to Genova or Rome for the weekend, and any of them who want to have toured the world, so they all know what it's like to be on the other side of this sort of thing.
Vernazza, the town in which I stayed, has a communist mayor; I'm not sure if he's now in the "post-Communist" PDS or in the still "Communist" Refundazione. Either way, the Lega Nord, the north Italian separatists, are very weak here. Posters of Che Guevarra in several bars, things like that. It's not hard to understand why the left stays popular here: Cinque Terre is a market socialist success, with big agricultural and consumer cooperatives and many other voluntary associations. Not ot mentoon that they haven't done half badly from tlurism itself.
I had a great time here. I'll be back next time I'm anywhere near.
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