Never can say good-bye….

I’m back home after 33 days of if not total bliss, daily doses of beauty on the Italian riviera, the part known as the “levante.” We all know the drill of return: everything is so real. And in New York everything is not only real but more real: loud, dirty, unforgiving. Even if I can force myself to acknowledge some good aspects to being home―a performing washer/dryer (that dries socks in minutes, not hours), a stellar printer/scanner (with long enough memory to print a whole manuscript in one go)―more pieces of clothing than the ones you’d been wearing (and washing) for 33 days. The list is not long, though, at least not for me, not this time. Oh, let’s see: drinking morning tea in bed―a forbidden pleasure at the Fondazione. Watching movies at night on tv in bed (ditto). Reading The Times on paper (had to make do with the recycled news of the  Herald Tribune.) I guess I could come up with a few more if I really tried.

But I thought I should try harder.

So I made an experiment. Instead of the gorgeous passeggiata along the Mediterranean, now consigned to memory, I took my daily walk on the Promenade along―well, parallel to―the Hudson River, on the Upper West Side where I live. I decided to take my camera as I did daily in Italy and see whether I could focus my eyes on pieces of beauty in the streets, enough to cheer me up. I pretended I was visiting the city as an enthusiastic tourist, instead of a lifelong, grouchy New Yorker.

I made a first stop walking down the hill to the community gardens at 91st Street and Riverside Drive, where spring was edging its way into existence.


Then took a shot of the river with a freighter in the mid-ground―recalling the freighters that sat on the horizon of the Mediterranean waiting to dock in Genoa. That didn’t quite work, mainly because of New Jersey’s dreary architecture in the background.


I looked for another angle but was defeated by the highway. Lordly as the Hudson is, it was not going to give me sublime.

I left the park and wandering home, I was surprised to see a plaque on the wall at 160 Riverside Drive that I had never noticed, in honor of Brooks Atkinson, the drama critic for the New York Times. I even remember reading his columns when I was growing up.


And a few steps farther, on the same block, 88th Street between Riverside and West End Avenue, a plaque to Babe Ruth. They seemed new. I couldn’t have been more surprised.

So I walked up to 94th street to compare with a much larger tribute to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, that’s been up there for a while.

Could New York be on its way to becoming London and recognizing its writers and artists? Rumor has it that our own building is going to have a plaque in memory of the painter Barnett Newman.

My excursion cheered me up slightly, but I can’t help feeling that this neighborhood tour, whatever its charms, will not console me for my sense of paradise lost.

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Paradise almost lost….

In a few days we will be leaving our beautiful temporary home, where even on stormy days the seascape that surrounds us is sublime.

2002-12-31 23.00.00-43Now, after what seemed like endless cold and rainy weather, the sun is out, and everything is in bloom. The beauty of the landscape is almost unbelievable, especially the view from our bedroom window where the horizon of Golfo Paradiso is framed and crisscrossed by the bending boughs of parasol pines.

It will, I fear, be excruciating to return to New York, where the usual noise and grime will be accentuated by the scaffolding that was wrapping our building when we left a few weeks ago. Sigh.

Meanwhile, I’ve been collecting last signs by which to remember our time here:

Another love-inspired example of graffiti, this time in English, carved on a thick cactus leaf on the path we took between two of the villages of the Cinque Terre, Monterosso and Vernazza. So we say that we have seen the “due terre” and from a staggering height. I thought the walk would never end, as I clung on to whatever vines, fences, rocks, and the occasional bannister available. We were by far the oldest people taking the path, and that fact was not comforting; nor were the signs warning us of falling rocks.

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“Nel blu dipinto di blu”: irresistible reprise from ‘Volare’ (only people over a certain age will recognize the music and the words from the late 1950s)

It’s all about blue.

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I realized on one  excursion that a favorite scarf matched the sea, as well as the color of the railings and the benches It’s also the color of my new website―so many variants of teal.

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Even a blue kayak:

The town itself –walls, shutters, roofs–is color coordinated in warm earth tones, but the rules of décor do not seem to apply to laundry:

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Was everything perfect then? Nostalgia will make it so.

But that would be too simple. In addition to the proliferation of dog poop (see earlier posts), there are cigarette butts everywhere, as well as discarded cigarette packs:


The warning label reads on one side: Smoking gravely damages you and those around you, and on the other: Smoking causes deadly lung cancer.

The messages, alas, seem to have no effect. People smoke everywhere outside where smoking is permitted. The fact that the packs contain 10 cigarettes makes them especially appealing to the young: notably the pre-teenagers…who think, as we did when young, that smoking is cool.

The government has not succeeded in banning the tempting packs.

(Too bad the packs come in a lovely a shade of blue…)

It would be churlish, however, to end on a…blue note.
A few days ago, on a trip to a Genoa marketplace (we bought pesto and porcini), we saw this

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strange sight: a levitating monk.

Any ideas of how it’s done?

Reading the signs in Bogliasco, continued

It continues to rain and the sun remains an iffy prospect, but there have finally been signs of spring. On the passeggiata there are buds and leaves where before there were none.  It would be curmudgeonly not to feel hopeful that our last days here will be warm and sunny.


I’m still collecting love graffiti, and one of them, written on a bench along the passeggiata, finally exposes the mark of gender: “The first time I saw you, the first time I truly fell in love”…innamorata―the woman in love…and further to the right, after the declaration, “to follow”….Stay tuned.


On an excursion to another village along the coast, I spotted this classic at the bottom of a staircase: I Love You and the date. I couldn’t help wondering if the love made it to the second anniversary, which had just passed. That’s the thing about graffiti, you just can’t know whether the sentiment remains, whether to feel warm and fuzzy or sad.


And adjacent to this classic, a more playful one:


Love climbs every staircase—“sale” rhymes with “scale” in Italian….

Finally, in the town of Bogliasco, there’s a more lasting tribute to love and the winds of time inscribed on a kind of wall sculpture.


Here is emended version of the poem:

More than the Grecale

little lines
short scratches
time proceeds with you

More than the Grecale
that reinforces
and wears away cement and ornament

uncovering the stone
the white skeleton
of the wall

Grecale is the wind from the northeast. Here are the four winds in a mosaic compass by the sea..


Poetic as all that is, the question of dog poop is never far behind.

The colorful poster clearly explains what dog owners should do, but the evidence on the ground suggests that the locals do not read the writing on the wall.

Reading the signs in Bogliasco

Walking to and from the passeggiata, in and out of the tiny alleyways between the main road and the sea, I encountered these interesting examples of graffiti. The first one, dated and signed with a heart, says:


“Believe in my love. I love you truly, I swear.”

graffiti2The second one is brief and to the point in dark black letters says, depending on context:

“You please me,” literal translation. 
“I like you,” “I find you attractive,” not to mention, “you turn me on.”

There are no marks of gender in the pronouns, nothing to reveal the sex of the writer. I first assumed that the long message was written by a woman and the short one by a man. But then I thought that since Italian men pride themselves on being romantic, it was not impossible that the more flowery one had been written by a man, and the short expression of desire by a woman.

With those assumptions in mind, I asked the question at a group lunch with several Italian speakers. I was surprised to learn that “mi piaci tu” might have come from song lyrics or publicity for some product, and was used on Facebook to mean: “I like,” as in thumbs up. In other words, “mi piaci tu” seems to have less of an immediate sexual overtone than the French, “tu me plais.” Another of the Italians commented that nowadays the difference in behavior between boys and girls was not as rigid as it used to be―girls acted in ways considered taboo in the past. And therefore that either a girl or a boy might have written “mi piaci tu.” It wasn’t gender specific.

But most seemed to think that the flowery declaration of eternal love was written by a man for a woman and that it could have been used with the hope of seducing her. Ensued a long conversation about graffiti, especially love graffiti―in Italy, Spain, and the United States.


The third instance of graffiti is less lofty. It’s about dog poop, of which there is a goodly amount in town. Well, it’s not strictly speaking graffiti since it’s a message typed on a piece of paper, but still.

“Look carefully. This piece of shit is identical to the shit who brought his dog to poop here.”

A lot less romantic, but no less Italian.

I’m not sure when I can use any of this information, but at least I’m learning things.