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The quintessential photo of the Italian coast, with terraced hills and houses that appear to be just hanging on, is of the Cinque Terra.
These ancient terraces facing the Ligurian Sea are a place in Italy that this writer has
never been: well maybe next year.
The area itself is the name for five nearby municipalities, a string of centuries-old villages, on the rugged Italian Riviera coastline. In each the pastel colored homes, along with scenic vineyards are wedged into steep terraces, that appear somehow avoid gravity.
The harbors filled with fishing boats, and lined with restaurants, turn out seafood specialties, usually served with their famous pesto sauce. Cliffside trails connect the villages, with challenging hikes, and once-in-a-lifetime photographic opportunities, at every turn.
In the Cinque Terra, families began abandoning their vineyards, lemon groves, and olive trees, probably 50 years ago. The work was backbreaking and small farms have no economies of scale in production. Over 100 years ago, at that “turn of the century,” the area was home to 8,000 residents, of which today it is less than half.
The lack of tending to the terraced land allowed walling infrastructure to deteriorate. With climate change,unprecedented rains in 2011 caused much of the terraced area to slide down the hills and it impeded access to various villages. A half dozen or so lost their lives in that event. Most villages were accessible only by boat or helicopter.
Over the years, the terraces stabilized with masonry walls, had deteriorated significantly, and with the lack of structural attention, and the mudslides were catastrophic, quite a wakeup call for the area. The cultivation of these terraced plots developed over the last millennium to more than 4,000 acres. Tourism dollars took the luster off working the land. The tourism boom deprived the vineyards of needed maintenance, as a UNESCO World Heritage Designation, created a flow of almost 3.0 million visitors per year.
The grape, lemon, and olive operations slowly moved to land that was easier to farm. The village of Manarola created a foundation, the Amphitheater of the Giants, to collect funds to recover and rebuild terraces in the hillside valleys. It is a public/private effort to keep the terraces intact. Italy is a favorite vacation spot, and it particularly attracts Italian Americans. One hears of them going back, much more often than any other immigrant
descendents, visiting places like England, Germany, or even France. Maybe they are just more boisterous about their trips, but Italy, from this perspective, seems to be a very popular destination.
You may have noticed the recent show on My Big Italian Adventure on HGTV, featuring Lorraine Bracco known for her roles in The Sopranos and Goodfellas, both popular in Italy. In her HGTV show, she renovates, at great cost an abandoned house she bought in Sicily. The home she purchased was one of several in Sambuca di Sicilia, offered for a single euro, which required that the purchasers renovate the dilapidated homes. The truth is many homes in Italy are low cost, and better deals than the “One Euro” offerings are out there. The homes are in low demand, because the rural and small village life style is less profitable than moving to Milan or Rome for an urban job.
Searching for Italy, with Stanley Tucci, is in a similar niche, as the iconic travel shows created by Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations, and Parts Unknown: though more polished in style, and more focused on food and beverage. Tucci previously had a wine tasting show on PBS called VineTalk, with 13 episodes that aired in 2011, and it still is relevant, in reruns. Searching for Italy however only considers one country. Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world, as of 2019. With 20 diverse regions, the options to travel there are enough to fill dozens of vacations.
His interest in the subject, quick sense of humor, and authenticity, create an entertaining product. In the first few shows we have met his wife, and his parents, the latter having taken the family to live in Florence for a year during his formative years, in the 1970s. Tucci grew up in Westchester County, New York, and lived in New York City much of his adult life. His first wife died of breast cancer in 2009. A widower, Tucci became engaged to Felicity Blunt, an English literary agent, the sister of actor Emily Blunt, with whom he co-starred, in The Devil Wears Prada. She introduced the couple at her own wedding in 2010. They married in 2012, live in London and have a son and a daughter.
Both of these shows are worthwhile, and whole-heartedly recommended, even if you are not of Italian descent.
Stay healthy, and Cheers.
You can reach Robert Russell at email@example.com
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