Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Return of the Blogger

C'mon Jack, you dragged it all the way down here in a little red wagon. C'mon, just tell me about it.

So I've been fairly silent over the past six months, existing in two-job purgatory. Now that I have, not without regret, quit my night job of teaching English as a Second Language, I should have more time to continue my creative endeavors.

My first order of business is the bittersweet ending to the saga of one of the most innovative bands of the past few decades: The White Stripes. Frankly, I'm disappointed to see them go, but glad for their sakes that they quite whilst ahead. They never jumped the shark; they put out consistently good music on all six of their studio albums, culminating in 2007's Icky Thump, probably their most ambitious release.
Of course, no fan of The White Stripes could honestly admit that they just liked the band for making brilliant music. They were the rare band with an arty shtick that invited constant voyeuristic speculation on the part of their followers. They were a duo--a rarity in an era where most commercially successful bands were traditional four-piece outfits--and they had an unmatched public presence centered around their riotous black, white, and red color scheme. But the truly intriguing facet of the band was the convoluted, dichotomous relationship between Jack and Meg White. They were married for a time, though Jack (born John Gillis), with characteristic flaunting of convention, took her last name. They continued to tour together while separated. For a time, they told the rock journalists that they were siblings. Their lyrics, and their album art suggest an old-timey innocent relationship, childhood lovers perhaps, or a brother and sister who never truly grew up. Their songs proclaimed loudly the virtues of a bygone era, when all you needed was an ice cream cone and a little cream soda, when you could start a band with some secondhand instruments and a little gumption, when love was easy and love was beautiful and love was what you did when you were in love. However fictionalized their relationship might have been, it is one of the most beautiful ever to be immortalized in song.
As inseparable as Jack and Meg might have seemed within the idiom of their lyrics, in person they could hardly be more different. Jack White is generally held to be a once in a generation rock-n-roll genius. Whether it was his brutally distorted chord progressions, his bombastically bluesy solos, his contemplative piano playing, or his wailing, Zeppelin-esque voice, Jack had a way of making himself heard. Even with the dissolution of the White Stripes, his already magnificent career has miles of open road ahead of it as he contributes regularly to the supergroups The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, not to mention his solo work and his frequent collaborations with the gentry of rock, soul, and country. It's not hyperbolic to say that Jack White is probably the hardest working popular musician in the world right now.
Meg, on the other hand, seemed like she was just along for the ride. She learned the drums from Jack and never really ventured too far with her instrument. Ironically, it was her soft-spokenness (though some would call it mediocrity) that proved the perfect foil for all of Jack's bluster. Her enthusiastic, meat-and-potatoes drumming was the anchor to the band's often chaotic sound. In person, she was very shy, rarely giving interviews and almost never venturing outside of Jack's umbrage. Her battle with anxiety came to a forefront when The White Stripes cut short their 2007 tour due to her health problems.
To say that Jack White cast a long shadow is the understatement of the century. I resent the critics who say that Meg held him back, or that she was nothing without him when really, quite the opposite was true. Meg was Jack's muse in the purest sense. That may or may not be true, but if it is a myth, it is a beautiful one. Together, they broke all the rules. The White Stripes proved that you could be arty and still accessible, lo-fi and still mainstream, edgy but not caustic, nostalgic but not mawkish. They fused the energy and hopefulness of punk at its best with the narrative style and artistry of the blues. Together, they forged a legend with both widespread and lasting influence in the music world. While I look forward to the continuation of their careers, as a pair, they will be sorely missed.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Long-Anticipated Post-Travel Polemic against European Suckage

1. Europeans are kind of racist. Maybe they just don't have the same PC discourse we have over here or maybe it's just that they never had a Civil Rights Movement but many (white) Europeans have some serious issues with black people and middle-eastern people. The anti-immigrant phenomenon is by no means an American oddity.
2. Europeans aren't religious enough. I understand this, really I do. Europeans have a long history of killing each other over religious differences and the current sex-abuse scandal with the Catholic Church isn't helping matters at all. I think, however, that the response of relegating religion to a national set-piece is not the answer. Europeans desperately need some sort of spiritual awareness. As thing stand, they simply don't understand strong religious convictions as anything but psychologically toxic. This, combined with point 1, explains the current overwhelming European angst over Islam. I'm not proposing exporting American-style evangelicalism or reviving insecure churchstates, but there needs to be some sort of answer.
3. Europeans don't get finger food. I got weird looks in Ireland for eating spare ribs with my fingers. Italians carve up perfectly good pizza with a fork and knife. I shudder to think how they would do in India, where you eat everything with your hands.
4. No dryers.
5. No Mexican food.
6. Unnecessary feuds with neighboring countries that have everything to do with history and nothing to do with the present.
7. The Euro: it's not working.

I really could go on for a while, but I'll spare you.

Now, a little bit on what I'm doing now that I'm back in America and confronted with reality once again.
I recently procured a 9-month contract job working for a company called MedImmune out in Gaithersburg. The pay and benefits are pretty nice and it will be a good foot in the door for me into the world of bio-tech. Plus, it gives me time to save up for my next potential trip. I have a few possibilities brewing.

1. Peru. Amy's idea. So far a pretty attractive option since it allows me to continue practicing my Spanish and promises to be pretty cheap.
2. Nova Scotia. Hugh's parents have a summer home up there. Hugh and I are considering a road trip up there maybe early next year.
3. California. Just to go. I've never been. Maybe I'll apply to UCSB just to get an interview.
4. Japan. Undoubtedly the most ambitious so far. Holly keeps getting on my case about visiting her and I'd love to go. I would need to save up a bit for it though. Ideally, I'd like to go either in March or October. I hear Japan is lovely then.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My obligatory post-travel polemic against American suckage

Now that I have seen the world with my own eyes, I feel intellectually validated in denouncing certain shortcomings of my own nation. Forgive me that some of these will be patently obvious.
I. America is too fat. You know, I really don't know what it is. Maybe its the reduced popularity of fast food, the chain smoking, the walking everywhere, the traditional diet, the marathon clubbing, or just generally higher standards of personal pride, but most Europeans seem to maintain a healthy body shape without too much difficulty. Everytime I saw some Snorlax abroad, I strained my ears to hear them talk and, sure enough, they were American or English (England is becoming the new us, their obesity rate is like 25% now, while ours is about 30%). I really don't think that the American "obesity epidemic" (they always say "epidemic" like it's no more preventable than swine flu) is beyond our control, it's simply beyond our willpower.
II. America is too frumpy. And this is from a man who routinely buys all his clothes at Kohls or the thrift store. I think Michael Pertner put it best: "if I have to go back to College Park where all the girls just wear North Face and sweatpants and uggs, I think I might cry." While some European fashions barely qualify as such and God help us should they ever jump across the pond (case in point, poofey pants), they are at least fashions which i more than can be said of most American clothing, which properly belongs in the category of "eyesore."
III. America does not appreciate the benefits of good public transportation. DC exempted, public transportation in America is archaic, dirty, hard to use, expensive, and unreliable. Most Americans live in some suburb which lies beyond the reach of public transportation anyway, effectively forcing us to be a nation of car owners. Great for the US auto industry (who managed to screw things up in spite of it all), bad for the public and the environment.
IV. America is too provincial. Europeans, no matter what their walk of life, always seem to have been everywhere, whereas most Americans don't even have passports. Even Gerard, a dairy farmer with no college education, had been all over Europe, Asia, and a few places in North America. I suppose living in a continent where two hours has you in a completely different nation and language makes you appreciate the virtues of multiculturalism. Even the most hopeless yahoo from Palookaville, Pennsyltucky would let go of his ignorance and posturing if he had a good long stint overseas. Why? When all you know is your own culture and country, it's easy to start thinking of other nations as abstractions, dots on a map with unpronounceable names or sputtered names on the evening newscast (Eyjafjallajökull?). Abstractions are easy to process. There is little moral dilemma in invading an abstraction. If you cannot adequately process anything beyond your own mental borders, the big other, the outside becomes something to be feared and, if possible, controlled. Once you've been there, walked those streets, tasted that food, it becomes a place and a people as real and dear as your own. You realize that the much vaunted "differences" between "us" and "them" are largely contrivances of unscrupulous people who need your opinion or your vote. Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck would be laughed out of any public forum in Europe. They simply wouldn't have an audience. Stunts like Glenn Beck's planned redux of Martin Luther King's march on Washington wouldn't happen. It used to be that Americans abroad used to have to apologize for George Bush, or pretend to be Canadian. Now, we have to apologize for Teabaggers. I'm sorry world, these guys are pretty embarrassing, but I swear, we're not all that dumb.
V. America is too religious. There I said it, sue me. Not that I think that religious convictions are per se a bad thing (quite the contrary actually) but that the disproportional influence of religion on public life and policy here in America is embarrassing and must end if America is ever to be taken seriously as a civilized nation. Civilized nations are not necessarily non-religious, but they are secular and ecumenical. The current stranglehold of religion on conservative politics in America is both un-American (ahem, Establishment Clause) and un-Christian (a religion that is by necessity, a faith of the disenfranchised and downtrodden).

Next time, my polemic against the suckage of Europe. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Go home, or make a home, or rest

So while my travels are technically over, I realize that I never said anything about London.
I think that a stint in an English-speaking country was a good cultural readjustment for me. London is very large, and very busy, but fairly clean and as I had mentioned before, the most user-friendly city I've ever encountered. Katie and I had a good anti-colonialism rant in the British Museum while viewing the Parthenon Friezes (which rightly belong in Greece). The British Museum as an entity poses an interesting moral quandary since it's collection consists largely of the spoils of decades of English Imperialism, especially in Egypt and Iraq. While I can't in good conscience support what amounts to high-minded piracy, I concede that the Museum has one of the most impressive and coherent collections in the world and it's location in the heart of one of the world's leading cities makes it hard to match as an educational resource. Should Greece, Egypt, and the rest simply forget about it all and leave things be for the greater good or should they assert their rights and say "those pieces tell the particular story of a particular people and they belong rightly in their ancestral homes." The British Museum has a fantastic collection of British artifacts telling the story of the British people from the Celtic and Roman periods through the Middle Ages to the present day. Shouldn't that be enough? What quanta of cultural superiority gives the British Museum the right to keep the Parthenon Friezes against the explicit desires of the Greek government and people? Are Katie and I just nationalistic and biased (considering that we're both extremely proud of our Greek heritage), or do I have a valid point here?
Of course, there are other hallmarks of imperialism adorning the British capital, such as the amazing curries and samosas that Katie and I stuffed our faces with in one of London's Bangla neighborhoods. In a country infamous for its bland food, it makes a certain twisted sense that a recent poll named chicken tikka masala (with a pint of lager) as the favorite dish of the UK. While chicken tikka is good, it's no more traditional Indian than the oft-mispronounced General Tso's chicken is traditional Chinese. Both are products of post-Imperial systems where traditional recipes are tinkered with to meet the tastes of a nation with limited pride in its own cuisine.
My battery's dying and my yia-yia is nagging me to set up her mobile phone. College Park is about 35 C and about 98% humidity. Yeah, I'm home.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Spanish Bombs over Andalucia

So regrettably, I spent much of my week in España curled up in the fetal position in a bed or couch somewhere with a killer sinus infection. I felt like I was cheating myself by failing to go out and party like a rockstar with Amy and the rest, but all my body wanted to do was remain horizontal for as long as possible. I still made a pretty good run of things, visiting four cities--Valencia, Granada, Sevilla, and Málaga--in my time there.
Aside from the aforementioned holocaust of hair, Valencia was a guay-ass place, reminding me of an upscale Miami with less cocaine. Walking around the spacey Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias in Valencia was a highlight as the surreal futuristic architecture made me feel as if I had walked into the set of a sci-fi movie. Everything was sleek, white, impeccably placed, and looked as if it shouldn't stand up, yet it all did. More architectural showpieces than the "highbrow entertainment" venues which they ostensibly function as, the buildings of the Ciudad are the demonstration of an imagination liberated by technology. Will all our new buildings have such panache in the future? I can only hope so, since that would be hella cool. Having observed the passion for beauty that permeates so many of the public buildings of yesteryear in places like Praha or Firenze, I can only hope that our generation leaves an equivalent architectural legacy, rather than prisons of boxy functionality. In Valencia and in Nice, I also encountered that peculiar European phenomenon of topless sunbathing. Really, the practice seems like good common sense, after all, how distracting are tanlines, but I was a bit concerned that I would engage in some inordinate ogling. My female readers will be pleased to know that this was not that case, since the whole topless phenomenon when observed in situ seems more utilitarian than erotic. The sunbathers are nude, not naked, since their state of undress is brazen and intentional and they have not been caught in a fleeting moment of immodesty. They are nude in the way that an art model is nude or an anatomical drawing is nude since their lack of clothing served as a statement of power rather than an exposure of weakness. That said, there were certain breasts which I wish had remained cozened in their bikini tops for both the sake of the aesthetic health of the community and for the sake of my own scathed retinas. Once seen, some things are never unseen.
Wednesday night, I took a night train from Valencia to Granada, which was a soothing and pleasant experience, or would have been if the eight-year-old son of one of my compartment-mates hadn't kept barging in at odd hours. Granada is a splendid old city in the Andalucian foothills. It is home to the Alhambra, the palace of the last Moorish Sultanate of Spain. The Alhambra is Spain's most visited tourist attraction (€12 to get in) and with good reason as it is both expansive and beautiful. The Islamic architecture exhibited there stands in start contrast to the Western styles I have grown used to at this point with it's emphasis on abstract patterns and Arabic script. The ornateness of the patterns and the prevalence of an alphabet which I cannot read made the palace even more dreamlike. It was easy to lose myself for what seemed like hours just mesmerized with the labyrinth of forms in a single wall or doorway. Plus, the multitude of fountains and ledges gave me a serious jonesin' for some Prince of Persia.
Granada is also home to the free tapa every time you order a drink. There are about as many stories to the origin of this Andalucian custom as their are tapas, but what doesn't change is that you get a free tapa with every beer or sangria and they are usually pretty sustaining. Consequently, Andalucia is a pretty cheap place to eat; just keep buying booze and the food will follow. At night, Granada is overwhelmed by swarms of midges which in turn attract legions of swallows to chase down and, well, swallow them. The noise of the swallows in the deep purple twilight is unforgettable.
By the time I hit Sevilla, I was starting to feel better so I was able to actually enjoy myself in this Andalucian capital. One of the highlights of Sevilla was the vast Plaza de España, a huge circular building constructed for the Ibero-American Expo of 1929. The building feels stately for some unknown purpose, so much so that George Lucas actually filmed part of one of the shitty Star Wars films there.
When I finally made it to Málaga, an ancient port town at the southern tip of Europe, I was ready to party. I had an unintentional good time courtesy of some extremely drunk Englishmen who brought out tray after tray of free drinks, including three tequila shots. I was able to get sufficiently drunk to sleep through the noise and lack of AC in the hostel on my piddly remaining Euros.
I'm back in London now, in the impeccable company of Katie Wallner. It was a real sight for sore eyes to see her, my friend of some four years, after weeks of shotgun friendships. Just when I thought I was enjoying my life of artful loneliness, reveling in the conversation of strangers and the unflagging companionship of books, I came to realize how much I really do need people. While the life of exile holds a certain level of charm and serves as a fine soul-making practice, it drains the life out of you eventually. I think, after all my wandering, I am finally ready to go home. I don't quite miss America yet, but I do miss my friends and family and you cannot divorce a place from the people who fill it.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Official Post of Scary Hairstyles I Saw in Spain

I really don´t know what cultural impetus is at work to cause an otherwise fashionable people to have the worst hairdos on planet Earth. For the reader´s benefit, I will keep my list brief, but by no means exhaustive.
1. The Dread-Mullet.
I was going to include a picture, but the paltry examples I found on Google images simply don´t do this phenomenon justice. Basically, the dread-mullet, or drullet is the ultimate in "business in front, party in back." You see an otherwise normally dressed person with a normal haircut walking toward you, then you turn around and BOOM, between two and four gangly dreads sticking right out of the neckline hanging down to the ass. Some more professional drullet sporters tuck their natty dreadlocks into the back of a shirt or jacket making the tips all the more obvious.
2. The "Yo No Sé Que" Vampire Huntress.
I´ve seen at least two of these so far, so it´s a safe bet that there´s more out there. Basically a gothic variant of the drullet, this involves super-long, super-strait, super-black hair in the back and extremely close-cropped Lily Allen bangs in the front. Here´s the kicker, these girls maximize the squarishness of an already boxy hairstyle by SHAVING a perfect rectangle out of their temples. They don´t bother maintaining the shave either, so the resulting peach fuzz looks truly horrifying. You need to see it to believe it.
3. The Double-Poirot
I´m not joking, there was an old man in the Valencia train station with an ivory-white Poirot-style moustache on both his upper lip and his chin. Prepare for trouble, make it double. Sleep now, Nyquil calls...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

My long overdue mega-post

Due to the insistence of Miss Elizabeth Gager, I feel obligated to update my readers on my activities of the past week. I apologize for the tardiness, but Internet access has been infrequent and unreliable.

First, my position. I am in Valencia relaxing on Amy's sofa, after a somewhat circuitous journey. Three days ago, I boarded a train from Cinque Terre toward Nice. I was supposed to take the express from Genova to Nice, but it wasn't running. I had to take three regional trains from Genova to Ventremiglia, then Ventremiglia to Monte Carlo, then Monte Carlo to Nice, as a result of which the journey took several hours longer than it should. When I finally arrived in Nice, I discovered the reason for my transportation problems. It turned out that there was a major railway strike in France to protest the tyrannical fascist government decision to raise the retirement age for railway workers from 58.5 to 60 (yeah, I know, cry me a river). The strike ended just as I got into Nice, but the rails were fouled up for days and I was told that there was no way I could get to Barcelona by Friday. In fact, no trains out of Nice were traveling much further than Marseilles and I met a German girl at my hostel who claim that it took her nine hours to get to Nice from Lyon. Panicked, I could think of one thing and one thing only: get me out of France. I decided that the fastest way to get to Spain was to go backwards into Italy and then catch a flight from Bergamo airport to Valencia. This worked out fairly well, except for one little hitch. I've been fighting a sinus infection since Venice (I blame the bad weather and general scuzziness of the place). If you ever feel the urge to fly with a sinus infection, don't. The pain is not worth it. I arrived in Valencia feeling like my head was filled with urethane foam and thumbtacks. My ears were so clogged that I could barely hear and while my friends there were all gung ho to enjoy a wild night on the town, all I could hope to do was crash. I'm feeling a bit better now after a good long sleep and I'm excited since it's apparently possible to buy antibiotics over-the-counter in Spain. Awesome.

Over the past few days I've been privilege to so much beauty that I hardly know how to take it all in. Walking to my hostel from my train station in Firenze, I passed the titanic Florentine Duomo looming like a distant mountain. While I've certainly seen my share of impressive old churches (St. Vitus in Praha, St. Marco in Venice), I have to give the Duomo in Firenze props for scale. Yes, the Cathedral of Milan is technically larger, but it's all spires. It doesn't radiate bigness in the same way as Firenze.
In the taxonomy of old Italian city-states, if Venezia was all about trade, Firenze was all about culture. Even today, Firenze is THE renaissance city, with an impressive array of museums showcasing some of the most well-known works in human history. After a two-hour queue and a €10 fee, I had the pleasure of walking the halls of the Uffizi, home of some of Firenze's greatest treasures. Again, the thing that struck me the most was this sense of belittling scale. Bottacelli's The Birth of Venus, which we're all quite familiar with is actually quite huge, with Venus herself a life-sized woman. I suppose we're so used to seeing this work on a computer screen or on the back of a postcard that we lose the perspective that we get when we're actually in a room with the thing.
Of course, all this bigness and culture-saturation got me thinking about the whole point of a Duomo or a Milan Cathedral or a St. Vitus. Ostensibly, of course, they're churches, but they were also meant to showcase the wealth and cultural aplomb of a state. St. Marco's says "Venezia is rich," the Duomo says "Firenze is also rich and we have a proper Duke unlike the Venetians with their silly republic," St. Vitus says "hey Protestants, what have you got? we're the real church." Four years of oblique exposure to Anabaptist ideas cause a reflexive reaction that these grandiose churches are the product of a disastrous marriage of church and state, but tell that to any Italian catholic and expect to be called a Protestant Philistine.
I think what really impressed me about Firenze was how art and beauty always outlive their own goals. The Medicis are long dead, but the artistic revival they helped bring about lives on in the buttresses and colonnades of the city they once ruled. A lot of those massive churches in Praha built to awe the Protestants into the Catholic fold became concert halls. With time, art can become divorced from political or religious motivations and becomes beauty for beauty's sake. Of course the art junkies know all the history and scandals behind a painting or a sculpture or a big building, but the rest of us can appreciate it as a snapshot of human potential.

Cinque Terre: the Five Lands. Kurt Vonnegut famously said that "peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God." If the man is right (and he frequently is) then Amy's suggestion that I visit Cinque Terre was the Tango de la Muerte. These five sun-drenched towns, nestled like jewels in the rugged Ligurian coast between La Spezia and Genova showcase some of Italy's most stunning natural beauty. There are very few motor vehicles and the villages are not accessible by car from the outside (although the trains and boats are quite reliable). I had the privilege of visiting during gorgeous weather, so I decided to do a bit of a pilgrimage to all five towns in a single day. I checked into my hostel at Riomaggiore at the easternmost end and immediately jumped on a train to Monterosso on the westernmost end.
The First Land: Monterosso al Mare
A golden beach greets me as I step off the train in Monterosso. The air is rich with the sounds of playing children, gentle surf, and suntanned vendors selling beer or gelato. The main street is shaded with the arches of whitewashed buildings while the aromas of pesto and tomato waft from the sidewalk cafes. This is the largest and liveliest of the Cinque Terre, sprawled out lazily on its gentle sand beach under the auspices of a ruined castle. I don't tarry here for long. I immediately set out on the seaside path through naked cliff faces and shady olive groves. I stop at one point a little ways out of town to take a dip in the sparkling blue Mediterranean. The water is warm and dense, giving me keen sense of my own buoyancy. I swim into a narrow sea cave, carved into the jagged cliffs by eons of waves and tempests. The sounds of the sea are muted in this tight passage. It is the kind of cave you imagine would contain the hydra or some sort of dark mythical monster. I'm not Hercules, so I stroke back to the safety of land, refreshed and content to press on with my journey. The path takes me up rough-hewn stone steps that seem to stretch on endlessly. Eventually, I get to a nice flat stretch along the spine of a ridge with vineyards on my left and the sea on my right. It's a hot day, so every time I come upon a spring or waterfall, I splash some on my face. It's cave-cool and while I'm tempted to fill my bottle with it, I decided to pass on the Giadara. I have been traveling for about an hour when Vernazza finally peeks from behind an outcrop.
The Second Land: Vernazza. I descend rapidly down a crumbling staircase into this tidy town at the base of a cliff. Land is at a premium here, so the builders of the town maximized the use of vertical space. The town girdles a small central square near a sheltered cove. I take a good long drink of the crystal clear water from the public fountain, then treat myself to a much-deserved gelato. After the wide expanses of Monterosso, Vernazza seems small and hidden. Its skyline is dominated by a baroque bell-tower from the church at the crest of the hill. When I leave town, it quickly shrinks from view behind the rocks. The next town, Corniglia, looks deceptively close, but it's a long and arduous hike to get there. The landscape is typical dry Mediterranean, filled with prickly shrubs and trees. Cacti, invasive no doubt, are prominent as are aloe vera plants with their fat leaves. Every rock seems to hide a different sort of lizard. I saw lots of skinks and iguanas. There were magpies and other birds, but no mammals to speak of.
The Third Land: Corniglia. After the liveliness of the last two towns, the high streets of Corniglia seem fairly deserted. It's about 5pm so most people are probably inside on siesta. There is no beach here, since it sits high on a promontory overlooking the sea from three sides. I am hot and exhausted after the hike from Vernazza, so I search for a cafe where I can sit and enjoy a beer. I must have been a real sight stumbling into that town in my leather shoes, bicycle shorts, and cherry red Virgin Atlantic socks. I end up sitting next to a very nice couple from Phoenix enjoying a lazy afternoon of beer and olives under the cafe veranda. There is a boombox somewhere oozing out some laconic Tom Petty hits, making the scene all the more sleepy. The Americans prove such good company that I stay much longer than I planned, which was probably for the best since I needed a good stretch out of the sun. I descend a very long staircase to leave Corniglia, which makes me very glad I decided to travel east rather than west. From the bottom of the stairs onward, the trail is flat.
The Fourth Land: Manarola. I get into Mararola around dinnertime after a long but comparatively leisurely stroll. The town is built on two sides of a narrow valley ending in a rocky harbor. The harbor is deep enough for kids to do dives and cannonballs into. I learn that Manarola is known for it's unique wine, made from overripe grapes and it's distinct dialect. How a postage stamp town of maybe a few-hundred (in the off-season) can maintain its own dialect baffles me. It's an easy twenty-minute walk back to Riomaggiore from here along the well-kept Via dell'amore. There's some great graffiti on this walk, which offers an unparalleled vista of the sun setting on the wine-colored Mediterranean.
The Fifth Land: Riomaggiore. I stumble back into my hilltop hostel ready to crash. I force myself to take a cold shower in the antique tub and then head back into town to grab some food. I end up watching the Australia-Serbia match in an outdoor patio crammed with energetic Aussies. My adrenaline still flowing, I convinced a Canadian girl to come with me back towards Mararola. The Via dell'amore is even more stunning by moonlight. I ended the night on the balcony of my hostel with €2 red wine watching the tide come in.