Busting Your Hump in the Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre and the surrounding lands, in particular my beloved Levanto, are obviously major summer tourist attractions, something that causes the number of residents in Levanto, for example, to swell from 6,000 in the winter to more than 20,000 in the summer, and that’s not counting the day-trippers.  What this means is that while winters are sleepy and calm, summers get hectic.

There is a misconception about people who work in tourist locations like Levanto: they don’t work much.  Yes, it is true that during the winter, many shops close up for months on end, and that those which stay open are not exactly being harried by customers, but the contention that people here don’t work hard doesn’t take into account the grueling summer months.

My friends Elena and Tommy, for example, who are pictured above, have a pizzeria in the center of Levanto, the Taverna Garibaldi.  They are open year-round but it’s pretty slow going in the winter, so they have started doing kid’s birthday parties as a way to expand their appeal.  But from June 1 to September 1, they are open every day, working late into the evening with every single one of their tables full for two, even three seatings.  They see their children at odd hours of the day or very late at night.  The further the season drags along, the more exhausted they get: they lose weight and lose their tans.  Those of us who aren’t in this sort of business (and I include myself) have no idea how tiring it must be going 90 nights straight to having to offer good food and pleasant service to tourists in multiple languages, many of whom don’t necessarily treat their servers with the greatest of respect.  It’s a slog.

Where my family comes from, in Charlevoix Michigan, the scene is similar, if not quite so intense, considering the much lower number of tourists.  And over the summer season a resentment builds up and up toward the tourists and summer people who make life more complicated.  The locals even celebrate their departure with an annual walk across the bridge, sweeping the town clean of the intruders, as it were.

But here, despite the notorious grumpiness of Ligurians, you see none of this.  People are dog tired, but they push on through, knowing that they will get some rest come October, and they thank their lucky stars that there are as many tourists as there are.

So the next time you’re traveling through this area, keep in mind the conditions in which all of these people are working, trying to keep their small family businesses afloat.  And if they bring you white instead of red wine, or if the bill takes more than 5 minutes to get to your table, consider giving them a break.  They usually deserve it.

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