A while back I got an email from someone who felt it was my duty to warn readers about the horrible danger lurking in the Cinque Terre, a small strip of land on the coast with five little villages that tourists are supposed to visit, according to the guidebooks.
A woman had recently died there—due in large part, the email hinted, because the government and jounalists hadn’t been trumpeting the area’s inherent dangers.
The world isn’t a cakewalk, I muttered to myself. I figured someone who wasn’t paying attention had taken a fatal tumble down one of the retaining walls that keep the trail and vineyards from sloughing off into the sea, or had fallen off steep, warn steps like these.
As has been pointed out many times before, the overtouristed strip of land is showing signs of wear—and there are few stonemasons up to the task these days of maintaining the more challenging sections of trail. Perhaps it is possible to Love the Cinque Terre to Death
But the email immediately made me think of some cross-cultural differences in how differently dangers are perceived. I remember when I first climbed Pisa’s leaning tower. Each floor slanted precariously toward the freshly mowed grass of the “field of miracles” without a single railing to keep the curiously clumsy from becoming a newsworthy spectacle.
So, being responsible—at least to myself—I clung to the inside wall, my heart thumping like a jackhammer.
(It’s true, many folks hate big government, but expect the itty-bitty government of their dreams to perpetually work at keeping them from getting hurt when they do something insanely stupid. There are now guard rails on the tower.)
In any case, I was wrong. The woman who died had done absolutely nothing wrong, nothing idiotic, nothing clumsy. She was posing for a photo. It was to be one of those grand photos with a stirring, watery background that would steal the eyes away from the subject and make the relatives “ooh” and “ah.”
But, like lots of pictures like this, things got all blurry when something moved suddenly.
The short of it: A giant wave came and washed her out to sea, where she died.
Tragedy, to be sure. I can’t imagine the grief the family suffered after a horrible twist of fate like this.
I’ve walked the Cinque Terre trails three or four times, I’ve eaten in the villages, and for the life of me I can’t figure out where this scene might have played itself out.
And there’s the rub. How does a journalist convey the dangers of a place without knowing where it is? And further, what good would it do, given that this was one of those “perfect storm” type of waves.
So, what can I do? Perhaps this:
Pay attention! The Cinque Terre is dangerous.
But even more importantly: Make every moment of your life count. You never know, do you?