Livorno

Livorno is an interesting city (first described to me as a new, pirate, Communist city). I really wish we had have had more time there. Laura suggested we go to Livorno’s beach in order to escape Pisa’s oppressive heat, but I got the impression that being there was more about not being in Pisa.

When Daniel and I commented on the drab aesthetic, Laura attributed it to the fact that Livorno is “new.” It was established in the 17th century to serve the trading needs of the Medici family (this is, of course, new in Italian terms).

Having lived on America’s eastern coast for my entire life did not prepare me for Livorno’s “beach,” which is what I would call “a rocky cliff descending into the sea.” Though the entire coastline isn’t like this, we decided to drive away from the city center, big beach umbrellas, overcrowding, and trash of the more accessible areas.

One accesses this beach by parking on the side of the road that winds around the side of the cliff and then climbing down. I would not recommend wearing flip flops for this task. The beginning of the trail was made of dirt and small rocks, but then came the task of walking down hot (also not suited for bare feet), slanted rocks.

The extra distance and the climb were well worth it. We all spent the late afternoon enjoying the water with only a few other visitors just watching a scared dog finally jump in after debating it for an hour, a man harvesting urchins for his dinner that night, and the tide come in while the sun began to set.

After climbing back up to the car, we drove back to where the city meets the water and enjoyed an aperitivo, comprised mostly of the day’s catch, while overlooking the water. Laura called a friend who lives in Livorno and invited him to relax with us. He took us to the original docks, and we saw where the Medici’s boats were stored. These open spaces along the dock have recently been converted into restaurant/club spaces, but one can still see the brick arch-shaped caverns that once housed the ships. Because the docks historically tended to attract some unsavory characters, Livorno is said to be a pirate city.

We eventually settled with some gelato in an open courtyard. It is hard not to notice the seemingly ubiquitous hammers and sickles that adorn countless surfaces in Livorno: everywhere from graffittied walls to permanent restaurant signs. These symbols are proudly displayed on tee-shirts and alongside business names. Laura’s friend even had a hammer and sickle key chain hanging out of his back pocket. As I learned more about him and the city, it became apparent why. For Italians, the financial crisis means not only that the number of jobs is dwindling, but that bureaucracy and taxation laws prevent people from creating their own means by starting a business or selling their ideas. Innovation is stifled by a lack of incentives and those with great ambition are encouraged to emigrate. The hammer and sickle is the symbol of this discontent, a holdover in the birthplace of the Italian Communist Party.

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