Monday, January 23, 2012

Amalfi, day four

Myles had found his feet where driving was concerned and was therefore quite happy to organise us for a day trip through Positano and Sorrento. OK. The day began misty and the sea is quite different in this light; not the milky mystery of the afternoon, but a soft, delicate blue with tiny, dancing specks of light balanced in the water. You could watch the sea all day and its changing character. But we were for the coastal towns. Before that, it was time to get connected and find an internet point. We had been deprived since Monday morning and it wasn’t going well. Our dependence on connectivity has been something of a revelation on this trip. We miss it. Desperately. Our hosts have a kind of gaming and internet shop in Agerola so we headed there. We had been told that there was a point in Furore but much questioning of shopkeepers and barmen revealed nothing of the sort.
Once in Agerola, we were hooked up immediately. The relief of checking and sending email, of uploading onto the blog, and of looking at the news of the world. We are so cut off here – no TV, no anything. It is great on one level, but I guess we must be information junkies. Sad for us. Then suddenly, my sister came on line and we got to chat on Skype (another modern miracle). Paris got to connect on Facebook, and Myles did he usual trolling around. The other two didn’t do anything online. Their online vice is to what the new episodes of Total Drama and Horrible Histories and it wasn’t possible in this shop.
We left the shop considerable lighter in our minds and having made the connections that needed to be made. Myles had done some shopping while I was Skyping, so he made sandwiches for the road and we set out.
The mist was lifting and the whole coast was awash in bright blue light. It is truly astonishingly beautiful here, if you can lift your eyes from the horror that is the roads. As it happened, I was sitting in the back seat, and so wasn’t at the cold face of buses bearing down, so I could look about. All this life embedded in an unlikely hillside, desperate to be a part of this landscape – to have the sea within reach of their toes (very long toes in our case, but certainly, metaphorically our toes are close to the water). And all long the cliffs, terraces growing the important things in life – grapes, lemons, oranges. There are probably tomato plants up there somewhere too. Garlic perhaps.
In about an hour, we were driving into Positano. We could see what we should have done when booking for the Amalfi coast. We should have booked in a town. I can’t remember our reasoning now, but we had thought, I guess, that being outside a town would be fun. Well, when you don’t know the geography … we found a carpark and left the car to walk down to the beach. It was a decent walk, about a kilometre on these same hairy roads, though this one was one way which made it at least a little predictable. There are bogonvillias everywhere, threaded through trellis work; purples and oranges and some whites. It wasn’t the best season for them, but they were their never the less. There were also lemon trees crucified on trellis work for shade and beauty. The building are sprinkled across the landscape like colourful, determined blocks – and just to underline this, there are mini Positanos (and other towns) replicated in miniature along the road at strategic points – little cliffs with block house jammed into the sides. There is always a nativity scene to be found in these mini towns. Not in the real thing though. At least, not that we saw.
January is the quietest time of the year here. Nothing was open but a few shops selling bathers in an optimistic manner, some men with their shops open but repairing and painting rather than selling, and one restaurant right on the beach that was doing a roaring trade for those tourists and locals left stranded by the shut down. It was, not unexpectedly, expensive but they had a takeaway section that was OK.
The kids played on the beach. It is possible that playing on the beach should be a mandated activity for kids of all ages in a regular way. They were battling the waves (Zelda had seen some history thing where a Roman emperor had employed his army (or navy?) to quell the waves. He thought he had succeeded when the waves had retreated at low tide. So Paris, Zelda and Niccolo decided to re-enact this rather quaint act. Hours and hours of fun because the sea never gets tired. Myles and I wandered up and down the beach (admiring the local beach dogs, one of which was clearly a corgi and looked like a mini version of Shimmy), and looking again at the water now that the sun had burned away the mist. The sea is now a deep green and like the colour of old coke bottles (how interesting that I should come to coke for a simile). It is clear and looks cold, but we were longing to jump in. If only the wind wasn’t quite so cold and it wasn’t quite so January. Still – no tourists (other than ourselves of course). It must be intense in the hot months.
We could see that if we had booked a house in a town like this one, we wouldn’t be so stranded or isolated. There are places to walk and an accessible beach where the kids could attack the waves for hours, not to mention making friends with the local dogs. No language barrier there. Next time … we will know.
After some hours and pizza, we walked back to the car. We took a chance on the alleyways this time, rather than the road at it was very pleasant in a rabbit warren kind of way. More steps (my thighs are only just speaking to me again), but the sun was at our back and it was very beautiful. At least, we made roadfall, and we were at the car. The bloke who ran the car place waved us out and we were off to Sorrento.
This confused Niccolo. He knows Sorrento as the place on the Victorian coast where we go in summer. He decided that there was therefore a Sorrento A and a Sorrento B. We were now travelling to Sorrento B. Myles could not convince him that this Sorrento had existed first. You could see the kid’s point. More incredible cliffs and countryside with terraced lemon groves and vineyards.
And then we realised, as we pulled into Sorrento (B), that we were completely with Niccolo. We has also constructed this Sorrento from the Sorrento we knew from home (smallish, a bit sleepy, one major road, dead as a door nail in winter). But no! This Sorrento is a huge place, busy as a bee hive with frantic traffic and people walking and shopping. And tourists shops open everywhere selling various versions of lemons (lemons, ceramic lemons, aprons with lemons on them, limoncello – which I want to try – wall plaques with lemons). We were a bit overwhelmed so we headed for the water. Where we were (or perhaps everywhere, we weren’t sure), the coast was a port and industrial. There was one small section that had a forlorn sign saying ‘Spiagga: Free Beach’ but it was little more than some rough sand and a bit where you could launch boats. The kids couldn’t quite capture the enterprise of the beach at Positano and it was getting dark by this time anyway. It was time for ice cream – which we found on the main road and a slow walk in the twilight.
Sorrento, if anyone is interested, has orange trees as street trees. You can literally reach up, in Sorrento, and pick an orange. I didn’t try it. I wasn’t sure if the oranges were somehow municipal property. I didn’t want to test it. The police directing traffic looked a little fierce.
It was time to go home for pasta. The trip was about an hour and a half on dark roads choked with hazards and beauty in equal measure. By the time we made it home, it was seven and we all could have used a lie down. I cooked tuna pasta (Zelda’s favourite) and some other bits and pieces. We ate like fevered souls. And then it was  time for the gin rummy tournament. Niccolo retired hurt early, but the rest of us pushed on, with me triumphant. It is good to know that you are quite sporadically good at one thing. The wine we had bought for dinner turned out to be fizzy (NOTHING on the label). But it was quite drinkable.

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