As if to make up for the terrible day, the day dawn as cloudless, and the sun repaired our hearts and souls. We couldn’t get out of the house soon enough – with the kids complaining that their room was haunted, and there were bugs everywhere. I promised that we would throw the whole house open when we returned from the trip – harness the antiseptic joy of the sun – shake and sun dry all the sheets and sweep and clean everything. They settled in the back of the car, occasionally mumbling, like the slightly deranged. Getting out would make everything better.
We headed for Ravello. This is a high hill town; not at all a sea side resort; more, I think, a retreat from the heat of the summer. According to Myles’ sources, this was a town where Lawrence and Woolf spent time (though, not together, you might imagine). I can’t verify this, I have no internet … Up the winding roads and through some very narrow passes. We did come into contact (not literally) with the SITA bus – we all held our breath until we got passed. I think I have written about the SITA bus before in terms of catching it, but not as the terror it presents on the road for car drivers. This is a full sized bus (built for full sized roads) that travels at speed along roads that are built for slender donkeys, goats and the new smart cars. To see this monster swing around the corner meaningfully and then toot you is not something you want to court too often.
We arrived in Ravello in full sun at about 10.30am. Myles was charmed by the fact that the town was well organised, a good sized carpark just below the main piazza. ‘Now that is how a town should be organised.’ At the top of the stairs, there is a large historical marker telling you the movie that have been filmed here. We saw this at the fjord too. So, ‘Beat the Devil’ was filmed here (with Humphrey Bogart, and written by Truman Capote – I might have to get it out and watch it when I get home). The markers tells you the plot, someone comes into Ravello on a donkey (see, it is correct about the roads) and then, presumably, changes the lives of those already there. Shane Maloney once said in a lecture I saw that there are only three kinds of narratives: an individual begins a long journey, a stranger enters a village and a horse walks into a bar. You can see the point – this was clearly the second kind of narrative. Capote didn’t mind a bit of ‘stranger entering a village’ work.
We went off to visit the Villa Rufolo just off the Piazza Duomo. It was built in the 13th century and then restored by some Scottish industrialist in the early 20th. What does an industrialist do? We couldn’t get into the villa itself, it appeared to be used as offices or something, but you could roam around the villa and into the courtyards and across the gardens. The gardens were really something – or rather the view was really something. We all became very drowsy with the sun and the view and ended up sitting on a stone bench, falling into light dozes. Myles woke us all up by saying: ‘we are really bored now, aren’t we?’ The kids didn’t contradict him. Everything it still the same, wonderful views and incredibly sights, but it is like a car trip. It is always about half an hour too long regardless of views, supplies and comfort of said car. The truth is, we are tired of one another’s company. We are all desperate for a chat with someone other than each other, and a chat that is more than organised logistics. Oh well; in Rome, we will have the internet. Paris can Skype for one, and this will relieve some of the tension.
We left the villa and walked the town. Winding cobbled tracks that no car can use up through the high part of the town and between hotels and villas (‘available for weddings and private parties with Liberty style gardens’). And then we came upon a truly pastoral scene; a vegetable garden in the middle of the hotels with a small vineyard and a young man pruning it; well organised and beautifully laid out beds with lettuces and broccoli and strawberries. With the hills rising behind it, and the sun shining, it could have been the 19th centuries and us intrepid English travellers looking for a quiet place to finish our novels and raise our children. And then the bloke’s phone rang, and it all went to hell.
We walked back down the cobbled streets stopping only to buy some limoncello from a man who apparently makes it in vats out the back. We had many bottles to choose from; shaped like guitars, or violins, or smiling crescent moons. But I went for a very sober three sided bottle. Zelda, by this stage, had fallen deep into one of her food depressions (perhaps hyperglycaemia?), so we had to source lunch immediately. In the piazza, there were dozens of tables in full sun waiting for us. We ordered and soaked up the rays. We were down to tee shirts (even Myles) while the locals were in their versions of puffy jackets. If you are local, anything below 30 degrees must be considered fresh. It felt like 25 degrees or even hotter. There is something healing about the sun or your face and hands. We all felt much better for it. Above us was the church. It was almost entirely unadorned; a wooden roof not painted and dome above the altar was pink. It also sloped towards the front doors so you could slide out if things didn’t work out for you. On the way in was a book opened to a page of the ‘saint of the day’. Today it was San Sebastian. Uncle Matthew in ‘The Pursuit of Love’ was scathing about San Sebastian and said something like: ‘What’s that fellow standing there smiling for? If he was full of arrows like that, he’d be dead.’ It is a very gruesome martyrdom. But what isn’t? Actually, as plain at this church was, there were a lot of representations of martyrdom on the walls. Perhaps the good people of Ravello have to be kept in check. There is much sin lurking?
After admiring the local dogs and cats and children, we left for the car and decided to drive down to Minori – just to the left of Ravello but by the water. Now this was our town we decided. Big enough for things to be happening and shops open and a lovely little beach, but not crazy big like Sorrento and not tourist mania like Positano. This is where we could have laid our bones happily for these seven days. Ho hum. It was ice cream and a race with the waves for hours. The beach is everyone’s playground.
We returned back to our little villa on the hill of isolation and, as promised, clean swept the house and hung all the linen over the balcony to feel some of the power of the sun. It made everyone feel better about being here for another two nights. I even got excited and did some handwashing. ‘Yay,’ said Zelda from the sidelines. ‘Clean undies and socks!’ It is becoming a little desperate.
Myles and I went up to Furore Alto for a walk and to get some milk. It is a serious climb (for me, anyway), but you are rewarded with views that are to die for. We arrived at the top just as the sun was going down – a sunset like I have not ever seen. And why? Because it was confined to just the line of sky immediately above the water. This was no big show of orange clouds and pink stripes across the sky. This was the merest thread of intense orange and red at sea height as if the sky and the sea had an understanding that sunsets were not to be about the sky at all, but were to be shared with the water too. It was like the sky and the sea were one. You could see how it was easy to believe in the earth being flat and the sea just being stopped by the sky; as if the whole thing were just a dome.
There are small fires burning all along this coast. I think it is perhaps pruning time for olives and lemons, and the limbs that have been removed are burned. But along with this amazing sense that the sky and the sea are somehow linked, the fires that send up smoke give the whole area a feel of mythical times or ancient times. Without the SITA bus, and the mobiles phones, this is a place lost in time (and even somehow between reality and myth). Anyway, it is working its magic on us, slowly. Perhaps we have not really been in the right place to receive it. Perhaps another time.
Back down to the house we cooked a light dinner and then played more cards. Myles is a brute in card games. We are all against him because of his mock meanness. Regardless, and perhaps not surprisingly, he won the round of games.