Thursday, January 19, 2012

Amalfi, day two

The heaters had done their work in the night and we woke to a little mellow heat. But what we really woke to was steel sunlight coming through the window. The sun rises behind some mountains that lie across the water from us (Sicily?); a peeping gold to begin with and then a razor sharp blade of brightness powers down. The sky is the bluest of blues; this must be burning hot in summer. As it is, in midwinter, the sun is most welcome in our windows. There is no sleeping past 7.30am here. The sun is a taskmaster. And the curtains are no match.
We all got up and organised not only for the new day, but the new week. Living week to week, quite literally, is an interesting phenomena; very short term but quite detailed in the planning. And you don’t plan beyond the immediate week because you don’t know what kind of place you are going to for the next week.
Because the sun was so strong, we decided to see if the air outside was as warm as it looked. It wasn’t, but it also wasn’t cold. Paris decided that it might even be tee shirt weather. Not me. But neither was it for a puffy jacket. Have we seen the last of them for this trip? From our terrace, the sea ripples out for miles, torn in two by the bleached white path of the sun. We are rammed into the side of a hill, all windows one side (the side of the sea) and none the other side because it is pretty much underground.
It is a pretty but tough kind of place. No real resort-y places to stay. You are in a house (some are lavish of course) or a little hotel. But nothing of the scale we saw in places like Monaco. Well, there seemed to be more flat surfaces in Monaco than here.
We discovered the garden and found space in the banana lounges there. We all got books (except for Niccolo who was intrigued by the way that the banana lounges could be modified and made to lie completely flat) and sat in the early sun and read. You could imagine spending hours here, doing just this and then wandering, a little dazed, back into the kitchen to make something for lunch. Perhaps a sleep after lunch. And, if the weather was hot, a little swim (somehow, but how to get to the water? It feels like it just there, but is probably miles away). We admired the clean sharp yellows and oranges of the fruits on the trees (the most vibrant yellow of a lemon I have ever seen, but is it just a trick of the light?). We planned to go up to the town via some steps to see what we could see.
This is an ancient place (but what place isn’t?). And by ancient, I think I might mean that it has had its civilisation recorded in quite specific ways for centuries, and ways in which we might currently identify. Living in cities, drinking wine, organising elections, writing plays and poetry, trying to understand the world through both religion and science. It all feels strangely ‘modern’ in the sense that these civilizations were peopled apparently but individuals ‘just like us’. The people of Pompeii are not ‘other’ but just us in togas. And you can see why a toga might have been the right thing to wear here. You’d need some breeze here in high summer I’d think.
As noted last night, the roads are really just some kind of terrible roller coaster, so we thought we’d walk up to our little township. ‘Just up the stairs’ our host had said last night. ‘There are shops and an internet point … everything you might need’.
With the laptops, we set off.
Steps, hmmm. Well, there were hundreds of them cut into the side of the mountain. I pity the person who had to do this because it must have been done by hand; no possible way a machine could have worked on this cliff. And the steps are uneven, hacked at will; some with very high riders (how many times will I trip?), some long and low and flat. We climbed steadily; up past houses (that must be fun when you do the shopping) and the long narrow terraces with grape vines or lemon trees. And still we climbed. Sometimes we were climbing on winding paths, but most often it was the brutal stairs. At last, there was a road. There were also more stairs going up but I was for trying my luck on the road. Surely, where there is a road, there is a shop. This is our version of civilisation. The road. In Roman times, it was probably the Senate, or the baths. So we stumbled along the road for a while, came across a man fixing his truck and asked if he knew where Furore was. He indicated that we keep going up the road. Really?
And then around a corner, and there was a tiny township perched on the side of the hill. The little bed and breakfasts on the sea side, somehow built mostly on the air, and the shops of the other side. There was no internet connection anywhere in the town (I’m writing this in Word, and will load this up with lots of others when we get connected again). There was, however, a cafĂ© and Paris was happy to drink good coffee in the strong sun. Apparently, in Furore, what you do for fun is wait outside the post office for it to open. Strange, because by this time it was half past ten or so. And yet, there they waited. There seemed to be a lot of waiting here, but no one minds.
We turned around and headed back to the house.
Down the stairs, that is, beyond our place, you get to the only fjord in Italy. So we thought that might be fun. We had been warned that there were a thousand steps (or more?) but it was sunny. Forty minutes said the sign ominously.
Is this something about my age? The kids leapt from step to step and had races and were laughing all the way down. I was shaking and sweating very early on. Is walking down steps suddenly as hard as walking up them? It appeared that way to me, and I would breath much relief when there was a flat bit along which I could walk at a steady pace. The descent was unforgiving; straight down. We met some goats. They thought we were most amusing. And after forty, thigh burning, knee cracking, back jarring minutes, we were at the fjord. What is a fjord? I’m not sure; but this was a tiny beach that lay in the gap between what appeared a crack in the cliff. No sunlight here; some boats pulled up onto the stony shore. A bridge crossed the crack high up above the beach (the road, the road!) and this dripped water. The view from the bridge was dazzling. But Myles was sweating with vertigo. We had to move on. None of us fancied going back up the steps but we had heard that you could catch a bus to Amalfi from hereabouts. But where? A bloke pulled his car up to the steps at the crucial moment and we asked him where the bus would go from. Just up the road, he said. One minute. Well, it was something like one minute if you have nowhere to be at a certain time, and you were not walking along a road that had no footpaths as was only one car wide with cars driving like maniacs along it. It was a rather long one minute. But finally, there was a bus stop. Myles remembered reading somewhere that you couldn’t buy tickets on the bus, so we went to the tiny petrol station that sat next to the bus stop and asked them. And it turned out they sold tickets to the bus; and told us that the bus was coming: now. Well, now is a relative term. And while the men who worked the petrol station had coffee with their friends and finally locked the door to go to where? The local bar?, we waited in the sun. Oh my god; the sun is glorious, it gold plates your back and makes you feel like the richest person in the world. So we were not concerned. And of course, at last, the bus did come. We got on. I went to ask the driver about what we did with the tickets but (terrifyingly) he was on his mobile phone. We lurched off, him chatting to someone and driving around corners that felt like they might crumble beneath the wheels with one hand. The smattering of Japanese tourists that were already passengers smiled politely at us. We grabbed seats. Myles sat on the sea side of the bus. I wanted to hug the cliff. We all felt dizzy when we pulled into Amalfi. It is the most surreal bus drive. At no point do you  really believe you are on a road at all. It feels like you are driving somehow parallel to the cliff, but not really on it. And beneath you are hundreds of metres of air and finally, the sea. I don’t suffer vertigo, but this gave me something akin to an uncomfortable thrill.
Amalfi is shut down for winter; the town had its eyes closed and was sleeping in the sun. We did manage to find a small bar with food open for lunch. The bloke who ran it had the most remarkable way of managing orders. He did each plate one at a time. For example, I ordered soup. And so did the woman at the next table. But he didn’t make them together. He made hers. And then, some time later, he made mine. He cooked Niccolo’s hamburger. Then he cooked Myles’ pasta. Then he made Zelda lasagne. Then my soup. And then he came out to tell us that Paris’ melanzane was no possible. He had run out (this was forty minutes later). OK. He’d have pizza. And then, he cooked that. It was kind of mesmeric. As we sat there, locals came in to have a tiny coffee, or tiny liqueurs (that they would throw back and then leave). We watched music videos. Then the bloke turned the channel to sport. He was trying to find the tennis (after we had a discussion about where we were from). We ended up watching American football. Close enough. After this, we meandered down by the water. You can see why Amalfi is one of the larger towns here; it is one of the few with flat land. There is an impressive church (the kids refused to have anything to do with it), and a few piazzas with some shops languidly open (but not with any real conviction). There were a few tourist dotted about the place. We thought we should shop for provisions. I went into a bar to ask if there were any supermarkets around. I was told by the barman that there was but it was closed. When would it open? He shrugged. Perhaps four thirty. Perhaps later. As it was only three, we decided not to wait around.
We returned to the bus stop. And then, the greatest comedy on wheels. Amalfi is the terminus for the bus. And so what happen is this: buses roll in from the top of the cliff. People get off. The driver gets off. He turns off the sign that tells where is might be going (or where he has come from), he puts on his jacket. He gets his bag. He disappears into the local bar. About seven buses came this way. The place was clogged with buses. We waited with locals who patiently watched this charade. Finally, one bus turned on a sign – Agerola. We all ran like crazy for the bus. The driver looked at us with some contempt and then put on his jacket and disappeared. But amazingly, within ten minutes he was back (he couldn’t have drunk that much in ten minutes, could he?). I asked about getting off at Furore. He assured me it was possible. Away we went. If anything, this was a worse drive than the first one. For one thing, we were much higher this time, and the roads were much more busy. But no one appeared concerned except us. Swinging around corners, passing cars with about a hair width of room, driving over passes that, when looked back at, apparently existed without support. Furore couldn’t come fast enough. True to his word, the driver got us off at Furore. We waved the bus off with some relief. Nothing was open in the town (too early?) and we walked back down the stairs on shaky legs to our house.
But not for long. We had to get food. So Myles and I braved the roads and drove into Agorola. The people we came across were amazingly friendly, helped us find a supermarket and a butcher. The shop keepers were lovely and helpful. Here is an interesting discovery. Chicken breasts here are sold with the bone in. I had ordered the chicken breast from the butcher through some rather humiliating pantomime. The butcher had asked if I wanted it cut up (I think, but now I realise that she was asking if I wanted the bone removed). I had said no. And then I had to bone it myself (badly) when we got home. So shopping was all good. Myles and I did have a bad moment when we realised that we were driving along some very dangerous roads and what would the kids do if we failed to return? But best not to dwell on that one.
We returned safely. We ate dinner. We had a gin rummy tournament (Myles won, the evil sod). We fell into bed with very sore thigh. Well, mine were sore.

No comments:

Post a Comment