Mi dispiace, Salerno!

I have departed the art residency, made it by bus to Salerno, checked in the B&B and visited the ancient ruins of Paestum.

During the bus journey from Noepoli, we stopped in a town for 10 minutes. Everyone goes into a little motel cafe and uses the restroom and grabs a coffee. When I ordered a cappuccino, the woman told me to pay at the end of the counter. I got in line, and within seconds, 4 or 5 men stepped right in front of me! But here’s the part I’ll hang onto…the barista yelled down to the cashier, seeing what the men were doing, and told her to ring me up next. So, just when you feel a bit trampled, someone steps up with a kind gesture. Many of the people I’ve encountered, have a terse facade with kindness not far beneath the surface. Similarly, in crowded Amalfi, I was in line pressed against the counter to order gelati. People behind me reached out over me and called their orders to the two men working. It only took a moment for an older gentleman working the register to take notice and he barked to one of the workers to help me before taking anyone else’s order. Traveling alone can be tough, but as each day passes, there are countless kind moments from strangers.

We are pulling into Salerno and a woman with a baby in a pram just stepped right in front of our bus. I guess you will turn into a petrified monument if you wait for traffic to stop. And I thought it was tricky for pedestrians to cross on quaint Kavanaugh Boulevard at home. Nope!

And, oh Salerno, I owe you an apology! I know not to judge a book by its cover and I judged you by your skeezy train station on a rainy day last week. Today, on the other hand, as I walked from the train station to my B&B, I saw you in a new light.

imageWalking down the posh pedestrian Corso Vittorio Emanuel, which is lined with upscale stores, cafés and trattorias, I was entranced with the monuments, piazzas, charismatic buildings, and fashionable people (who rival even those in Ravello!). I was initially hesitant when arriving at the B&B because there was a tiny sign out front and once I entered a small courtyard, there was no sign indicating where to go, what door to choose. I found the phone number and the woman who answered asked me to call another number. Once I finally made it in, I was greeted by a woman named Kaoru, who provided a map of the city, and wrote down specific suggestions and restaurants. She pointed out the famous Duomo, the Botanical Garden, a museum, and a castle at the peak of a hill overlooking the city.image

I don’t think I can do all that in only a few hours in Salerno, but I’ve definitely changed my mind about this being a worthwhile place to visit, and not just a central location that one should tolerate for convenient transportation transfers.image (Below is a boat heading to Capri, Postiano, or Amalfi). She also provided a copy of the train schedule to Paestum, including the return times and told me to be sure to purchase a round trip train ticket, as there is only one machine which is difficult to use and no office for ticket purchasing at the train station in Paestum. These little things make it SO MUCH EASIER traveling in a country where you don’t know the language. Oh, and to top if off, my room was ready and they let me check in three hours early! If you want a good value, a B&B atmosphere, and the perfect location, I suggest Salerno Central. There are many glowing reviews on Trip Advisor as well as what I read in the guest book here.

By the way, I figured out a trick. When you accidentally squeeze between two thugs who are potential gang members on a train, they stop glaring at you and your purse if you sketch their portraits during the trip. Of course, you better be darn sure you make them look more handsome rather than less.

imageSo, now I am sitting in La Basilica Cafe in Paestum, again freaking out at the wonders that surround. I’ve just exited the museum and need food before I can tour the ruins. To stand in front of artwork, architecture, and monuments that I’ve recently studied in art school is the equivalent, for my inner nerd, of someone seeing a famous person they’ve adored forever. I have the urge to run up and hug a column (don’t worry I haven’t completely transformed into 100% nerd, if George Clooney walked by, I’d be tempted to run up and wrap my arms around him, too).image image

In an art history class with Dr. Jane Brown, as I filled out “Temple of Hera” during a slide quiz, not ONCE did I think I would stand in front of that Temple in the middle of corn fields and wild flowers of Southern Italy. I won’t go on and on about the ruins, the various cultures who have been in power here (starting with the Greeks and ending with the Romans who were wiped out or forced out by mosquitoes carrying malaria). I’ll just say this is worth a 30 minute train trip from Salerno. Also, it is was unlike any other site I have visited in that visitors are able to touch and climb on the ruins, which surprised me. Discovery of the site is relatively recent and only a small percentage has been excavated (though it was plenty to see on a hot afternoon).

I am now on the train back to Salerno and the air is working and the crowd is a bit cleaner than on the way down here. A cute guy has been talking with me on the train platform and now on the train. It’s funny how I am more receptive to the feeble old men grabbing me by the cheek. As cute and nice as he seems to be, I just keep thinking about Ted Bundy….and my Stephen, for different reasons, of course.

Buonasera!

Matera Matera Matera!

Before going to sleep last night, I had to say goodbye to my new friends because they leave the program is morning and I am now on a very early bus to the ancient city of Matera. Pina and Raffaele packed a little sack breakfast for me and provided the bus schedule. Raffaele said several times, be sure you confirm the destination each time you get on a bus. There are multiple bus transfers so the journey will take many hours but seeing this city will be worth the effort. This past spring, before my trip to Italy, it seemed serendipitous when I came across an article in Smithsonian magazine about Matera, the UNESCO World Heritage site which thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited place on the globe. More later….

imageimagePhotos: The bathroom in Policoro where I had to transfer buses (it is probably best that I couldn’t read the graffiti) and the quiet village bus stop at 6:30 this morning

Ok, I’ve made it to Matera and am having hard time articulating what I saw there. Words can describe the cave dwellings but my vocabulary is limited because the environment was utterly new and foreign for my eyes and mind. I’m not sure I even have the correct language to describe the Sassi area. It is made of hundreds of sharp inclines and declines with winding trails and stairs taking you to peeks and depths where the homes, churches and businesses were built into the ground and into the caves.image What you see in the photos is only the top of the town, with a large percentage hollowed out underground and into caves. The interiors use negative architectural methods meaning the builders removed rock and ground to create spaces and features such as arches, doorways and columns, the opposite of what we are used to when thinking about building structures where materials are ADDED instead of deducted. In front of one of the medieval churches I visited, archeologists have discovered pottery that dates back to the 8th Century B.C.! Much has been written about it. For more accurate and eloquently presented information, see Smithsonian.com and search keyword Matera (for some reason I am unable to insert the link).

imageI was looking around for the Barbarian Cemetary, and see those elongated shapes on the ground? I was standing right amongst the buried barbarians! Did you know that the term “barbarian” is what the Romans used for anyone who was not Roman? The barbarians were not necessarily inferior or bad or blood thirsty, they just weren’t up to snuff. And here we have the Church of Purgatory. imageMmmm, I’m going to have to read a bit more about this one. A facade of skulls and skeletons (can you see them in this photo?) is not an enticing place of worship in my mind but, as usual, I’m sure there is more to the story.

imageThe top point of rock in photo below is the Madonna de Idris church…as you can see, it is INSIDE those rocks. It is easier to see it in the close up shot. image

When I get home, I’ll have to rent the film, Christ Stopped at Eboli which was written about and filmed in Matera, in addition to Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, also filmed in Matera.

By the way, Reason #101 to get to the bus station a few minutes early: the bus driver did not have change so he could not sell me a ticket – he asked other people on the bus for change and when that didn’t work out, I had to canvas the area asking people for change for a 20. Another bus driver, who was chatting up some women at the bus station, lead me to his bus and gave me change. So nice! When I returned, my bus driver sold me a ticket and literally pinched my cheek affectionately! I’m not sure what he said but I think it was pretty adorable based on the twinkle in his eye. Oh, and reason #102, we’ve departed the Matera bus station 6 minutes early.

So the return bus journey is going fine. I’ve made it to Senise which is one town away from Noepoli. The only problem is that I have a 45 minute wait and I’ve seen just about enough of Senise. I popped into what is called American Bar, a misnomer indeed. It is the first place on my adventure where I have felt leered at and I’m about ready for that bus to come. The butcher across the street is so sweet (he was in an earlier post with Pina and Raffaele shopping) but he is not there right now.

Oh my goodness, an old man just joined me on the steps and now I’ve had my right cheek pinched a second time this afternoon! Now I’m on the bus to Noepoli and the bus driver is singing at the top of his lungs! He told me to sit in the front seat and it is frightening going through these mountains from this perspective. I think the bus drivers like to chit chat with the person in the front row. I’m going to be a big disappointment which he probably figured out when he said I owed 1.30 euros and I thought he was telling me we would be in Noepoli in 30 minutes and I just kept nodding. When he exclaimed “Soldi!” I finally clued in as I have recently learned the word for “money.” Ok, now we’ve stopped on a winding mountain road for the driver to talk with a shepherd. And here we go again. Now the bus driver is telling me that the shepherd thought I was rude to keep working on the computer instead of talking with them!!! What an adventurous day.

Next on the agenda, the Greek ruins in Paestum (which were part of my art history studies and slide quizzes…we’ll see what I can remember!). Until then, ciao!

Village Life

Today was special in many ways. I got to go on a walk early this morning and am feeling more comfortable in the village. My limited Italian is expanding slightly, which helps me feel less clueless and less isolated. When various people speak, I have an idea of what they are saying and how to respond (on a very rudimentary level). After a big breakfast that included a regionally special cake (cake for breakfast – my kind of thing!), I worked in the studio for a few hours before getting ready for lunch plans.image

A lovely local woman who summers here in Noepoli and lives the remainder of the year in Rome, invited Cecelia and me to lunch. Graziella does not speak English at all and we gestured our way though the meal quite well. I thought we were having a one course meal, and handily ate every bite of delicious spaghetti pompodore. Then, surprise, out came the second course – a Naples specialty of peppers stuffed with bread crumbs, olive oil and anchovies. They were incredible. Then we had cured meats made by a neighbor. And then ricotta cheese and bread that were both made this morning!! Then, out came a salad with cucumbers and tomatoes. Graziella drizzled it with olive oil made here and fresh lemon juice. I was trying to breath deeply and drink lots of water, because the food just kept coming. She kept pointing to her tummy and saying something – I think it was about all of our bellies getting big. Then, fresh fruit for dessert with the strongest espresso I’ve ever tasted. Thank goodness for the espresso – I’ll need it because I’m teaching a painting workshop this afternoon from 5:00 to 7:00 here at Palazzo Rinaldi. I’m going to set up now and will update you later. Ciao!

Well, I think the workshop was a big hit. There was a snafu with the materials that were supposed to be provided. We managed to recover from the lack of paper and stiff brushes (at the last minute, I finally realized and accepted that I would have to provide the paper and some additional brushes from my own work supply). When we first started, the mood was pleasant but a little hesitant. I panicked a bit when a second round of participants came in an hour after we started, and knew that between our lack of materials, my language limitation, the amount of time I wanted to teach, and the difficulty of teaching two groups at the same time, I was getting in over my head. However, the second group did not expect a full recap of the lesson and just observed and picked up brushes and painted a little.

imageMore importantly, their energy electrified the room and the event became a party. There were several men and women gathered around the table, laughing, joking, painting, and catching up on town news. Pina and Raffaele did a superb job of translating the ideas and instructions for me and all of the people included me in their conversations about their ideas and paintings. The most rewarding part was that they were able to create layered paintings with a variety of tools, such as stencils, to convey images that have special meaning to each person. The paintings told stories about their feelings and memories and that meant success in my mind. Of course, when Raffaele popped open the champagne, the volume rose and the room was like something from a movie with lots of laughing and gesticulating. There is truth in the stereotype of Italians talking with their hands and dramatic facial expressions which has turned out to be most helpful for a foreigner.

After dinner, I worked in the studio with Cecelia, collected my laundry from the line, and went to bed. NEXT DAY: This morning, after breakfast, I went on a walk in the village, with the intention of sketching while out. I found a shady stoop with a beautiful view of someone’s balcony with flowers and the mountains in the background. imageAfter no more than 5 minutes, three people came out and insisted that I come in for a visit and a drink. The owner greeted me with a Prego and though I tried to decline politely, suddenly I found myself inside on a tour which was magnificent. I hope this doesn’t sound snobby, but I didn’t expect such a modern and beautifully decorated home in such a small village. They showed me the view from her back balcony and then we sat in the living room for a glass of tea. I managed to ask their names and tell them mine and we worked through a stilted, though pleasant conversation. Then, a precious little girl came in. When her father tried to to hug her, she kicked and bit him prompting him to call her a word I did not understand. I asked him to write it down and he would not. Then I remembered the curse word section of the Rick Steve’s dictionary and showed it to the man. He found it and pointed to the word…They asked me how to say it in English and I felt terrible teaching them how to call their little girl an “asshole.” I didn’t want to over stay my welcome and figured out a polite way to depart after about 45 minutes.

After sketching outside with a sack lunch, I went with Raffaele to an old church built into a cave. The story explains that a monk who was trying to escape as well as save Christian icons form destruction by the Turks, hid the Madonna d’ Angelicas sculpture in the cave, which he made his home. Other monks joined him there, from both the Franciscan and Byzantine Orders. The story is told in frescos painted on the walls. Hundreds of years later, their cave home and the sculpture were found and, subsequently, a church was built extending outward from the grotto. It is now a holy place revered in the Basilicata region.

At several points during our visit, I got chill bumps. First, there is a massive 500 year old olive tree in front of the church. It was struck by lighting several years ago and appeared to by dying. imageThe rotund trunk was split in two and charcoaled. The leaves died and fell away. Then, new growth appeared, and slowly, the trunk began healing and growing together. It is now thick with foliage although the truck is largely hollow, as you can see in this picture.

Also fascinating, were the sea shells lining the walls of the cave. They are perfectly preserved in the silt mountain walls as a reminder of the geological formation of this area. A lack of funds, as mentioned in a previous post about the Noepoli Catholic Church stalled excavation, keeps these treasures relatively unknown (from people outside the areas) and the absolute lack of tourists makes me understand that I am on a rare and special tour with my host, Raffaele.

One of the more revealing moments was not about the church, or it’s treasures, but about the people caring for the church. Years ago, the priest gave the responsibility of the church keys to a man named Mario, who was coping with grief over losing his two sons and wife, all in a short period of time. The priest gave Mario an important job as a way of redirecting his mind and thoughts. When we arrived, Mario was in a state of high agitation, as he had loaned the keys to two women who were preparing the church for a wedding anniversary event. When the women did not return the keys when promised, it was clearly difficult for Mario, and when they arrived with the keys, he gave them a full five minute chewing out. Once that was over, he kindly proceed to give me a thorough and impassioned tour and was generous with his time.image

After returning to Palazzo Rinaldi, the residents and I prepared a final dinner before their Monday departure. The terrace was windy so we ate in the studio with the doors wide open. During this week together I have learned about the credentials, work, and achievements of these talented women. They are accomplished and have risen to the top of their fields in their countries of origin, and beyond. Listening to them discuss their experiences and ideas was an education in itself and I am grateful to have spent time with them both.

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Small Moments, Big Discoveries

What a wonderful series of small and big moments this evening. First, Raffaele knew that I wanted some tomatoes and he quickly came to get me when he spotted the fruit and veg truck driving around the village. He escorted me to the truck so he could negotiate the total price. Certainly something I could not have handled on my own with my 10 Italian words!

Afterward, I came back to the studio to download photos for sketches and was distracted by the gloriously ominous sky. imageAlong came Pina to tell Cecelia and I that she noticed a girl with keys opening the Catholic Church. imageShe asked the young woman if we could come see it and took us in (it is next door to our house). She and Raffaele gave us a tour pointing out all the old art and history. I am really getting into this old stuff and am kinda freaking out right now. First, here is a cross, carved entirely in wood of Christ from the early 13th Century. There are veins and hairs represented which means this cross was made by one of the finest artist for a very wealthy patron and church.imageimage Then, we walked back and check out the back right wall – partially excavated revealing Corinthian columns and frescos painted in the early 15h century. imageThe town has run out of funds to continue the excavation, so here is stands, as is. Next, we go to a little back room and Raphael points out a small baptismal basin from the time of Charlmagne!!!!!! Can you see it behind the plastic Jesus?  There it sits, unprotected.

When we returned to the house, Raffaele was ahead of us and poked his head back out the front door, saying hurry, you’ve got to see this! I was thinking about the treasures in the church as I followed Cecelia, Pina and Raffaele through the house to the balcony. And then this happened. Whoa.

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(Left photo is the view from the studio) After a lovely dinner with the Danish artist, Cecelia, I slept for more consecutive hours that I have during the trip, so today, I’ve felt more energetic and ready to tackle lots of work and sketching time in the town. After breakfast, I walked down from the top of the mountain to look for the little grocery store. Though the shelves were miscellaneous and sparse, I was able to find what I needed (I somehow lost my comb and the store owner suggested this “Afro” comb for my hair – perfecto!) imageThe owner talked and talked to me even though I repeatedly answered, non capisco, scusi! He was so sweet and I think determined for me to learn Italian while shopping in his store. He also insisted that I take a newspaper for free to keep as a momento from my time in the area.image image image image image

 

 

 

 

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(the photos above show the red doors to the secret escape passage, me with the massive front door key of Palazzo Rinaldi, the sign for the store, the store front, and a group of men who asked me to take their picture)

The village does not receive many tourists or people from other places and as I walk down the street, people come up and introduce themselves, or hug me, or invite me in to their homes for a visit or a snack. I was shocked to just meet a woman with her daughter here visiting from New Jersey! She grew up in Noepoli and comes back to visit each summer. Before my errand, Pina showed us a secret passage the Duke or Lord of the area would use to get from the castle to a nearby town which could be used as an escape route if the castle was invaded. After my outing and some time in the studio, Raffaele showed me his copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy. It was published by the famous French illustrator, Gustave Dore and is one of a few original printings. Many book collectors have tried to buy it over the years but Raffaele keeps in under lock and key and will not part with his treasure.image

I’ve been sketching all afternoon and am content. However, there is a longing for my family that persists. It is one of those odd inversions of the human heart – some of us want space and independence and adventure and when we get it, we want home and family and familiarity. It does not stop me from savoring and enjoying my time here but seems worth acknowledging.

There is time to think, time to study, time to listen and time to look. These are times I rarely experience at home. In addition to the food, the history, the scenery, the art, the people, the monuments and artifacts, perhaps what I came here to experience is simply time.

First Impressions, Settling In

The owner, Raphael, of the residential property met me at the bus stop in Senise and we drove about 20 minutes to Noepoli (see photo below), the tiny imagevillage where the art residency is located. There are two other artists here at this time, one from Scotland and one from Denmark and they are very easy and friendly. Raphael showed me around the home and told me all of the instructions like which keys to use and where to do laundry (more on that in a moment!). It is quite like being back in college though my room is much nicer, and no roommate, thankfully!imageimage The program is run by Raphael, his wife Pina and their daughter, Susanna who normally lives in Ireland and is not here now due to the birth of her baby. The family summers here in Noepoli and Raphael and Pina live in Agropolis the remainder of the year. After the day of travel, I thoroughly enjoyed spending the evening talking with the other residents and learning about their countries and their work. I’ll tell you more about these fascinating women later – they are impressive to say the least. Before I could retire for the night, I spent time down in the basement doing much needed laundry – check out the laundry “facility”! image imageI moved a few pieces to to the line outside to help them dry this morning but hesitated to hang out all my underwear! imageI slept like a rock last night and woke up ready to work. After a big delicious breakfast made by Pina, Raphael showed me the area and a beautiful belvedere in the national park. I then took a quick tour of town on foot (which took only a few minutes) and found the man selling fruits and vegetables, the miller/baker, the butcher (a woman!), the police officer, and the town hall. Noepoli is built on top of the remains of an old castle and is on a mountain peak so the weather is breezy and cool. It is strange being so remote after so many days with throngs of people and activity. After lunch, I worked on photos and sketches and then went on a hike with the artists, Cecelia and Karen. I wish Phoebe was here to see this shepherd walking his goats through the hills! imageWe made it to another mountain top and were able to get a good view of caves that were once used by robbers as hideouts.  The robbers were considered to be like Robin Hood as they helped poor people in the area who were under the rule of tyrannical dukes and counts who owned the land. Can you see these caves? image The lone restaurant does not open until 8 pm so we ate peaches for a snack and did more work. Finally, we walked to dinner, passing a cemetary, which was a little spooky on the dark walk home. I had a lovely time visiting with the two artists who are full of fascinating stories and experiences. The only dark spot at this point is the teenage son, who against the residency policy, accompanied his mother to the program. I won’t list what all was said and occurred at dinner and on the walk home, but his hostility has changed the atmosphere of the residency and I will need to be away from him as much as possible. After breakfast this morning, I worked in the studio and then Pina and Raphael asked if I wanted to go with them to Senise.  I was delighted, the drive was pretty and we passed many farms where the owners produce their own wine, fruits, veggies, olives and cheeses. In Senise, my hosts introduced me to the butcher, the mozzarella makers, and the bakery owner. I can hardly wait to make fresh pasta with tomatoes and mozzarella on the side tonight. It was especially fun listening to the banter between my hosts and the shop keepers.image I felt like an exchange student and it was a great cultural education! On the drive back to Noepoli, Pina provided all sorts of information about the fauna and flora and about the history of the area.  After traveling on my own, it is such a treat being in the care of such informative and kind people. Arrivederci!

Leaving the Amalfi Area

I’m about to leave Ravello by bus for Amafi to catch a boat to Salerno where I’ll take a three hour bus ride to Senise where I’ll get picked up by someone from the residency to drive to Noepoli in the remote area, Basilicata. Just before my alarm rang this morning, thunder boomed. We are so high up that when a storm comes, we are in the clouds – the thunder felt like it was in my teeth! Needless to say, I was awake and ready to get going.

I then checked out of the lovely Villa Amore. The owner called TravelMar for me to see if the ocean is too rough for transportation. We got the ok, the skies look clear so off I go down the mountain again. To my delight, there are the two English men who I saw on Saturday! Remember them? They were my cohorts in struggling with the luggage door under the bus. They did not recognize me initially but when I described the luggage experience, they enthusiastically confirmed it was them! They tried to help me with the luggage compartment this time, but we all failed and discussed how insistent the bus drivers are about storing the luggage but how disinterested they are in helping you do so.

At any rate, we had a good visit about Rome and London and Ravello and they were very kind. I might be giving the impression that this area is sparely populated, considering the fortuitous repeated encounters I’ve experienced. However, this is high season along the Amalfi coast and the area is swarming with people. To add to the crowds who are vacationing here, they come in by the droves from cruise liners parked offshore. The crowds can be stifling, especially for an Arkansan used to a less dense population. Ravello has been isolated from the madness which has been a benefit of staying there – unreachable by the cruise crowds. I also highly recommend Atrani which is a lovely 15 minute walk (albeit lots of stairs) from the town of Amalfi, and is much less crowded.image

I am now in the boat to Salerno, a 35 minute ride on the dot, as opposed to that 1.5 hour bus ordeal on the way. Travel tip: if you venture to the Amalfi coast, travel on a weekday instead of the weekend. Ok, while I’m at it, here are a few more suggestions: bring an umbrella, a little travel bottle of bug spray, one pair of very comfortable sandals, one pair of comfy Nike slip on walkers, one cute dress, a pair of cool blousey pants to travel in, clothes you can hike in, a hat, sunscreen, plenty of underwear, and plenty of undergarments.

Back to the boat ride, it rained hard but the ocean remained calm. I got to, again, sit by the English couple who kindly took my picture for me. imageOnce I finally found the Salerno train and bus station, and bought my ticket for the bus to Senise, I wandered around looking for a place to eat lunch and get out of the rain. It was quickly clear that the station was full of cons as I was approached by a persistent woman with a baby, and three aggressive men asking for money or something…this was my first place on my Italian adventure to feel harassed and I kept my belongings under tight grip. Aside from the gritty feel of Salerno thus far, it seems to be an ideal place for catching trains, boats, and buses to a variety of locations. Many prefer it to Sorrento or Naples because of its convenient access to Pompeii, Herculeneum, Naples, Paestum, the entire Amalfi coast (and the islands such as Capri), and trains south down the Silcily.

My next post will be from the Artist Residency. If you are interested in learning more about the program, there are some new videos posted on their Facebook page if you look for Palazzo Rinaldi.

Thanks for reading! Ciao!

The Kindness of Strangers

After feeling a bit down yesterday, three gifts came my way today and lifted my spirits more than the gift bearers can know. I’ll start with the adventures of the day and reveal the positive encounters as they unfolded. A storm moved in and woke me at 7:30. Initially I was disappointed, as a big hike was on the agenda. imageBut at breakfast, the skies began to clear and the hotel staff looked up the weather forecast and said to proceed as planned. imageSo, with water, sunscreen, bug spray and backpack in hand, I headed down an ancient trail that runs behind and below Villa Cimbrone. I read the hike to Atrani was perfectly safe though rigorous, and would take about 45 minutes and then 15-20 more minutes to Amalfi. Well, I realize steep climbs and descents have been a theme of the blog, but I must say I went down thousands of steps on this hike. imageI’m officially declaring that going down is, indeed, harder than going up. Occasionally, I thought I had arrived, but I would pop out at a vista and see the ocean was still far far down.image

Finally, the path became less foliage-oriented and more alley-oriented, and eventually, a little cobblestone via tight between old walls spit me out in front of the stunning Maria Magdellana Church, which is build right on top of a cliff’s edge over imagethe water. The choir was practicing while children played out front waiting for the singing parents to finish. As families exited, I followed them down a narrow path to the central piazza of Atrani.

As I popped out another narrow alleyway into the piazza, I almost ran into a large stage where crisply dressed brass band members where gathering for a imagepractice performance. I walked over to what appeared to be a drug store and managed to ask, in Italian, for a “thing women put in their hair to go up.” The man, said, Si Si Si, and pulled out a hair clip. Perfecto! I walked back into the square and who passes by, but Colomba, the kind woman from Bologna who helped me on the bus ride from Salerno a few days ago! We talked for an hour and she provided all sorts of advice, a bus schedule to return to Ravello (walking up the mountain was simply not an option on these shaking legs) and pointed me to the footpath to Amalfi. She also explained the town was preparing for a celebration for their Saint, Maria Magdellana, which is why the choir and the brass band were practicing.

The town of Amalfi was incredible though overrun with tourists.image I visited the church with its magnificent gold mosaics, had superb gnocchiimage with pesto and enjoyed window shopping but after an hour or so, I was ready to head back to Ravello, which was a 25 minute open air bus ride from Amalfi. It was one of those red tour buses that provided headphones to listen to the history of the area which I was happy to hear. Before leaving Amalfi on the tour bus, I watched a father teasing his daughter by grabbing her neck just like my brother, Owen, does. It’s this maneuver that tickles so badly it makes your knees buckle. I don’t know what language they were speaking as she screamed for him to stop, but I’ve always thought of it as something only Owen does.

I think these human similarities are striking me because I feel sort of like an alien here, or like a slightly different species than those around me. But then these very poignant commonalities appear, like Colomba describing her teenage son’s upcoming visit. She told me her 16 year old son was coming on the train from Bologna and she was afraid he would be bored and unpleasant. She said the last place he would want to be is hanging out with his mother, away from his friends in the city. I guess mothers of teenagers have things in common no matter how different our cultures may seem.

On the tour bus back to Ravello, I met a nice young woman, Diana, from Australia. We walked together and talked on our way to Villa Cimbrone, which is right next to my hotel where I was headed for a rest. We ended up stopping by the church of St. Francis of Assisi and enjoyed an interesting art exhibit in the church courtyard that I’d passed and missed several times. When it came time to part, I went to shake her hand but she gave me a big hug. So sweet!

That evening, I was sketching on the hotel balcony with a light early dinner (eating at 9 pm is leading to a late bedtime!) and a woman with the hotel approached and asked if I’d met an English family on my way up a couple of days ago. For a moment I was confused, wondering how she would be asking me this…then, I said yes! And she handed me a piece of paper saying it was a message for me. Remember the English family I mentioned a few posts back – the ones who so kindly helped me find my hotel and later invited me to dinner? As if those gestures weren’t already bursting with kindness, look at this!!!image

They took the time to find and email me! Between the view (which just about brings tears to my eyes) and this email, I was momentarily stunned and teary while rereading the message two or three times. She signed the email with the names of each family member and with her Facebook name, so now we can stay in touch. And I can direct them to my art blog, where, surprise, they’ve already had a starring role (see “Magical Ravello” post)! I know there are lunatics and hateful people in the world but thankfully there are also people like Colomba, Diana, and the Flude family whose kindness shines bright during this adventure. Salute!

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