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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