Sunday, September 12, 2021

50 years ago ~ notes from Positano ~ September, 1971

Positano ~ 1971
It had been several weeks since I’d first landed in Italy. I’d seen Rome, I’d seen Florence, I’d visited my family and seen lots of Sicily. I needed to see some water, to swim in the sea, and to kick back before going home. Positano called.

I have no idea how or why. After I pulled the plug on going to Zermatt, I got to thinking about time and the economy of staying closer to Rome. My little Italy on $10 a day book recommended the Amalfi Coast, and my (then new) Michelin guide to Italy said this of Positano: “This fisherman’s village, today one of the most important resorts on the Amalfi Coast, lies in a delightful setting**. Positano is much frequented by foreigners, both in winter and in summer, and artists find an infinity of subjects there. The houses, white cubes scattered on the slopes among terraced gardens facing the sea, are of the Moorish type with flat roofs and balconies beneath arcades.” I caught the train from Florence to Rome to Naples and then took a bus to Positano. I was going to see for myself, and hopefully get in a little down time on the beach.

One of the great epiphanies I had on this trip was that of seeing Italians taking the month of August off to relax and rejuvenate. The beach was a charging station. I saw it in Mondello, in Sicily, with my family. They had a nice house there, where they broke away from the hustle and heat of Palermo. And to this day I wonder at the Italians ability to step off and let the world go about its craziness, while tanning, swimming, eating, playing cards, napping, making love, and all the things one does when one has all the time in the world. What the Yaqui shaman Don Juan Matus called “stopping the world.”

I wanted some of that.

Landing in Positano, I easily found lodging in one of those white cubes facing the sea. The ceiling was vaulted, and the play of light on it throughout the day, was mesmerizing. This would be a time for reflection. I didn’t need to see anymore of Italy, this wouldn’t be my only trip. I was going inside.

I took long hikes down to the beach, and when I got there, I jumped into the sea and swam, and then laid on the graveled beach until my toes tingled. I found a little trattoria where they had the freshest seafood and the crispest white wine I’d ever had. I was in the process of metamorphoses, with Bacchus guiding my journey. Little did I know where it would take me over the next 50 years. What did I know? I was 20, my brain hadn’t fully formed at that point. There was a war and a low draft lottery number waiting for me back home. I would grow these little wings that would bring me back to Italy when I needed to reanimate my soul.

That sleepy little fishing village, back then, wove its web around me, cocooned me, fed me, bathed me in its light and my wings began to sprout. Just little bumps at first. But a beginning.

Italy has been this multi-faceted orb in my life – part truth, part fable. I’ve fantasized on what it is, which it really isn’t, except for me. I’ve dealt with some harsh realities in Italy too, life and death ones. So, it hasn’t been a walk in the park. But what happened to me in that first trip, one month in Italy in 1971, changed the trajectory of my life in extraordinary ways.  Oh yes, wine had had a part in it, but by no means was it ever just about wine. I could give up wine today. I don’t think I’ll ever give up Italy.





Coda, and adieu to a member of the family...

This week Andrea Stellino passed away in Sicily at the age of 80. Andrea was the son-in-law of my Aunt Vittina (sister to my paternal grandfather and namesake, Alfonso), and when I stayed with Vittina and her husband in 1971, it was Andrea who drove us all over Sicily in the hot summer of 1971. We only met then and there, but I have fond memories of him and his wife Franca. Thank you all in Sicily and we in America wish you our deepest condolences and a heartfelt Bon Anima to Andrea.

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