Notes from Amalfi
The beauty of small Italian towns is legendary. Especially the ones on the coastline have inspired artists and writers, and is a favored destination for couples in love. One such ideal getaway is Amalfi Coast that has been tempting visitors since times immemorial. Summer is the perfect time to travel to Amalfi Coast, for it’s in the warmer months that the notes of lemon hang in the air and festivals enliven the hamlet. Every summer, the village-strewn cliff of Amalfi Coast, dotted with pastel-colored homes, become vibrant with festivity.
This summer I drove from Rome to Amalfi Coast, swerving around hundreds of hairpin bends (this part is called ‘road of 1,000 bends’) in a small car, and negotiating premium space on the road with fast motorbikes and chattering Vespas. The town appeared unannounced on one such bend, perched on a cliff’s edge jutting into the shimmering azure sea. Everyone seemed to head to Amalfi Coast in the summer, clogging the already narrow road leading to it.
As it’s a small hill town, parking space was a premium too. I somehow found a parking spot and headed to the town center via a long tunnel. I spent a day exploring the area around Amalfi Coast. That included taking a boat trip to the Grotto Caves. This is an underground cave that lets sunlight in, illuminating the insides of the cave and occasionally makes droplets of water, caused by the boatmans rowing, shine like emeralds. In another part of the cave, called the ‘blood grotto’, the water glows with red algae. Later, I wandered the narrow streets that morphed into steps at random corners, and eventually re-emerged into pretty piazzas. And, I devoured scoops of nocciola (hazelnut) gelato from not one but several cafes on the small cobbled square.
At dusk, I walked through the village to come to the promenade along the sea. Here, I found a café and sat staring at the sun melting into the ocean, with the color of the sky changing from shimmering silver-blue to burning red. One of the cafes on this promenade was a favorite of Hemingway. He came to Amalfi Coast after writing "The Old Man and the Sea", and sat for hours in one of the cafe-bars overlooking the azure sea. A group of locals had gathered on the adjacent table to exchange gossip. They seemed happily comfortable as they downed their neon-yellow limoncellos, and from their camaraderie it seemed to me that their evening rendezvous was a daily ritual. Their idle exchange made me wonder if we, the ones living in big cities, have lost the art of pointless small-talk.
Later, when I was back at the town piazza, an event for children was going on. School children danced to Italian and English songs, while the families cheered. It seemed that there were two parallel lives unfolding in Amalfi Coast. One of the rich, who came to Amalfi Coast in their super yachts or chauffeur-driven Mercedes, stayed in five-star hotels, and ate at Michelin starred restaurants. While in parallel, another more rural reality exists where middle-class local families carry on with their lives, consciously ignoring the display of vulgar wealth that surrounded them. The more I looked around, the more I found signs of simple living in this coastal town, for instance, farmers cultivating small plots of terraced lands, or fishermen making a modest living from the sea.
For years, seafaring communities, such as the one in Amalfi Coast, have preserved the centuries-old traditions. Eventually, the world discovered these towns. Despite the tourist influx, Amalfi Coast has kept its character, its warmth, and openness, that is quintessential Italian. That’s thanks largely to the locals, who have maintained a parallel community that continues to thrive despite all the distractions from the outside world. As I left Amalfi Coast, I wished it good luck and hoped to come to its charms once again and spend an even longer time walking its labyrinthine interiors.
A version of this story appeared in The Hindu