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Stories from the Road

Dreams on the Amalfi Coast, Part One: The Kindness of Strangers

 

I stare forlornly at my cappuccino as you frown at the mute gray sky from a window lightly splattered with raindrops. Last night, the wind rattled the worn wooden shutters of the B&B as we hid under the covers hoping to wake up to sunshine.

That didn’t happen, and as you sip your espresso and I butter my toast, I can’t help but feel extremely scocciata. Annoyed. As the promise of a sun-drenched breakfast on the panoramic terrace fades, I grab my camera, and we head out on our mini hike down to the center of Positano.

If I played a word association game, the first one out of my mouth after hearing “Amalfi Coast” would be “steps”. Hundreds and hundreds of stone steps, older than you and me, carved into mountains during a time when laborers used only their hands.

As we make our descent, the sky transforms into a glowing white, the sun burning brightly behind the clouds, tired of hiding. Come out, come out wherever you are.

 

 

Yesterday morning, we were climbing more steps in Minori, a 40-minute bus ride from Positano. Unlike today, we were going up instead of down, and when you’re up, the air is so much cleaner, away from the collective smog. We followed the Sentiero dei Limoni, the Path of the Lemons, which curves around the breathtaking, coastal landscapes that connect the village of Minori to the village of Maiori.  If you’re lucky, and it’s late Spring or Summer, you’ll find yourself drowning in the vertical lemon groves, sweetly fragrant and impossibly yellow. The amount of lemons is jaw-dropping. Currently early in the season, most of the lemons are covered under a dark-colored netting.

 

 

State guardando i limoni? “Are you looking at the lemons?” asked a voice up ahead. An old gentlemen had stopped a few feet down the path and was looking back at us. He’s going to accuse us of stealing lemons, or of doing something suspicious. My body tensed up as if reliving the sporadic bouts of hostility and general coldness I’ve faced as a foreigner in Italy.

He set his grocery bags down and walked toward us.

“We uncover the lemons at the end of this month,” he began to explain, “We cover them in the winter, mainly to protect them from the wind, frost, and rain.”

We looked at each other relieved, and nodded  our heads as he proceeded to explain the peculiarities of lemon cultivation and how the mountains and the sea create the perfect microclimate for the citrus beauties to thrive.

He took time to answer our questions, and soon I felt as though we were talking to a dear old friend we’d known for years instead of a perfect stranger. We learned that many of these lemon groves were abandoned. Over the years, the owners and their families found it increasingly difficult to sustain the land and the lemons, and a lot of them had moved away.

“See that white house up there?” he pointed up the mountain. “That’s where I live. You’re welcome to pass by and I’ll give you a tour of my lemon garden. Unfortunately I’m on my way to a friend’s house at the moment, but if you come by tomorrow morning, I’m at your complete disposition.”

He gave us a little wave and headed off down the path, his salt and pepper hair dancing in the wind.

People can surprise you.

Back in Positano, we’ve made it down to the beach, and as you sit and watch the waves, I start hunting for those green glassy pebbles that used to be abundant in this area, but are now almost non-existent.  After sulking about the weather for a good 15 minutes, I start snapping half-hearted shots of the famous multi-colored buildings, stacked one on top of the other like legos, and then it happens. The clouds part.

The scene transformed almost instantly from this:

 

 

To this:

 

 

And this:

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, the world can surprise you.

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