Amalfi/Atrani/Sentiero degli Dei/Positano/Ravello/Sorrento/Capri/Pompeii/Naples, Italy. [May 2019]
Swerve – Dodge – Pray. These were the constants over four days along the Amalfi Coast Drive, a serpentine marvel of human engineering along the jagged perimeter of an ancient paradise.
To survive on this road, you learn to Give and Take. When you catch a glimpse of the mammoth SITA buses coming in the opposite direction, Give way along the impossible-to-fit-two bends and wait with zen-like patience for the clumsy ogre to claw past before reengaging the gas pedal. When you ride up behind a fellow tourist snailing forward in a rental Fiat, you rev up your Jeep Renegade – unreasonably large for Amalfi but the only automatic left at SixT – and make the engine purr as you Take your right of passing on the wrong side of the road.
And much like the vessels and veins that connect them, the cities of Southern Italy are a creation of Gives and Takes.
There is Positano, so picturesque in postcards but a chaotic tourist ant farm up close, a lie carefully crafted by the tourist department and travel magazines to artificially remove the one thing that makes it irritable up close: people. After wandering aimlessly around for hours I Give up on finding the miracle vantage point so carefully curated by Travel & Leisure and Take comfort in my delicious Neapolitan pizza.
There is Capri, a chatoyant gem in the sapphire Tyrrhenian sea, split curiously between Anacapri, a slow-paced village with sleepy restaurants and museums and a dearth of intruding visitors, and Capri, the bustling downtown with bank-draining high-power brands and Parisian cafes. It Takes the locals’ hard work to Give the intruders their halcyon illusions of a dreamy Italian getaway.
There is Pompeii, a haunting expanse of royal rubble, grand yet sullen, majestic yet melancholy, its crown jewels ripped right out of its walls after their builders were laid to rest by Mt. Vesuvius. Some 25 kilometers away, a panoply of these treasures adorn the halls of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, giving us the only reason to venture into this unruly pandemonium. As the historians’ historian Charles A. Beard said, “the bee fertilizes the cradle it robs”.
And finally there is namesake Amalfi, once the maritime potentate of these waters, with only the impossible-to-hide grandeur of its Duomo standing as a penumbra of its glory past. Here we find tranquility: the bustle of the Drive fades when you are elevated four stories above it on a balcony at the Marina Riviera Hotel, straight out of a Bond movie (the part where they are not killing each other), the seafood pulled straight out of its crescent bay, the size of the town “Europe-optimal”: large enough to host a town square at the foot of the cathedral and explore and Take your breath away with new discovery around each corner, yet petite enough to Give it an unmistakable European soul.
So Give a little, Take a little – it’s imperfect, it’s compromise, it’s human – it’s life.
“History is but a fable agreed upon.” -Helvétius (but commonly misattributed to Napoleon)