According to the original blueprint of our Italian odyssey, we should be on our way home now. But we aren’t. When the stars aligned and good friends decided to visit the Amalfi coast, we decided to tack on three more days and share a few sunny days with them in Ravello, a magical little town high on a hill overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. Home can wait.
But I hear a clock ticking. Or maybe it’s the bell tolling from the campanile of the small lovely church that sits astride the town square. It has been a grand tour, a wondrous journey: Rome and Venice, then seven days exploring small hilltop villages in the Tuscan and Umbrian countryside, then on to Florence, and now here we are with good friends in Ravello. I’m well aware of our good fortune and, at the same time, I can’t pretend that travel today isn’t without its share of frustrations and missteps. Nevertheless, we’ve weathered our few squalls and sailed into some beautiful sunsets. Life is good.
Italy gives you time to think about the past. Etruscans, Romans, the separate kingdoms, the unified state. Everything coexists here, sometimes randomly but always harmoniously. Art, architecture, science, music all converge here. Italy was the candle that lit the Renaissance and ushered in the Age of Enlightenment. We’ve marveled at what was created here: the statues and fountains, the churches and palaces, brawling cities and charming villages. Here, in Ravello, perched high above the Amalfi coast, I can’t help but wonder how this all came to be: a village carved into a rocky cliff, stone upon stone, carried two-thousand feet into the sky by ox carts and donkeys. No computer aided design, no charettes, just wobbly wood scaffolding and block and tackle pulleys. Haphazard design: unplanned, organic, but both functional and lovely. They say the first vehicle to reach this village was an American Jeep that managed to climb up here in World War II. Now busloads of tourists by day, but stillness at night.
Italy demands you think about the present. During our time here, Italy held an election and another country has lurched to the right. Strangely, that process has been somewhat sotto voce but perhaps that’s because I can’t understand all that’s said under the roses. But still, I feel an uneasiness brought on by all that’s changing so fast. Immigration, a colossal national debt, climate change—real problems demanding tough choices and honest solutions in a country that fervently believes in pasta, wine, and la dolce far niente—the “sweetness of doing nothing.”
And, Italy makes me wonder about the future. Will there be a Venice in a hundred years? Will more monuments crumble to dust? Will more crowds of tourists overwhelm the Vatican, the Uffizi, or the Piazza San Marco? Will all this be here for our kids and grandkids? I hope so, but I wonder…
What was once our dream is now almost over. We count down the days. Our long flight home looms like a mountain over me. But I’m ready to sleep in my own bed and sit on my own porch, attempting to put these three weeks together like a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. But first things first or last days last. It’s beautiful here.
Ravello: the “city of music.” Richard Wagner composed “Parsifal” here. Also, a place at a remove, perfect for contemplation and fantasy. D.H. Lawrence was inspired to write “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” in this very hotel. “Lost to a world in which I grave no part, I sit alone and commune with my heart, pleased with my little corner of earth, glad that I came, not sorry to depart.”
Ciao! Turno subito.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.net.