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Back from Italy

by Rita Gatti

I'm writing this at 3AM because I am still jet lagged and can't sleep. It has gotten very long so you might want to print it and read at your leisure.

Hi. WOW!!! Italy is fabulous. Sorrento, Amalfi & Positano are anyway. Positano is magical. A lot like the feeling I get from being in Big Sur, but of course different. The Italian youth are gorgeous. Where we were they go more for the glam look with beautiful clothes and very nicely done makeup rather than the mean or dramatic ugly that you see so much here. The pace is luscious. Dinner is at 9 pm and social life in the piazza til 11pm in the soft warmth of the wind. The views are spectacular whether looking out the window of the hotel across the bay to Vesuvius or from the boat to Capri or driving along the Amalfi coast. Which is something I wouldn't recommend you do on your own. Take a bus or hire a driver! They drive instinctively only. Stop signs, lights, dividing lines, and crosswalks mean absolutely nothing. They are pure decoration only. The distances are calculated in curves, not miles. There is the curve of the broken glass. If you miscalculate, the overhang will smash your window. The curve of the white house with scrapes, etc. Then there is the traffic coming the opposite way. You must honk around every curve and be prepared to stop and jockey with the other drivers to maneuver past with millimeters between you. If you have a guide who can make all this seem humorous you can avoid a nervous breakdown. If not you will spend money you hadn't planned on spending, staying over somewhere an extra day or two to recover your courage to go on to the next town. We actually met a lovely couple from Philadelphia in Positano who were doing just that. They were nervous wrecks and vowed never to do it again.

We were in a four star hotel. Needless to say it was gorgeous with its tile and marble floors, comfortable and ornate furniture, sculpture all over, beautiful high ceiling dinning room overlooking the sea, gardens to walk in, a beautiful pool and lounging deck, nice bar with live music at night, a fully stocked bar in our room, impeccable service and terrific location. Television is a riot. You haven't lived until you see American movies dubbed into Italian, German and French.

The food in the region is not outstanding except in Positano, which was my favorite for everything. We rather quickly decided that dinner at the hotel was too time consuming, a little too formal and was at a time when we would rather be napping. So we got into a habit of napping til about 8:30pm and then getting up and walking to the Piazza Tasso which was about 1/2 mile and enjoying a light meal at what they call a bar and we would call a cafe. The local wine was quite good and one had it with nearly every meal. They also serve a local specialty, free after meals, called limoncello. It is a thick syrupy liqueur, bright yellow and 80%. Knocks your socks off. It tastes best if it has been frozen. Our first go at it was a shock! We met a lovely couple from Manchester, England at our usual dinner spot that were a lot of fun. We enjoyed her sense of humor so much we just had fits of laughter. We ran into them several times, exchanged addresses and hope to meet again when they come to California. One evening we sat with them and they kept ordering more and more limoncello. We had to sit for a while after they left before we felt steady enough to hobble off to the Internet cafe through the cobblestone streets. That became another aspect of our evening routine. It stayed open till 1am and was very inexpensive, $3.00 for 1/2 hour. So we were able to check our e-mail and send out bulletins to loved ones. It was very satisfying to be able to stay in touch.

We rather quickly tired of the guided museum type tours and created our own agenda, which took us most definitely back to Positano. While sitting, resting and having a drink we overheard two fellows talking about Nepenthe. They were struggling with the pronunciation, but who had been there several times and were comparing it to the place we were in. I helped them out with the name and we talked briefly. It was very hard not to have Kim and Nepenthe in mind most of the time. With Lolly having lived on Capri you could readily see how her vision of how things should be was greatly influenced by everything in the region. Positano is full of shops with the most beautiful clothes, fabrics, shoes, purses, bags and children's clothes; elegant, earthy, brilliant colors, wonderful textures; everything excellent. The food was lush with color and wonderful flavors and simple. The beach was full of artists, lovers, children, boats and fathers and sons fishing with a paste they made from kneading bread back into dough. The beach is black and composed of small smooth stones. It's not at all uncomfortable to walk on or lay on without a towel. Small world that it is, Steinbeck lived in Positano! There is a plaque on his house. We watched a funeral and a wedding. The local people dressed to kill. Children wore formal classic clothes; mostly gray which seemed a little odd as all the other clothing is very colorful, but very beautiful. Lace collars and black velvet trimmings. Carrying creamy soft pink roses and Jordan almonds all over the ground and olive branches mixed in with the roses. The bride & groom were lovely and against that setting it seemed a storybook wedding. There are no cars in Positano. It is straight up and down with narrow lanes to walk in only. The bus lets you off on the upper levels and you can only walk down. That adds much to its loveliness. The people in Italy almost all smoke. It is amazing to watch these people in every shape and form walk uphill. I'm talking steep and they are smoking as they go. The funeral was equally interesting. There was a hearse. It started on the upper level because the cemetery in Positano is high in the hills above the town. You can only see it as you drive on to Amalfi and look back. The graves are all stone grottos, like large doghouses and very decorated. The hearse inches its way up the winding road. We were in a mini bus behind it with the whole family and attendees walking behind. This is not a hurried process. They reach a point where they must then carry the casket up a narrow winding staircase of stone in the side of the hills to the cemetery. The children in Positano play on the rooftops. Later in the day you see them running on the small beach, the only flat land. It is a little world set apart from the rest, much like Nepenthe. Tourism is the main industry, but somehow you don't feel like it is. It is not separate from the real life that takes place there.

Capri is very different, not enchanting. Very much like a tourist trap. Things are very expensive. Positano is expensive also but you don't mind it there and it is not glaring at you like in Capri. I can't really see how to explain this. Perhaps there is some aspect of the nightlife there that is captivating or if you could know someone who lives there and could get away from the mainstream of things it might seem different.

Amalfi is very beautiful. An interesting nightclub, The Africana, with a see-through floor over the ocean for dancing and it looks as though there is nice sailing. We had a boring lunch at a seaside restaurant but there are nice shops and the scenery is magnificent. Sophia Loren has a villa near there, which we saw from a distance. She recently sold it and lives in LA I believe. Nuyrev's (sp? the ballet dancer who danced with Margot Fountane) island, one of three that lie off the coast called the Syrenes, as in Homer's Ulysses. That was interesting to see. He willed it to the French Ballet school that he was affiliated with. So now it belongs to the French. There is only one villa on it, and it's his. Imagine owning an island.

Returning to SF we met Ben and his girlfriend, Jamilya and her son Ismail, who are Russian and very lovely. We had a nice dinner in a better SF restaurant and stayed over one night to recover some from the flight. He looks great and seems very happy living in San Rafael.

It is nice to be back in the land of toilet seats, but the view stinks! Love Reets

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