“If you thought last week’s walk was spectacular, then just wait till you see what we’re going to do today!” announced Catello, back in Bar Aldo the following Sunday. “But drink up, or we’ll miss the bus.”
“Bus?” I asked, but Catello had gone. I paid up, wished Aldo a pleasant Sunday and followed Catello to the bus stop outside his office. Giovanna, who had skipped breakfast, was there waiting for us.
“What’s the plan, then?” I asked Catello.
“The plan, … ,” Catello paused for theatrical effect, “is this: we take the 8:50 bus up to Santa Maria del Castello. We walk down into Positano, stop for something to drink at the Bar Internazionale, and then spend the rest of the morning in Positano. If the weather’s good, we can go down to the beach, have some lunch and then take the boat back round to Sorrento. How does that sound?”
“I can think of worse ways to spend my Sundays,” I grinned.
The bus arrived and we jumped on and scrambled to get a seat before anybody else could reach them. After all, we had a long walk ahead of us. All the other passengers – fat old widows, village idiots and spoilt, flabby kids in designer clothes, had the rest of the day to spend idling around on their backsides. Let them stand! The bus snaked up the mountain road through tiny villages which, just like so much else in this part of Campania, I had had no idea were there. These were the real Italy, alright, just like the villages in Massa Lubrense had been. A tourist who inadvertently wandered into one of these places would almost certainly draw a crowd of curious gawpers. Up and up the bus went, up into the clouds. It was as if we had travelled back into late autumn, with mists and chimney smoke, brightly-coloured leaves and chestnut husks lying around everywhere you looked.
“This is it!” shouted Catello, and we got off the bus by the hulk of a huge white church. Mass was in progress and we could hear the priest’s voice, amplified via a P.A., ringing out in a bored monotone over the hills and valleys, the congregation droning back at him.
“The Lord be with you.”
“And also with you.”
“Porca miseria! How would you rather be spending your Sunday? Doing what we’re doing or stuck with those poor saps in there?” scoffed Catello, thrusting his thumb contemptuously towards the bleak outline of the church that loomed in front of us. I gave no reply. As it happened, I had recently got into the habit of attending the evening Mass in Vico Equense, taken by the fiery Don Flavio, a riveting and often controversial speaker who had his congregation on the edge of their pews. The first time I had passed the church, the service had been just beginning and curiosity simply got the better of me. Since then, I had found myself drawn back, Sunday after Sunday and I saw no reason why I couldn’t spend my day of rest partly with the likes of Catello, enjoying God’s creation, and the rest of it with the likes of Don Flavio, thanking Him for having created it.
Catello led the way and we followed him along a footpath which descended in a long, lazy spiral down the side of the mountain. As we came out of the cloud, Positano lay below us, its wooden-shuttered houses, bell towers and arabesque churches with majolica domes, clinging to the rock face at such a severe angle that I almost expected to see the entire town slide into the sea at any moment to the accompaniment of an imaginary trombone legato. From up here, you could appreciate Positano’s splendid gardens, some of them on rooftops, complete with swimming pools. It struck me that, as we had scaled the north-facing side of the mountain, the vegetation could almost have been Northern European. Most of the trees and plants would not have looked out of place in Austria or Bavaria. But the view from here was pure south, with exotic palms and other Mediterranean flora. Positano was founded by refugees from Paestum who had escaped when their city was destroyed by the Saracens in the 10th century, and it quickly became an important maritime republic to the extent that it even began to scare Amalfi. Much as I loved Vico Equense, I could see why the settlers had set up camp on this side of the peninsula, rather than the other. Judging by what was growing here, the climate on this side was considerably milder.
An hour and a quarter later, we were in Positano itself. If I had previously described Naples as the city of a thousand colours, then I took it all back now. Positano was truly kaleidoscopic. Colourful, straw-thatched carts were set up by the side of the road, selling lemons, red chilli peppers and strings of garlic, the yellows, reds and whites in stark contrast to the fathomless blues and perfect greens of the sea behind them. Down on the pebble beach, we spotted rowing boats in bright two-tones – red and yellow, blue and white, and parasols in orange-purple or orange-green. Everything had been painted to clash with everything else, and it worked splendidly.
We went down to the beach and sat on the pebbles, which we picked up in great handfuls and let slide through our fingers. Particularly flat ones were fished out and set aside for skimming competitions, once we had recovered our energies from the walk. I lay back on the beach and dozed off. Catello’s voice woke me some time later.
“Right. Who’s for a spot of lunch?” We didn’t need asking twice, but leapt to our feet and brushed ourselves down.
“That’s the place to eat in Positano,” said Catello, pointing to a beachside restaurant festooned with brilliant orange canopies and with orange parasols dotted around an ample terrace. It should have been irredeemably vulgar but, somehow, it was just right. The restaurant was called “La Cambusa”. Fellini used to dine here,” Catello said proudly, clearly expecting us to be suitably impressed.
“Let me order,” he said, once we had sat down. “There really is only one thing to eat here.”
Catello whispered something to the waiter, who smiled and disappeared. White wine was brought, along with what looked like oversized nutcrackers.
“Nuts?” I asked Catello, puzzled.
“Just wait and see,” he replied. Minutes later, back came the waiter with enormous plates of linguine, tousled in olive oil, cherry tomatoes and, on top of each and every plate, half a bright red lobster. It was almost as good to look at as it was to eat, and I am not kidding when I tell you that I dreamed of that dish every evening for the next four days. Pot-bellied and contented, we spent the afternoon back on the beach, just sitting and listening to the waves’ gentle lapping, and strolling around Positano’s elegant streets, perusing the type of exotic clothes that have made Italians the undisputed masters of smart-casual, but which look nothing short of ludicrous when sported by the sort of pretentious prat who attempts Mediterranean sophistication in his two-up two-down with its heart-shaped Jacuzzi, somewhere in Redcar.
“Are all the walks this beautiful?” I asked Catello.
“Some are even more beautiful,” he replied. “See those villages over there? They’re called Monte Pertuso and Nocelle. There are some super walks that take those in. And you get the full effect of Positano from a distance. Even more spectacular than close up, if you ask me. And don’t forget Amalfi and Ravello.” From now on, I knew I would live only for Sundays.
“Well,” said Catello. The Amalfi ferry sails past in just a few minutes. It doesn’t actually stop in Positano. It stops out there.” He pointed to the horizon. “We have to take a fishing boat out.” He had it all planned. As we and the other tourists were rowed out to meet the ferry, leaving Positano bathed in a glorious sunset behind us, I regretted the fact that it would be too late for evening Mass by the time we got back to Vico Equense. I felt that God deserved a particularly big thank you for today.