Monday, October 8, 2007

Travels with Cadfael: The Amalfi Coast

“I’m near Salerno—do you want to visit?”

It was a variation on a theme from the last several years. Usually Cadfael said, ”I’ll meet you anywhere in the world.” But this time the destination was predetermined, as though we were Calvinists: the Amalfi Coast.

Cad picked me up at the Naples airport, and we drove the highway to Salerno, then down to the extraordinary coast road back to the actual town of Amalfi. It’s an alpha driver’s highway, where you must hug the ancient hewn, towering granite on the hairpins, as the buses come barreling straight on, all against the startling blue sky and sea.

It felt like we drove forever, looking for the Hotel Luna Convento. Finally we came to its distinct tower that sits on the rock that juts out into the water, seen in many photographs of the area. Built around a convent founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1222, it was a perfect hotel—-white stucco, gorgeous tiled floors, stunning views of the water.

Cad was staying near Salerno, where he was subbing for a priest in a small town. I don’t do well with jet lag, so I took the first day to relax by the pool. In the morning I walked to the dock in town and took the ferry over to Salerno. It’s one of the all-time most beautiful ferry rides there is, as you pull away from the town and can see life miraculously built into the sides of those sheer rocks.

It was charming to see Cad on the other dock, waiting for me. Usually it’s him coming to get me in our travels, and this was a twist in the ritual. Some of the joy of travel with a partner is ritual—his driving, my navigating, reading from literature at times, just being quiet at times. “No, no, they can’t take that away from me . . . “

We visited La Trinite della Cava, a Benedictine monastery founded in 1025. As usual, our private tour took us behind the scenes, and in this case, into the ground. The monastery is enormous, and they were excavating centuries of levels and rooms below it as part of a joint government archaeological project. It was part creepy, part astonishing to descend into the ancient past—-all that physical work to build and create, seeing traces of all those people gone and forgotten, but for the witness of the current people populating the planet, like us,

That night we went to a dream-like restaurant, high in the mountain above the monastery. It was part of a winery, and the tables were outside, under an arbor covered with grape vines. As is often the case in our travels, we were the only nonItalians in the place. The food was light, simple and deeply savory, the wines full and rich, and while this was vacation mode for me, I marveled again, as centuries of people have before me, at the distinct beauty of Italian life. Our senses, so fully engaged, was a powerful contrast to the dust of the day's visit.

I don't know if our lives will leave any discernible mark to be witnessed by the current people 1,000 years from now, but the idea of witness to lives led took on more meaning when we went to Pompeii the next day.


Jeremy said...

How well you capture the sense of the place, and of travel with a partner.

M.A.Peel said...

Welcome Jeremy. What a nice thing to say--thank you.