It doesn’t get much better than your first sip of strong Italian coffee on a patio awash in the morning sun overlooking Positano. I wondered if anywhere could look and smell more like heaven than the Amalfi coast? The villas fell away below me, in a harmonious symphony of balconies and terraces, down to the dull golden cupola of the cathedral. The lemon grove was fragrant and the morning light slid across the moss-encrusted stones on the terrace. Each vista and even the shape of each iron chair was a work of art.
This would be paradise … but for these Americans.
It was a paradoxical thought that immediately marked me out as an ingrate. They had paid for this trip. Had it not been for the Americans I would be back at home staring at the bare ribs of a gas holder. But now I was here, I longed for solitude. Or different company. Or a bit of both.
The night before we had driven up to Ravello, perched high on the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast. I was driving around the hairpin bends when I heard a series of high and pained signs.
“Ooo, ooo, ooo.”
I almost crashed the rental car. Was the MIL having a seizure?
“Gorgee, gorgee, gorgee.”
It was the MIL’s reaction to the sight of the moon over the water. I was relieved we didn’t have to get an ambulance up these roads.
Another day we were at cookery school. The terrace of the trattoria was high above the cliffs. Positano was a splash of the watercolorist’s brush below, inked against the sea. We made ravioli badly by hand and drank too much. I fell to musing on the nature of happiness. Was it possible to be truly happy? How could we feel such unease in Paradise? B became over friendly to the instructor. We laughed and drank some more Chianti. This inability to assimilate, to blend in with the cliffs that ran away like breakers is not just an American thing. As humans, we are always dissatisfied with our lot. We want what we don’t have. Even here in this postcard-perfect place, we feel ill at ease. Only later will we look back longingly to the terraces of Positano.
Today we are on the coast road. The sea below us is sparking but cruel. It is like the MIL. It would buoy the swimmer to the surface, bathe him in sunshine and drag his spine onto the backbreaking rocks.
MIL is across the road. They are visiting a tile shop to plunder the goods for the yard back home. They want to create a little slab of paradise. The MIL is wearing her hair scraped back in the Italian style. She’s thinking Sophia Loren. I’m thinking Marlon Brando from The Godfather.
They never bought that slab of paradise or shipped the tiles. Still, I like tiles. They are calming. One of my favorite museums is the Museu Nacional do Azulejo in Lisbon, often known as the Museum of Tiles.
Their garden near the sound in North Carolina became a small oasis in its own way. There was a trickling fountain and a bird bath. It was a refuge from the angst and uneasiness their company brought. They are long gone from that place. My last memory of the MIL was white and lifeless and as detached as the statutes that stare out at the sea from the cliffs of Ravello, Positano and Amalfi.
It’s true I felt some sadness but much of it was for what might have been. Why when our lives are so finite do we waste them in petty power struggles? Our stone is too brittle and time cracks our fine features. Why do we parcel out love in such small measures and take back what we give? We pass though Positano too fast and it remains for the rest of our lives a vision of loveliness in the rearview mirror.