Food Glorious Food Glorious Fooooood!

I’ve embraced food-love.

Not just the flavors and nutritional value for my body, but the beauty, the colors and textures, the rugged heartiness or delicate elegance of the visuals (and victuals) on my plate.

I still prefer simplicity. One dish well-prepared delights me far more than a variety. I don’t know why that is – maybe I’m too easily stimulated by flavors. Maybe my palette gets confused and goes into overwhelm.

Whatever the reason, I’m much happier going deep into the complexities of a single entrée than sampling many. A table groaning with selections thrills some. Maybe they’re the true foodies. But for me, in quantities of food and friends, less is more.

Speaking of friends, small-talk, the inane chatter between people who don’t know each other well and may not care to, is painful for me. It’s like those all-you-can-eat buffets where you leave grossly stuffed but haven’t really tasted anything. I’ve taken new acquaintances aback when, after a few minutes of chit-chat I say, “So…tell me about your childhood.” The ones who reply, You first, are friends for life.

Food and friends. The two go hand-in-glove, don’t they? I hadn’t intended to write about friends – they just slipped in. But it makes sense. Sharing the daily repast is probably part of our DNA from the beginning. I don’t think Eve ate Adam’s rib. But she did offer him an apple – which didn’t end well. Hmm. Bad analogy. However, I think historically speaking, breaking bread together has been a peaceful endeavor, not an act of war.

But about the photos…

That’s lentil stew ladled atop the brick-hard bread I’ve raved about. I paired it with Sartori Pinot Grigio. A red wine would have been too heavy. Even though the slices of spicy salami I boiled first, created an intensely flavorful stock, and the chunk of bread added heft, the white complemented beautifully without overpowering.

In spite of the stunning meals I’ve had here, I was missing my Bali breakfast of homemade granola and coconut yogurt, topped with tropical fruit. On my next trip to Tutto per Tutti market I scanned the cereals on offer and came home with Kelloggs All Bran, a container of Yomo plain yogurt, bananas and strawberries – not quite dragon fruit and papaya but adequate.

The first day I ate it with yogurt. The following day I ate it without. It was either surprisingly good or I’ve completely forgotten the taste of my other life.

My latest achievement is a stew identical to the first, but this time I added kale and more garlic. Not only that, there are still plenty of bread boulders to submerge in the broth for exciting crunchy mouthfuls. That bread! I wish I could bring a year’s supply back with me – although it wouldn’t be the same in Bali’s climate. A bit heavy perhaps…?

I’m loving this – the prep and eating of food. I wouldn’t want to devote my life to it, but it’s fun for an hour or so during the day.

And in case you’ve forgotten, here are the lyrics to the last stanza of Food Glorious Food from the musical, Oliver:

What wouldn’t we give for
That extra bit more
That’s all we live for
Why should we be fated to do
Nothing but brood on food
Magical food,
Wonderful food
marvelous food,
Beautiful food,
Food, Glorious food glorious fooooooood

Stairway to…I guarantee it wasn’t heaven!

I love my sister. We email several times a week. We agree on important things and agree to disagree on everything else. But she owes me now. Bigtime.

Several days ago she wrote complaining that I’d mentioned a beach. She said she’d seen photos of sheer cliffs disappearing into the sea and although the images were beautiful, by her definition that did not qualify as beach.

So, Sherry…is there a beach?

Remember this sign? Alla spiaggia means exactly what the translation immediately below says it means: To the beach. But the day I took this path I was on my way to the church of Saint January. I diverged to the massive square in front of the church and did not continue on.

So Sherry, is there a beach?

According to the sign, yes. Had I seen one in all my meanderings? No. In Paulo Sandulli’s tower studio he had painted people sunbathing on what looked suspiciously like…a beach. Tourists flock here in the summertime to go to…the beach. The map has a location in Praiano called…Lido One Fire Beach. So…

Today for you, sister, I’ll follow those signs. According to the map, Via Rezzola will take me there.

Its entrance was easy to find.

After the little landing at the top it was steps.

At the bottom of this flight, the path turned and there was another flight.

Then it leveled off for a leisurely stroll.

I imagined my trek down to the beach would be like this lovely trail, gently sloping, lined with interesting gates, gardens, flora and fauna.

And it was…for a while.

All good things must end, and so did my walk-in-the-park so to speak. The path turned to steps. Downward.

And down…

and down…

It was a nightmare of steps. Any minute now, I thought…around the next corner…surely I’ll catch a glimpse of…anything but steps.

But that was not to be. Each bend brought another steep descent.

And then there were step switchbacks.

I hadn’t seen a soul. I have to admit it was a bit creepy and I felt extremely alone. No sound of voices, no footsteps, no animals…a twilight zone.

Just endless steps taking me where?

The to the beach signs had disappeared long ago, but there were no other trails, no other options, only this steady march downward.

Buildings – deserted. And more steps.

Where am I?

Sherry, is there a beach?

When I rounded a corner and saw an inlet below me with a flat surface I almost cried. THE BEACH! Then I took a closer look. At the bottom of this cove was a massive, man-made concrete shelf. Holy moly! Was this the beach???

Couldn’t be. The real one must be on the other side of that rock wall with the industrial looking equipment on top. I proceeded around the rim of the inlet to the other side and walked through the assortment of old boats, steel drums and mysterious odds and ends looking for a way through. But there was nothing else. Dead end.

Nicola had warned me not to go on the beach when the seas were high. Giant waves crashed over the surface. I decided this was definitely one of those days.

I watched for a while, dumbstruck. What a forlorn place.

Sherry, is there a beach?

Well, dear sister, not exactly but sort of. Well, no. Not really. Heck no! Not at all!

Suddenly I wanted distance between me and this desolation. I’d seen a road on the map. Now to find it. There was no way I was going to walk those fifty million steps back to the street.

I hadn’t seen another way out on my way down, but it must be here somewhere…

There was no road. Or if there was, you couldn’t get there from here. I did indeed have to walk back up all those steps.

It was 55°F (12.7°C) and there was a ten mph (16 kph) wind out of the north but I was sweating buckets by the time I reached the street. I thought about you, sister – thought about what I’d been willing to do to satisfy your inquiring mind. Thought how it would have been so much more fun if you’d been with me.

I let my mind wander. If she was with me, what would we do next?

Across the street was a little cafe with drool-worthy scents emanating from its open door. I peeked in and knew immediately what we’d do.

Zeppole di San Guiseppe aka creampuffs.

When I got home I Googled beaches in Praiano and what do you know? Yes, that dreadful Lido One Fire is one of them, but there’s another. I’d passed it on my ‘cute shoes walk’ the other day and took this photo. I didn’t know it was a beach. This is the one Sandulli painted from his tower. You can just barely see it up in the far left corner.

You’d be happy. I can tell from the photos on the internet…there’s real sand.

I’m in Italy — So is COVID-19 — Am I afraid?

Shall we ignore the elephant in the room?

I think not.

The coronavirus in Italy had a 25% surge in the past 24 hours. The Local it (Italy’s news in English) reports there are now 520 confirmed cases and the infestation has spread to the south with the area of Puglia reporting one and Sicily with three.

According to Sergio Matalucci out of Milan, eleven towns have been quarantined. Schools, universities, cinemas, clubs, and museums are closed. Events have been cancelled. Supermarket shelves stand empty as people panic-buy groceries, unsure of what’s ahead.

He goes on to write that grocery owners say they don’t lack stock in their warehouses. They just need to get it to the stores more quickly – a timing issue, not a supply issue. That’s good news.

It was slim pickings in my fridge. I climbed to Tutto per Tutti market this morning and found that even here in sleepy Praiano, in an area in the south of Italy as yet unaffected, shelves had empty spaces that hadn’t been there on prior visits.

Nicola, my host, told me people who had booked his rental properties for March have cancelled. He’s concerned for himself and his town. The economy of Praiano hinges extensively on tourism. Economic consequences are being experienced worldwide. Some types of businesses will profit. Many more will not.

So what’s actually happening? How much of the reporting can be trusted?

We’ve been bombarded for several years now by cries of ‘fake news’ from the very top of the power pyramid in the United States. Media giants have the ability to sway the thoughts and actions of the entire world population by choosing what to allow on their channels or what to suppress. I highly doubt, highly highly doubt if they even know if their sources are valid.

As I read article after article, these are the thoughts uppermost in my mind. Frankly, I don’t think we have any idea what’s really happening. We have limitless quantities of information at our fingertips. We can click ourselves down rabbit-holes and wind up light-years from where we began. But we have absolutely no way of knowing truth from lies.

Yet I’m addicted to that stream of information. Some part of me still trusts, or desperately wants to.

So I’ll keep reading the news. I’ll take precautions. According to the WHO more than 80 percent of patients infected with the virus have a mild reaction to the disease and recover. I’m here in Praiano until March 6th. Nobody can predict what will happen in the coming eight days but if planes are still flying, and I’m still healthy, I’ll leave Italy from Naples on that day and head back home to Bali.

Meanwhile, I’m grateful that the sun still rises. The sea is still blue. And this town of ancient stairways and kindness is mine to explore.

How to Make Panzanella and Drink Lemon Meringue Pie

I haven’t mustered the courage to ask if I can photograph either of the brothers who run Centro Market. The surliest one was there when I stopped by, complete with stocking cap, muffler, and a week or two of stubble.

I wasted no time. “Pane duro?” I asked. He cocked his head toward me and frowned. I tried again. “Pane biscottatoduro?”

His face lit up and he grabbed two bags from the shelf behind him. Then lo and behold – he spoke English!

“This,” he said, pointing to one of the bags. “This you cannot bite.” He made chomping motions with his mouth shaking his head in an emphatic no. He pushed the other bag toward me. “This one is soft.”

“Grazie,” I said. “I want the hard one.”

He looked dubious. “First put in water for one minute. Then you can eat,” he said. I nodded. I’d already learned that trick at the winery after trying to bite into one of those rocks.

I looked up what the words meant in the circle at the top:
Old and modernized bakery from 1890
LOVE IT!

I checked ‘hard bread’ off my list. “Do you have coffee?”

I was ushered to the other side of the long counter and he explained which ones required a machine and which ones just need hot water.

Coffee, done. “And limoncello?”

He pointed. There were twelve varieties of that liqueur in his tiny market. I browsed waiting for a sign to determine which to choose. One toward the far end caught my eye. “What’s this?” I pointed.

He came to my side and picked up the bottle. “Yes, this with crema. Crema and limone mix.”

I love Baileys Irish Cream. I’ve never had a liqueur with cream other than that. Cream with lemon would either be divine or disgusting.

“Ok. That one, per favore.” I’m really trying hard to use my eight words of Italian whenever I can.

I was excited walking home with the large bag of rock-solid bread hitting my back as I bumped down the steps. In my mind I imagined the process: chop the tomatoes, slice the onion, fill the colorful ceramic bowl with water and soak my pane duro to just the right consistency. Saliva filled my mouth.

Once home, groceries unpacked, I Googled ‘Italian winter salad tomato and hard bread’ and up popped images for Panzanella. So that was the name of the concoction that had thrilled me. Panzanella.

I read through several recipes and found the simplest one. A lengthy description warned me that after assembling Panzanella, it needs to rest up to four hours at room temperate for the bread to absorb the juices and flavors to mingle.

If I started now it would be ready for an early dinner.

Embracing my new love for all things food, I began.

First, tomatoes and onion. Normally I’m not a raw onion fan. But I have to say, in this mix the onion is perfect. Even if you don’t like raw onion, try it just once to make sure you don’t miss something quite magical.

Aren’t they gorgeous? These chunks could be used as cannon balls they’re that hard.

Here we go. While the pane duro soaked I mixed an olive oil, white wine, salt, and pepper dressing then added it to the tomato-onion mixture.

I checked the bread. It had maintained its shape and appeared ready. I took it out of the water and broke it into large pieces.

Then cut it into smaller chunks.

Regular bread would have been a gooey mess, but not this robust loaf. I added the bite-sized pieces to the waiting salad and gently mixed.

Oh, you’re beautiful! Your aromas – heavenly! And now? I have to wait…??

Patiently…?

In the meantime maybe I could test the Crema di Limone…what a good idea!

Whoa! Liquid lemon meringue pie! No, I’m serious. That’s exactly what it tastes like: creamy-tart yet sweet. And 20% alcohol by volume? Whoops! This needs to wait. It’ll be dessert. What else shall I do to distract myself?

I could write a blog post…

Which I did. And now my friends, Panzanella is ready! On a whim I added the last ball of buffalo mozzarella and here it is, the finished product.

Mmmmmm – oh yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about. Now if you’ll excuse me…it’s dinner time!

Che Bontà Pizzaria – and Claudio – Very Tasty Indeed

Today’s the day!

Che Bontà for pizza.

Overcast skies obscured the hoped-for pinks and corals this morning. An hour after sunrise light shone through a few cloud-holes casting dazzling pools on the sea.

I pulled on my ‘outside’ clothes – I have wooly leggings and a sweater for inside and black jeans with a couple of layers under my sweater for outside. Plus a jacket and scarf. I could have left the rest at home – so far. You never know when Cinderella might get an invitation to the ball!

There’s a marked difference in Via Roma during the week – no traffic. On my long Sunday walk, motorcycles, buses, and cars whizzed past. Today they’re all back at work and I have the luxury of the open road virtually to myself.

I stopped to admire several houses I’ve passed before but never really looked at.

This sweet casa has a real driveway winding down to it. A luxury.

This one has steps up from the street but note the tuck-under garage. Maybe there’s an elevator inside – or maybe not.

This might be old. If so, it’s been renovated and beautifully maintained.

And just look at this driveway! It feels fairytale-ish. Like any moment I will see Goldilocks, or Hansel and Gretel skipping along holding hands.

Like the road, Che Bontà was all mine. I thought I wanted pizza. Then I remembered Blackbeach, my favorite Italian restaurant in Ubud. They make melt-in-your-mouth panini. It’s all I ever order there. I had to know if the real thing, made in Italy, would measure up.

While I waited for my order, I chatted with Claudio who, bless his handsome heart, speaks English.

“Claudio, I want to buy the hard bread. The really hard bread. What is the name?”

“Yes, you must ask for pane biscottato.” I repeated the words, perhaps not very well since he added, “Or you can just say pane duro, that means hard bread.” I added it to my shopping list that consisted of coffee and limoncello – staples.

After not much time at all, out came panini and Claudio! What’s not to love? As he set the fragrant plate in front of me I asked him, “Che Bontà, Claudio…what does the name mean?”

The smile grew bigger, “It means, how tasty,” he said.

You have no idea how badly I wanted to comment on that. But I bit my tongue and smiled back. “Grazie,” I said.

Crispy-fried focaccia, melty mozzarella, mushrooms, tomatoes, the flavors melded in my mouth and went straight to my heart. How tasty indeed. I weighed the evidence, did Blackbeach or Che Bontà have the better panini sandwich? I think it’s a tie. I’m going to have to go back for another round.

I could only eat half. The rest is in the fridge for later tonight when the nibble bug bites.

The bill was eleven euros. Claudio showed it to me and said, “But for you, ten.”

“It says eleven,” I replied, confused.

“Yes, but for you, signora, ten.”

How tasty!

Need I mention, Claudio got a handsome tip? Then I was off to Centro Market to try out my new Italian words.

La Scaletta – A Personal Tour of My Praiano Hideaway

I made coffee.

Watched the sunrise…

…and took a lovely, leisurely day at home.

Speaking of which – would you like to see the inside of my Praiano life – where I get to be when I ‘stay home’?

One of the dear people who reads my articles commented early on how it was fun to see inside the house. In the Domestic Goddess post there were snippets of appliances and a drying rack set up in my bedroom. I can do better than that.

Welcome to La Scaletta – come along…

First of all, a disclaimer. The decor does not reflect my aesthetic. Felicia, whom I love, who gave me the cooking class and put me in a food coma, owns this home. It has her flavor everywhere which makes it even more special to me.

No need to take you up the 112 steps to the front door – we’ve been there done that. Nicola hauled my suitcase all the way up and unlocked the door when I first arrived, February 3, 2020. It seems like yesterday.

I feel like my house is high above the water, and it is. But it’s only about 1/10 of the way up the mountain. There are dozens and dozens of houses higher than this. The lovely home just above me has an orchard of lemon trees. I’m a bit enamored of the cliff-dwelling life!

I’ll begin the tour with the journaling corner I’ve set up in the master bedroom. I sit with the blanket over my legs, sipping coffee and jumping up every other minute to open the French doors and shoot the sunrise. I may be here for an hour, maybe two every morning depending upon what comes up as I write. Everything I need is here, the pens, the tablet, the woven hotpad for the coffee cup, earbuds in case a daughter calls…and the view.

Here’s the rest of the master bedroom.The handstitched quilt with tiny pink rosebuds? Purple roses on the sheets repeated in the pillow cases? It’s like a hug from grandma. I pull the covers up to my chin and sleep like a princess.

There’s a tiny second bedroom with twin beds, a chest of drawers, and a closet. It’s excess space. I leave the door closed.

The bathroom is efficient laid out with a toilet, bidet, sink, and shower. I don’t understand the bidet. Someone please explain that useless piece of porcelain. I’ve purposely left it out of the photos. It’s beside the commode.

Master bedroom, spare bedroom, and bath are off this gracefully arched hallway. All the doors are solid wood.

The open plan living room, kitchen, and dining area utilize the space economically and the French doors that open onto the terrace and the sea make the room feel limitless.

The lace doily? Tchotchke on the shelves? Pink damask draperies? Ladderback chairs? Ummm…no. But here in Praiano, in this house? Yes.

I’m curious. Does IKEA sell complete sets of art, plus matching sofa slipcover, plus pillows that perfectly, I mean PERFECTLY pick up every color in the art? I noticed the cookware is from IKEA – that made me slightly suspicious. It’s just too, too, too…coordinated! I do love the red sofa though.

Glassware, glass shelving, tiny figurines like the ones my mother collected that I had to dust individually every Saturday…uh-huh. Not me.

But oh! The terrace! The coup de coeur. It stretches across the entire front of the house and it couldn’t have a more splendid view. I watch ships and sailboats. I can monitor the traffic on the Via Roma. (There is none.) I can see Sandulli’s tower and Angela’s shop. And did I mention the sunrise?

One end of the terrace has two loungers like this. A majolica dining table with lemons and oranges – what could be more Italian – and wrought iron chairs anchors the other end.

I give myself credit for getting up and out of this cozy place to explore. I could be very very comfortable with my books, my writing papers, the sun on the terrace, the view…

And the wine. Here’s the one I picked up yesterday. A crisp pinot grigio that I’ll be pairing with caprese salad and farmer’s bread in about two seconds.

I hope you enjoyed the tour. I’ll tell you about farmer’s bread another day!

Hiking the Amalfi Coast in Cute Shoes

Today I unlocked the blue gate and headed west on Via Roma, past Angela’s shop and Sandulli’s tower. Past Via Miglina – the farthest point I’ve been on foot in this direction – and kept going.

When Nicola took me to the winery I’d cranked my neck back and forth ooooing and ahhhhing as one magnificent scene after another sped by too fast.

So I set out today with no other purpose than to photograph this stretch of the coast for as far as I could walk and still walk back.

The road hugs the cliffs. I never lost sight of the sea…except in the tunnels…

There isn’t much of a margin for error. I hugged the side and flattened myself against the wall if two cars tried to pass next to me.

I’d just cleared one tunnel and could see the next across a ‘sunken’ village. It isn’t really sunken – just another fisherman’s inlet.

I marvel at the engineering of these soaring bridges.

Can you see them – Roman soldiers crossing on horseback, armor flashing in the sun, banners waving, lances piercing the sky?

That’s a strange-looking rock formation…from a distance (above) and up close (below).

So much of the architecture seems free-form, whimsical almost. It has to be to cling to the irregular edges of rock cliffs.

A plunge to turquoise waters far, far below.

I love the stucco and I love the stone! I love the cliffs and I love the sea!

Still not crazy about tunnels…but I’m getting better!

During the 10th-11th centuries, Praiano was the summer residence of the doges of the Duchy of Amalfi. I have to believe that some of these grand structures were once royal homes.

Italy has fjords. Who knew? This one is called Fiordo di Furore (Fjord of Fury) and it doesn’t look anything like the fjords I sailed on in Norway. But according to the Oxford Dictionary definition: a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs, it fits.

A stoplight! I just happened to arrive as all the testosterone you could wish for came roaring to a stop to wait for the green light!

There are two types of towers built on outcroppings of rock along the coast. The round ones came first. They were strictly watchtowers. If danger was approaching by sea a huge fire was lit so the people of the town could assemble, or run, or whatever they needed to do back then.

The square towers, like this one, came later. They housed artillery actually used to shoot at enemy invaders.

Notice the church sitting high on the ridge.

I’d reached the Grotta Dello Smeraldo, the Emerald Grotto.

Across the street from the steps leading down – which I’ll save for another day – was a ceramics showroom. This is a far different quality product than I’ve seen in the little souvenir shops. I drooled for a while. It’s probably a good thing the shop was closed.

Did I mention everything was closed? Sunday morning, of course. Although knowing what I know now I expect maybe they’re all closed Monday through Saturday, too! Many of these places won’t see the light of day until April or May when tourists again begin to flock to the beaches.

I checked the clock and the map. It had taken me 1.5 hours to walk 2.25 miles stopping every other step to take a picture. Hopefully I’d get home in half the time. I was getting hungry.

Plus, my ballet flats do great in town on the steps, but this highway hiking – I should have worn the New Balance shoes I brought along for just this purpose. What was I thinking?

Actually, I know exactly what I was thinking. These are cuter. Oh, Sherry!

As I started back I realized the road sloped very gently downward. I’d been walking uphill the entire way and hadn’t realized it.

The water was on my left for the return and I saw things I’d missed going the opposite direction.

All along the coastal road outcroppings of rock like this one, hang over the highway. An elaborate net system is used to hold them in place. Nicola told me rock slides still happen and when they do, the road may be impassable for days.

Arches. They’re everywhere in Italy, and here’s why. From study.com: The Roman arch was the foundation of Rome’s architectural mastery and massive expanse of building projects across the ancient world. It allowed the Romans to make bigger buildings, longer roads, and better aqueducts. The Roman arch is the ancestor of modern architecture.

Now this…this must have been a royal residence at some time. I want to believe it!

Only one more tunnel after this one. That’s Praiano in the distance.

And on the other side of the tunnel, Paulo Sandulli’s tower. I’m almost home!

I read the news every day so I know in some ways this exquisite experience is a make-believe bubble. Yet I’m grateful, so grateful to be here. To see the beauty and share it. To feel the utter joy of being alive. I don’t want to send more doom and gloom into the ether. There’s an overabundance of that already. I believe we need to do our part to alleviate suffering wherever we can. But still we must celebrate what can be celebrated and not feel guilty about doing so.

As though to put an exclamation point on a perfect day, the leftovers of sunset on the other side of the mountain hung for a few breathless moments in the eastern sky. A benediction.

Path of the Gods – Let’s Talk About Legs

I pity night owls. Really, I do. To miss a masterpiece that lasts moments then is gone seems like a terrible waste. I think that’s why I’m obsessed with photographing the sunrise. I wake up at 5:00, make coffee, then sit, and sip, and wait. The fiery splendor this morning dazzled me.

Today is day twenty of this fabulous Italian adventure and I have a plan. A dot on the map indicates Sentiero degli Dei Praiano – Path of the Gods. I want to go to the dot. I’ve been told from that point it’s another 2000 steps up to the actual trail. Today, the dot. Tomorrow…?

I chart my course. Fortunately, even though I don’t have data here, if I add the route to my phone’s home screen and turn on location it tracks me. It’s essential in this maze of unmarked paths and stairs.

But before we get on our way, lets talk for a minute about legs. I’ve always had muscular calves, embarrassingly muscular. A gym teacher in high school told me I had legs like a Roman gladiator. Not what a pubescent teen wants to hear.

I do a lot of walking so I’ve maintained leg-strength as I’ve aged. But let me be perfectly clear about Praiano. If you have weak knees, weak hips, weak thighs, weak lungs, weak heart, or a weak mind, don’t bother. Strong calves are not enough. Good intentions are not enough. Determination will get you far, but not far enough.

My limits were tested today.

It began innocently. I took the trail I discovered the other night coming home from the bus stop. The slope upward connected to a road that took me to Tutto per Tutti market but cut off half the steps I normally climb to get there.

I passed Tutto per Tutti and took the next switchback up to La Moressa, the restaurant where I had pizza a few nights ago. There was a narrow stairway to the left. I stopped to check my location. That was it.

Up, up, up. Panting and winded, I rounded a corner. San Luca church rose high above me, white against the cloudless sky.

The next time I saw the church it was below me, its backdrop now the brilliant blue sea.

At one point I wondered, imagined, that this MUST BE the 2000 steps to the trail, and when I got to the end I would BE ON the Path of the Gods. The thought motivated me to press on.

At the top I once again checked the map. Still another vertical line to ascend.

In a few more strides I was standing at the base of a flight so long and steep I couldn’t see the top. I almost turned around. But, Sherry, I told myself, this is the last leg. At the end of this you may be on The Path. I charged onward. (Charged may be an overstatement.)

My heart pounded. My thighs burned. My calves were fine.

At the top I collapsed against the rock wall to catch my breath and saw the sign.

I moved up close and read the small print. Another 1 hour 30 minutes of steps and trails to the actual Path of the Gods.

At that point I may have taken one of the names of those gods in vain. There was nothing else there, not a vendor selling bottled water. Not a ‘last stop for coffee’ shop. Not a ‘take your instagram photo here’ posting. Nothing but rock walls and more and more and more stairs.

I photographed the sign, sucked air into my lungs, blew it out long and slow, and started down.

And down…

And down…

Finally, just ahead was the welcome entrance to Tutto per Tutti. Buongiorno said the two men who own the place. They smiled as I walked in. They know me now.

Buiongiorno. I smiled too, picked up a basket, and selected my groceries as though I’d been shopping there all my life.

Emmental Bavarese cheese, carrots, tomatoes, a red onion, bananas, apples, strawberries, canned lentils and chocolate covered orange slices.

That’s $18.20 in US dollars

Of course there were still the 228 steps down to Via Roma. And 112 steps up to my house carrying a heavier pack. After what I’d just accomplished, it felt like nothing.

Old Vines, Exquisite Wines – Tenuta San Francesco at last!

I felt like I was back in Bali when I saw the terraces…almost.

We left the coast and climbed into the Lattari mountain range. It’s cold enough up here for trees to drop their leaves but warm enough for grass to stay green. Nicola had his phone tuned in to Google maps but still asked locals for directions a few times.

I’d originally thought I’d take the bus from Praiano to Tramonti and walk from the station to the winery. Had I done that, I may still have been walking. Our trail through the mountains reminded me of the last lines in a poem by Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The story of my life.

Four people watched us expectantly as we approached the winery. It was the tour group waiting for me.

Sophia, the daughter of one of the owners of Tenuta San Francesco, was our guide. The three gentlemen were from Brazil and I was the lone American.

Sophia is a teacher. She was brilliant, speaking Spanish to the Brazilians, English to me, and Italian to anyone else. She explained we would do a tour of the vineyards then have our tasting, was that all right? We agreed, three Si(s) and a Yes.

I’d been awed by the elegant pergolas spiderwebbing the mountainsides as we’d driven through this area. I asked about them. The framework is chestnut wood, Sophia said, and workers use willow twigs to tie branches to the beams. She explained that willow is organic material and deteriorates. When that happens, it takes four months for experienced knot tiers to replace all the bindings on the vineyard’s thirty acres of vines.

We were standing under the spreading branches of a vine that was over 500 years old. Sophia told us when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, volcanic ash created perfect soil conditions for grapes. And when phylloxera, a type of aphid that attacks the roots of grapevines raged throughout Europe, many originals were lost.

The infestation began when plants carrying the phylloxera aphid were brought from North America in the late 1800s. What followed changed the wine industry in most of the world. Since only vines from North America were immune, in order to preserve and perpetuate the varieties of grapes throughout Europe and other countries (even Australia) original vines had to be spliced onto plants with roots imported from North America.

But because volcanic soil resists phylloxera the vines of Tenuta San Francesco were protected and survived. In a few other areas of the world where similar conditions exist, original vines remain, some over 2000 years old.

She explained that the quality of wine from the rare Tintore grape, which is the variety produced by the original vines of Tenuta, is some of the world’s finest. But the yield from old vines is not large so supply is limited. It’s considered a boutique wine.

The branches from this twisted, ancient specimen create a network overhead covering an area the size of a toddler’s playground. Gardens are planted underneath. Sophia pointed out a plot of fava beans sprouting just behind us.

The vineyard tour completed, we headed inside.

Buildings in Italy seem like they’ve existed for all time. I’ve never been comfortable around glass and steel. Give me rocks, timber, crumbling plaster and I feel at home. There’s a sense of being grounded in antiquity, a connection with the past that I felt as I walked through those doors.

“How old is this cave?” I asked as we entered.

“It has been in the family since the 1700s,” Sophia replied. Sleek steel and electronics against three hundred year old stones jarred me in an exciting way, a bit like waking up to the mechanical hum of a drone peering in my bedroom window in Bali at six a.m. (Don’t laugh, it happened!)

The winery logo was stamped on barrels lining the walls. Sophia showed us how it can be read as a T for Tenuta, and an F for Francesco. She also explained this type of cross was used by the Knights Templar. The designer added a stylized bunch of grapes at the bottom. Classy.

Information continued to flow. Whites are prepared and aged in the steel vats. Reds start there then are transferred after many months to wooden barrels where they age for two years before being bottled. Red wines, we learned, can handle the wood undertones. Whites cannot.

When we were saturated with Sophia’s knowledge to the point of overwhelm, she said, “Would you like to taste?”

She didn’t have to ask twice. We followed her into a sunlit area where our table waited.

Sophia’s mother was preparing food for us.

Gaetano Bove, the man I met in the cafe who invited me to tour his vineyard, introduced the first wine, Per Eva, which he’d named for Eva, his wife.

Sophia’s mother set plates in front of us. “Winter salad,” she said. Fresh goat cheese, warm potatoes mixed with olives and onion, and tomatoes with chucks of hearty farmer’s bread. Silken crispness of Per Eva, like spring rain, enhanced the subtle flavors of the salad and softened the onion’s sharp surprise.

Before we emptied our glasses of per Eva, Gaetano was pouring Turmiento, the winery’s organic red.

I’ve only tasted a few organic wines and wouldn’t go out of my way to find them again. Turmiento was an exception. If you know organic restaurant owners who import wine, recommend this one. It’s rich, warm, and it paired brilliantly with the dark farmer’s bread, pecorino cheese, and sliced salami that had just appeared on our table.

Gaetano radiated love for his craft. As he brought out our third wine he mentioned famous people who had visited the winery, among them Justin Timberlake and his wife, actress Jessica Biel.

Then, as our glasses swirled with liquid of the deepest, richest crimson, Signor Bove told us he’d recently gone to France to attend a meeting of top international wine makers. He’d taken E’ Iss, the red, made from the ancient pre-phylloxera vines. Each of the fifteen attendees had brought their specialties, some bottles selling wholesale for as much as 25,000 euro ($27,000 USD). They did a blind tasting, he said and shook his head. “Mine was better. And only thirty euro per bottle.”

We sipped, and sighed a collective, “Ahhhhh.” I thought Turmiento would be my favorite. It was smooth, seductive. But it turns out E’ Iss was like the difference between the boy you date on the sly and the one you bring home to meet Mom and Dad. I brought E’ Iss home.

Which, by the way, was no small feat. When the food was eaten and the wine was drunk, I said goodbyes and Gaetano drove me as far as Maori, the coastal town where he has a veterinary practice, and dropped me in the square. From there I’d catch the bus to Praiano.

Nicola had instructed me on the finer points of navigating the bus system. I had to buy a ticket before I got on, and he suspected in Maori I could only buy a ticket to Amalfi. I would need to buy another in Amalfi to get to Praiano.

I found a helpful person by this playground who pointed the direction to the Tabacci shop where I could purchase my first ticket. I set out. It only took two more queries to locate the tiny place.

Ticket in my pocket, I started back to where I’d seen people waiting in bus shelters. “Where do I catch the bus?” I asked a street vendor tending her cart. The woman took me by the arm and steered me to the side of the road and pointed.

“To Praiano?” I asked, just to make sure.

“No,” she said, and pointed to the opposite side of the street.

It was a twenty minute wait. I boarded, took a window seat, and snapped photos all the way. If you scroll through fast, you’ll get a feel for the wild twists and turns of the fabulous coastal road.

Then we were in Almalfi with another ticket I had to hunt, kill, and drag home! I asked for directions and was shown the newspaper shop across the street.

Done.

A bus with no driver idled nearby. The sign above its front window said Sorrento. I asked a man if this bus stopped in Praiano. He didn’t know. Then I heard, “Yes. To Praiano.” A face with a neatly trimmed gray beard and mustache nodded at me from the front seat. Gratefully I boarded, inserted my ticket and turned to walk toward the back. The bearded old man patted the empty spot beside him.

“I can sit here?” I asked. He nodded.

Within a few minutes the driver appeared and another gut churning ride commenced, but this time I had a seat companion. “You speak English,” I said.

He nodded. “I speak three languages, French, English, and Dutch. You know pork?” he asked.

It seemed a strange question. “You mean pig?”

“Yes, pork. In French pork say this.” A strange, pig-like grunt erupted from his mouth. “In Dutch pork say this.” The intonation was different but still unquestionably porcine. “And in English…”

To say I was happy when we reached Praiano would be an understatement. Still, I was grateful when Signor Pork reached across me to ring the bell for my stop or we would have sailed right by.

By now it was dark. I stood alone at the corner where deserted Via Umberto heads uphill and Via Roma, with more traffic, is a straight, level shot to my blue gate. I poked around in my memory trying to bring up the map of Via Umberto. Without data on my phone I couldn’t request Google’s help. Dressed all in black I’d be invisible on the busy Via Roma, narrow and without sidewalks…

I started up Via Umberto knowing with the certainty of experience that somewhere there would be a staircase going back down. After about 150 meters (apx. two city blocks) a footpath veered off to the right at a serious downhill slope. It was beautifully lighted so I took it. A few hundred yards later I knew exactly where I was. The stairs that take me from Tutto per Tutti to my house were right there.

I just want to say to senior women, men too, if you’ve ever dreamed of solo travel, if your feet sometimes itch and your eyes long to gaze on something other than your own backyard, do it now.

No matter what creams, dyes, or wrinkle retardants we use, we don’t get any younger, and time doesn’t wait.

2/20/2020 Only Comes Once

There’s a lot going on in my head. There often is, but my thoughts are taking a detour from the usual these days. It’s little wonder. Italy isn’t Bali. Praiano isn’t Ubud. A change of scene opens up mental space to imagine.

The timing is perfect. December ends the twelve-month cycle on the Gregorian calendar but Pisces, February 20 – March 20, marks the wrap-up of the solar year. Tomorrow, 2/20/2020, the sun enters the sign of the fish to complete the last thirty days of its journey through the zodiac.

For months my friends have been muttering about feeling unfocused and edgy, as though they’re waiting for something without a clue to what that something might be.

I’ve felt the same.

Of course, turning seventy has a certain shock value. Even though I knew for 365 days that I was sixty-nine, and I’ve known for much longer than that how to count, actually becoming seventy years old surprised me. It compelled me to look back at my life and ask, “What have I accomplished?” And to look ahead and say, “What’s next?”

I’m happy with the past. That’s a good thing because it’s too late to change it and I wouldn’t if I could. It made me who I am.

But this moment in time feels pivotal, like stepping out of one reality and entering another that’s cleaner, clearer, and shorter than what’s gone before.

On my terrace, gazing at the vast horizon where water and sky collide sometimes with no line of demarcation to indicate where one begins and the other ends – breathing air salty and moist – hearing the lilt and staccato of a language I don’t understand but am growing to love – lifting my face to be kissed by the sun, it suddenly doesn’t matter that I don’t know what lies ahead.

I’m filled with a sense of release, letting go of everything I don’t want to carry with me into this new cycle that’s about to begin. It feels like a time of rest and patience. Of slowing down the outer world and focusing within. Of making new choices.

As I wrote that last line, butterflies came to life in my stomach and my arms sprouted goosebumps.

Making new choices…

Tomorrow, to give special attention to 2/20/2020, I’m choosing to accept Sig. Gaetano Bove’s invitation to visit Tunata San Francesco, the winery he co-owns with three associates.

Whether I write about the experience immediately or at some future date will depend upon how enthusiastically I taste the samples on offer.

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Welcome back, Pisces, it’s been a long eleven months!

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