Food is Not a Four-Letter Word

I heard a rumor. A pizza restaurant reopened for the season just above Tutto per Tutti market.

I waited until noon, then grabbed my jacket and – did I say above the market – the market that is 228 steps above me?

I’ve learned to do twenty steps then rest. Twenty more then rest. That way I make it to the top without exciting my heart to the point of beating itself right out of my chest!

I ascended and found the road that took me higher. At the top was La Moressa, a white-washed cafe with tables overlooking the sea. I went inside and greeted the man behind the counter.

“You’re open,” I said.

“Yes, the door is open,” he replied.

“Do you have pizza?”

“Yes, we have.”

“I’ve been waiting for days to have pizza. Everything is closed. I’m so excited! May I see a menu?”

“Yes, Signora, but perhaps you will come back. We don’t serve until five.”

I’m not dismayed. I’ve found a restaurant that serves pizza and it will be open tonight at five. I don’t have to go through any tunnels. It’s literally directly over my head. I’ll be there!

On my way down I stopped at Tutto per Tutti. I wanted pepperoni. It’s a meat I recognize.

I had big plans for this sausage…

…and the oven I’d yet to touch.

Has a pan ever been watched so closely? Was the heat actually on? Patience paid off. Soon the cheese was bubbling and turning a light caramel color. I sat down to an open-faced sandwich fit for angels: focaccia bread base, tomato sauce laced with juicy chunks of green and black olives, thinly sliced pepperoni, fresh tomatoes, and buffalo mozzarella.

I took my plate and wine to the terrace.

The flavors romanced my tongue. I groaned with pleasure licking my greasy tomato-stained fingers. The Remole Toscana provided a perfect balance of bold yet subtle support to the rich meal.

Then, holding true to my latest intention (which you’ll hear about shortly) I opened the package of white chocolate covered figs, poured a little more wine, and exponentially upped the ecstacy factor.

Warm Mediterranean sun and lapping waves, birdcalls, soft breezes, felt like all the dreams I’ve ever dreamed of paradise.

So what’s going on with the sudden focus on FOOD? Sit back. It’s a story.

Several months ago I was gifted an astrological reading. But this wasn’t an ordinary birthchart recap. This one centered around Ceres, an asteroid that represents food, nurturing, relationships, and all the phases of a woman’s life.

It was, as readings should be, affirming, uplifting, and had ah-ha moments that astounded me. Beauty, the practitioner said, played a huge role in my life. But the planet Saturn maintained a strong presence which indicated starvation.

Starvation, she continued, can be other than food. Neglect by parents, not enough approval, not enough love are all forms of starvation as understood by this reading. It may also indicate harsh dieting. Fasts. Self-inflicted restrictions around what is eaten, how much, and when. What she said resonated.

At the end of our session she summarized. I had a healthy relationship with food. I didn’t live to eat, I ate to live. I wasn’t ruled by food nor did I use it for comfort, distraction, or as a substitute for pleasure. I had low expectations for food unlike much in our modern culture, she said.

I felt pretty good about myself after the reading. I’d basically been given a green light to keep doing what I was doing.

When I landed in Italy, on the shelf in my house was a book: The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister. It was the only one in English besides a guidebook.

Strange title, I thought. It will either be superbly boring or, with a title like that, quirky.

About one-third of the way through I started getting uncomfortable.

At the half-way point awareness lights were flickering on.

I cried at the end, something I haven’t done with a book for a very long time. Yes, the characters were intelligently and lovingly portrayed. Yes, the writing was beautiful to the point, almost, of poetry. Yes, the story was compelling and the plot nicely resolved. But that’s not what brought me to tears.

In contrast to the author’s voluptuous, tantalizing, reverent treatment of food I saw my starvation.

But it went far beyond that. The connections were heartbreakingly clear. My hostility toward food had drifted over everything in my life and cast shadows where sunlight should have been. I’d held myself too tightly for true intimacy. I was far too regimented to let loose and love. I hated to grocery shop, hated to cook…and, Play? What was that?

I remember my mother coming to visit me at one point in my mid twenties. She opened the refrigerator to a lone head of lettuce. Turning a worried frown toward me she asked, “Honey, what do you eat?”

“Lettuce…?” I shrugged.

Since moving to Bali eight years ago, I’ve been happy. Insanely happy. Food has become more interesting and I’ve developed an obsession for nachos, probably because good ones are next to impossible to find. A cafe in the rice fields has amazing black rice pudding and coconut gelato. I order it with Vietnamese coffee.

But after reading Essential Ingredients, I’ve gained a broader perspective. Food is life, and if I want to experience all life has to offer, I need to radically change my relationship to food. I want to invite food to take its honored place in my life. I want to take time to prepare delicious meals and then to eat mindfully, submerged in flavors and textures and the joy of sustenance.

Is it any accident that Erica Bauermeister’s book was on my shelf? That I’ve come to Italy to gain clarity for the path ahead? That food would show up as a central issue in a place where food and love go hand-in-hand? And that I’d be so ready?

Ah! The magic. The synchronicity.

Ahhhhh! Italy!

So…before you ask…yes. I went back to La Messaro tonight and had a PIZZA!!!!!

Gorgonzola and walnuts. With wine. And tiramisu for dessert.

And then…

I walked home. Down all those stairs. In the dark!

It got darker

and darker

and darker

until there was no light at all. Yikes!

A Hot Tango With Heartthrob

It was an absolutely stellar morning.

After 880 stairsteps yesterday – that was the actual count – my body said, Please! Not again! So I gave myself a slow start, basked in rays on the terrace, did my nails.

But it was just too beautiful, and the forecast for tomorrow said rain. ‘Listen up, body.’ I had to be firm. ‘We’ve got to take advantage of this glorious sunshine. We’ll stay on flat road – no stairs – I promise.’

What a bare-faced lie! Simply getting out of my house and to the street requires 224 steps – 112 down and, upon return, 112 back up again. But I seemed to have forgotten that – was busy thinking about tiramisu and another chat with Piccoletto.

So off I went with a plan. First stop, Alimentari Ripoli gourmet grocery to buy a Valentine treat for tomorrow. Then tiramisu and coffee. Then to Angela’s shop to check the bus schedule. I’m strategizing for the winery tour. Angela sells bus tickets.

I’ve mentioned how sleepy Praiano is right now and how many places (most) are closed for the season. I’m also discovering that open ones tend to shut down for a few hours mid-afternoon.

The grocery store, even though its website said it was open, wasn’t. And Piccoletto’s cafe, come to find out, is closed on Thursdays. Today was Thursday.

Cafe Novanta Quattro of Americano coffee and croissant fame, was open. The drop-dead-gorgeous silver-haired owner, aka Heartthrob, remembered me with a huge smile and hearty Buongiorno! The cafe suddenly felt like family. I ordered my Americano then pointed to a miniature pie dusted with powdered sugar.

“What’s inside this one?”

“Cream vanilla and cherries,” he said.

“Yes, please.”

I’d forgotten customers at this order-at-the-counter establishment pay after the dining experience.

My host reminded me. “You sit. I bring.”

I scurried away, chose a table outside in the sun and took off my coat, it was that warm. The treat arrived.

I have many definitions of happiness, but an Americano and this cream cherry tart is the current one. Heartthrob caught me mid-orgasm. “It’s okay?” he asked.

“It’s magnifico! Where do you buy your pastries?”

“I make them, signora.”

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. My heart was dancing a hot tango, and not alone.

I savoured every morsel then sat for a while, daydreaming. A woman arrived. Young. Dark-haired. Gorgeous. She nodded, acknowledging my presence so I asked her if she spoke English. She shrugged. Poco, she said.

From a great distance in time and memory, the phrase, poco a poco, floated to mind. Somehow I knew it meant little by little. So…she could speak a little English. Encouraged, I asked if she lived in Praiano.

“No. Sorrento.”

“What do you do there? Do you have a job?”

“Ingenere,” she said. Uh-oh. That one was not rising to the surface. She saw my vacant look, murmured, “Un momento,” and grabbed her phone. In seconds she showed me the English: engineer.

I would have loved to know what kind of engineer, but just then a man joined her and staccato conversation commenced. I pulled on my coat and went to the counter to pay. “Grazie and caio,” I said, a woman of few words, few Italian words, that is. I’d used them all.

It was a gentle slope downhill to Angela’s shop. By then I’d decided it was time for another bottle of wine, white this time. Something crisp and tart. Two reds in a row are utter decadence.

There was her doorway and what do you suppose?

Closed.

I turned around and went home, the steps weren’t that bad, waited two hours then tried again.

Open.

I found a white that looked intriguing then asked Angela about the bus schedule from Trimonte. You would have to have been there. It was one of those Abbott and Costello, Who’s on first, what’s on second type exchanges, partly because of the language. Correction. All because of the language. I got absolutely nowhere and left laughing, more confused than when I’d arrived.

Who cares if I end up in Trimonte, have a fabulous tour, taste spectacular wines, and there’s no bus back to Praiano? That’s all part of this extraordinary adventure, isn’t it.

The Wild-Haired Women of Paulo Sandulli

Paulo Sandulli creates art in an 800-year-old medieval tower.

Assiola was built as a defense lookout in 1270 when Praiano had a thriving silk industry and marauding pirates were a constant threat.

The curious round structure was the first thing I noticed from my terrace when I arrived. You really can’t miss it. I Googled: Tower in Praiano, and Signore Sandulli’s name popped up. I read about this multi-talented artist and knew I had to meet him.

Today I did.

The rugged approach was challenging after the 2,966,843 steps down from the street. I exaggerate, but not much. It’s rumored that Sandulli has goats. I didn’t see them, but the terrain would suit.

The door to the studio was open. He motioned me in. Oh, please converse in English, I prayed.

He did so with eloquence.

As one would expect, the circular space was a visual cornucopia. Sandulli has been working his magic here for thirty years. Right now he’s madly pumping out product preparing for the summer onslaught of tourists who flock to buy his pieces.

“Do you ever get tired of creating?” I asked, wondering how anyone could maintain that level of productivity over such a span of time. He raised his eyebrows, no doubt surprised at my cheeky question, looked around to ensure we were alone, then nodded the affirmative.

He was obviously able to power through whatever boredom might plague him. The room, bursting with torsos and busts, attested to that. He told me the figure beside him with glasses was a likeness of his father. I could see the resemblance.

On shelves and tabletops were rows of women sporting hair in a riot of colors. “Sponges,” he said. He removed one elegant lady’s updo and handed it to me. It was light as cotton balls.

For the next hour, the master himself treated me to a personal tour of his studio – a workplace magical and enthralling.

He excels in every medium: clay, oils, watercolor, acrylics. I paged through reams of charcoal sketches that prefaced his creations.

Unfinished busts sat drying, works in progress, and the blue box in the background is his kiln.

Mermaids cavorted in bathtubs…

Scantily dressed teams played tennis…

Nudes rode sea creatures. He told me the name of this fish…grouper maybe?

And in their private glass case, a group of fishermen played cards.

Sandulli’s muse Eleonora, “…was born in a tower overlooking the sea not very different from this one,” he said of the Aragonese princess, who in 1473 sealed a dynastic union by becoming the wife of the Duke of Ferrara. A picture of her hangs on the wall.

Paulo’s process is a study in economy and brilliance. He has only a few molds he uses for the chest and hip portions of the body. Then he attaches the head and limbs and assigns different positions to make each character a unique individual. For those that ride sea creatures, the hips spread wide for stradling broad backs. On some he attaches a mermaid’s tail.

It’s similar with the busts. The basic head is the same, but while the clay is still malleable he varies the shape of the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and gives each one a personality.

The terracotta figures are flamboyant and fun. But Paulo’s paintings tell deeper stories.

As my visit drew to a close, I thanked him for sharing his time and he grew contemplative. “This tower was used to defend Praiano from people who would have destroyed her,” he said. “With my paintings I also wish to defend this place. Make a record for future generations before it is lost.”

It’s a noble cause. Thank you, Signore Paulo Sandulli. I wish you well.

Oh, and by the way, please keep that painting for me, You know the one. I’ll be back.

Domestic Goddess Meltdown in Praiano

Domestic goddess I’m not. I did my stint. Raised a family. Managed to feed, clothe, and nurture three daughters into high-achieving adulthood. Was not as successful with husbands.

I’ve created a life in Bali that doesn’t require the skills I lack. But I’m in Italy for a month and I’ve found it necessitates a bit of do-it-yourself-ing.

You’ll need a frame of reference. At home I have a college dorm size refrigerator, a cooktop, and a yogurt maker. That’s it. No oven, no dishwasher, no mixer, not even a rice cooker. Why? I think you’re getting the picture. I don’t cook.

In Ubud there are 700 restaurants within steps of my door. In Praiano I’ve found one that’s open. The rest are closed for low season. Time to sharpen those non-existent homemaker skills.

I rolled up my sleeves and tackled the electric teapot. Easy. Then the toaster. Nothing to it. The espresso machine was slightly more challenging but after a few bungled attempts I mastered it.

The toaster oven? I hid it in the cabinet – frivolous, unnecessary gadget. Won’t go there.

And the dishwasher? The control panel looked like the console of a commercial jetliner. I snapped the door shut and turned with gratitude toward the old-fashioned sink, faucet, and drainboard.

Over this first week I’ve grown comfortable with the kitchen conveniences. But today was day eight and I was out of clean clothes.

There’s a cute little washing machine tucked under the counter. It’s compact like the cars here. Very European. My host introduced us briefly when I arrived and it looked like every other automatic washer I’d seen. I didn’t give it a passing thought. Big mistake.

Unaware of impending doom, I gathered my soiled clothes, stuffed them inside and closed the door. I studied the controls…

and studied…

and studied.

Holding my breath, I pushed a button. Then another. Nothing happened. What was I missing?

Before I started, I’d glanced at a leaflet lying on top of the machine hoping for a how-to guide. It left me just as baffled as I already was. I picked it up again and noticed something I’d missed. At the top, written in pencil, was the helpful inscription, On power switch is beside kitchen window.

I walked to the kitchen window and turned the power switch on. The washer beeped.

When I pushed buttons this time, red lights flashed. Progress. But the machine still didn’t start. I twisted the knob and tried every combination of buttons available. Nada.

Frustrated, I sat back reminding myself I’d been washing clothes for a very long time and this couldn’t possibly be that difficult. Then I made another stab at the buttons.

What’s the Einstein quote about insanity – doing the same thing over and over expecting different results?

Should I call the landlord and admit defeat? Take a direct hit to my pride?

Or…

I Googled YouTube: Instructions for operating Aquamatic Class AA 800 rpm, and guess what? Within moments my clothes were swishing happily.

There’s no dryer, maybe a good thing under the circumstances. But in the storage room a monster rack looked like it could do the job. I wrestled it to an upright position – easier said than done – and dragged it into the bedroom.

The washer droned on. I kept a suspicious eye on it while tending to emails, not fully trusting it would do its job without further intervention. But finally, with a hiss and sigh, it stopped. I emptied it and festooned the rack with clean, sweet-smelling clothes.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I have this ridiculous sense of achievement that is grossly out of proportion to the task accomplished. Like I climbed Mt. Everest. Or swam the English Channel. Go ahead and laugh, but if this is the way it feels to conquer a machine, I may just give that toaster oven a go.

Harnessing the power of intention – But it's Sunday and all I want is pizza

Liquid gold sunrise, 7:00 a.m. – I’m snuggled in my morning chair, wooly blanket warming my knees, steaming espresso cupped in my hands, thinking.

Thinking about this cozy house, its perfect size, location, easterly orientation, amenities. Its quality and craftsmanship, the red sofa with Mediterranean blue and granny-apple green pillows that pick up the colors in the painting hanging above it.

The astounding panorama that holds me speechless.

Thinking about how I wondered what gift I could give myself to commemorate seventy years of life and immediately knew: Italy, the Amalfi Coast, Praiano. How until that moment I hadn’t an inkling what I wanted, and yet it was there without hesitation when summoned.

Thinking about the kindness and generosity of my host who makes this trip even more delightful with his helpfulness and relentless humor.

Nicola Irace, superhost, took this photo on my terrace the day I arrived.

The power of intention…has it no limits? It seems to grow stronger as I age. If I have a desire, almost before I put thought to it the Universe delivers. It’s spooky!

Gratitude floods my heart. What a privilege to have the resources, the health, the intact mind (some would argue that) to manifest this dream.

But there are still some things I have to actually go out and get. Today I crave pizza.

This stairway is my ticket to avoid the tunnel. It feels good to begin to know the lay of the land. About halfway up I unbutton my coat and loosen the scarf around my neck. I’m glad it’s February. I wouldn’t want to be navigating these inclines at 93°F (33.8°C) which is the average temperature in Praiano in July.

There are no cookie-cutter houses. Entrance gates and doorways are as different as the people who pass through them. My photo doesn’t do justice to the picture on the upper right. Bright yellow ceramic tiles march up the steps, and the finials on the wall above the door are sparkly green.

Red carnations drip over this home’s receiving area, and a dry fountain stands sentry by another.

I passed on breakfast and now my stomach’s rumbling. I found the menu for Che Bonta online. Pizza, seafood, panini, tiramisu. I should be getting close…yes, here it is. I stand in front of the door and read the sign: closed for the holidays. What holidays?

My dream of pizza fades. The coffee and croissant cafe from yesterday had a breakfast menu. It’s two minutes up the street. As I approach I see a spill of humanity clustered around outside tables – standing room only. It looks like the entire Tour de France in their team jerseys and bicycle helmets has stopped here to eat. Groan. Is this the only place in town that’s open?

Just then the bells in the tower of San Gennaro – the church with the blue dome – peal the call to worship. I forgot. It’s Sunday. The little cafe may very well be the only place serving the public today.

I’m not in the mood to elbow through all that testosterone. Food can wait. There’s another church high on the cliff that’s been on my radar. San Luca. A quick course correction and I’m on my way.

As I approach I hear more bells, then singing. The service is underway. For a half-second I contemplate entering. The thought passes.

I’ll have to come back when I can go inside.

My journey has taken me high up the mountain. On the map this morning I saw Via Duomo, a road leading from this church back to Tutto per Tutti market. But is it a road – or a path – or a staircase? There are no signs. I wander for a while, uncertain. There’s no one to ask.

Out of nowhere a man appears walking toward me. When he’s close enough to hear I say in my best Italian, Per favore, where is Tutto per Tutti? Half in English, half in Italian, he tells me it’s Sunday. Everything is closed. Tutto per Tutti is closed. But there is a small market…he motions me to follow him to the edge of a parking area. “See the car there?” He points. “Centro Market. It is open. You go there. Everything else is closed.”

I don’t have the heart or the language skills to tell him it’s just the landmark I want. I don’t need a market. But I thank him and start walking. Soon I’m overlooking what is by now a familiar switchback. If I go left at the curve it will take me directly to Tutto per Tutti.

I pass the grocery store, which is closed, and just ahead is Centro Market. As was the case the first time I went there, a man stands in the doorway. I recognize him as the owner. “Buongiorno,” I say.

“Buongiorno,” he replies.

I had no intention of shopping today, but all at once I crave human interaction. I nod and he steps aside to let me enter. A bin of enormous red peppers catches my eye. “Grande,” I say, hoping that’s the right word. He smiles and nods. I choose the largest and set it on the counter then make the rounds of the shop adding a couple of tomatoes, biscotti, two apples, and… there it is! Primitivo di Manduria, a wine from the Puglia region. He adds it to my bill. I pay and we stuff it all in my backpack. “Grazie,” I say. “Caio.”

Buon pomeriggio,” he says. “Rivederci.

I look up those words when I get home. Good afternoon. Meet again. How lovely is that? Then I empty my pack. What will I do with a giant red pepper? Nothing right now.

After I’ve thrown together egg and toast and scarfed it down, I grab a book, curl up in a lounge chair on the terrace, and promptly fall asleep. I wish I had an app that counted stairs!

Is this love or just infatuation?

Woman on a mission: Find Cafe Novanto Quattro. Get coffee and a croissant. Eat, drink, and observe the locals.

I couldn’t ask for a finer morning. Orange sky again. Even less wind than yesterday. I put on two layers instead of three and exchanged the cashmere scarf for cotton. You know the drill, down 112 steps to the blue gate and into the street. I turned right.

Praiano is a V-shaped town. My house is practically at the tip of the V and to date my forays have been in the easterly direction. Today I ventured west.

Just around the bend – oh, oh. That tunnel didn’t show on the map. I paused – almost no traffic – it wasn’t a long tunnel – deep breath…

Made it!

I exited and stepped into an alternate universe. This side of Praiano is raw. Untamed. A different world.

I walked with my jaw hanging. Is there no end to the magnificence here? The feeling of being on the edge of the world? That everything is possible and joy multiplies with each breath?

A bit farther on I encountered civilization. Bustle and commerce. People. Scents of bread baking, bacon frying. I was suddenly reminded I hadn’t had breakfast. Where was this elusive Cafe Novanto Quattro?

When I saw the blue dome of San Gennaro I knew I’d gone too far. It should be right across from…ah! And there it was, a welcoming little hole-in-the-wall with tables both inside and out. The patter of conversation played like music. There was a line at the counter but I could see the pastry case and swallowed drool before it leaked from the corners of my mouth.

“Buongiorno.” The tall, heartthrob behind the counter greeted me.

“Buongiorno. I would like coffee please.”

“Americano?”

Did he mean me or the coffee? “Yes, and this.” I pointed to a flaky croissant oozing lemon filling.

“The cream one?”

“Yes.” I opened my purse.

“You eat here or take with you?”

“Here.”

“Then sit. I will bring it.”

I closed my purse.

Three of the six tables inside were occupied. I took an empty one nearest the door. Two women on my right chatted and laughed. Good friends, I thought. The couple across from me, older, probably married, conversed in muted tones. A man, woman, and dark-eyed boy about five finished their coffees and juice, paid, and left. There were no handphones or computers anywhere to be seen. Did these people actually come to drink coffee and speak to each other?

Heartthrob approached with breakfast and placed it in front of me. “Enjoy,” he said.

With the first bite it was confirmed – this would be my morning ritual for the rest of my stay and Americano was my new favorite brew. I ate slowly, savoring, indulging all the senses.

When I approached the counter to pay I had questions. “Per favore, when I arrive I say buongiorno, and when I leave I say ciao, is that right?”

“Yes, ciao,” he said. “Or, see ya later.” He winked and I laughed, paid the 4€ bill, and was on my way.

I didn’t want the tunnel again. Via Guglielmo Marconi veered off to the left at an incline that would take me up the mountain instead of through it – a far superior choice. Soon I was huffing and almost sweating. I loosened my scarf, unbuttoned my jacket and pressed onward.

At a three-way intersection I considered my options. Take Via Constantinopoli and continue climbing or choose Via Umberto for a gentle slope downward.

I remembered the juicy apple I bought at Centro Market on Via Umberto. I’d like another one. Decision made.

It was a picturesque and comfortable stroll. On the way down I passed a lovely lemon tree – isn’t there a song? Peter, Paul, and Mary? Yes! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLhYghzNfII

After the lemons, I came upon this fabulous door with a pot of burgundy cyclamens in a niche and a car that matched the robe of…who is the patron saint of animals? There’s a cow peeking around…St. Francis maybe? I’d just snapped this shot when…

…someone called my name.

It happens all the time in Ubud, but here? I’ve only been here six days and I don’t know any…Nicola! My Airbnb host! What are the chances?

“Buongiorno, Sherry! You would like to meet somebody?”

“Yes! Of course!”

“Follow me.”

Down the steps. Turn. Down more steps to a door. A flurry of Italian, then, “Felicia, Raffaele, meet Sherry.”

What warmth! What welcome! Did I want coffee? Juice? Felicia was cooking, did I want to eat? Nicola translated.

“Please thank them,” I said, a bit overwhelmed. “But I just had breakfast. I don’t want to disturb…”

Disturbare!” Felicia caught the word and let loose with another volley of Italian.

“She says you do not disturb. She says come again tomorrow. Come any time.”

We took leave and once out of earshot I asked, “Nicola, who are they? Your family? Friends?”

“Family. Yes. Family. She is my mother-in-law. She owns your house.”

Do I fall too hard, too fast? Is this love or just infatuation? Bali, you’ll always have my heart…but…I’m in Italy now.

Thighs of Steel and Bionic Knees – Praiano Day 5

This morning broke clear and orange. I listened. No flapping. No banging. No shrieking howls. Could it be…no wind? I tiptoed to the terrace. A huge, quiet dawn settled over me.

Then a little voice in my head said, “LET THE GAMES BEGIN!”

Maybe it’s a residual Viking gene. Or maybe it’s my sun in the ninth house of travel. Maybe both. All I know is that I love to explore new places and delve into different cultures. It was time to delve and explore.

There was a lot I didn’t know this morning that I know now. One of my main misconceptions was a biggie. I assumed all the little lines on the map that said Via, were roads.

A sunshine high and a cozy 51°F (10.5°C) made it perfect walking weather. The 112 steps to the street were by now child’s play. I locked the blue gate behind me and took a left on Via Roma. My goal was Marina Tuttu per Tutti, a real grocery store somewhere on the cliff above. If I connected with Via Miglina, it would take me to Via San Giovanni. From there I’d need to find Via La Sciola – maybe – and that would deliver me to Via Umberto where I’d turn right and…

One thing I knew for sure. There was no way I could get lost. If things started looking questionable, all I had to do was head for the water. Via Roma runs the length of Praiano along the coast. That fact brought considerable peace to my directionally challenged self.

It was a little farther than I thought to Via Miglina. But I found it, made the sharp turn, and began climbing. There was a truck parked in the middle of the road a few meters ahead. A bit rude, I thought, since nothing much besides me could get around him.

In a few more steps I saw why it didn’t matter. Via Miglina became a footpath.

And then it became steps.

And so it went – footpath, steps, footpath, steps…

I’d reached a semi-level stretch and heard birds. That isn’t unusual in itself, but these were loud and sounded suspiciously like the parakeets we had when I was growing up. I could have sworn it was our Petey and Sugar. It was loud. I glanced down. Two wire covered cages were set into the wall at knee level. Inside – parakeets.

The birds seemed happy and well-tended. I left the strange aviary and trudged on.

In the short time I’ve been here I’ve been struck by the artistic brilliance that seems to be Italy’s birthright. It blossoms everywhere and this path was no exception.

It just appeared, all this art on the narrow path hugging the wall. How can one not be inspired when creativity sprouts from every crevice and pore?

Up to this moment I hadn’t met another soul on the Via Miglina. But as I left the art and continued on, I heard what sounded like a an army of Dutchmen in wooden shoes approaching.

I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t take a picture. I was stunned out of my wits to see a man riding a mule and leading another one. “Hello!” I said. “Buongiorno,” he replied. Clop-clop, clop-clop, clop-clop. I stared after them until they rounded a corner out of sight. What I remember most clearly is how healthy the mules looked. Or donkeys – I’m not an expert. Their coats shone. Their eyes were clear and bright. They held their heads high and looked quite pleased to be helping out. The one in the rear was carrying building materials.

I snapped out of my daze when I noticed a sign by a flight of steps going down. Via Asciola it said. Whoops! That wasn’t on my list. Had I gone too far? Via San Giovanni must be behind me, but where?

I did an about-face and retraced my steps. Sure enough, there it was. I read the faint sign that had been behind me when I passed from the other direction. Via San Giovanni. Another Via that wasn’t a road.

By now my thighs were feeling a bit jelly-ish. When I cleared the last step and turned right on Via Umberto, there it was! Tuttu per Tutti – big as life!

It was a proper grocery store and, unlike Asian markets I’ve been in, most things were recognizable. There were probably six other people shopping and they may have wondered why I went so slowly, perusing each shelf as though memorizing it’s contents – which I was. A lot can be learned about people by studying what they eat.

When my spinach, feta cheese, pesto, crackers, and laundry soap were bagged, the stereotypical Italian clerk – shock of graying hair, larger nose, sparkling dark eyes and bushy mustache – beamed a broad, white-toothed smile. It takes so little to turn me to mush! “Grazie!” I said, as I slung a much heavier pack onto my back and started home.

Lady Luck was with me. She usually is. I’d gone only a few steps and noticed a Via I hadn’t seen before. I stood staring down it’s plunging corridor and far, far below there were cars whizzing by. A shortcut!

At the bottom I found myself once again on Via Miglina.

Now that I knew what I was looking for, in no time I’d found a second short-cut to the Via Roma and…the sea.

I promise…I will never complain about the stairs into Penestanan again! Of course there is something about doing that climb in 90°F (32.2°C). It isn’t quite apples to apples…but nonetheless, I promise!

When I reached the street I took a photo so I’d remember. The next time I want to visit Tuttu per Tutti this staircase will shave fifteen minutes off my journey!

I had one more stop…

Angela’s shop. I wanted to check in with my new friend and buy a second bottle of Italian wine. A young girl greeted me. I told her I’d been in before and met Angela. “I’m her daughter,” she said and picked up her cell phone. I turned to the wine shelf. The Pinot Grigio was delicious but I was ready for a robust red. A Cabernet Sauvignon called Cielo caught my eye just as Angela burst through the door.

“My daughter said you were here.” So that was the phone call.

“Angela! Good to see you!” We chatted about the weather.

“The sun is good for you, no?” she said.

“Good for me, good for you,” I replied, knowing as I said it I was channeling every shopkeeper in Bali.

I have two thoughts as I finish this post and take the first sips of a truly exquisite wine.

One, I’m glad I’m doing this now…

and

Two, I’m SO glad I’m doing this now!

Hunting and Gathering – A Walk to Centro Market in Praiano for Food (in Pictures)

Fierce winds roared all night. A door somewhere banged, whipped to and fro in the gale. Dawn’s pale light showed no signs of the frenzy letting up, but I was out of food. Regardless of the morning weather report: 21 mph winds and 40°F (4°C) my hunter-gatherer instinct kicked in.

Bundled head to toe like an Arctic explorer, I set out. At least it wasn’t raining.

Centro Market – eight minute walk, said Google. Liar. The hike on Praiano’s zig-zaggy roads was uphill all the way and took a good thirty minutes as I battled gusts that blew me sideways. Never trust Google. Nonetheless, it felt good to be outside after a couple of days hibernating.

I set out with my camera charged and ready. Remember the 112 steps? They’re arranged in six separate flights of varying lengths. As I rounded the corner on my way to flight number 4, I wondered how I could not have noticed this panorama before. After all, I’d gone down these steps my first day in Italy. I must have been watching my feet.

Entrance gates to houses somewhere on the cliffs above and below march along both sides of this road. This one looks a bit like a door to nowhere!

Ceramic arts are an ancient tradition of the Amalfi Coast dating back six hundred years. Evidence of this craft is everywhere. Here’s a whimsical fruit display on a humble concrete planter.

Houses tumble down mountainsides piled one atop another looking for all the world like a naughty child dumped a box of all-white Legos. During high season, parked cars line the side of the road while tourists dine and browse the shops.

Until I was about half a block from the market, I always had a view of the sea with wind that seemed to come from every direction.

A white wrought iron door and round window give this entrance to another family home a dressed-up look.

What appears to be just a wall along the street suddenly has a window. It must be a storage room of sorts as boxes are stacked inside. The boxes dampened the romance a bit – otherwise such a lovely window…

An open gate afforded another glimpse up a daunting stairway.

Finally I arrived at my destination and couldn’t take a photo of the market because a very large, very scruffy Italian man was standing in the doorway – right in the doorway! When he realized I was coming there to shop and I needed to get inside to do that, he moved. As soon as I was in, he took up his doorway post again. So I borrowed a photo from the internet to give you an idea of Centro Market in Praiano.

The owners appeared to be husband and wife and spoke no English. Since I don’t know shopping protocol for small-town Italy, I spent the first few minutes perusing the shelves of goods lining the walls. There were apples and bananas, lemons and oranges, garlic and onions, carrots, zucchini, tomatoes and potatoes, but that was about it for fresh produce. I found toothpaste but it was behind glass doors. Baguettes and cheese were plentiful. I couldn’t find eggs or olive oil. Those darned elusive eggs!

I smiled and nodded at the woman and she came from behind the counter. I pointed at tomatoes and held up three fingers. She looked confused. Oh dear. I pointed again, picked up three of them and said, “Caprese.” The lights went on. She took them and put them on the counter. We were in business. I pointed to the other things I needed and she collected them. Then I said, “Olive oil?” Blank look. “Oil?” Ah! Yes, on the top shelf which neither one of us could reach. She got a ladder. That left only eggs. Somehow she understood eggs.

By now we were good chums. Her husband tallied the bill (both in Euro and Lira) and pointed to the amount in Euro. I was surprised that it was even less than I paid for half as many items at the teensy-tiny market closer to me. The signora started to grab a plastic bag. I opened my backpack and said, “Per favore.” I held it and she packed.

The transaction finished, I thanked them and started out of the shop. Signora waved to me, flashed a big smile and said, “Bye, bye.”

People are great! I never take a gruff exterior for the real deal. A smile, a bit of humility, patience, and the crustiest soul can usually be won…even if you don’t share the same language. I love people!

As I started home I glanced to the side and saw classical David, and Venus minus her clamshell standing in a parking area staring out to sea. Only in Italy!

Finally I’m back at my own blue gate that opens into a vestibule with a niche to the Virgin Mary and tiny landscapes painted directly on the plaster wall.

Then it’s up the stairs. Here they are – my six flights!

Ceramic tiles embedded in the walls add a bit of whimsy and entertainment for the long climb.

There are five different residences staggered along the way and I’m at the top. I check my phone – ha! Google was half right – eight minutes – downhill.

Home at last, I kick off my new walking shoes. My feet have worn nothing but flip-flops for eight years and they’re letting me know they’re not happy. I pull off my coat and glance in the mirror.

I survived the cyclone. My mission’s accomplished. Food! At least for a few more days!

My Other Lover

When you have a lover, every sense is heightened, every sight, sound, and scent floods your heart with joy.

I have two such paramours. They exist on opposite sides of the world. Bali was my first. We met in 2010. I was besotted. We’ve been together for eight enchanting years and my passion is stronger today than ever. But another has haunted me. I’ve wondered, imagined, desired, refrained…

until now.

When we were introduced I wasn’t free. I hid my heart and left. But I couldn’t forget the force of that energy, the longing to explore, to learn, to cast caution to the wind.

At seventy I’ve returned. It’s like yesterday, but the intensity of feeling is ten-thousand times stronger. Perhaps because now I know what I want and I don’t compromise. Perhaps because Bali has been a kind and gentle companion and is there to go home to. Perhaps because I know time is short and life is a gift that mustn’t be squandered.

I’m inviting you along to share this adventure. Meet my Italian lover. Like Bali, this one is also a place…

Praiano, on the Amalfi Coast of Italy.

The cliffs, the clouds – around every hairpin turn is a vista of excruciating beauty.
I was in jetlag haze – maybe this is Vico Equense, or Sorrento, or Positano, or…? All of the towns we passed are jewels along the road to Praiano.
When I was here before it was high season. This road was bumper-to-bumper traffic. What a difference in February.
These views take my breath away.
The architecture, ancient walls, stairways…be still my heart!
Nicola, my Airbnb host, unlocked the blue gate at the street and we started up the steps…
112 steps to be exact – to my front door. There’s no other way in…or out…112 steps…!
The view over Praiano and the Mediterranean from my terrace. The stuff of dreams! The two-storey blue building in the center of this photo is the nearest market. I needed food and met Angela, the owner. I asked if she had eggs. She thought she had eggs…
“Please wait,” she said and ran out the door. In a moment she returned with 3 eggs. She’s delightful! I’ve found a new friend.
What do you do when you arrive in Italy after 30 hours of travel?
Night is as seductive as day.

So what do you think? Is this one a keeper? It’s going to be an amazing month! Best of all, with lovers like this, no one gets jealous!

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