Pleasures of the Amalfi Coast

In Italy, even wet laundry hanging from balconies is enchanting. Delicate, hand-embroidered bedsheets and pink tablecloths make a pretty tableaux against the fading stucco and brightly painted shutters. Sometimes you’ll spot a white-haired nonna (grandmother) gathering the breeze-scented laundry and tossing wooden clips into a wicker basket. These balconies are also handy for tossing a coat down to a child playing in the piazza below or to throw a few euros to a relative off to purchase bread and tomatoes for the lunchtime meal.

We come to Italy for the grand and famous marvels, Michelangelo’s David and St. Peter Basilica. But beauty abounds in many corners of the country. The first slice of my 10th wedding anniversary trip to Italy was the Amalfi Coast south of Rome. The trip had less to do with celebrating a decade of marriage than it did in serving as our last, splendid hurrah before my husband and I started down the much-delayed path of parenthood. As soon as we returned, I was going to dive into the paperwork necessary to adopt a baby.

In April, wisteria blooms everywhere along the Amalfi Coast. From the terraces of the poshest hotel to the humblest garden.  It hugs walls, drizzles down pergolas, clamors across iron railings. These delicate lavender-colored blossoms hang like grape clusters from vines. I promise myself I will plant a wisteria as soon I get home -- and I do!  In Sorrento, orange trees are planted as street trees in the city center. Plump oranges hang on the trees in spring, and I imagine the scent in winter when the cream-colored flowers are in bloom. Citrus orchards grow on terraces cut into the hills up and down the region.

The gelato is as sublime and creamy as promised, but the flavors surprised me: melon, fig, hazelnut.. When they serve it at a ristorante it’s accompanied by the most petite spoons imaginable. Our trek across the isle of Capri rewards us with the most satisfying meal of the trip, at a trattoria filled with locals.

Sure, I traveled to Italy expecting to be impressed by the food. What I hadn’t expected was to be so completely enthralled by the Italians themselves and the charming details of their everyday life. First to turn my head are the Italian waiters in Sorrento who speak fluent English with an exquisite British accent. Of course they don’t speak English like an American! Credit the hordes of Brits who flock to the sun-washed coastal towns.

And yes, Capri’s Blue Grotto is mesmerizing. Yet it’s the burly men who smoke while rowing us through the grotto’s narrow, jagged opening who catch me most by surprise. At a ristorante, an Italian couple dines with their very young children. It’s almost ten o’clock. In the States, the kids would be tucked into bed, a teenage babysitter keeping vigil. In the Italy I see, every part of life is a family affair.

One day while enjoying a fig gelato at a piazza in Sorrento, I watch a teenage boy stop in the cobblestone street and chat with an elderly woman. For fifteen minutes. Generations don’t mix so easily and cheerfully back home. In these first few days in Italy, I learn so much about how rich and full life can be for the Italians, and what pleasures are lacking back at home.