It’s the first morning in Agropoli after a hard day of travel, a joyous arrival, and the first deep, sound sleep I’ve had in weeks. I’m on the terazza, it’s a glorious day in the Cilento, and all’s right with my world. My other world, increasingly.
The trip was about as trial free as it has ever been, with the exception of one glitch, but at our age, a solid day of stress associated with the logistics of moving from one continent to another across an ocean, not to speak of the physical strains of moving luggage, chugging through airports, breathing toxic airline air for eleven hours, etc—that’s tough on old bodies. Our flight from Durham to New York was a bit delayed, but basically on schedule and comfortable. A two-hour layover in New York allowed ample time to say goodbye to Sandy’s new friend, Brittany, a first-year teacher at Fuquay-Varina Middle School, hit the potties, and find our gate. The flight from New York to Paris departed the gate on schedule—a near miracle at any of the New York airports—and only sat in the taxiing queue for thirty minutes. The flight to Paris was remarkably short (a bit less than seven hours), reasonably comfortable, and as smooth as it could be. Bad airline food left us both with grumbling stomachs, but nothing too serious. We arrived at Charles de Gaulle on time, but waited for a gate to open for so long that our comfortable layover turned into a knuckle biter, especially since at de Gaulle, as at several other European airports, you have to go through security again when changing from one terminal to another even though you’ve never left a secure area. We headed for the gate a mere 15 minutes before scheduled departure, Sandy optimistic as usual, Dave resigned to the fact that Air France had boarded 30 minutes before and it was all over but the crying, and as we scooted down the terminal, heard “Final boarding for Air France to Naples at Gate 49!” Good old Air France. It was another 40 minutes before we actually departed.
We had a pleasant flight across the Alps, two hours to Naples Capodichino, and at last we were in God’s blessed land. But our luggage was not. Now, I confess I had jinxed us at Orly by commenting to Sandy that we had made the flight but I bet our luggage never would, so I was quite prepared for the worst. But there were a good 30 people standing with me in the line at the lost luggage office, and that’s impressive even for Air France. But 10 minutes into the queue, and, Mirabile dictu!, an announcement that a whole container of luggage had been located and was even now being routed through another baggage line. And guess whose luggage appeared first on the carousel? Relief hardly suffices for my emotion; it’s a two hour drive from Agropoli back to Naples on a good day, and Naples traffic makes Italian traffic elsewhere seem almost tame.
When I had reserved a car back in April I had paid $200 more to go through Herz rather than Europe Car because Hertz was ‘in the airport’ and Europe Car involved a shuttle ride, a ridiculous waste of money for which I have paid my penance. What a clever ruse! “In the airport’ meant exactly the same shuttle ride as all the other rental agencies, and the Hertz office was, you guessed it, right next to Europe Car. Mild irritation, but nothing compared to that generated when I discovered Hertz could not find my reservation and the best offer they would do was a solid $500 euros more than my reserved price. I think I’ve had my fill of European Hertz. But, in the scheme of things, it’ll all be washed out in the laundry, and I will gladly forgo a few luxuries over the course of the next year for the luxury of having a car for the six weeks we’ll be here.
The drive to Agropoli was remarkably pleasant, even taking the A-3 autostrada through Salerno. I don’t know if I’m becoming a hybrid Italian or what, but even the hair-raising curves and that precipitous stretch 600 feet above Salerno—straight down—I was able to negotiate with the loss of only a few years’ aging potential, probably because our timing was good and traffic was light. The stretch down the ironically named Superstrada 18 was terrifying as usual, but we arrived a good hour before we had estimated, and I owe the travel gods big time for that.
How can I describe for you the joyous arrival in this blessed spot? Around the Via Fuonte we went, with those beautiful Cilentan mountains to the south, up the ridge, and there is the gorgeous Villa Astone, its creamy stucco exterior and orange terracotta roof nestled into a hillside rampant with a profusion of color and perfume from roses, geraniums, zinnias, petunias, laburnums, jasmine, trumpet vine, bougainvillea—I could go on—and down on the ground floor the shady terazza of our little casa secunda. A quick glance into the apartment, spotless and inviting as ever, and then a quick trip upstairs for hugs and kisses with Rolando and Filomena (Fabio, sadly, was at work), several delicious minutes of exchange of news, a riotous welcome from our canine buddies, Cioppo, Ettore and Lacchi, and then into our cool, breezy bedroom for two hours of blessed sleep.
At 6:30 I call Fernando, who’s been at the University all day giving exams but is right now on his way back and is in Battipaglia, 30 minutes away. Hmmm, a quick trip to the grocery for tomorrow’s necessities, or will it take too long? Two years ago, no question, our ignorance of the logistics of daily life here forced us to build an 25% more time into any plans. But this time, three minutes to the Maxxi Futura, a quick stroll through this ipermercato where we now can place hands on exactly what we want almost at will, and then a quick trip home, and as we put away the last of the staples, there is gentle Fernando at the door. More hugs, kisses, and excited chatter and up strolls dear Fabio for yet more laughter and affectionate banter.
Sadly, both Fabio and Fernando are otherwise committed for the night, but there’s no doubt in our minds that a pilgrimage to Agropoli’s Centro is an absolute necessity, and so at the ripe old hour of 9:30 off we go for dinner. The first night here, no doubt what food we’re both craving. The only question: Pizza Borelli or Pizza Barbanera where the views are spectacular but the wait is long? Pizza Borelli. Our American stomachs are already complaining about these ridiculous Italian dining hours, plus Signore Borelli is a particular favorite whose food is incredible. We sit outdoors to enjoy the cool and the hundreds of locals strolling up and down the corso in the passsaggiato, the Italian version of ‘cruising’. Best floor show ever. And, dear Lord, the pizza! I order a Calabrese with local mozzarella—the real kind—and a delicious, funky little salami, Sandy orders the Ortolona topped simply with thin slices of eggplant and squash and dressed with olive oil. Every year I wonder if my expectations will be met by the food here. You know how sometimes you’ve invested so much in the idea of a thing that, after the romantic glow wears off, the reality is ashes in your mouth? But, no, there really is a huge qualitative difference in the food here, not just in taste but in balance and healthfulness. This pizza is quite simply some of the best food we’ve ever eaten, simple but perfect in its simplicity.
Aching muscles protest, but up the hill we go to the acropolis which gives this beautiful town its name, to the Piazza di Santa Maria di Constantinopoli, where the mother church overlooks the twinkling lights of the marina and the ridges behind. And we just drink in the sensory explosion—the sights, the smells, the ravishing, cool breezes (sweater weather here still), the sounds of this place we have come to love so well. A quick visit to the gorgeous little church to thank the blessed Mother for bringing us here safely, and then the drive home for 10 hours of deep, restorative sleep. Jetlag, shmetlag! It took our bodies exactly 10 minutes to put themselves on Italian time. Is there a message there?