I made a pilgrimage to the land of my
ancestors in October of 2000 with my father's Italian lawyer club. I traveled there
with my parents, Uncle John and Auntie Camille, Uncle John and Auntie Marie and my
friend, Tara. |
We began our trip in Sorrento, a lovely coastal town in
Italy. Our bus took us up steep cliffs and along winding narrow streets to
our hotel. The grounds were magnificent with hibiscus, birds of paradise, prickly pear
cacti, orange, lemon, lime, banana, and coconut trees. The group was lined up waiting to
check in, but I was so overwhelmed with the beauty of the place, I couldn't stand still.
Our room was small and retro. We had a bidet and a lovely view
Mount Vesuvius. We considered the bidet an invaluable prop for our creative
photography. In our jet-lagged state, we shot a variety of photos ranging from
pretending to sip from it as if it were a water fountain, to spitting graceful arcs of
water across its existing fountain. Often we would leave it continuously running for
good feng shui.
The first day’s tour would be a morning trip, return to
the hotel and then an afternoon trip. Tara and I decided to sleep in, spend the morning
exploring and meet up with everyone for the afternoon tour. We slept ravenously,
awakening once to what sounded exactly like a rooster. We decided that it couldn't have
been, since roosters are not nocturnal. We awoke the next morning to the sun grinning
happily over the great Mountain of Vesuvius.
It was late October, but as
warm as a midsummer day. Church bells chimed and a rooster crowed. - Perhaps Italian
roosters were nocturnal. - Birds sang and dogs barked in the distance. We showered and
put on shorts and tees. Then we headed off on our greatest adventure. Tara wanted to
shop and I wanted to find a beach. We would shop first. Following the vague directions
from the hotel desk clerk, we went to the street and turned left.
cars were parked along the side of the road. We walked past quaint little houses with
wrought iron trellises and lovely gardens. It seemed that every house had a clothesline
and Italian laundry was bountiful. Five minutes down the road we found an espresso bar
and bakery. We each got some coffee and a pastry to share and enjoyed our breakfast at
one of the outside tables.
Across the street, a small truck parked in
front of a three-story apartment building and sounded its horn. A woman poked her head
out of a third floor window then lowered a basket on a rope to the driver waiting below.
He removed an envelope from it, then filled the basket with chestnuts. When it was full,
the woman carefully pulled it back up into her window.
After breakfast we
continued walking and found a florist where I got some blue roses for our room. The shop
was on a narrow street lined on either side with steep cliffs. It was a small, cool,
windowless round space that seemed to have been constructed by blasting a hole into the
cliff. The walls, floors and ceilings were a lovely cool, damp gray. We took pictures
with Carmella, the proprietor, before continuing on our walk.
grew narrower until the sidewalks disappeared. Little
Italian cars beeped angrily as
they passed. The men in the cars made strange guttural noises. One man made a gesture
that I remembered from my childhood, and though I knew not what it meant, I giggled with
"Did you see that?" I asked Tara. She nodded,
"He did this to us!" I said holding my right hand eye level, my
palm towards my face and my fingers extended with the tips pressed into a tight circle.
I waved my hand to and fro, trying to perfectly duplicate the gesture while we both
The street grew narrower and we walked in single
file behind an old woman who seemed undaunted by the fact that we could feel the wind
from the vehicles passing us. A large bus approached and Tara and I cried out in fear
and flattened our bodies against the cliff rock on the side of the road. The little old
lady continued on.
We looked at each other. "We're going to get killed."
I announced with a calm certainty.
"But the stores are supposed to be down
this way," she replied.
"Maybe we took a wrong turn, or missed a right
one," I suggested.
"Let's walk a little further," she
There seemed to be less activity the further we went. The little
cars continued to beep at us, though they ignored the other
"I don't think they like us very much," said
"They do seem a bit hostile," I agreed.
back," she said, and we retraced our path towards the hotel. We returned to our room, put
the roses in water, and immediately continued on our adventure.
my Italian dictionary, I approached the hotel desk clerk and tried out my favorite new
word. "Spiaggia?" I asked.
She pointed to the right and we headed off.
The street was much wider and felt safer heading in this direction, but the tiny cars
continued to beep at us. We passed a cute little restaurant and crossed a bridge
underneath which was a valley, rich with foliage and dropping to a lovely turquoise
ocean. A bit further along, we discovered a pink and white stucco church with a statue
of the Blessed Virgin Mother in its front garden. Her hands were in classic prayer
position and draped with all manner of rosary beads. She had to be holding at least 50
Tara and I were enchanted. As we were taking her picture, we
were startled by the church bells. Another car drove by and beeped just as the church
bells started ringing. We turned in time to see everyone in the car make the sign of the
"Did you see that?!" asked Tara.
"Are we not supposed to take pictures of Mary?" She sounded
"Of course we are! Look at her," I said gesturing towards the
smiling statue, resplendent with a halo of Christmas lights. "How often do you see Mary
holding all those rosary beads?" I reasoned.
Shortly after we passed the Blessed Mother, we reached our
destination. To our right was an ancient castle-like structure surrounded by an
expansive marble plaza. A tunnel led underneath the center of the castle. The sign
above the entrance read, "spiaggia".
"We found it!" I cried excitedly,
skipping towards the tunnel.
We emerged onto a generous round stone deck
atop a high cliff. To our right was a mountain rich with lush tropical foliage and
peppered with tiny colorful stucco houses. To our left, a cliff with a medieval style
hotel carved into it. It was rockier to the left, but more thickly
Directly in front of us was a glorious expanse of turquoise
ocean, dotted with tiny fishing boats and sparkling in the sunlight. Either side of the
deck had a winding stone staircase that led down to a larger deck.
are we going to get to the spiaggia?" I asked Tara as we walked down the
"I don't know," she replied.
The view was
magnificent and we took many pictures. I leaned over the stone wall, looked down and saw
the tiny black-sand spiaggia to our left.
"There it is!" I cried happily,
pointing to the distant little patch of sand. "We must get there somehow so I can put my
feet in the
"Christine, how are we going to get down
there?" asked Tara.
I looked around and noticed a big, dark tunnel behind
us. A sign above the entrance read, "spiaggia." I pointed to
"That's how." I replied, feeling like a great
"It's dark in there and the beach is really far down. It has
to be at least a mile," she said.
"I know, but it will be a great workout.
Besides, this is how the
Italians do it. Surely they wouldn't have it here if it
wasn't safe," I reasoned.
"I'm not going in there," she
"Okay, but I have to. It will be my greatest Italian
You wait here; I'll run down, put my feet in the water and run right back
up. I won't be long," I promised.
"Christine, don't go in there. It's
dark. What if something happens?" She asked with concern.
happen? The Italians do this all the time." I said.
She didn't seem comforted.
"Well, if I'm not back in twenty minutes, or if you hear me scream, just go get help." I
Her eyes widened. "But don't worry, nothing is going to
happen." I said reassuringly. "I'll be right back," I said and started into the
"Wait," said my friend. "I can't let you go in there alone. First,
let's take pictures of each other. We can stand inside the entrance and make faces like
we're really scared," she suggested. God bless her.
"You don't have to
go. I'll be right back. I promise," I said, feeling guilty.
"I am not
letting you go in there alone," she insisted.
We took our looking-scared
pictures then entered the big dark cave.
There was Italian graffiti on the inside
walls and footlights so we could see where we were walking. We traveled down little
ramps and winding stone staircases.
"What if there are bats?" asked
"Don't worry, they're more afraid of us than we are of them. But
if they're not, maybe we could catch one and keep it as our little hotel room pet," I
"I don't think the Italian maids would appreciate that," she
Our voices echoed over the sound of the waves crashing outside of
our mountain. About ½ way down we saw sunlight. There was a window in the cliff tunnel
and we stopped to check out the view.
We continued on and found a
miniature statue of the Blessed Mother perched in another cliff window. Tara waited with
Her and within earshot, while I descended the last two flights of stairs to the spiaggia.
It was nearly as small as it appeared from above, and the cliff shaded it from the sun.
The sand was black and coarse, but the water was clean and deliciously
We climbed back up, returned to the hotel and relaxed by the pool,
exploring the gardens surrounding it. Soon the group returned. Anne joined us. My Dad
worked with her husband years ago and I've known her since I was a
"Hey Anne, how was your morning?" I asked.
went to a church and then to some shops. What did you girls do?"
I shared the story of our adventure. "Hey, I'll bet you would know. What does this
mean?" I asked Anne, showing her my new Italian gesture.
ask your father that, honey," Anne replied with a faint smile.
pretty, young tour guide, Tiziana joined us and asked Tara and me about our morning. We
told her of our travels.
"The only weird thing was, cars kept beeping at
us," Tara said. Tiziana smiled knowingly. "Were you wearing what you're wearing now?"
she asked. We nodded.
"That's why. Everyone dresses up more in Italy
than you do in America," she explained.
"But it's 90 degrees out!" I
"Yes, but we are in winter here," she told us.
father joined us. "Hey Dad, what does this mean?" I asked him demonstrating my new
Italian gesture and having a pretty good idea by now of what the answer would
"It means you're stupid. What's wrong with you? Don't you know
any better?" he asked.
Tara and I looked at each other. "Well I guess the
natives aren't very friendly," I said.
"I guess not," she
"That's unfortunate because it's way too hot out. I'm still
going to wear my shorts," I said defiantly.
"So am I," she
We were rebels in a foreign land.