We’ve been on the Amalfi Coast, and it was wonderful. I was long overdue for a change of register from green to blue.
The crowds took me aback. I’m rarely in that neck of the woods other than way out of season. I thought the second half of September might have been at the very least a quieter shoulder time. The hoteliers I talked to were as amazed as I was at the throng. The season used to wind right down as September began. Now places are booked out through the whole of October.
The weather (thankyou global warming?) helps: our two days were hot and glorious with just the occasional cloud to take the edge off the glare. And the Costiera amalfitana, like all Italian destinations, gets the run-off effect from the dwindling number of ‘safe’ getaways around the globe. But the fact that glamorous Positano (where we were partying) was so much more packed than more homely Praiano (where we were staying) shows that this is just part of the booming tourism model: it’s famous because you saw that Kylie Jenner visited, so you have to go, Instagram it and move on. For the been-there-done-that tourist as well as the sophisticated globetrotter, Positano is very much On The Map.
I spent some time in Positano observing the Selfie Smile, and wondering, how do people do that? There’s a particular thing that the young female preeners do as they sit on walls with azure Med backdrops. Having flicked their hair – a vital preliminary – they then arrange their face in such a way that all their teeth are showing, and they make it look like a smile. When I try to do it, it looks like rigor mortis – or at the very least like a sickly grin. I know (since really quite recently) that selfies have spawned a whole new concept in make-up containing some kind of shiny reflective something to make you look perfectly plastic and unblemished. But is it also changing the way facial muscles work, creating toothy grimace-free smiles? You do have to wonder.
There were crowds, too, up on the Sentiero degli dei – the walking track along the high crest of the costiera. This was a different kind of visitor, however, tending towards the bag-full-of-heavy-lenses style of photography and considerably older. They’re the people who would be in the Cinque Terre had they not read that it was completely overrun. The Sentiero degli dei is less compact than that more northerly path and so accommodates more hikers. But they’re flooding in in ever-greater numbers. I do hope that very special place isn’t ruined.
Our hike took us up the endless steps above Praiano to the convent of San Domenico where I would have been happy to stop. Nothing doing. Upwards and onwards to Colle Serra where two French horn players were tootling by the side of the track, to an audience half of which (like us) had clambered all that way for that very reason, and the other half of which was utterly bewildered at happening across this spectacle in such an isolated spot. It was wonderful, and almost compensated for the quaking leg muscles.
And why were we there at all? Two new works, by artist Rita Ackermann, were being hung in Le Sirenuse, my favourite hotel on the whole costiera. The paintings were strong and suited their room perfectly. The festivities for their arrival were – as always – superb.
Back in CdP, things are quiet but not too quiet, and the sun continues to shine. It’s rather odd that Italy’s green heart is more burnt-looking than the salt-wind-swept and much more sultry Amalfi coast, but that’s how it is. Days (like today) of tramontana northerly wind dry things out even more.
The wind does, however, have the advantage of flushing out the mosquitos which have (along with a long list of other insects) been the bane of my life this summer. Why have they suddenly developed a taste for me?
Maybe I’m suddenly full of lactic acid which, according to this fascinating article, is one attractant. Then again, in the body lactic acid is produced by extreme muscle exertion and quite frankly… that doesn’t sound like me. Or maybe for some reason I’m cleaner, with fewer mozzie-repellent bacteria lurking on my skin: perhaps I should rectify that. I don’t wear perfume and I don’t use smelly soaps and I don’t (often) drink beer. So why oh why do they suddenly have it in for me?
As I perused that article (which doesn’t oddly, contain my new favourite word anautogenous, ie ‘needing a blood meal before being able to reproduce’, though in the case of mosquitos it could have done) spotting all the reasons why they shouldn’t like me and feeling hard done by, one fact gave me some grim satisfaction. Unlike wasps, which I’d dearly love to hate for their uselessness as well as for their meanness, mozzies really don’t seem to have any purpose – unless you consider keeping human numbers down by injecting fatal diseases into them to be a purpose. So I can hate them whole-heartedly without a modicum of guilt.