Here are a few thoughts about my new novel, set in the small fishing town of Positano on southern Italy‘s Amalfi Coast:
In 1952, thirty year old Miranda Arnold, recently divorced, returns from New York to her native Italy with Johnny, her five year old son. After fourteen years of separation she is looking forward to being reunited with Nina, her long lost childhood friend. Nina lives in Positano with her English companion. Soon after Miranda’s introduction to the novel’s major characters, friendship, love, passion and drama alternate with folklore, as native positanesi add humorous touches with their stories and legends. Miranda, Nina, and the town’s dedicated physician are still traumatized by their tragic experiences during WWII.
Focused on the legacy of the past upon the present and the various tales about events and relationships, I kept writing my story, unaware of how Positano was revealing itself as a character. Only at the end, on rereading the work, did I see how the setting assumed a role of its own.
Here is Miranda’s first impression of its whole panorama, as the car stops on top of the village:
“Miranda started, breathless, taking in the view of an enchanted town, bedded beneath the view of a mountain. Clusters of old dwellings grew like mushrooms over rocky slopes. Most buildings and walls had the texture of rocks. Terrace after cultivated terrace rose steeply all the way to the top, where a number of pastel-colored houses with flat or cupola-shaped roofs perched on the cliffs. Way down near the coast an ancient tower kept watch over the glittering sea. Fishing boats floated in a small crescent-shaped bay.
‘It’s out of a fairytale!’ Miranda exclaimed. They slowly descended the winding
road. In the stillness one could hear the houses breathe in their midday siesta. Half way down, a pink Saracen palazzo appeared above a rock, suspended high above the sea.”
Everything about Positano strikes her as dreamlike, yet vividly real. Native characters seem to grow like mushrooms out of the ground and become part of the scenery, like the old priest with his philosophical nose, and Tatore, the garbage collector, who mistakes his pipe for a wife. The Stairway of Sighs, like the famous bridge in Venice, seems to whisper the longings of lovers. In all directions, innumerable steps lead to pensioni, hotels, or homes and their inhabitants, emanating the town’s stories and secrets to the able-bodied who fly up to its top or down to the two major beaches. Even the beaches have to reveal stories that might fill another book.
The celebrations of the Carnival and the battles and fire-works on the 15th of August have become imprints of Positano, repeated each year, and so have the many lampare--lamps illuminating the sea by night, during communal fishing expeditions. Then there is the ritual of burials on the town’s crest, on its singular cemetery, where graves are stacked on top of each other like miniature dwellings, and the dead are blessed with the most stunning view over village, bay and the Tyrrhenean Sea.
Within the sensuous embrace of this magical place characters are intertwined in unexpected ways, both tender and dramatic. In the end, a wholeness emerges from the fragments of a mosaic: the capacity to rise above guilt or obsession, to accept life in the face of death, to stand alone, and also to love fully.
The word Addio in the title, which Italians use for a final goodbye, may be painful, since it means taking leave of a corner of paradise; but it could also imply that staying in Positano forever, might turn into stagnation. For that reason, going back to a harsh and indifferent world should not be viewed as punishment, but a challenge to rise to whatever life holds in store for us.
Those were the times before television and tourism replaced the once cozy gatherings of families and friends. Since then, Mammon has destroyed the simplicity and modesty of the people, substituting material well-being for the inner riches and warm connections of the past. Gradually, the only road leading to the beach grew into a garland of boutiques selling gaudy clothes, ceramics and souvenirs. Sitting in front of their shops
during the tourist season, girls and women spend days in gossip and boredom, waiting for customers. Endless cars, blasting loud music, exhale their exhaust breaths into the once pristine air, honking nervous pedestrians, unable to tackle the stairs, against the wall.
Over the decades of the 20th century Positano, now a high-class resort for the rich and famous, has metamorphosed into a money-hungry cousin of the rest of the world. Poor travelers can no longer afford to eat in its costly restaurants or find inexpensive lodgings for the night. All those once open doors are now locked against thieves, and hungry cats can no longer slip in to steal chickens.
Goodbye Positano, farewell my cherished corner of Paradise. Since you still look as stunning as ever, I won’t give up hope that some miracle will change you into a new way of being--open to all wanderers in search of peace and a better world.