“One does not go to Italy for niceness’ was the retort ‘one comes for life” – E.M. Forster, A Room with a View
My friend and I are squeezed next to the doors of the train with at least forty people in a space made for 10 comfortably. An Italian hit on me before I even left passport control that morning, everyone is loud, and there is a couple making out in the corner of the train so intensely that I can no longer tell who is who. Benvenuto a Italia! Everything is beautiful to me. The rickety train, the old sailor who tells us about Naples, and the groves of oranges outside the window all have their own perfection. Italian perfection is not ‘nice’, clean, or orderly. I would say that it is a celebration of imperfections that nudges you enjoy your own.
Our old train moves slowly along the coast, with the Bay of Naples on one side and green mountains meeting us on the other. Rain is beginning to sprinkle down in the warm air and drops come through the open windows to leap onto our skin. We can see grimy, wild Naples fading behind us. We laugh, because we have come all the way from England… and now it is raining in Italy. Rain is different here though. The sun is still playing peek-a-boo behind the clouds and the air smells like lemons.
Sorrento is blatantly touristy, but I embrace it. The houses and buildings are all pink or peach or yellow and the whole town sits above a port. We walk around in the morning, after a breakfast of sweet pastries. In the afternoon we lay out picnics in the most beautiful locations we can find: the forum of Pompeii and benches overlooking the port. I don’t know if I will ever again see anything as beautiful and as balanced as the Sorrento marina. It is a quiet harbor of family owned fishing boats, with a small restaurant that, unlike the rest of Sorrento, serves mainly Italians, and bright blue water that laps up against the wharf. The marina is empty of tourists, probably because there are only two ways to get there from town: climb down two hills or find your way down through a hidden side alley. Off to the right is a group of old fishermen mending nets, fishing, and laughing loudly in the afternoon sun. They are all tanned and smiling, and they all wear sweaters softened by time. If you pressed your face into those sweaters, I know you’d smell ocean water, tobacco, and wine that never really can be washed away. Teenage girls lean over stonewalls above the port and call down to the boys. I don’t need to understand Italian to smile at the universal sound of flirtation. It is like a painting come to life, and for a long time I don’t want to leave. But the serious questions come back to us, even in the port.
Will we have our gelato before pasta, or after? Before.
always, truly, sincerely