Hurricanes have flattened more than one vacation paradise recently. There are many left, and we are just finishing our stay in Salerno, Italy, adjacent to, if not in, vacation paradise (as in Amalfi, Sorrento, Capri).
Our current home ground, the province of Campania, was the breadbasket of ancient Rome, and occupied both long before and after the Romans. Pompeii is the most famous archaeological site here, and there are countless others. Not just the other Vesuvians (Herculaneum, Stabia, Oplontis, Bosco Reale), but Samnite and Lucanian sites, Etruscans, and Greeks, too. Later came the Lombards, the Angevins, Aragonese and the Hapsburgs building castles and fortresses. Archaeologically, this area is fabulous.
- As a vacation paradise, there’s a lot to recommend this area.Gardens and orchards. Lemon, pomegranate, quince, apple trees are all dropping fruit all over the place–olive trees, too. The markets have an excellent variety of fruits and vegetables including multiple varieties of tomatoes and eggplants. You can be a vegetarian without even noticing. All that mozzarella de bufala, so little time!
- Food costs are lower than anywhere else we have been in Europe.
- Food festivals. We visited Cusano Mutri for its annual mushroom festival, the Sagra di Funghi. We bought porcini and chanterelles, ate mushroom and cheese sandwiches, had coffee in the tiny plaza at the top of the town. (There were no tour buses.)
- Archaeology is everywhere. There are ruined towers every 500 yards or so along the coast. Some of these have been transformed into houses and hotels. Others are ruins ready to be visited. The Castello di Arecchi outside Salerno is one of the largest and best-restored.
- In Florence, I saw a woman with a nice haircut and asked her whether she was local. When she said no, I asked where she was from and when she told me Salerno, I insisted she write down the name of her hairdresser for me.. 2 1/2 months later, when we were nearby, I visited her hairdresser, who was flattered that I made the effort to track her down. It was fun and I got a good haircut.
- We had wonderful hosts, and met some lovely people, both Italians and other visitors.
No one really lives in Paradise, we just vacation there. Everyday life has its struggles whether you live in Bali or Boston, and how would we live with nothing to grouse about? We may only be here for a month, but a few things had to get done that vacationers ignore until the party’s over. That’s where Italy is a challenge.
- Repairing anything is complicated, in Italy as in the US. My Samsung phone broke and I took it to a repair place that said the reset I needed could only be done at the other Samsung repair place. I went to the second repair place, left my phone to be fixed and came back the next day to find that they were still unable to fix it.
- To get an appointment with an English-speaking eye doctor, I had to call her non-English-speaking receptionist. Fortunately, I can muddle along in basic Italian and receptionists can muddle along in English.
General grousing about Italy:
- I have rarely been in such heavy traffic caused by…..nothing. On our first try we missed the ferry to Capri because no cars moved for 40 minutes. When I explained our problem at the ferry office, the agent was sympathetic. “Yes, terrible traffic.” “Do you know why?” I asked. Rolled eyes, a shrug. “No. It just happens.”
- People drive badly. Most people drive too fast for the conditions, straddle lane lines, pass too close, tailgate, park haphazardly. If you plan to drive, be warned. There are a lot of cars, and too little space for them.
- Traffic cameras send you a ticket three months after you’ve left town–we’ve only gotten one so far. Every person you speak to says they have gotten innumerable tickets. (Shrug. No one has any suggestions for avoiding them.)
- Crowds are part of life. I feel crowded on the bus, the subway, walking down the street, shopping, and at the beach. There may be tiny hill towns begging for population, but Greater Naples is bursting at the seams. Eight story apartment buildings surround single story houses from the last century. It looks like the big buildings just shouldered their way in and squatted down.
Some of my grousing can be turned on its head.
- There doesn’t seem to be a lot of zoning concerns in Campania the way there is in Tuscany where preserving views of the landscape is a paramount civic value. In the Naples region there is a patchwork of apartments, cultivated fields and orchards. You could call it lack of zoning, but I like seeing see lemon trees along the highway and eggplants beside the car repair.
- History is everywhere. We saw city walls from five different time periods in a two block section of Salerno. You can walk around any ruined structure that isn’t marked Do Not Enter.
I wouldn’t change what I am doing for a different way of life. I appreciate learning what you need to know to actually live in a place, and every different locality has its own charms and aggravations. While I stretch my brain muscles with crosswords, I also stretch myself by living in different environments.