Story and photos by Carol Stigger
Positano or Why I Killed my Inner Accountant
Positano is one big cliff rising from the Bay of Salerno. The town’s one road winds, turns back on itself, loops around churches and villas and trees that have been here since donkeys determined where the road would go. The advent of the automobile gave Positano to the world. Yet, despite metallic din drowning whispery breezes, I did not find a corner of Positano that lacks an avian chorus. Perhaps natural selection increased the volume of birdsong to give visitors the music they did not know they needed until they arrive woozy and white-knuckled from the hairpin road from Naples, vacation nerves jangling, inner accountant snapping, “You paid a lot for this, and you better get your money’s worth.”
Thanks to a friend of friend, I am not paying for this. The friend once removed rents guest rooms or apartments in his 17th Century villa that clings to the cliff. He had no paying guests scheduled for the time I was there. If I had considered paying for this, my inner accountant would admonish that I had regressed to that irresponsible child blowing her allowance on bubble gum and an afternoon matinée.
The power failed after the housekeeper left for the night and after my host called to say he was delayed in Switzerland. I was alone somewhere in time, but not in this century. And that's when I killed my inner accountant without remorse.
Light was fading, radiators were cooling. I rounded up candles, a down comforter, and a bottle of limoncello from an assortment of other interesting liquors, including grappa. I’ve learned to stay away from grappa, but that's another story, something about serenading a tollbooth on the autostrada. From the salon's library of books in four languages, I selected a book I have been meaning to read for twenty years. I passed the grand piano with the first sorrow I have felt over giving up piano lessons for gymnastics. Imagine playing Mozart with keys illuminated by the antique candelabra. Imagine playing Mozart looking over an iron balcony at the lights of Positano winking on below. So much for double back flips and tarnished team medals.
Something was missing. Dinner. I could walk uphill to an osteria or downhill to a trattoria, but I was in the Renaissance and truculent about leaving. Using ingredients on hand and cooking by candlelight in an old kitchen modernized with appliances was a hazardous pleasure. I boiled pasta in unsalted water — not a culinary tip, I simply could not find the salt. I sliced garlic, onions, basil from a pot on the kitchen terrace, a tomato and my thumb. The pasta was tasty, although I could not tell if the red stuff I was eating was tomato or blood. However, the dish did not taste unsalted, and that's where I jumped off that train of thought.
In a brass bed, under two down comforters, I read Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, by the light of three candles. The limoncello expanded my understanding of Woolf's premise, which evaporated by morning leaving me with a personal premise. A room of one's own in a deserted villa is a decadent delight.
I woke to the hiss of radiator, redundant because my face was warm from sun shining through the terrace’s glass doors. I drifted into the fragrance of sea air and roses and looked down on the bay. Fishing boats and yachts looked like bathtub toys. The cliffs on both sides have mythical grandeur. Is this a scene Homer envisioned when he wrote Ulysses? On the terrace, generously blooming potted plants and meandering vines thatched a privacy screen. I sat on a wicker chair and felt as if I were sitting in the lap of God. My spirituality is broader than Judeo-Christian, so I took off my nightgown, lay on a lounge chair, and gave my body to Apollo until sweat dripped on terracotta tiles.
A long soak in a deep tub was like one of those optional tour excursions that cost extra. I paid for the bath with an hour that could have been spent exploring Positano. Like the gondola ride in Venice, the extravagance was worth it. Green marble tiles, little chandlers flanking the vanity mirror, a warming rod. Toilet and bidet are up three stairs and through an archway. A round window provides a sky view for mundane duties. But in the tub, light was diffuse and so was birdsong and so were my thoughts except for one. Showers are for hotels; in a villa, one bathes. After replenishing hot water for the third time, I realized that it would be considerate to take my host to dinner to compensate for the gas bill.
And where was the mysterious host, caught in a Renaissance of his own? While waiting for pruny skin to smooth, and dithering about what to wear, I heard footsteps, whistling, and a short burst of celebratory piano music. The mystery man had survived the autostrada and was happy to be home. Now that my inner accountant was in rigor mortis, I felt no shame in calculating how many relatives I would have to fleece to make him an offer on his villa.
John Steinbeck wrote, “Positano bites deeply.” He used the wrong verb. Positano burrows. It takes root in your soul and leafs out in memories too dear to have appraised.
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