Il Grand Tour – Positano and environs

One of the best things about travelling is not only spotting the differences from the place where you live, but also the similarities.  Having been away from so long from Italy, my mind created this virtual Italy when everything, everything was different.

Of course it is, you expect that. But the similarities are the things that surprise you more. Having always come to Italy in the north, and in winter, I always experienced the cold and soft light of the mid latitudes. Now I am in the south, and while the height of summer is past, we are in its echoes. September is like March in Melbourne. And like Melbourne it is still warm. Temperatures in the high 20’s, and it feels like summer. The light is reminiscent of a Melbourne summer. White and bright.

Yesterday I did something I wanted to do for decades. I swam in the Mediterranean. Something I haven’t done since 1974 when I spent my last few weeks in my last Italian summer coincidentally not far from where I am now at Vietri sul mare.

We avoided the beach at Positano, being crowded and busy with boats and people and we took the bus to Praiano who has much less tourist allure, but this allowed us to get access to a small beach with a few people who were all locals.

It was not only nice to bathe again in the Mediterranean, but to do so with my partner. Swimming in Australia, especially in the surf is not a gentle relaxing affair. The waves themselves do not allow that in the first place. You have to be wary of them, and be careful you stay between the flags. There are body surfers, boogie boards etc.  It is fun, but can be exhausting. In most of the Mediterranean the water is flat, but it is also more salty allowing you to float much more easily.

There are still heaps of tourists here. I’ve heard as much English being spoken as Italian, and while I use Italian because it is easier anyone here from the hotel owner and the bus drivers can understand and communicate in basic English.  I am experiencing a reverse explanation experience. In Australian for 35 years I got the ‘but you don’t look like an Italian’ observation. Here I get ‘you speak Italian very well for a foreigner’ which is understandable as they would have heard me speaking English to Pene first. Then I go in to a 10 second recap of my life to explain my bilingualism. The locals are telling me that the largest group they are getting in this late summer are Australians. Thanks to our relatively strong Dollar no doubt.

I was also very pleasently surprised how nice the locals are to the tourists. There can be a wariness towards them in high tourist areas, especially in big tourists places such as Rome, Florence or Venice where indifference borders on rudeness. But here Positano most people have been quite nice.  Perhaps this may be partly due to the fact that I am scrupulously polite when I deal with people.

Going back to the similarities going up and down the hundreds of steps of Positano I am struck by the way the veggie plots are arranged. Apart from the steep terraces and the stunning view, they are are almost like they are bits of backyards of Italians in Thornbury and Coburg. And this is something that shows an Australia that I like. When I went to eat at the faux bedouin camp in Dubai I encountered food that was familiar to me, Tabbouleh, hummous. And now the Positano veggie patches. This is an aspect of Australia that I love. Something that Abbott and his anglosphere triumphalists cannot take away.

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