The Unbearable Lightness of Almost Dying on an Italian Road (Salerno, Part II)

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At the end of the movie, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”  I seem to remember Juliette Binoche and Daniel Day-Lewis driving their battered pickup truck to market, finally content with their lives just before another truck takes them out in a head-on collision.  Or something like that.

Were they driving on the Amalfi Coast perhaps?

We wound our way back into Salerno trying to find the (elusive) Amalfi Coast road.  I told my husband to look for the narrowest road possible along the coastline.  Ah, yes.  Again, as part of my obsessive compulsive need to be prepared for any eventuality, I had read up on the drive, studied the accident statistics (bad idea), the frequency of insane traffic jams (high), and then weighed the liklihood that I would have some form of coronary event on the stunning Amalfi Coast (also high).  I used my beloved “Little Yellow Man” on Google Maps.  He assured me that the road was impossible for anything larger than a Vespa or a Fiat convertible.

“No, I’m not going.”

“Yes, you are.  You’re going to love it.”

“No, I’m not.”

“You’re going.  Kids, throw her in the backseat and lock the doors.”  It sucks having a son who’s a black belt and a daughter who’s stronger than I am.

Such began our journey down the Amalfi Coast, one of the most “spectacular” roads in the world.  No wider than a golf cart path, it makes the single track roads in the Highlands of Scotland look like I95.  When on it, you are sharing the pavement with numerous cars, Vespas, motorcycles, and enormous tour buses.  With the possible exception of the tour buses, all of the other vehicles are driven by happy-go-lucky Italians who live life as if every moment might be their last.  Less than a mile out of Salerno, the road began to twist upon itself in such a way that it must resemble a piece of fusilli pasta from the air.

My son played his DS, oblivious to the danger.  Occasionally he would stroke my hair and shush me as I whimpered.  My husband, grinning from ear to ear, pretended he was Italian and drove with an abandon that would see him arrested in Canada.  He passed on curves, on hills.  Every now and then he’d look back at me and shout, “This is awesome!”  My daughter, in the front seat (I’m so sorry,baby) proved herself the bravest of multi-taskers.  She navigated, scanned the roadside mirrors that warned of certain death around blind corners, took pictures, and tuned the radio.  She only screamed occasionally.  After a couple of miles, I had to lie down.

Our “plan” had been to make it to the town of Amalfi but we only got as far as Maiore.  Apparently, my sobbing was beginning to distract the driver.  We pulled into a parking lot overlooking one of many beaches.  I raised my sweaty head.  I kissed my children and threw a murderous look at my husband.  “That was the most fun I’ve ever had behind the wheel,” he said to my daughter who high-fived him.

Flushed with survival, we walked the beautiful seaside promenade in search of lunch and a very large glass of something strong for me.  We enjoyed a delicious lunch overlooking the waterfront boulevard.  The fish we ordered was no doubt caught that day. I gazed out at the blue Mediterranean and saw numerous fishing boats coming in and out of the harbour.    I silently wondered how much I would have to pay one of those guys to take me back to Salerno…or, I thought, I could just live here in Maiore.  I would never leave – it was beautiful – why not?

Fortified by gelato purchased at the end of the promenade (Voted “Best on the Amalfi Coast, 2010”), we wandered back to the car.  Yes, I needed persuasion and a bit of shoving to get back in – and, the front seat this time.  My husband handed me the camera.  “Distract yourself, take pictures.”  Oh, God.

It worked.  I noticed the coastline this time instead of the grilles of the vehicles hurtling towards us.  I noticed the impossibly steep hillsides crisscrossed by trellised grapevines.  I noticed the rocky outcrops and shadowy sea caves.  I noticed villas and castellos  that clung, defying gravity, over the blue water of the Mediterranean.  I marveled at the Italian ability to make use of every inch of available space, gravity and safety be damned!  It made for spectacular pictures.  My husband had to warn me once or twice not to hang so far outside the car in search of the perfect snapshot.  The cliff dropped away very fast and very close.

I knew the photos wouldn’t do the place justice.  The Amalfi Coast defies description.  We made it back to Hertz, planted a kiss on our Volvo, and headed back to the ship.  That evening as we left Salerno, I sat in the porthole and watched the golden sun sink behind the ancient villas along the coast.  In the falling light, a lone fisherman tended his nets far from the shore.  Lights along the coast began to twinkle.  I didn’t want to leave and I stayed in the window until Italy faded into the darkness. Ciao, Italia.

The ship turned slowly, heading east.  Two days at sea before we were to anchor in Kusadasi, Turkey.

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