Ravello: A Comfort
People talking in lively voices in the street beneath my balcony. The moon up, big and awake, throwing its shy light in a stream across the dark Mediterranean Sea. The electricity has been out for some hours. It is back now, partially. My refridgerator just started up again. My fan did not. There is the moonlight, a single street lamp and the mosquito candle. Just about bright enough.
-I’ve kept it for at least two years, waiting for the right occasion to open it. It’s a bottle of Cristal. Have you heard about Cristal Champagne?
We put on the scooter helmets and he hands over a bucket of ice. Two beautiful glasses are carefully wrapped in towles in my backpack. I have heard about Cristal. Never tasted it, but heard of it – yes.
I smile. He is so good. I am so lucky. I do not know how to express a sufficient thank you.
Thank you. There it is again. I have been saying «Thank you» a lot these days. I said thank you when he shared that bottle of 1999 Cristal on my balcony with me. I said thank you to my childhood friend Marthe for spending six splendid days with me down here on the Amalfi Coast, and for her attempts at cheering me up. I said thank you as I walked past the magnificent cathedral of Ravello the other day, and heard the unmistakable Bach flowing out of the tall, gothic windows. I was on my way to somewhere else, but turned, entered the church, covered my shoulders with a shawl and lit a candle for my grandfather.
My grandfather passed away last week. I was here in Italy, I would never have made it home in time, and mom and dad insisted that I should stay here and enjoy my vacation until the funeral. Grandfather would not have accepted anything else. He got his driver’s licence renewed on Monday. On Tuesday he suffered an acute heart attack. On Wednesday he died without feeling any pain. Two days later he would have turned 94 years old. The last time I saw him was ten days prior to his passing, in my brother’s wedding. It was a small, personal event. My grandparents were so happy to have been there.
The organist is lifting Bach’s work to rejoicing heights. I think of how merciless life is, never letting anyone escape alive. And I think of how miraculous it is, how much beauty it shows us, and how worthy its ending can be. An old man waving goodbye from his hospital bed to each and every family member present in the room, because illness has stolen his ability to speak. His ability to write a last note. Then again, my grandfather was first and foremost a listener. His pen was the strangely flat carpenter pencil, and his stories are carved into the beautiful furniture he made.
Grandfather believed in God, and is in Heaven now. I fail to believe in God. Still, I experience Heaven from time to time. I walk through the garden of the Cimbrone Villa, at the tip of the cliff on which Ravello rests. In this garden, created by Ernest William Beckett, a man devastated by the loss of his wife, Heaven comes closer. Beckett wanted to cheer himself up, to make Cimbrone «the finest place in the world». A Heaven on Earth. Indeed, Cimbrone has a breath-taking view over the Mediterranean Sea, fresh air scented by the numerous flowers, impressive works of art spread out in between romantic pathways and soothing greenery. Even during the most touristy season the garden is peaceful.
They say that Hell is repetition. A good friend of mine asked me what kind of food I would pick if I had to eat the same dish for all eternity. My answer was simple: Pasta Pomodori. There is a spectacular hotel in Ravello, on the opposite side of Cimbrone, called Palazzo Sasso. There, at their balcony, I enjoy Pasta Pomodori and a glass of local wine. And Hell cannot be farther away.
Back in Praiano, the small fisher village I live in, I hear the bells of the San Lucca church. Since it is Sunday, the street beneath my balcony is filled with church-goers. I wish I was one of them. And I wish I belonged in Praiano, this community of good people. Luigi who calls the waiter in the restaurant where I sit and cry over dinner, to order a Limoncello for me. Ivan, who arrives at the door three minutes after I give him a frantic call about an ant invasion in my apartment, and who is sad about me having to leave a week too early. Piccoletto, who reserves a sun bed for me every day in the front row of the beach, who pinches my cheeks gently, looks into my eyes and says: «No more tears!»
I am both sad and scared these days. Sad because I will never see Grandfather again, and I did not get the chance to say goodbye to him. And I am scared that the man on my balcony and I are like the bubbles in the champagne we shared; fragile – and not like the gold I thought of when looking into my sparkling drink; a precious metal resisting all external influence.
And yet I find more comfort than reason for sorrow.