Rain, Rain, Go Away: Shopping in Vietri sul Mare and Ravello
21.09.2009 - 21.09.2009
When we woke to rain, rain, and more rain, we decided it would be a good driving and shopping day, since it wouldn’t be good for much else. Still unable to shake the lure of the $75 plates, but still unwilling to pay for them, we thought we might drive to Vietri sul Mare, a small town on the coast near Salerno that was known for its ceramics. This seemed to be a good day for it.
I made another monstrous breakfast in my ultra-wonderful Italian kitchen: bread toasted with olive oil, garlic, sea salt, basil, tomatoes, and parmesan; a platter of fruit; and sliced meats.
We traveled the short distance to Praiano so that I could try a cappuccino at Bar Del Sole, because I had seen that they put a little “picture” on top of your foam with sprinkled cocoa and I am easily drawn in by stupid crap like that. After waiting behind a traffic jam caused by a mule train, we parked and headed to Bar del Sole.
We were seated at a little table in front of a large window, the shutters opened and framing the beautiful dome of San Gennaro across the street. The bar sits in front of the cathedral so that if things get a bit too lively at night, you can commit your sins and then skip across the street to confess them.
My cappuccino arrived and there it was…a little sun smiling at me:
My inner child totally satisfied, we stopped at Tutto per Tutti market for more food and grabbed some fresh bread and fluffy croissants, jam, parmesan and smoked provolone, salami, olives, and milk before making our way up the coast road toward Vietri sul Mare.
After passing the towns we had become so familiar with: Fuore, Amalfi, Castiglione, Minori, Maiori….the road became practically deserted. Jagged cliffs rose wildly to the sky, golden with grasses and shrubs. It was desolate, rugged, and beautiful. Eventually signs of life began to reappear. We passed a tiny lemon stand, where I saw the biggest lemon of my life. It was the size of a grapefruit. (Yes, I bought it. It was $3. It was totally worth it).
We passed the small sea town of Erchie, so far below the coastal road that the boats looked like nothing more than colorful little dots scattered on the sand.
We found ourselves in Vietri sul Mare, just before getting into Salerno. Vietri sul Mare is known for its wonderful ceramics.
Ceramic shops were everywhere and we wandered in and out of them all morning. The city was a maze of little alleys and twisting lanes. Shops on every corner proudly proclaimed the best ceramics in all of the Amalfi Coast. We must have looked in every single one.
We didn’t see anything that even came close to the beauty and detail of the dishes we had seen in Ravello, so we settled for a couple of hot rolls from a small bakery and started the drive back to Ravello.
We wound our way through the maze of streets that took us to the small shop where we had fallen in love with the stupid, expensive plates. We eyed them, knowing good and well we were going to buy the damn things, but still unwilling to admit it, either to ourselves or to Salvatore, the shop owner.
While we were puzzling over the decision, Salvatore looked at Matt and said, “Are you an actor?” I looked at the wall of his shop which was covered with photos of American celebrities posing with him as they bought their dishes. I laughed.
“Are you?” he said, “Are you that American actor?”
Matt shook his head, chuckled, and said, “No.”
“You sure? I will ask her,” he said as he pointed to a teenage girl sitting at the desk. “She will know. She knows all the American actors. Is he an actor?” he asked her.
She smiled and shook her head, “No,” she said.
I looked at him and said, “If I say he is, can I get a discount on these plates?”
He laughed and told us he’d make us an offer we couldn’t refuse. He did. We didn’t refuse.
And that is how I ended up with $75 plates from Italy.
(Well…that and the fact that I think they are one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen….)
For the rest of the trip, whenever I wanted to get Matt riled up, I'd look at him, cock my head to the side, and in my worst Italian accent would say, "Are you that actor?"
Spending Matt’s money makes me hungry, so we headed to lunch. We went to Figli di Papa, and adorable little restaurant near the driving entrance to Ravello. We were seated on the beautiful terrace, flowers flowing in waves down the walls framing a beautiful view of the distant mountains behind them.
Lunch for me was a first course of a rocket and tomato salad followed by cannelloni. Matt went for a plate of zucchini sautéed in olive oil and vinegar and a crespini, which appeared to be crepes, baked with ricotta cheese and ham.
For dessert, I had an Italian cheesecake and Matt had profiteroles with chocolate sauce.
After lunch, it was still drizzly, so we drove up the mountain to Scala, a town that sat higher than Ravello.
The rainy day left swirls of mist wrapped around the hilltops and as we climbed higher and higher, we could look down on Ravello in all her beauty, sitting like a jeweled crown on the top of the mountain below us. It was hard to believe, but it was even more beautiful from here.
We drove through farms and vineyards, past stone buildings wrapped in mist and dogs barking in the mud, beside Italian workers as they carried their loads on the slippery streets.
When we arrived back at Villa Michelina, Michelina herself arrived with a plate of something like looked sort of like long pieces of fried dough covered with sugar and cinnamon. After a quick hug, she held them out to us and told them she had made them for us. Light and delicious, they went really well with an ice cold sip of her orangecello.
We spent the afternoon curled up on the down sofas at Villa Michelina, reading and listening to the drip, drip, drip of the rain as it tapped on the widows, the scent of Michelina’s pink day lilies filling the room.
It was still drizzly that evening as we wandered through tiny Marina di Praia trying to decide where to stop for dinner. No one was around, as most of the restaurants have outdoor seating. I saw the warm interior of Petit Restaurant Bar Mare and saw that they had one indoor table. One. We walked in and were warmly greeted by the owner, a giant of a man with the warmest smile, twinkling eyes and gentlest voice. He seated us at his one little table, gestured at all his beautiful tables outside, shrugged, and said, “The weather.” We were seated, and as his only customers that night, we were treated like family.
An older man (who we nicknamed “Grandpa” for the remainder of the trip), his face a maze of wrinkles, no doubt from a lifetime of warm sun on this very beach, stood behind the bar, smiling warmly as he poured wine from unmarked jugs into bottles. The house wine was literally something brought in by a local vineyard, unmarked, and delicious. A young woman sat idly at the hostess stand, her feet swinging slowly to the music. It’s a family owned business that has been passed down through generations. Another family member, a young man, was cooking in the kitchen. I felt more like I was having dinner at someone’s house than sitting at a restaurant.
Our host changed the music and in moments, Bob Marley was telling us, “Don’t worry…about a ‘ting…” as the rough waves outside grabbed the smooth stones of the beach with each push of the tide, creating a great “Swoosh….” sound followed by a gentle tinkling of the stones being pulled toward the sea, a sound like bells or glass.
“Grandpa” continually walked by our table, smiling and pointing to me saying, “Dolce, dolce,” and patting Matt on the shoulder. He didn’t speak a lick of English.
“What’s he saying?” Matt asked.
“I’m not sure…” I said. “He’s either saying I’m sweet, or he’s calling me a cake.”
We ordered a ridiculous amount of food. Tuna Bar Mare, a rare tuna seared with (surprise, surprise) olives and tomatoes. We ordered sides of fried potatoes and peppers. We also ordered pasta primavera and a seafood pasta. We didn’t make a DENT in all that food.
Despite the fact that we wussed out and couldn’t even finish our meal, the next thing we knew, our host was bringing us dessert on the house.
“No, no…” we protested and he gave us a mock look of hurt.
So we ate.
I have never been a fan of Tiramisu. I think that is because I have never had REAL Tiramisu. This was delicious. Light and spongy cake filled with sweet cream and just a hint of a mocha coffee flavor. As we wiped the cream from our chins, I looked at Matt and asked him if he wanted to rub my belly for luck, since I was starting to feel a bit like Buddha at this point.
Before we knew it, our gracious host was lining bottles of liqueur up along our table.
“You try,” he said. “We make it. Try them all,” as he set two little chilled glasses on the table. I thought my stomach would rupture, but who can turn down free drinks?
Let the drinking begin.
We spent the night sipping orange and melon liqueurs with the warm family of Bar Mare as the rain fell steadily outside the open doors and Bob Marley serenaded us softly in the background…
…”Every little ‘ting gonna’ be all right…”