Archive for January, 2011

Party for Castigleone

January 28th, 2011

In the late afternoon hours, the fragrance of the ripening lemons wafted up the hill and filled the porch of a beautiful bed and breakfast in Ravello, Campagnia, Italy, mingling with the windblown fragrances of the Amalfi coast and the warmth of the late summer sun. It was a time for rest and repose, with you working tranquilly over the computer, naming each image so that the memories would join up with the saved snapshots at some future date. I just lay back and let the long hours of driving drain out of my frame. Each breath inhaled was a reminder that the road was finished for the time, and now was the opportunity to let reality sink in a bit, and reconcile the dreams with the actuality.

You looked over and pointed out one picture, and with a shake of my head and a wrinkled nose, the picture vanished forever, a shot, unloved and unflattering, banished forever to the recycle bin…

Our host came around the corner, and when asked where we should go to dinner, he pointed over to stairs on our left and told us that these would take us down to Atrani, a small village that lay below, where there were very good restaurants. I looked out over the bay of Naples lying far below, and knew that, if I got up and walked to the edge of the porch, I could see down the coast for quite a ways, but I had neither the energy or the inclination. Travel is wonderful and mind expanding, and the wonders I had seen just in the past few days would take years to truly sink in, and, in the retelling, take on new insights, new comparisons, and maybe a fresh gloss of mental paint to make romantic the rundown, or exciting the normal. Above all though, travel is taxing on the body and soul.

After an hour the sun was sinking itself into the sea, and we decided to follow the stairs down to the town… as one flight led to another we realized that it was a lot further down than it looked, but the views afforded were spectacular and the trip was more interesting than taxing. The village was quaint, and small, with three restaurants stretching back from the sand. Each empty at this time, as the tourist rush had passed and the dinner rush not yet begun. The service was slow and deliberate, but that fit with the mood of the evening, and I am not sure that the staff, having seen the tourists come and go, and being able to react to their moods, did not deliberately make it that way.

After dinner we looked at the stairs again, and you asked how many I thought there were. I guessed 200, trying to sound optimistic… At 500 we stopped counting and just continued moving up one flight at a time. The views, for some reason, were not as compelling going up as they were coming down…

Music could be heard on the air, and an odd song reached out in the night… I have never been shy, and so went over and, leaning over a down staircase, saw a group of people, heating vegetables on an open grill.

They motioned us down, and we went, looking for anything that would dispel the monotony of the ever climbing stairs.

In a large court, just in front of the church, that any roman would have recognized as a small forum, were 50- 60 people, mostly sitting around the edges, watching the comings and goings of their neighbours. A pretty girl came over and gestured us in, making us welcome. Now our fractured Italian came into play as well as fractured English from what it turned out were the inhabitants of the town of Castigleone.. The church was the center of the town which clung to the staircases going up to the road which was Revello and down to a cliff that dropped down to a beach, Way too far to jump down, but, looking over the wall that separated town from sky provided a beautiful view and a bit of vertigo when one looked down.

Each of the members of the town came by and greeted us… One old gentleman talking to you in heavily accented French about his youth working in Marseilles, while his wife filled, and then refilled our glasses with homemade limoncello, so fragrant and full of the taste of the local lemons, it was so much better than the commercial product selling throughout Italy. A beautiful young girl was over at the piano holding the charisma of the whole town it seemed, and the pianist would craft tune after tune, seemingly made for the singer’s voice. The effect was much greater than just the two of them, and the two ladies got up to dance… they beckoned us out into the forum to join them, and, whether it was the wonderful musical duo, or the magic of the limoncello, we joined in enthusiastically…. A shout came from one of the sidelines “Ballerino” (dancing man), and I realized that I was the only man out there and with Napolitan machismo being what it was, would stay the only man out there until the evening warmed up quite a bit… None of this mattered, for the music, and the people were carrying me away, and I was exchanged from one set of arms to another, dancing with you for just a moment, before laughing and singing with the music, I was swept along to another partner…I am not sure if we were out there for two or three songs or for many, as the time passed wonderfully, and I noticed that one or two of the older men had been coaxed out to join me in the arms of the ladies. Age does have wisdom it seems…

We learned that, in Castigleone, they celebrate the last day of summer each year. I loved the idea and stored it away for future deliberation.

I noticed that each of the ladies had unwrapped food which was being laid out on long tables in front of the church, and each wanted us to try her dish…, one after the other, each as delicious as the next, each more filling than the one before. Meats and fishes, breads and deserts, and passed in tiny measure on the paper plates..

During dinner I saw the piano player mingling and realized that she was blind, which made the music more interesting. We talked to the singer in our best Italian, which brought peels of laughter.

As the food disappeared from the table, a pair of men got up and sung a Napolitan song, then another told as story, and then they brought out a large sheet and hung it on the uphill wall of the forum. Upon this they projected the words of the songs, and started a karaoke machine. As each new Italian song came on, a microphone would be passed around and the song on the sheet (gives a new meaning to the words sheet music) would be sung with greater or lesser accuracy, but the night was not to be judged on singing talent, but on a sense of community, and a joy found in living and being part of something larger than one’s self.

The mike was rushed over to me, and, looking up at the sheet I saw that they had put up Fred Ebb’s words to the John Kander song “New York, New York”. I am known for folk, rock and blues, rarely standards, so, when I sang, with no hesitation, or shyness (only way to sing, like you are in the shower and no one else is home) you looked at me like I had grown a third arm, and I got a large round of applause. A few minutes later, one of the ladies came over and told me that there had been a vote taken and I was officially the “hit of the party”. I laughed, while the lyrics to “New kid in town” rushed through my imagination, but knew exactly what I had to do… I took the little trophy, and, on one knee, before the young girl who had been singing so well all night, offered the trophy with what little humility still remains inside me. This proved to be a wonderfully popular move, and we were given small gifts and a picture of the whole population of the town.. which could be counted easily… on the face of a calendar from the previous year.

We decided that we should mount the last few flights of stairs and get to bed. One of the ladies accompanied us to make sure we knew the correct way (which was easy… “up”), and we accepted.

The next morning I went down to mass at the church on the forum, and was greeted warmly by the whole town. I was told by one or two that we were now adopted as residents…

I still have that calendar, and I still have that town in my heart, and, each year, on the last day of summer, with the calendar hanging in the kitchen, we bring in as many people as we can and have a Castigleone party in Brossard, Quebec, Canada, or North Castigleone as it is known in our house for that one day.