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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Shades of #Ravello. By John von Daler

                  Walking down from the old cloister I could see the buildings of Ravello stuck precariously on the mountain top: the little market like a tongue hanging out on the edge, the square in front of the church with small cafes and kiosks and miniature people mostly meandering, the garden and balcony overlooking the bay with its magnificent view - purchased by Gore Vidal out of the proceeds from all that acerbic wit.
First I had to walk down to a kind of an intersection of mountain roads, coming from either side, Scala and Ravello, as if this somehow were a busy place what with all the famous visitors, Wagner, Ibsen, Lawrence, Longfellow, and the aforementioned owner of the panorama.
                I wanted to purchase some ceramics. From my side of the valley in San Cataldo I could see numerous places with colorful signs, all set up to entice the wandering tourist on the way up the mountain. I could see the colors all the way across the valley and even as I was thinking, how gaudy! and where would I put the stuff? I found myself walking down and then up the road in the hot sun to look more closely at their wares.
                I did manage to pass the first two or three places. You have to look as if you are a discerning customer. And I was burdened with what we for some reason call "good taste", a set of unwritten rules that always have troubled me even as I abided by them. After all, if our taste had its way, Botticelli could never even have painted just one wall in our homes and van Gogh would have been hidden away like a naughty child. Brilliant colors, in the manner of orderly Victorian children, should be observed at a great distance, if at all. They should never be displayed unless in the nature of an audacious exception and as a great joke. Please, our life takes place in pastels, not primary colors.
                I finally found a place down a side street off the square. It too was filled with a rainbow of gaudy dishes, bowls, plates, candle holders and irreverent statues of nymphs and satyrs: something for the tourist to bring home, display for a week or two and then hide, like that untouched bottle of ouzo from Athens, in a lower drawer.
                As I went through the three large rooms of touristica I met a saleswoman, pleasant, dressed in a light cotton dress, her dark hair in an unruly bun, her skin smooth and permanently tanned, her eyes the darkest of browns. We spoke together in English.
                I tried to convey to her my positive response to her wares while reserving at the same time the right to find some as yet unseen product that somehow would fit into my decidedly pale home. These complicated thoughts did not translate well. She, having heard my spiel, pulled out a white cow through the mouth of which one could pour coffee cream. I looked around feverishly for some lever with which to pry open our conversation, when I noticed on the wall a beautiful little plate in a light blue design, delicately and sparingly painted.
                "Ah, no, monsieur, this eez notta for sale. Eet eez a peasanta plate you know froma da countrysida. You notta lika."
                But in fact I did like it.
                I asked her what kind of dinner service she used in her own home. She looked around I think to make sure that we were alone and then pointed at the plate on the wall.
                "Lika theez one! We are a vera, vera boring, you know!"
                Ah, I thought, Good Taste strikes again, also here in Ravello.  It turned out that she could make almost anything with that pattern if given a few days. I ordered some things and not wanting to ruin her reputation among the other merchants, a week later I smuggled the pale blue and white ceramics out of her shop and through the unsuspecting town in a brown paper bag.


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