“The journey not the arrival matters”, T.S. Eliot had famously written. Wise words no doubt. But for a few tense hours on the day I was scheduled to leave Capri, it looked like there was going to be neither journey, nor arrival.
A few days earlier I had been surprised to learn that even in May there was only one ferry per day between Ischia and Capri. And even then there had been a tense half hour at the landing when it wasn’t clear that ferry would depart. A storm had come up overnight. Eventually we were given the go-ahead.
On the way over to Capri, a little unsettled by the almost non-departure, I decided, for my own peace of mine, to buy the ticket for the ferry to Amalfi – the village of Amalfi – definitely something going on with the naming thing down here – as soon as I landed. I knew there was a direct ferry service between Capri and Amalfi because I’d checked it out before booking a room in a hotel in Amalfi.
As if to confirm what a good idea this was, the biglietteria (bill-yet-teh-ree-uh) – again, however much you mangle it, just don’t pronounce that ‘g’ – for the ferry was right next to the wicket for the funivia. But when I asked for un biglietto – andata solo – per il traghetto delle 15:30 per Amalfi (a one-way ticket for the 3:30 p.m. ferry to Amalfi), the ticket agent shook her head. It was not possibile (poss-sea-be-lay). I insisted. We were talking about two days hence, not planning for the century. I learned later why she wouldn’t let me buy that ticket. And once again, thanked my guardian angel for holding me back from expressing my views on possibile and impossibile customer service.
The IT – Informazioni Turistiche – is next to the funivia station in La Piazzetta. Here, in addition to Tourist Information – but no money – you can also get tickets for the ferry.
On the day of my scheduled departure from Capri, I was there waiting when the signora in charge of the IT opened the shutters. I greeted her and then made my very reasonable request: “Vorrei comprare un biglietto ad Amalfi.” (I would like to buy a ticket to Amalfi.) She looked at me and said, “Mi dispiace, ma per ora non Le posso fare il biglietto.” (I’m sorry but I can’t sell you a ticket for the time being.) I looked at her in disbelief. “Come?”(co-may) – Pardon? “Mi dispiace,” she repeated, “ma non sappiamo ancora se oggi ci sarà servizio ad Amalfi.” (I’m sorry, but we don’t know yet whether there will be ferry service to Amalfi today.) “Come?” I stupidly asked again.
At this point la signora did not insult me by switching to English. Instead she patiently explained that they had no control at the IT over the comings and goings of the state-operated ferry system. They wouldn’t know until later in the morning whether the ferry to Amalfi would be operating. “C’è mare mosso.” Literally – “There is moved sea.” This of course means “Rough waters.” But “moved sea”?! What kind of expression is that? What does the sea do if not “move”? She advised me to come back around 11, by which time she would know whether or not there would be a ferry to Amalfi that day. And how would she know? By walking over to the terrace behind the clock tower and having a look at the Marina Grande, where the ferry would either be moored or not, having just come over from Amalfi.
There were still parts of the island I hadn’t explored and while it was a bit windy, it wasn’t raining. I decided to have a look at another of Tiberius’ villas.
At 11 sharp I was back at the IT. The beleaguered signora apologized. “Mi dispiace. Non è venuto. Oggi non c’è servizio ad Amalfi.” (I’m sorry. It didn’t come. There is no service to Amalfi today.) I stood there – speechless. In all my planning – all that dotting the “i’s” and crossing the “t’s”, the possibility that brutto tempo might put a spanner in my plans had never once – not even remotely – crossed my mind. Everyone knows there is no ‘ugly’ weather along the Amalfi Coast in May. It’s all sole and cielo azzurro (sun and blue skies). I had checked out of my hotel on Capri; I was on the hook for the hotel in Amalfi. From the mists of an impending panic attack I heard the signora add, “Ma il traghetto a Positano è sempre in servizio. Parte alle 15:00.” (But the ferry to Positano is still running. It leaves at 3 p.m.)
It turned out that while the sea was too “mosso” for the state-run ferry, it was not for the private service that runs between Capri and Positano. I bought a ticket for the 15:00 ferry to Positano. Even if the boats weren’t running, the buses along the coastline would be. It was only a few kilometres from Positano to Amalfi.
From the shelter of Marina Grande the sea hadn’t looked all that mosso, but the dock in Positano’s small harbour is a fairly primitive affair. It took a while for all the passengers to disembark. Every time a big swell came along, the captain had to back away from the dock.
After all the passengers were all on dry land, it was time for our luggage. Even when it wasn’t mine, I couldn’t help holding my breath each time a suitcase was tossed into the air. How the crew managed not to slip on the smooth, wet rock was beyond me. Workers on the right loaded it all onto carts.
Eventually the boat was emptied of all its human and material cargo. Then it was total pandemonium. People pushed and shoved to grab their stuff. Travelling around I’ve come across more people than I’d like who may well be polite, decent individuals In their “real” life, but when I’ve seen them in tourist mode, they are just plain ugly. As if they think that since they can’t talk to the locals – or fellow travellers – showing them any manners would just be a waste.
Finally I was reunited with my suitcase. I stood there on the dock pondering my next move. Positano is so picture postcard perfect because it’s built up the side of a mountain. I’m a light packer, but I’d been travelling for several weeks, gathering brochures and books from the gardens I’d visited and a few – very few souvenirs along the way. No ceramica, no vino, no olio di oliva. But there was still no way I could lug my suitcase up that hill. Mostly it was the books. Paper is unbelievably heavy.
One of the locals who had helped offload the luggage approached me and offered to take my suitcase up to the bus stop. Did he think I was crazy?! An easy mark – a woman travelling on her own? Asking me if I “desidera” to hand over what, for the time being, were all my earthly belongings to a random stranger that I might well never see again! But I didn’t see any other options.
Of course the Positanesi have seen all this before and what looks like utter chaos to an outsider’s eye is actually a finely organized system. I walked up to the bus stop and a few minutes later my luggage was presented to me. The view from the bus stop – looking east towards Amalfi – is lovely. But this photo is misleading. Not that I photoshopped it or anything like that. I don’t have the programs or desire to mess around with that stuff. It’s what I left out that makes it ‘dishonest’.
I wasn’t the only one now trying to get to Amalfi. A huge crowd of tourists was waiting for the bus from Sorrento. 45 minutes later it arrived. Already jam packed. What with all the ferries cancelled, there was only one way to travel along the coast.
What happened next revealed, once again, how thin that thin veneer of civilization really is. The line morphed into a crushing, angry, amorphous blob. And amidst all the jostling and shoving an American couple I’d been chatting with – they were going to visit the gardens of Villa Cimbrone too – we bumped into each other there the next day – anyway, they and I watched, incredulous at first, then in disgust, as a guy from way back in the line grabbed his suitcase, ran around the back of the bus and pushed his way into the front of the line. We managed to get on the next bus.
By the time I got to the hotel the sun was setting. As promised, it really was “a room with a view”. And the mare was no longer mosso. A glass of wine on my little balcony, my newly purchased copy of ‘The Story of San Michele’ and dinner ‘fra poco‘ (in a short while). All was well again.
When I woke the next morning, dark clouds blocked the sun. I was glad my island hopping days were over – at least for this trip.