Quando, Quando – Part II

After lunch I set off for the Duomo.  Given that Ravello is only 7 square kilometres and the touristy part a lot smaller than that, it took quite a while.

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Every other store, or so it seemed, sold ceramica – some of which was gorgeous.

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Vietri-sul-Mare at the eastern end of the Amalfi Coast is often described as the pottery centre of the region, but having been to both places I’m not convinced.

Umbrella stands.

Umbrella stands.

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It was everywhere.  Teetering on uneven, brick steps – and awfully close to rough, stone walls.

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I suppose the sheer size of these things makes theft a non-starter, but the stone ledges they’re perched on are so uneven. What about breakage?

Eventually I made it back to Piazza del Duomo and climbed the stairs to the church entrance.  From the table on the other side of the piazza where I’d rested after the climb up that morning, the church had seemed terribly austere.  Maybe that was why I had passed by it on previous visits to Ravello.  I was in for a big surprise, starting with the doors.

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There are 80 of these panels – all as intricately decorated as this one and the one below.

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I had always associated the dragon-slaying St. George with England and I’d certainly never thought of his exploits as a ‘sacred’ story.  What was he doing, displayed so prominently on the front door of a Catholic church?  That was the first of a few surprises.

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An unlikely structure to put right in the middle of a church.

This is the first thing you see when you enter the church.   It struck me as having more of the pagan than Christian.

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I found out later the Italian name for this kind of structure is ambone.  If your knowledge of pre 14th century Roman Catholic church architecture is as scanty as mine, knowing the English term – ambo – isn’t going to be any more enlightening.

In the earliest churches, the ambo (Greek for ‘elevated place’) was a portable raised stand from which the Gospel was read.  Over the centuries it evolved into a more permanent and important element of Christian architecture.  By the Byzantine and early Romanesque eras – this church dates back to the 11th century – the ambos were highly decorated, monumental structures like this one.  A lot to keep the attention of the faithful, if not on the priest and his message, at least in the general vicinity.

Across the aisle was another strange structure.

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A man-eating dragon?

‘Ambo’, as you may have been thinking, also means ‘both’, as in ambidextrous.  In many churches there were two ambos.  This smaller one was for the reading of the Epistles.

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But what were the fish doing here? If I hadn’t been so focused on the dragon motif I might have figured it out.   It’s Jonah being swallowed and then spat out by the whale.

Continuing down the aisle things got more ‘normal’, or at least less unexpected.

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Things are all over the place when it comes to taking photos of art work in Italy.  In some places the paintings are set so far back, or behind thick protective glass, you can barely see them, let alone take a decent photo.  In others, like the Duomo of Amalfi nearby, you can take photos as long as you turn off your flash.  (And, unlike signs posted in buses, I recommend you take these prohibitions seriously or you may end up, as one tourist did, getting chewed out by a security guard.  She was so upset she promptly left the building and I am sure, that irrational as it it, she has harboured negative feelings to that church ever since.)

Then there are the places where you can’t take any photos at all  – the Museo del Vaticano for example.   I learned the reason for this prohibition on a tour of the Vatican gardens.  A recent restoration project in the Museo had been performed by Italians, but paid for by Japanese interests.  Prestige and goodwill obviously not sufficing, what did the Japanese get out of it?  Exclusive rights to all photographs within the Vatican until 2015.  And what happens after 2015? asked one of the members of our group.  The guide shrugged her shoulders.

Things are all over the place when it comes to art in Italy.  Some places you can barely look at the paintings.  Others no photos are allowed - not even without flash.  And here a priceless painting was just set on an easel with no protection - not even a rope barrier.

This priceless painting rests on an easel with no barrier at all between it and the viewer – not even a rope.

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Behind the altar, with St. Francis and Mary and the Baby Jesus for company, St. George – again.

There is nothing that I can find anywhere, I’ve check English and Italian websites – to explain the presence of St. George in this church.  (Hopefully it isn’t one of those things that is so obvious most people assume it doesn’t need explaining.)  I did come across an entry on a BBC website according to which one of the popes had described him as one of the saints ‘whose names are rightly reverenced among us, but whose actions are known only to God.’  Readers were cautioned that since ‘everything about Saint George is dubious’ to take the information on the site ‘as mythical rather than real’.

I walked across the piazza to Villa Rufolo.

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One of my favourite views of the Amalfi Coast was virtually unchanged, but on the parterre next to it there was a new sculpture.

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The sculpture reminded me of the pieces in front of Niemeyer’s Auditorium.

I was so focused on the sculpture I didn’t notice the empty planter on the wall behind it.

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May 2012

On my previous visit, the planters and the parterre exploded with colour.

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But on this visit…

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I realize there are transitional periods in gardens, but this was esagerato.  This parterre is the (much publicized) highlight of the Villa Rufolo gardens.  To add insult to injury, there wasn’t a gardener in sight.  The only sign of activity were the daredevils installing the stage for an upcoming performance.

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It gave me butterflies just watching them.

It put me out of sorts and I quickly left.  I decided to have a caffè and then head back to Minori.  Next to Villa Rufolo was a very elegant-looking hotel with a restaurant and bar.  By the entrance gate was a notice advising it was ‘Aperto al pubblico‘ (Open to the public).  I could see there was a lovely terrace with a view of the Rufolo gardens – minus the wretched parterre.

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Just visible on the left are the upper arches of the cloister.

I had the terrace all to myself – it was well past lunch-time and I had a feeling people didn’t realize you could just walk in off the street.

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I spent a lazy hour or so, watching people as they wandered around the garden and…

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… gazing out into the very peaceful, very blue yonder.

I’d finished my espresso ages ago – even if you sip the things, it doesn’t take long – and was starting to think of the pleasures of an early aperitivo.  But – in this one case – reason prevailed and I reluctantly paid the waiter who had started to hover.  My plan was to take the bus back – even downhill there were a lot of steps between me and Minori.  But I changed my mind when I saw the crowd lined up at the bus stop.  They had obviously been waiting – in the hot sun – for a while.

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The line stretched far back into the tunnel.

I’ve written about this before but in case you missed it, to get to Ravello you have to get off whatever bus you’ve taken to get to Amalfi (the village) and wait – in an annoyingly amorphous line – at the stop on the east end of the main piazza.  Here you will (hopefully) get on the (much smaller!) bus that goes up to Ravello.

There was no way all those people were going to get on the next bus.  And when the bus did arrive, boarding was bound to get ugly.  I’d seen it happen, many times.

It was a long way down, but walking sure beat being packed like sardines with a bunch of sweaty, ill-tempered tourists on a bus lurching its way down the mountainside.

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And as far as quando? I recommend visiting the gardens of Villa Rufolo?  A mani basse (a mah-knee bass-say) which translates literally as ‘hands down’ and, unlike most of these expressions, actually means the same thing as the English – although given the extent to which Italians use their hands when speaking, I would think it carries much more oomph – in any event, without a doubt, like Villa Cimbrone, if you want to see this garden at its best, think Botticelli and aim for la primavera (pree-muh-vair-uh).

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