Achoo! (gay)

In the early 1900’s a group of children between the ages of 3 and 6 from an impoverished neighbourhood in Rome achieved an extraordinary feat – they ‘spontaneously’ learned to read.  Their teacher would go on to develop a revolutionary philosophy in Early Childhood education still in use in thousands of schools throughout the world.

No doubt Maria Montessori would have made an important contribution to the education of young children no matter what part of the world she lived in, but she did get a lucky, early break.  The language she was working in was Italian.  And, unlike English, with its bizarre, largely incomprehensible spelling, Italian is phonetic.  The path from tracing their tiny fingers over the sandpaper letters Ms. Montessori made for them, to forming words was much shorter than it would have been in any other language.

Heading east along the Amalfi Coast.

Heading east along the Amalfi Coast.

Given all this, you would think that learning Italian would be facile (fah-chee-lay).   Facilissimo (fah-chee-lease-see-moh)!  Well, it is a lot easier than many other languages, but it does have a few quirks that, unfortunately for the beginner learner, crop up in even the simplest exchanges.  The one that seems to cause the most trouble is how to pronounce ‘c’.  It really shouldn’t be so hard.  Everyone knows la vita is dol-chay and who doesn’t know how to pronounce the name of the world’s most famous puppet – Pinocchio?  Cappuccino is almost an English word by now.  And on and on.  I’m sure you’ve got lots of personal favourites.  (Just don’t get me going on bruschetta.  It’s brew-skate-tuh!)

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In any event, today’s title has nothing to do with sneezing and everything to do with a little fish with a couple of those pesky c’s.  ‘A-choo-gay’ is how you pronounce acciughe (anchovies).  Now before all you anchovy-haters start scrunching up your noses and sneeze for real, as things turned out, there isn’t much about them in this post – only one photo – and you might be pleasantly surprised.

While I was at Villa Maria, there was one more village I wanted to visit – actually there were two, but I decided to skip the second one when I learned that the bus drivers were on strike.  I came across this bit of news a few hours after arriving – by bus – in Cetara.

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Cetara, the self-proclaimed anchovy capital of Italy.

Cetara is only 11 km east of Minori, so it was still early morning when I arrived.  Blissfully ignorant about the strike, I spent a lovely morning exploring the harbour.

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As much as I love the charm of postcard-perfect villages like Positano, I also love exploring places like Cetara that are less visited by tourists.

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It was nerve-wracking to watch as this fisherman would look up even as he continued gutting the fish.

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As in Sorrento, fishermen, back from the night out fishing, were busy mending and tidying up their nets.

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I walked along the high wall that sheltered the little harbour.

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Not sure why they added the English translation of the obviously ignored prohibition.

I was in luck.  One more fishing boat was just arriving.

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I followed a group of locals as they walked out on one of the narrow piers to where the boat tied up.  They didn’t seem at all fazed by a sign at the beginning of the pier –  ‘Keep Out – unless you’ve got a boat moored here!’

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Not content to buy from the local fishmonger, these fish lovers were getting their fish right off the boat.

Each client gave his or her order and as everyone watched attentively, the fish were weighed and euros exchanged.

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After they had all made their purchases, there were just two small fish left. Come on, signora, the fisherman pleaded to the woman in the sunglasses.  What am I going to do with these?  Are you sure you don’t want a bit more?

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She laughed and said, Sorry.  He stood there, looking at the fish, as if in disgust.

Small fish usually get a lot more respect in Cetara.  Anchovies play an important role in the village’s economy.  Fresh, fried, sott’olio (preserved in oil) and especially colatura di alici – a thick, (very) salty syrup made from anchovies preserved in salt.

But there is another fish that has played an even bigger role in Cetara’s economy over the centuries – tonno (tuna).  The village is even named after it –  ‘Cetari’ is Latin for ‘fishers of big fish’.

I found some in a store along the waterfront.  confusingly anchovies are called acciughe (what I was used to) and a alici.

I found alici and tonno in a lovely little store along the waterfront. My kind of souvenir.

Confusingly, most people along the Amalfi Coast seemed to call anchovies, which I had always known as acciughealici (a-lee-chee).   In any event, I knew what I was going to have for lunch.

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In the meantime, there was a bar nearby overlooking the waterfront.  A good place for a mid-morning cappuccino.

On the eastern half of the harbour was la spiaggia (speeaj-juh).

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Maria had told me that lots of people – herself included when she was younger – went swimming on Christmas Day.  Watching the sun-bathers and swimmers on this mid-October day, it seemed an entirely reasonable, if very un-Canadian, Christmas tradition.

I decided to have a look at the church.  I knew that the bit of the mosaic dome above the buildings next to the bar belonged to a church.  All the villages along the Amalfi Coast, no matter how small, had churches with domes like this.

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The entrance was in a rather forlorn little piazza facing away from the sea.  Not surprisingly, it was dedicated to one of Christianity’s greatest fishermen.

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The bronze doors were most unusual. And perfect for a village whose livelihood, throughout history, has depended on fishing.

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No matter how many of these churches I visit, I am always surprised at the opulence of the interiors in even the smallest villages.

Then I walked back up through the village.

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Where was this fish going?

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Bontà means ‘goodness’.

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Have you ever seen grapes so lovingly displayed? Not fancy, but with such obvious respect and care.

Wherever I am, I like to eat una cucina genuina e tipica (genuine, local food).   A simple strategy, that I’ve found very rewarding over the years, is to ask the locals.  I decided this fruit vendor was just the place.  They suggested a trattoria – it was very small, very simple, they warned me – just past the bridge heading away from the sea.  The food was genuino and del posto (of the place).  Perfect!

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One of the tricks of eating solo is to look for something that will give you an assortment. I was tempted by the Tonno affumicato (smoked tuna) but in the end chose Misto di alici (assorted anchovies).

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Anchovies done every which way. Delizioso – even if you think you don’t like anchovies.

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From my corner table I had a great view of life along the village’s main street.

After lunch I headed for the bus stop.  I had only gone a few metres when I saw the headline.

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SITA EMPLOYEES WITHOUT MONEY – CHAOS AND INCONVENIENCE – CUSTOMERS ANGRY

SITA is the name of the national bus company.  I learned later that many of the drivers hadn’t been paid in seven months.  But for the moment I was filled with dismay.  Sciopero (shoh-peh-row) was a word I hadn’t heard in a long time.  A public transit strike would be problematic anywhere, but the thought of having to make my way back to Minori a piedi (pyay-dee) was not just unpleasant; it was alarming.   There was no way I was going to walk along that narrow coast road.   Without having to slow down for the buses, it would be a free-for-all for the rest of the vehicles.

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An alarmingly deserted bus stop.

There was no-one at the bus stop when I arrived.  I was relieved when a couple of Italians joined me a few minutes later.  But my relief was short-lived.  They were as confused and concerned as I was.  One of them said that if the bus didn’t come soon, she would call her daughter in Salerno to come pick her up.  Since my own daughter was inconveniently in Canada I decided to take the first bus that came, no matter which direction it was heading.

The first bus was heading west, back to Minori.  It was probably a good thing.  My suitcase was already uncomfortably heavy – I’d picked up some olive oil along the way and I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist adding ‘just a few’ more pieces to my collection of Amalfi Coast ceramica.

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