Discover the Authentic Amalfi Coast
Writing, photography & tales from daily life on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, through the eyes of Laura Thayer, an American writer, blogger, photographer and art historian.
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I love tea. I love scones. Yes, I’m American. (We’re allowed.) I usually keep my tea drinking ways to myself here in the land of espresso and cappuccino. Although I do go into a sort of giddy haze in London when I go in Fortnum & Mason or the original Twinings tea shop on the Strand. And my husband is very patient as the cupboard in the kitchen has been slowly taken over by tea. Frankly, I don’t even remember what used to be in there.
Now there’s black tea of various assortments from my favorite earl grey to a soothing Assam with the hint of jasmine from F&M to good ol’ strong cup of Yorkshire Gold. And since I don’t drink as much black tea as I used to, the cupboard is full to the brim (i.e., boxes fall on your head when you open it) with an assortment of Pukka herbal teas, chamomile tea and a big bag of dried peppermint from the erboristeria in Amalfi.
But the scones? There are so many tempting sweets here in Italy, but they’re all just a bit to sweet for me. Especially to face first thing in the morning since I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. Even the cornetti here, while very good, make me miss the slightly more savory croissants in Paris.
I’ve thought about making scones many time. Last year in London I stopped in Books for Cooks in Notting Hill and picked up a little booklet with recipes that had a very basic scone recipe. That little cookbook has since gone missing. How rude. Searching online often turned up recipes that had too many ingredients that are hard or impossible to find here on the Amalfi Coast. Buttermilk? Eh, nope. (And I’ve tried the substitutes with Irish soda bread … it’s just not the same.)
This morning I did a bit of searching and came across this recipe on delicious:days that was beautifully simple, had very few ingredients and all ones that I had in the pantry. Scones! They became quite golden brown, but that was because I had to run to keep Toulouse from knocking over and breaking the bedside lamp. (Again.)
So how did they come out? Well, I’ve had four. Just to make sure, you know. Result: very good! I look forward to experimenting with different types of scones. And I need a cutter, because the glass I used was a bit thick and it was hard to get a very smooth cut so the scones would rise evenly. That’s OK, they still tasted good.
Check out the recipe I used here. Or please to share your own. I’d love to try it out!
After a long and unusually dreary winter on the Amalfi Coast, the time change and arrival of spring temperatures means it’s finally time to dry laundry outside again. If you heard a loud cheer recently from the general direction of the Amalfi Coast, it was all the housewives who could finally put the laundry outside to dry again. While some lucky women have a balcony or terrace with sun exposure in the winter, our terrace receives sunshine for approximately 35 seconds per day in the winter. (Sure, I’m exaggerating … but 35 seconds is really what it feels like!) I’ll spare you the drama involved in drying laundry in a humid and cold house all winter long, but I will tell you that it involves much creativity, patience and small prayers to the heavens. (Translate: socks and underwear on every electric heater, buying special towels for the kitchen that dry quickly and seriously debating wearing the same thing for 12 days in a row…)
And then one day the sunshine arrives and all is good and right in the world again. Quickly we forget about icky smelling clothes that never dried, days upon days of being lost in the low-lying clouds and the monumental effort of trying to dry queen size flannel sheets without a dryer or sunshine. Now the laundry smells like sunshine … and I don’t want to hear anything about winter until I have to. (Usually I pass the denial of winter phase about January, so we can talk then…)
Happy spring from one very happy southern Italian housewife!
Like clockwork, the end of October often brings with it a big storm and an abrupt change in the seasons. One day the beaches will be dotted with sunbathers enjoying the last warm autumn days while holding onto summer for as long as possible and then the next the beaches will be barren and covered with debris washed up from the rough seas. We’ve had a few intense storms pass over the Amalfi Coast recently, and they brought with them the official end of the summer season. During a break in the rainy weather last week, I was out and about and was struck by the sudden change. Where not long ago there were rows upon rows of beach chairs lining the rocky Lido delle Sirene in Amalfi, now the beach is empty for the winter.
The colors were brilliant, even more so after the recent storms. The rough sea had churned up a spectacular turquoise that only shows up after bad weather. Besides the Amalfitans coming and going, the walk along the harbor was quieter than usual. After seeing the empty beaches, the other indication that the season has ended is the empty port. The boats have been loaded up and driven away on big, traffic blocking trucks to safer spots for the winter. Even the docks that are lined with boats all summer long are pulled up to protect them from rough winter seas. They’ll become scenic perches for the seagulls for the rest of the winter.
Perhaps the strangest sight at the beginning of winter is seeing the Marina Grande beach, the largest in Amalfi, completely empty. If you’ve been swimming here during the summer months you’ll know just how odd it is to see it without the rows of beach chairs and candy colored umbrellas. It will look like this, besides the odd group of visitors having a picnic on a sunny day and those rare locals that swim all year round, until next spring.
The season has ended, but with it another has begun in Amalfi. While it’s different for everyone, for us this is the time for catching up after a busy season – for running all those errands that there simply hasn’t been time to do and for trying to find some much needed moments of relaxation at the same time. The Christmas holidays are around the corner, but for now I think I can use just a little bit of time overlooking an empty beach.
I grew up hearing the motto “hurry up and wait” often, and we did in fact do a lot of waiting when I was a kid. It was a habit passed down by my grandfather from his days in the Navy to my mother growing up on a small family farm in rural Nebraska. It’s a habit I’ve been grateful for over the years, because it means I’m rarely late and it eliminates a great deal of stress from daily life.
My husband’s motto, on the other hand, could be described as “hurry up, we’re late!” That modo di vivere (manner of living) leads to some interesting (I’m being polite, read: scary) drives along the Amalfi Coast roads. I’ve learned that not only do I not appreciate those types of drives, since I get car sick, but that it really bothers me to be late as well. While he admits my habit of getting places early is much better, it’s not so easy to change a habit of a lifetime.
With my motorino I’ve been brought back to my natural habits due to its finicky attitude to starting. Turns out that my scooter is really a lot like me in that it doesn’t much care for rainy weather, too much humidity or wind. It kind of just gurgles and says, “No thanks, I think I’d really rather say home today.” But on sunny days it starts right up happily and is ready to go. Hum. I can’t really say I blame it! So that means when I need to be somewhere at a specific time, for safe measure I leave early enough to walk or take the bus as a back up. In other words, I hurry up and wait.
Not long ago I had an appointment to get my hair cut in Ravello and it was a humid and sticky morning. Half expecting the motorino to laugh at my attempts to start it, I left with plenty of extra time. It started right up and I arrived in the piazza in the center of Ravello with all that plenty of time to spare. I could have pulled out a book and found a quiet bench, but I spotted the large main doors of the Duomo open. It had been awhile since I had been in there, so I crossed the piazza and climbed the short flight of stairs.
With the doors wide open there was plenty of light to get a good look at the intricate mosaics and detailing on the 12th-century Ambone and the 13th-century Pergamo located on either side of the central aisle down the nave of the church. Both are decorative pulpits that were once used during services at the church, and are now admired for their beautiful mosaic work and carving. The Pergamo was created in 1272 and is attributed to Niccolò di Bartolomeo da Foggia and features six columns covered with a spiral of mosaics supported on the backs of six marble lions.
The Ambone in the Duomo of Ravello dates to 1130 and has beautiful mosaics depicting the story of Jonah. The whale doesn’t look quite like we might expect today, but nonetheless I wouldn’t want to be swallowed by it!
And then all to soon it was time to hurry off to get to my hair cut appointment. Hurrying up and waiting on the Amalfi Coast can so easily be a pleasurable pastime in itself!
The older I get the more I realize that sometimes the only way to really understand something is to just sit with it for awhile. It’s a quiet sort of thing, so different from the logical approach and gargantuan analytical effort of my academic days. Some things have to come in through the heart though, and it’s hard to make headway with them any other way. This struck me when I happened across a quotation by William Morris last week.
“The secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.” – William Morris
If I had read that five years ago while I was in graduate school and studying the Arts & Crafts movement in Europe and America, I would have been confused. What details of daily life? You mean the lunch I didn’t have time to eat since I had a pile of readings to finish before class that night? Laundry? I’m sure I did it, but I have no recollection of it at all during those years.
If I had read that two years ago, I would have reflected on it as a goal. Life in Italy had already slowed me down and captured my attention. While hanging laundry below a 12th-century bell tower in Italy, it’s kind of hard not to take more interest in the details of daily life. Learning to cook Italian was slowly transforming the way I thought about food and cooking, and every day I fell in love a little more with every part of my new life.
Last Thursday when I read that quotation by Morris for the first time, it struck me as immediately true and sent off a warm vibration that resonated deep within in chest. This isn’t something I could have understood five years ago, but I felt that it was something I’ve been looking for my entire life. Yesterday on my birthday I thought that perhaps I’ve been sitting with it for 32 years now. My heart was finally open and ready. I went out to the garden early yesterday morning while it was still cool and the birds were singing in the shade. I knelt down and smiled when I saw there were a few ripe raspberries ready to be picked. I gently twisted them off and rested them in my palm, and then went back inside to make cappuccino and breakfast.
Three sweet raspberries on my yogurt. They would be gone in moments, but their existence was a little treasure.