23rd November 1980 – it had been an unusually hot day but that gave us no warning of what was to come. In the evening, as I was preparing for my boys’ bedtime, I was dumbfounded by what happened from one moment to the other………..
“I had said I’d get the boys’ bath ready and as I walked towards the bathroom there was a shattering bang. The shock of so loud a noise stopped me and for a moment I thought a jet had broken the sound barrier above us, but within only a second or two, the floor began to undulate beneath my feet; it felt like trying to balance on a slow roller coaster. All our windows shook and a chandelier trembled violently. The word ‘earthquake’ jumped into my mind but I didn’t want to believe it……………..
soon, it seemed the whole town had gathered on the sea-front, where we all tried to understand what was happening………………
“I had been wrong to expect scenes of panic; people were gathered in hushed groups; several were crying, some stood still in dumb shock, others were praying. Everyone had someone to be afraid for. Clearly there had been a catastrophe somewhere but with the electricity off again, there were no radios or television sets to give us news. We waited, not knowing what to do and people tried to comfort one another. Friends I didn’t know I had saw me with my children and offered us refuge in their car, or to share some food with them……………………”
“Although Ravello was mentioned by Boccaccio in his ‘Decameron’ – it’s nice to know that two men from the UK were responsible for keeping the town high on the list of European cultural pilgrimages by attracting so many famous visitors and artists over the last two centuries. Neville Reid, the Scot whose beautiful garden so enchanted the great composer, Wagner, that he can be considered responsible for today’s highly regarded international music festival – and Lord Grimthorpe, the Yorkshireman whose own ‘Shangri-La’ became a place of refuge away from curious eyes for Sweden’s great actress, Greta Garbo and her secret lover the conductor, Leopold Stokowski, as well as providing a magnificent setting for countless others who have continued to enjoy its beauty over so many years.”
We always had something special to look forward to. The pavements were always busy for the evening passeggiata and then there were the historical processions, the annual Regatta end even celebrations for seasonal fruits and vegetables. I was delighted when I first saw the pumpkins and long, rounded squash, not only displayed on stall counters and tables, but also sculpted by local craftsmen into houses, animals, all manner of different items. Other festas celebrated the harvest of chestnuts, cooked in various different ways or simply sold hot from the fire. Pasta could not be forgotten and was very good to eat hot on a cool autumnal evening. There was all the colour and pomp of the annual Regatta, as well as equally colourful religious processions. During the Summer season we could take ourselves to the Piazza Duomo to listen to popular singers, musicians and dancers, who would entertain their enthusiastic audience seated around them on the steps, standing or sitting at the bars. It felt so good to be part of that crowd having so much fun.
I would never miss what for me was the most moving of all these events, the celebration of Good Friday – Venerdi Santo. They begin with Mass in the packed cathedral at the end of which the doors are thrown open wide and in my time in Amalfi, there was usually a man representing the Christ figure and carrying a heavy wooden cross on his back. Today they seem to use different symbols each time, but Ialways remember the man with the cross. There is a hush throughout the town and all electric lights are closed – replaced with burning torches in holders on the walls. My memory is that it always rained on Good Friday – symbolic tears from Heaven.
The time came when circumstances meant we had to move away from our ‘private road’ and life was never the same again.
“No more could I sit on our terrace or at the windows to watch the sea in all its moods, the rising sun bringing us into a new day, or its golden globe turning to flaming orange as it sank into night, leaving a sky streaked with deep reds and purple; nor could I see the fishing boats with their bobbing lanterns, or the port illuminated by the dazzling silver light of a full moon. No more front-row view of the exciting fireworks displays, children playing on the beaches, the to-ing and fro-ing of ferry boats, the noise of buses and coaches, the sound of music drifting up from the stradone, and chatter of holidaymakers strolling slowly down to the jetty. At night, other than the noise of cars and vespas, all I could hear was the lonely call of the white owl who occasionally flew out from his secret home somewhere on the mountain wall opposite our windows. We also left behind the daily contact with our neighbours, who were now good friends, and lost the feeling of being in a very close, family-like community.”
photograph – looking towards our ‘private road’ from Amalfi’s port.