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Monday, February 23, 2009

Steinbeck on Positano

The picture in my calendar for today is of Positano. Here's a little about it from Wikipedia ....

Positano is a small town on the Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana), in Campania, Italy .... Positano was a port of the Amalfi Republic in medieval times, and prospered in the 16th and 17th centuries. But by the mid-19th century, the town had fallen on hard times. More than half the population emigrated, mostly to Australia.

Positano was a relatively poor fishing village during the first half of the 20th century. It began to attract large numbers of tourists in the 1950s, especially after John Steinbeck published his essay about Positano in Harper's Bazaar in May, 1953: "Positano bites deep", Steinbeck wrote. "It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone."

As it turns out, you can read what Steinbeck had to say online here. Here's just a bit of it .....


[...] Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone. Its houses climb a hill so steep it would be a cliff except that stairs are cut in it. I believe that whereas most house foundations are vertical, in Positano they are horizontal. The small curving bay of unbelievably blue and green water lips gently on a beach of small pebbles. There is only one narrow street and it does not come down to the water. Everything else is stairs, some of them as steep as ladders. You do not walk to visit a friend, you either climb or slide.

Nearly always when you find a place as beautiful as Positano, your impulse is to conceal it. You think, " If I tell, it will be crowded with tourists and they will ruin it, turn it into a honky-tonk and then the local people will get touristy and there’s your lovely place gone to hell. " There isn’t the slightest chance of this in Positano. In the first place there is no room. There are about two thousand inhabitants in Positano and there is room for about five hundred visitors, no more. The cliffs are all taken. Except for the half ruinous houses very high up, all space is utilized. And the Positanese invariably refuse to sell. They are curious people. I will go into that later.

Again, Positano is never likely to attract the organdie-and-white linen tourist. It would be impossible to dress as a languid tourist-lady-crisp, cool white dress, sandals as white and light as little clouds, picture hat of arrogant nonsense, and one red rose held in a listless whitegloved pinky. I dare any dame to dress like this and climb the Positano stairs for a cocktail. She will arrive looking like a washcloth at a boys’ camp. There no way for her to get anywhere except by climbing. This alone eliminates one kind of tourist, the show tourist. The third deterrent to a great influx of tourists lies in the nature of the Posianese themselves. They just don’t give a damn. They have been living here since before recorded history and they don’t intend to change now. They don’t have much but they like what they have and will not move over for a buck .....



Blogger cowboyangel said...

I dream of going one day to the Amalfi coast...

Like Steinbeck's description. I like his travel writing in general.

7:44 PM  
Blogger Rosa said...

Hi there! Unfortunately the person who inserted that Wikipedia extract was misinformed. In fact most of the immigrants went to America. Only one went to Australia from Positano and that was in the late seventies (there are now others but that's beside the point). The path which links the two main beaches is called 'Via Positanese d'America'.

I just love what Steinbeck wrote about Positano - some is spot on and some predictions are off mark. It has me grinning throughout.

7:12 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks for setting things straight and for your comment :)

10:56 AM  

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