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Tales from a Tourist Town: Amalfi Coast, Italy

An adventure…a pause far away from the familiar to a foreign land…yes, there are layers here. They run deep. Deeper than the eye can see…can imagine.

What began as a journey to discover the roots of Firefly, and the origin of our product, Neapolitan pizza, resulted in something unexpected. To seep into the layers of these tourist towns, Castiglione, Amalfi and Atrani, seaside villages nestled amongst the cliffs of the Mediterranean, was both humbling and inspiring. The crowds of visitors are smaller in November, and stripping away this layer of tourism makes it possible to see these towns as they are…the people, the faith, the food, the culture.

And stories. Every step tells one. They are everywhere here…in the crumbling, yet preserved exteriors of the houses, in the ascending steps that rise above the villages, in the crashing of the sea during an occasional lightning storm. This was home to the ancient Romans, a place of battles fought and lost, a pilgrimage destination from the time of the Crusades. Earthquakes, plagues, invasions.  The imagination fills in the blanks where there are no historical accounts recorded. Watch-towers built to spot the Saracen pirates of the Middle Ages rise along the cliffs. Dilapidated ruins, structures, and monasteries from the 1300s are visible, and sometimes hidden in the underbrush of a lost trail. The old and ancient remain – newer ways cannot exist in the steep terraces and foreboding landscape of the dramatic limestone cliffs.

And yet, the present is woven in and through these layers. An old man with a lofty bag of olives on his back trucks down the steep steps much faster and sure-footed than I, as if he has each step memorized. The church bells ring, day and night, a call to pause and reflect for a moment, pulling me out of the busy thoughts in my head, a pleasant contrast to the bustling shops and the traffic traveling along the narrow, terrifying coastal road that little old nonnas walk along without a worry.

Off the beaten path, lemon gardens are scattered amongst the terraced hillside. Everything ‘lemon’ can be found here – limoncello, lemon cake, lemon chocolate, lemon pasta, lemon gelato, lemon-coated almonds… The farther one hikes up the cliffs, the quieter it becomes. The birds sing. The bees buzz.

Yes, the local flavor cuts through the tourist overlay this time of year, and wandering amidst the narrow pathways connecting lofty three-story buildings, I can hear it. Feel it. There is a coziness here and a longing to explore. Within apartments dishes clink, and the smell of Italian food simmers and wafts. Words foreign to my ears are spoken, the laughter universal. Clothes are hung outside to dry on tiny balconies and the scent of fresh laundry permeates. Every turn in the path leads to something unexpected…a shrine with candles burning, a Nativity scene, mosaics of the Blessed Mother and Saint Andrew. Reverence for the Catholic faith is woven through daily life here, something I appreciate…there is a commonality, a focal point, and whether practiced or not, it is a simple comfort.

Coming full circle, at the end of this journey, family is found. My husband’s Consigilio cousins…family left behind nearly a century ago. A connection is made. A restoration of the roots lost, yet rediscovered. And so, this is what we bring this back with us… a respect and an understanding for the richness of this culture interwoven in our Neapolitan pizza.  A product of authenticity and a need to do it right.

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