Aside from their trips to Rome and its surrounding historical sites, the Rabinowitzes circled the area to the south of Fiuggi in their final days in Italy. The main objectives in this region were the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius and Naples itself in the region known as Campagna.
It would take at least two full days to traverse this area and Belle Rabinowitz was concerned they would be spending too much time driving in the van to make it worthwhile. As usual, Jake didn’t listen to his wife’s wise counsel and so, they left Fiuggi early one morning with the objective of touring the renowned Amalfi Coast, including Sorrento, Pompeii and Vesuvius, and Naples would be left for another day, if they had sufficient time.
On the chosen date, the Rabinowitzes arose early, had breakfast and started out from the Grand Palazzo in Fiuggi at 8:30 a.m. In place of Davide, their guide and chaperone on their previous trips, they were accompanied by Rita, an Italian guide who had previously lived in Connecticut for 20 years. She was a tough-talking lady who, it soon became clear, was accompanying the Rabinowitzes, not so much to guide them through that day’s itinerary, as to enjoy a holiday tour at their expense.
“The trip from Fiuggi to Amalfi will take approximately two-and-a-half hours to complete,” said Gianluca Botello, their regular driver, as he exited the grounds of the Grand Palazzo. “Sit back and relax,” he said in his accented English.
The road south was by the main Rome-Naples highway with early morning rush-hour traffic slowly dissipating. At one of their frequent pit stops, the Rabinowitzes visited an Italian service center where they noticed some interesting cultural difference from such locations back home in America. First, in Italy, even if you only wanted to use the restrooms, conveniently located near the entrance, you couldn’t exit to your vehicle without embarking on a circuitous route that wound through the entire complex until you came to a checkout area which finally exited to the outside.
“The Italians have certainly mastered the art of maximizing sales at these service centers,” commented Jake to Belle, as they passed an entire supermarket-full of comestibles on their way out of the building. One display in particular caught Jake’s eye. Under a large sign that read “Pasta Imperiale” stood rows of different types of uncooked pasta, all wrapped in transparent wrapping material. Jake stopped to examine these offerings.
“Look at that, Belle!” Jake lifted a large package marked “Penne Imperiale.”
The bag contained the largest pieces of penne pasta Jake had ever seen; they each measured at least three inches across and could each have been stuffed with a quarter pound of beef or cheese.
“I’ve never heard of imperial-sized penne,” Jake joked.
“Imperial probably is the name of the company, and has nothing to do with the size of the pasta,” Belle surmised.
“I’ll check it out when we get home,” promised Jake. (Which he did: Belle was correct).
Back in the van, the travellers drifted off to nap, but fairly soon they reached the entrance to the Amalfi Peninsula. This mountainous region extended west into the Mediterranean some 25 miles along the Bay of Naples to the north and the Gulf of Salerno to the south. Directly across from the Peninsula, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, is located the famous isle of Capri, where two millennia earlier the Roman emperor Tiberius escaped from the rigors of his office and today young and older Jewish newlyweds can enjoy a scenic honeymoon at a kosher resort. Along the craggy route with its winding, narrow roads and spectacular drop-offs to the waters below, were picturesque towns and villages, bustling marketplaces and sun-drenched vistas as far as the eye could see. At their first stop along this route, the Rabinowitzes were surprised that Rita, who they thought would be their guide for the day, was not familiar with the Amalfi region, so she had hired a Fabio, a youthful fellow of Italo-English extraction who was familiar with the area, to join them on their ride and take over.
“Apparently, Rita is along for the tour with us,” Jake whispered to Belle, alongside him in the back seat.
“I think she and Gianluca are bonding,” Belle said, pointing out to Jake how deep in conversation the two were in the front seat. Rita suddenly suggested that she take photos and videos as they drove along the coast. The Rabinowitzes though it was a good idea, since she had the best seat in the van!
In short order, the travellers passed the villages of Positano, Ravello and Maiori, spread out above and below on the steep mountainsides with colorful rooftops and beautiful views all around. Fabio regaled the Rabinowitzes with the exciting history of the region, tales of pirates, emperors and Saracen invaders. After a half-hour, they reached the outskirts of Amalfi, the central object of their tour.
“We will stop here for lunch because there are many places to sit in the shade,” said Fabio. Rita and Gianluca were still deep in conversation. “Let’s say we’ll meet up at this spot in an hour, enough time for you to shop for souvenirs as well as eat lunch,” Fabio suggested. The Rabinowitzes and company descended from the van and soon split into three distinct groups: Jake and Belle headed to the main square to find a place to eat the lunch they had brought from the hotel, Marissa and Fabio walked to the center of town and Rita and Gianluca effectively disappeared saying they knew of a special restaurant they wished to try for lunch.
“I think it’s wonderful that we’re taking all these nice Italian people out for an expense-paid tour of the Amalfi Coast,” Jake half-joked to Belle. Jake had brought his scooter along on the trip and so crossed the busy highway carefully with Belle alongside. They found the main square easily and even located a comfortable, partly shaded seat where they could eat their sandwiches and swallow the cool drinks they bought from an adjacent kiosk. They had a chance now to take in Amalfi: Tourists were everywhere; if they had not come on this fine, sunny Italian day for the picturesque surroundings, then they had come to either people-watch or to shop the many small stores that lined the narrow streets that ascended the mountainsides from the highway. After finishing their meal (it took a brief 10 minutes to complete), Belle and Jake decided to go shopping, which, in Amalfi, it turns out, is an art form.
Amalfi historically was, and some might say still is, a pirate town. While the average tourist visiting Italy is instructed to “negotiate, always negotiate” when purchasing souvenir items, that rule, if true generally, absolutely does not apply to Amalfitanos. They have mastered the art of the deal! They give no quarter whatsoever, so you might as well know that in advance. Belle, an experienced bargainer, bought some delightful, colorful dresses for her three granddaughters in a nearby store, but only after agreeing to pay the posted asking price and wasting 15 minutes of negotiations with the Amalfi pirates. Jake didn’t even try to bid on a soft leather wallet that had caught his eye. “Maybe we’ll find something elsewhere,” he said finally, as he wheeled the scooter back toward the van.
The group gathered at the designated departure spot and they soon were on their way toward their final destination, the famous port city of Salerno. On the way there, they stopped at the small village of Vietri Sul Mare (“Vietri on the Sea”) in the province of Salerno. The town is famous for its polychromatic ceramic pottery, having established this industry in the 15th century. The Rabinowitzes found a shop where they were able to buy appropriate gifts for all their family members back home, and at much more reasonable prices than they had seen in Amalfi.
“How are we going to fit all this stuff in our luggage?” wondered Jake as, burdened with heavy parcels, they boarded the van for the last time. He had to admit to Belle that the ceramics she had selected were exceptional.
Back on the highway, they dropped Fabio off at his home base and continued north by the route they had driven down in the morning. Of note they passed both Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii to the west (the objects of their final trip south two days hence) and the infamous Monte Cassino high to the east, the scene of ferocious WWII fighting against the Germans in 1943.
Upon arriving back in Fiuggi that evening, the Rabinowitzes agreed they had done too much driving for a single day trip, but admitted the Amalfi Coast was worthy of its designation as a World Heritage Site.
“At least Rita and Gianluca had a good time,” Jake noted to Belle before turning off his reading light.
By Joseph Rotenberg
Joseph Rotenberg, a frequent contributor to the Jewish Link, has resided in Teaneck for over 45 years with his wife Barbara. His first collection of short stories and essays entitled “Timeless Travels: Tales of Mystery, Intrigue, Humor and Enchantment” was published in 2018 by Gefen Books and is available online at Amazon.com. He is currently working on a follow-up volume of stories and essays.