Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 9 Issue 38| September 24, 2010|

 Cover Story
 Special Feature
 Current Affairs
 Writing the Wrong
 In Retrospect
 Star Diary
 Book Review
 Write to Mita

   SWM Home


Paradise on Earth
The Amalfi Coast

Azizul Jalil

Positano on the Mediterranean.

If there is paradise on earth, where would it be? Bernard Shaw visiting the ancient port-city in the Adriatic coast of Croatia found it at Dubrovnik. My visits there a couple of times in the eighties were moving experiences. There are still so many breathtaking natural beauties in this world of conflicts and ugliness that one can hardly find words to express one's feelings. Having visited the English and Scottish Lake Districts, Sveti Stephan in Montenegro, Lake Como and Bellagio in northern Italy and Capri, Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi in the Mediterranean coast of southern Italy, one wonders which one of these is the real paradise on earth! May be all of the above and some other sights too, which one has not visited yet.

Towards the end of this summer, we and our friends, Hosna and Abdul Baten, left Washington on what turned out to be a most satisfying experience of life and a unique exposure to magnificent images of sea, mountains and rolling, verdant landscape. The trip was in two parts-the first one, a conducted tour by bus of eight days starting from Rome, then south via Naples to the Vesuvius and Pompei, followed by visits to Capri and the Amalfi Coast. The second one was self-arranged and consisted of visits to Florence, Sienna, Pisa, San Gimignano, ending with a visit to the small town of Pesaro on the eastern (Adriatic) coast of Italy.

Visiting an active Volcano which erupts every thirty years gave us some scare. Fortunately nothing happened while we spent a couple of hours at the foot of the Vesuvius. Those who ventured to climb the steep heights to see the crater, returned to report that other than some cloud and vapour, they did not see much. Going to nearby ruins of the city of Pompei, which lay buried for about 1500 years under volcanic ashes as a result of the Vesuvius eruption in 79 AD was a strange feeling. A developed way of life with planned streets, water supply, spacious markets and public forum existed so long ago. We saw a few of the skeletons, now in glass cases in the same position that they were suddenly buried. The houses of the elite had inner walls finely painted, which survived till today with its decorated courtyards and gardens. Life and history stood still and silent there for one and a half millennium. We came back utterly amazed and lost in our thoughts of an ancient civilization.

The Spanish steps, Rome.

We next crossed the Bay of Naples by ferry to a gem of an island Capri. From the port of Capri called Grande Marina, there are more than 700 steps built by the Phoenicians to climb to Ana capri. Recently, a road has been built so that we could drive up to the hotel, which was as high as one could go by car. By foot, one could go up to the Swedish doctor, Axel Munthe's villa, which was the highest point in the island. The doctor on a visit in 1876 had liked Ana capri so much that on retirement, he came back to settle there in the early-twentieth century, building a splendid villa amidst exotic plants and paintings with a good collection of sculptures and artifacts from far and wide. Well before him, Emperor Tiberius had made the same decision to spend his last years on the island in the first century AD. Pablo Neruda, later a Noble laureate, while on exile from Chile in 1952 lived in Capri. A memorable film of poetry and emotion was made on his stay there named Il Postino (The Postman) in 1994. Those who have seen it would remember the touching scenes of a hill-side cottage by the sea, with the poet reciting his own romantic verses to the postman, who had poetic ambitions of his own. Because of its mountainous terrain, Italy is a country of stairs whether it is Rome, Florence, Venice or its western or eastern coasts. At our age, it was a difficult and tiring task but the Italians are used to it perhaps this gives them the exercise needed to maintain their slim, athletic figures.

We were later taken back to the mainland, to Sorrento with its typical Italian small-city charm. After dinner, we went to a fine musical show, with rhythmic dances in fancy costumes of many colours. From Sorrento, we went by bus on two consecutive days to the tiny village of Positano through a narrow, dangerously winding road with hair-pin turns amidst high rocky-mountains and steep gorges, the blue Mediterranean constantly remaining at the feet. At many places, the road was too narrow for two cars to pass comfortably. There were short, feeble rails- we wondered whether it could withstand even a touch of our large luxury bus. Further up, is Amalfi another small village precariously hanging on the steep, stony cliffs. The Amalfi Coast has been declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site. Along the way, we had the pleasure of savoring vineyards, fruit and flowering trees like the lemon, orange, bougainvillea and oleander. We also saw the beautiful sea-side villas of celebrities of the film world. The adventurous among us took a motor-boat trip along the Amalfi coast. As I failed to accompany her on the boat, my wife later told me that a helicopter landed as their boat passed by and actually Sofia Loren came out of it to walk towards her villa. She must have been teasing me about missing the opportunity to see Ms. Loren!

Italy with its picturesque mountains, seas and rich, luxuriant vegetation is the most beautiful country I have ever visited. Its Mediterranean climate and plentiful sunshine is conducive to the production of a variety of fruits, vegetables, cheese and food crops. It is known for quality wine and its people consume a lot coffee, vino and cheese. Eating and drinking in innumerable cafes, pizzerias and restaurants appeared to be an Italian pastime from morning to late evenings. Throughout our sixteen-day visit, we did not encounter any drunkenness in the streets or public places. Moving around in metro and public buses till late nights, we never feared danger of any kind. However, tourists have sometimes and we also encountered, attempts at pick-pocketing. Italian cities are clean despite the visit of millions of tourists in the summer months as the trash cans are used by the people who do not litter the streets, metro or the trains. We saw streets being mechanically swept and even lightly watered even on Sundays-there was no dust and not much pollution as we moved in the city centers. Italians-both men and women, are very handsome with slim waists, good figures and wonderful olive-like skin. Kind, jolly and helpful to visitors, they did not seem to have any prejudice about associating with people of other races.

In every city we visited, we found large numbers of Bangladeshis in the streets working as vendors selling a variety of articles. We found some employed as waiters or even chefs in good restaurants. Near the Coliseum in Rome, there were more Bangladeshi hawkers in the street than from any other country. One of them informed us that there were about hundred thousand of Bangladeshis in Italy, many without valid resident permits or hawker's license. The Italians seemed not to care too much and were in fact quite sympathetic. There seemed to be a shortage of workers in low-paying manual jobs and foreign workers from Asia are filling the gap. When I asked a mature hawker what he thought about the state of affairs back home, in an obvious reference to continuous political bickering, he lamented and said that despite economic growth “peace will possibly never come to our country.”

There is a saying that you may not think of politics but politics will think of you. During the sublime moments of our travels through paradise, we received political insights from casual conversations with a Tamil-origin professional in Sorrento, and a Kashmiri Muslim store owner in a remote part of eastern Italy. The Tamil gentleman narrated the story of the cruel end of the war but felt that the Tamil demand for getting their rights within Sri Lanka has not been extinguished. If their just demands are not settled peacefully, they would reorganize themselves and continue with their struggle. The Kashmiri man said he has not visited his state in recent years as he has often to show his identity documents to Indian police and soldiers. In his opinion, he is the one who should demand ID cards from the intruders (the Indians), as Kashmir was his country. It sadly reminded me of the turbulent days in the late sixties in Pakistan when the rightful demands of East Bengal for autonomy were similarly denied.


Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2010