Last time we passed through Sorrento on our way back from Capri it was grey and raining and we hurried through to the train station heads down. Today the sun scorched your eyeballs out. Heat fell from above only to bounce back from the pavements. The tour groups trouping along the streets, each following a piper of the furled umbrella held aloft, looked disconsolate. American voices sounded across the thronged mediaeval passages, holding up tablecloths for their friends along the street to comment on and coming out of ‘Nico and Friends’ with bulging glossy carriers. We headed to the cliff top, where the lift opens and had beers in the café there in spite of the hiked tourist prices just to have a sea breeze blow over us. Then we bought cones from their gelateria, which takes its’ money by machine; John fed a note in and the change splashed out the bottom, whilst the girl who had served our ices looked on amused. We found a tucked away bench in the shade of the little garden to scoff them before they dripped away. The white roses have finished their first spectacular flush, but there is promise of more to come and the pastel pink and yellow tone prettily with the ice creams.. After scraping sticky fingers clean on the tiny paper serviettes we set off bravely back through the narrow streets to book a table for dinner. The would be charmer of the street-side restaurant heading into the labyrinth tried yet again to tempt us in, ‘for coffee, glass of Prosecco, spaghetti vongole, pizza, please-a Senorina,’ handing me my fifth post card of the season, ‘for later perhaps?’ After three years I think I’m beginning to look familiar to him and not in an encouraging way, his fervour is noticeably dwindling. Instead we booked in to O’ Parrucchiano, walking in from the street through the tiers of empty set tables in the marble cool, past the ‘Restaurant open upstairs’ notices and up into the greenhouse structure of the garden proper; also empty at this time, save for an elderly lady folding napkins and the boss lady doing paperwork. She took our booking briskly and dismissed us with a see you later. This lady does not need to coax. Still she bade us a pleasant good evening when we came back that night at eight and a young woman led us to a table at the edge of the garden. The impatiens are awash with clashing colours and the lemon trees heavy with fruit; the cobweb of fairy lights and the wedding cake tiers of citronella burners all worked their magic. The menu had been shortened to a two- page laminate. Even more sadly the ham and broad bean pasta was not on it. We hope this is just for the summer season. There was still an abundance of choice and we shared the homemade Scialetti pasta with a selection plate of vegetables, unusual and delicious as ever. The peaches are still out of season, so John had strawberries and ice cream, while I had a measure of Cointreau poured over my vanilla ice, a very good measure at that, enough to make coffee necessary as well as desirable. We went out through the garden and John took a picture back into the fairyland, capturing its enchantment. Then it was out into the supermarket car park and home through the quiet streets,
On the second day of our visit we made straight for the Lido, this time to Leonelli’s beach, the middle one, which had looked less hectic from the cliff top. Not that any of them were busy first thing on a Monday morning. We picked out a couple of loungers and a parasol on the sea wall, not too close to the steps into the water and settled down to sunbathe and read. We left the parasol down to begin with, there was a nice breeze from the sea, and at one point a startling spray as the wake from an errant ferry hit the rocks below. After an hour or so we ventured down the metal steps into the artificial lagoon, a bit breathtaking at first, but then wonderfully cool. The day passed quickly and suddenly we were both ravenous and shared a pizza, brought out to our now shaded loungers with a couple of cold beers. It had all the greedy pleasure of eating good fish and chips from newspaper. Afterwards we lay back and left it a while before our next swim, though we stayed all afternoon and had our moneys worth.
On the last full day we headed to the art gallery, Sorrento Fondazione, to see the Matisse exhibition in the cool of the air conditioning. It was mainly framed monochrome book pages and did not really set the heart alight. On our way out we went down to the basement to look at a collection of music boxes or carillons donated to the museum by Enrico Salerno. We were looking at the first room of instruments, all brass and polished inlay, but could hear one playing from the next room. We looked in and were beckoned across by Mario, forever friend of the late Enrico, a Geppetto like old gentleman who had hand crafted many of the boxes. He showed us the marquetry tools and photographs of himself using them as a young man with good eyesight. He brought the collection to life, with a commentary in broken English, touring the display setting the various discs and cylindars going and playing music from Evita to Mozart by way of Verdi, whose Hebrew slaves kept coming back on and needed a stern talking to and a sliver of plastic in their mechanism. The purest, most reverberant sound came from a large wooden box Mario himself had made in the sixties, with a German mechanism and a robust large copper disc. It played Lara’s theme and it was so beautiful I was nearly undone. As people came and went he took them on a repeat circuit, playing the same boxes and making the same remarks, like one of his mechanisms. We thanked him and left as he came to the box we had started with. Next we investigated the gardens of the museum, which have elements of a folk museum about them and grow increasingly wild and more interesting the further you explore.
After the museum we crossed into Marina Grande, the picturesque little harbour of the second smaller cove. We sat at Nonna Emilia’s tables along the harbour wall and had beer and Aperol Spritze at reasonable prices followed by sandwiches of epic proportion, watching life go by. It was mainly a procession of tourists and the odd bit of drama from dogs and cats. The floating red submarine bounced in on the swell up to the dock to disgorge its’ queasy looking passengers and set out again riding the ocean wave. I think a conventional glass bottomed boat might be more stable in the sea and less claustrophobic. The fisherman looked upon it with flinty eyes. The heat of the day was passing and we headed back to base. Back to Stabia tomorrow and hopefully to a final Bimini fitting.