LETTER FROM NEW YORK – 4 –
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LETTER FROM NEW YORK – 4
February 5, 2009
It’s cold here. The temperature is supposed to go down to minus ten celsius tonight. A light dusting of snow on the sidewalk provides a delicate cover for a sinister sheet of ice, waiting to launch the next unsuspecting victim onto the ground. New York, as usual, is full of convivial restaurants, sparkling theater, lively music and cultural events of all manner. But who wants to go out? It’s too cold. Instead, we hunker down in our apartments, listening to the steam heat bang its way through the pipes, and dream of… well, Positano. At least, that’s what I dream of.
We first came to Positano perhaps twenty-five years ago, at the urging of my best friend, an American photographer who lives in Paris with her French geo-physicist husband. Growing up, Paul went with his family to Positano every summer and he has continued the tradition with his wife. They stay without fail at the Savoia Hotel, and have become known, by sight if not by name, to Positano’s regular denizens.
In years past, we’ve been lucky enough to join them and when we did, we’d clamber over rocks and stairs, looking for an affordable “ruin” to renovate and share. Since none of us had the prerequisite trust fund, it was more a lark than a serious real estate venture. We even joked about purchasing the Posa Posa Hotel in its fallow period and using it to establish the “Posa Posa Institute of Science and Filmmaking” to accommodate our respective husbands’ professions. But one year, standing in the shallow water on the beach at Il Fornillo, we gazed up toward the cliffs and saw a beautiful villa that looked as though it had fallen on hard times and was suffering from mild neglect. It wasn’t exactly a ruin, but it was intriguing enough to investigate. We slipped on t-shirts and sandals and started to wend our way up the steps and overgrown paths, until we arrived at our destination: a whitewashed villa bearing the name Il Corsaro on a stone plaque above the door.
The house was thrilling, with windows bordered in archeological frames and niches filled with ancient statues. The rooms were large and airy, except for the formal dining room which had been carved straight out of the mountain. There was a three-tiered garden, overgrown, but full of fruit trees and flowering bushes. But we soon found the reason for its state of abandon: a massive hole in the roof caused by a boulder which had dislodged from the cliff above and fallen straight into the middle of the master bedroom. There it still lay, rumpling the sheets of the double bed, where thankfully no one had been sleeping. We were overjoyed at our good luck. How much could anyone ask for a house with a big hole in it dangerously situated on a possible avalanche route? After some discussion, we decided we’d be willing to overlook the risks for the sake of beauty and an unobstructed view of the Mediterranean. We set out to find the owner and make an offer that could not be refused.
I laugh when I think how starry eyed and naïve we were back then. We did, indeed, find the owner, tracking her down to her apartment in Rome. She was an elderly widow whose architect husband had built Il Corsaro and fitted it with the magnificent details that had been discovered in their travels. As reluctant as she was to sell it, she was no longer able to navigate the difficult terrain and touched by our ardor, she agreed that we were exactly the people she had been waiting for. She would give us her beloved home in exchange for our promise to care for it – and a billion lire. It was probably a bargain, even at the time, but needless to say, for us the price was stratospheric. Sometimes, love is just not enough.
Ironically, a few years ago, after fortune had smiled on us and my career in television had afforded us the ability to indulge in occasional luxury, my husband and I decided to bring our whole family, including three grown children, two spouses and a toddler grandson, to Positano to share with them the joy we’d felt over the years in this heavenly place. With so many of us, practicality dictated we rent a home large enough to accommodate us all. Through a website, we found a villa called Il Giardino which appeared to be half way up the cliff overlooking Il Fornillo beach. Exploring the grounds on the day we arrived, we realized that Il Giardino shared part of a three-tiered garden with the villa next door, which looked strangely familiar. It took us a minute to recognize it. Twenty years later, it was no longer called Il Corsaro and some of the exquisite but deteriorating details were gone. But the roof had been repaired and the grounds were in pristine condition. Clearly, someone else was enjoying our impossible dream, yet somehow we felt we’d come full circle.
These days, ownership has lost its appeal. We’re grateful not to be saddled with an out-size mortgage and even though we haven’t yet found the perfect little rental to return to year after year, we’re enjoying the hunt. And despite our new President, we anticipate the economic downturn might yet strike home. Viewership of soap operas is down and unless unemployment sends millions back to sitting in front of their televisions in the middle of the afternoon, there’s a possibility that the show I write could be cancelled. Of course, I’m seeing the silver lining. I’m reading the latest posting in Positano News on the joys of the Amalfi coast off-season and I’m thinking: if I weren’t working, we could spend winter in Positano. Dreams never die.