I’m climbing even higher on one of the mountain paths up above Positano, the path paved with huge stones, twisting up the flank of the hill, winding amongst rocks, now shaded by oak trees, olives, vines. A group of people in a vineyard up above me are singing happily as they work. The path winds on, now a narrow patch of earth among tall rocks, littered here and there with horse dung.
Ahead of me now I see a pack horse with two large paniers slung across him, thrusting with his long tongue at the vegetation that springs from the grey stone wall that now runs up alongside the path. A man appears beside him and gives him a thwack on his rump with a gnarled cudgel. The horse kicks out angrily and moves forward but only an inch.
I stand back as three more horses, with vast loads of agarobe on their backs tightly bound in sacks, overtake me.
Looking down over the terraces, I see people at work on their grape terraces far below or picking olives from the feathery trees. This town with its pleasantly shabby look is built round the curving valley of a stream so that the air is constantly filled with the sound of water. Up above me stretch the mountains including a rock they call the Virgin and various other rocks with holes that the Devil is said to have had something to do with, and high above me is what I at first take to be a man standing, but no, it is a vast metal cross standing high up there in those lonely uplands.
This town! There are lemon groves, Bouganvillea, Hybiscus. Houses that stand on the domed roofs of other houses. Balconies, parapets, terraces, archways, windows looking out over abysses, and the tall shapes of poplars, domes. Everywhere flowers, and a triumph over gravity.
I experience a joyfulness in climbing the high steps. There are two roads that wind serpentine round the mountain. The steps and alleyways wander over, under, wind up through the insides of the old houses. After a few days the muscles in my legs are getting used to it, I feel like a nanny goat or shepherd prancing up and up these high steps.
There is another town perched up above this one called Monte Gutuso, approached up what someone tells me is 3,000 steps, and beside the rock staircase a couple of huge rocks the size of town halls, one has a vast 100 foot hole almost through it.
There is a story that the devil was seducing this vast bit of virgin rock and at the last minute the Virgin Mary intervened, so the devil never got the whole way. This story is apparently re-enacted at various annual festivals, I can’t quite make out how.
I am climbing dark astounding steps up to the place where the ‘Bar Internationale’ stands atop a cliff. Up here the air is clearer.
I find Sean standing up here, with his fantastic beautiful long blonde hair swirling round his naked shoulders. Standing up here as if on the edge of the world he shouts to me, ‘Screw, screw, screw those fantastic elements!’
Below us the mists are falling down into the town. Street after street goes out of sight. The mist is wiping out layer after layer of vision.
I buy Sean a drink in the Bar Internationale. He tells me how he and a boy called Michael climbed the mountain up to a cave, they climbed into the first chamber, candle grease falling thick onto their hands and trousers and they sat holding candles in the first chamber of the cave for twenty or thirty minutes before they realised they were sitting with their feet in a huge cleft in the rock. They climbed down into a succession of other caves down under the mountain, climbing down into the darkness.
Walking on up I think to myself that there is a divinity that lodges in these lofty places that lie amongst the hills.
My lungs are filled with the produce of that hubble-bubble last night.
And it is extraordinary to think, isn’t it, that every single item up here, every single article has been brought up on the backs of horses or men.
I continue up the steep path, passing where two men are trying to dislodge with a crowbar a huge stone ten or twelve times larger than they. What will happen when it moves? Will it not crash down into the sea?
I see someone far up above me on the mountain, going haltingly from step to step as she climbs up ahead of me into the lyrical skies.
Jeremy Sandford FanClub Archives
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