Maiori. A beautiful little town on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. I knew there was something quite different about Maiori the minute the taxi dropped us off at our hotel. At first, I thought it was the fact that the town is squeezed into a small space between steep cliffs and the Mediterranean Sea. I soon learned, however, that it was more than just Maiori’s “squeezed” setting that made it different. It was the smiles on the faces and the friendliness of the people who live there that made it different. It was the fact that it was far more important for “Maiorians” to stop and talk to friends or acquaintances, than it was for them to get where they were going. And, as it has been said, in Italian villages such as Maiori, people “work to live.” They do not “live to work.” That the village closes down every afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m. during the height of the tourist season so that everybody can rest and refresh is ample proof of the “work to live” ethic. There is, however, one more major difference between Maori and most towns in the U.S. of A. We didn’t learn about this difference, however, until a few days after our arrival.
Dinner at our hotel was served at 7:45 p.m. We were assigned to our own table and the same wait staff consisting of Marcello, Antonio, Lydia and Vincenzo served us every night. Each had an assigned role. Marcello presented the menu and noted our selections. Lydia took his note to the kitchen, while Antonio brought the drinks and poured the wine. Vincenzo served our food and, during the rest of our dinner, took care of our every need. He often kept us entertained, unless another table demanded his attention. It was from Vincenzo that the new revelation of “difference” came upon us.
On our second or third night at dinner, we told Vincenzo that we were planning to walk to Minori, the next village up the coast, early the next morning. Vincenzo rolled his eyes and grimaced.
“What’s wrong Vincenzo?” Karin asked.
“No Minori,” he said.
“What wrong with Minori?” We inquired.
He replied. “Maiori better. No Minori.”
After Vincenzo’s obvious display of distaste for Minori, we, with a bit of trepidation, still decided to make the trek. What we found was a serene village that was just as beautiful as Maiori and with people just as friendly.
Over the next several evenings we engaged in a friendly “Maiori vs. Minori” battle with Vincenzo. And yet, it was very clear that Vincenzo was in love with Maiori. He loved everything about it from the beauty of the sea to the annoying fireworks that were set off at all hours of the day and night. He loved the people. He loved the annual San Maria de Mare summer religious festival. He loved the food and the nightly stroll along the promenade that ran the length of Maiori’s beach. Not only did Vincenzo not give two hoots about Minori, but he could not have cared less about any other Italian city or town. In fact, he could not have cared less about Italy. Maiori was home. Maiori was his neighborhood. “Italy, NO! Minori, NO! Maiori, YES!”
One night, after eating way too much pasta, I suggested to Karin that we take a walk along the promenade before retiring for the night. That walk resulted in a “Holy Molly” moment! Almost everybody who lived in Maiori hung out on the promenade. Older folks strolled or sat on benches talking, children watched the nightly puppet show, lovers walked hand-in-hand, teens did whatever teens do and old men walked the “Italian Stroll.” Everybody was out and about.
This is what made Maiori different. It is one big neighborhood in which relationships are nurtured, children are cared for, where people walk toward one another, rather than walk away from each other and a neighborhood in which one who is lost might be found and one who feels invisible has a good chance to be noticed. No wonder Vincenzo loved his town.
Maiori reminded me of the neighborhood of my childhood. Richmond Circle in Pittsburgh was a neighborhood in which everybody knew everybody. Dads carpooled to work with one another. A Mom could borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbor next door. Kids had multiple parents looking out for them. Where did neighborhoods like Richmond Circle go? Has our mobility de-constructed neighborhoods? Has the inter-net and social media rendered neighborhoods obsolete? Do we live in an “out of sight, out of mind” world? Has our “splendid isolationism” negated community? Maybe instead of building more apartment complexes, housing developments or condominiums, we ought to move the dinner hour to 7:45 p.m, build a promenade and take a stroll every night. Maybe, we should reverse our priority from “living to work” to “working to live.” It might bring a few more smiles to our faces. And like Vincenzo’s Maiori, our village might become a place that we love, rather than simply the place where we live.
John E. Holt, Cotuit, MA