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Lunch in Nocelle with Richard

I took almost a hundred photographs today, so it has been a big job to pick just a few to show you. In the end, I just grabbed – hard to tell which is better. There are many more, if you’d like to see them sometime – cliffs, sea, clouds, flowers, people, food, and villages stuck to the mountainside. Today, after many glorious days, Bruce and I had a day of unsurpassed beauty in every way.

It didn’t start so well – dark and rainy, our first bad weather, though the perfect day for it as we were going to spend part of the day in busses. This time we were at the stop early and had the best seats in the bus, right at the front – I didn’t want to repeat the infuriating ride of a few days ago when I could hardly see for part of the trip. So this ride, I saw, and shot and shot and shot. Could not stop taking pictures, even after we’d arrived in beautiful, crowded, picturesque Positano. It was palm Sunday and everyone was out; we got a wonderful sense of the closeness of the community and of families. But – how do people LIVE in those places stuck to the mountains? I wanted to know. And we were about to find out, because we were on our way to visit Richard Fowler, who has lived for 30 years high in the mountains above Positano.

Richard, his partner Brian Torpe and I were in a play called “Walls” in Vancouver in 1977,  based on a true story of a hostage taking in a B.C. Penitentiary, a powerful story, and Brian, Richard and I developed a powerful bond – not just about the show, but in life. I liked them both tremendously – honest, kind, thoughtful men. Richard was getting involved in experimental theatre, and both of us left the Vancouver scene in 1981, I to have a baby and earn an MFA in writing from UBC, and he to an experimental theatre troupe in Denmark, where he lived for years, travelling around the world. He ended up falling in love with Positano and then with Nocelle, a tiny village high in the mountains, and found a way to live there, working as a translator and developing theatre experiences that involved everyone in the village, eventually building his own house.

But now his eyesight has nearly gone, so he has to rent out his home to survive. He lives in a nearby apartment through the summer while others enjoy his extraordinarily beautiful little house. I helped him make lunch while we talked about all this, getting caught up – we made artichoke risotto with his own artichokes, and then grilled radicchio likewise, with a pitcher of local wine and then his own homemade liqueur. So much to talk about, especially old theatre friends and life stories. There is great tragedy in his. The first both Bruce and I had shared – beloved Brian Torpe had AIDS and possible related dementia or depression, and in 1992 committed suicide by leaping out of the window of a 10th story restaurant. Everyone who’d met him was affected; we felt that terrible loss deeply and still do.

But then Richard told us that only a few months ago, his 87-year old Canadian mother, with whom he was very close and who had rheumatoid arthritis, jumped off a cruise ship to her death. “Enough with the jumping already!” he said, in an admirable attempt to keep it light. So – you can climb right into the clouds to live, but you cannot escape the world. Not that he was trying to.

I myself could not live in Nocelle for one minute. But the view was magnificent, right there at his front door. One of the most glorious sights I’ve ever seen. Richard had a lot to say about Italy – that though “the surface is beautiful, they’re good at surfaces,” he feels it’s doomed as a society. It’s controlled, he said, by 3 things: the Church, the Mafia and the Old Way, tradition, the old families. And nothing will change. The education and health care systems are poor, wealthy families don’t care, no jobs, no future for poorly educated middle-class kids. The Italians are fatalistic and opposed to change, but also the warmest and most open people – especially compared to the French, he said. He has also lived in France and speaks fluent Italian, French, Danish and other languages. An amazing man.

Finally it was time for us to get the bus back to Positano – if we’d missed it, there wasn’t another for 2 hours, and we didn’t want to make that trip in the dark. Richard was tired and told us we couldn’t miss the way to the bus, though the village is a maze of wandering minuscule up and down streets. But we made it. The bus ride down, like the one up, made the ride along the coast look easy. The roads in the mountains are even narrower, the hairpin curves much tighter. The bus drivers are true heroes. Then a twenty minute wait until the bus back to Sorrento pulled up, this one packed – a long ride back, swaying as the bus made its tortuous way up and down and around, along the sea.

This experience has been so rich, I will need a long time to process it. And to go back over the photos, perhaps finding even better ones to look at. Unforgettable, with this meeting with an old friend the best possible finale.

Tomorrow – Naples. My trip lasts only one more week. This time next week, I’ll be on the plane home. And I will not be sad – I look forward to going home. But I am bringing so very much with me.

If you want to see the photos, please start three down, with the trip from Sorrento to Positano, then the second is Richard and the third, just below this, is the trip home to Sorrento. Got that? One day, I’ll learn to post these from back to front so you don’t get confused.

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5 Responses to “Lunch in Nocelle with Richard”

  1. Anonymous says:

    hey

  2. Anonymous says:

    your name is beth Kaplan? Do you live in Philadelphia by any chance?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Oh I see. I enjoy reading your blogs. May I ask where you're from?

  4. beth says:

    I live in Toronto. But as you can see, I also travel. I did speak in Philadelphia a few years ago, about my first book. Glad you enjoy the posts.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

Some Blogs I Follow

Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

Carrie Snyder
Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.

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