“Positano bites deep,” wrote John Steinbeck in Harper’s Bazaar in 1953. “It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone….” Fifty-nine years later, even in the off-season during the coldest winter Europe has seen in decades, this precipitous little town that clings to the Amalfi Coast still bites deep. “Nearly always when you find a place as beautiful as Positano, your impulse is to conceal it,” wrote Steinbeck. “You think ‘If I tell, it will be crowded with tourists and they will ruin it, turn it into a honky-tonk and then the local people will get touristy and there’s your lovely place gone to hell.’”
That may be the case in the summer. Like my cab driver Vincenzo Fusco, who was born here, told me on the way home from a day on Capri, “In the summer there’s lotsa, lotsa, lotsa people. It’s crazy!”
But the winter is different. The 3,000 residents tend to their repairs and upgrades, eat giant meals with their families, and cram in everything they can’t do during the crazy months of summer, including rest. We, the tourists, on the other hand, have Buca di Barro, the seaside cafe where they serve warm espresso and cold gelato; the seafood market, where we buy oysters, mussels, red snapper, and shrimp daily; and the long, pebbly beach, where we walk and play soccer for hours, to ourselves.
As Vincenzo said, “Right now life, it’s very relaxed. There’s not much stress.”
The most stress I encountered was diving for cover after hearing a long, loud rolling clap of thunder while hiking “The Path of the Gods” on the exposed ridge line a thousand feet above the village. It rained, we got cold, and were drenched by the time we had descended the 1,500 stone steps back to Positano. But when we finally returned to our villa, the sun was out and we watched the day disappear. Two weeks later Positano is still “beckoningly real” to me, just as Steinbeck promised. It will be for a long time.