Me in POSITANO
Well, it’s back in Positano for me. I first came here in 1985. again in 86, and one more time in the Summer of 1988, I was cooking Italian Food at the hottest new restaurant in town Ciao Bella. So it was a 27 year hiatus from the place I loved dearly, before I returned once again in May of 2015. Yes it was a long time coming and I was ecstatic to be back, and it was not planned but my chance, or shall we (I) call it fate? Was the power of Positano calling me back after such a long time gone. Yes I was still traveling. I went to Paris a few times, Havana Cuba, Buenos Aires Argentina, to Columbia, Brazil, Hong Kong, China, Macau, Saigon, Cambodia, and the Philippines.even having been to Italy
I was supposed to be going to Sicily, a place I long yearned for but still hadn’t made it. I had recently joined a wonderful Sicilian American group in New York and because of the group and the people in it traveling who had traveled there numerous times, and speaking fondly of it, I was finely ready to go. I was quite eager and had my trip all planned out, and my cousin Anthony was supposed to go with me. Of course it was a vacation and exploratory trip, but it was going to be an ancestral trip as well, and I was quite excited at thee prospect.
So I was quite excited at the whole prospect of it all. I was a Wine Director specializing in Italian Wine, and I know most of the big names in Italian Wines, who own vineyards and make the best wines all over Italy. And my friendships with the top Sicilian Winemakers is quite strong, as I have know Francesca Planeta of Planeta Wines of Menfi, Sicily for more than 20 years at the time (2015). I also know Conti Giuseppe Tasca of Tasca Almerita, the most famous winemakers in Sicily, and I;m good friends with Antonio Rallo of Donnafugata in Marsala. So with the up-coming trip to Sicily I was all hopped up and wanted to make it the best trip possible. So I got in touch with Francesca Planeta and Giuseppe Tasca and made plans to visit both wine estates. I was all set and I was totally psyched! Not only were we going to Palermo and on to our maternal grand parents birth place of Lercara Friddi, a town they left in 1904 to come to America, and to New York before settling in the very Italian town of Lodi, New Jersey.
We would fly to Palermo, spend two days there before heading south to Lercara Friddi. Once there, we would go to the city hall, and to the church where our Nonna and Nonna Giuseppina and Fillipo were baptized and married. After going to Lercara Friddi, we’d head to to the Vallelunga to visit with Giuseppe at Tasca Almerita, taste wine, see the cellar and vineyards and have a nice lunch on the vineyard. We’d head over to Menfi to see my good friend Francesca Planeta and do the same things; taste wine, have lunch with Francesca and her cousin Alesio, and visit the cellars and vineyards. Yes, everything was set. Everything except that my cousin Tony wasn’t going. He kept telling me for months he was going, and he backed out at the last minute. I was crushed, a bit miffed, and highly disappoint. This was supposed to be a trip with cousin Anthony and I, and not a solo one. I have made many solo rips over the years, it was nothing new and something I was used to. Many people are not, and would never take the big trips traveling to every corner of the globe by themselves as I have many times over. But this one, I din’t want to go, and was totally set in my mind to go with Tony. It was not to be. Well I was still going anyway. I was disappointed and a bit pissed off at Tony, because I know he knew he wasn’t going, but he kept telling he was. Eventually I got over all that, but at the time, man was I pissed.
I was going. I was waiting for Tony to book the plane tickets to Palermo. Tony cancelled on me at “The 11th Hour,” and I had to get busy procuring my flight over to Sicly. Nothing doing. By this time, a late stage in the game as I was waiting on Tony, the plane tickets to Palermo were Sky High, around $1,500 and up. i didn’t want to pay that much and I was scouring the internet for days looking for a reasonable flight. I came upon a very good fare direct from JFK in New York, direct flight to Napoli on Meridiana, an Italian Airline. The price of the flight to Naples was only $610, super cheap, so I wasn’t going to pass that up. I had allotted myself 16 days for the trip so I had a good amount of time. Once I got the flight direct to Naples Airport, I figured I would fly there, stay in Napoli one day, then go down and spend 3 or 4 days on the Amalfi Coast, before hopping on a train to Sicily. Yes I’d have less time in Sicily, but since I had to fly to Napes because I couldn’t pass up that super cheap flight, and I had to fly to Naples. I wasn’t into, then going right away to Sicily after spending 7 1/2 hours on a plane from New York and the time spent getting to JFK and all the hassles and waiting at the airport before the plane took off. So I was going to relax on the Amalfi Coast before heading further south to Sicilia. I hadn’t been to Positano or Amalfi, places I adored for more than 20 years, it was time to go back, Positano was beckoning me. That’s it, I was set on that.
One night, two weeks before my trip I saw a video on Youtube that would change things up, once again. The video was made by Canadian-i
Italian Celebrity Chef David Rocco, and the video was about this place called Villa Maria Agriturismo in Minori on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. The place was a Lemon Farm agriturismo that had a restaurant and room/ accommodations to stay there on the farm. The video was amazing, show casing the owner Vincenzo Manzo and his wife Maria who was the restaurants chef.The video was amazing, and made me fall in love with this little Italian guy Vincenzo, his wife Maria and a lemon farm called Villa Maria. I just had to go. I wanted the video again and the affect was the same, I loved it I loved Vincenzo and I just had to go there. I had to hang with Vincenzo, and I just new we’d hit it off.
After watching the video a few more times, I got on Google and searched for Villa Maria, Minori lemons. The search showed Villa Maria right on top of the page. I clicked the link and I was on the site. I scanned the site checking out everything on it, all the pictures, I read the History and looked at all six rooms and the room rates. The rates were 65 Euros a day per person including breakfast. After looking the website over for about 15 minutes, I found the email link and sent them an email. When awoke the next day and checked my email, there was a reply from Villa Maria. They had the dates for the first 3 days of June that I requested. replied back and asked if I could book a room, and so I was all set with my reservation at Villa Maria.
Read this article (click here) then come back here and finish this article below ….
So on my second day at Villa Maria, as I’ve already said, I woke up, and then went for the world’s best breakfast, on the terrace of Villa Maria Agriturismo. After breakfast I packed my small knapsack and headed down towards the center of town and to the Minori Ferry Boat stop. I went to the ticket booth and bought a round trip ticket to Positano. A few minutes pasted by and the boat coming from Salerno and heading to Positano pulled into the dock. I boarded and got a seat. We took off to Amalfi to pick up and drop people off. Then it was on to Positano for a beautiful 30 minute ride to Positano. I sat back and enjoyed the boat ride with one gorgeous view after the other.
We passed by Conca dei Marini, the birthplace of that crunchy delicious Italian pastry, the Sfogliatelle, where it was invented in the Convent of Santa Rosa high up on the mountain. Praiano was approaching and I knew it wouldn’t be long till we approached Positano. No matter how mnay times you’ve been to Positano, when you are going there once again, whether you’re on the Amalfi Drive in a bus or car, or in a boat as I was then, that first glimpse you get of the town is always exciting to see. Your heart might skip a beat, and Positano never loses its luster. Every time you go, it’s always most exciting to see, it’s Positano after all?
Everyone on the boat was excited as I. There it was, right before our very eyes, Positano. We all stared and took in its beauty. In a few minutes we would dock and we’d all be in Positano once again, to eat, play, and be happy in our bliss of being there.
I got off the boat and started walking into the center of town. I came upon the Salumeria called Delacatessn and walked in to check things out. The place was jumping with people getting panini and drinks, as I eyes some tasting looking Arancini on the counter. I asked the counter lady what was in them, and when said one had beef & peas in it and the other was with Mozzarella. I asked the lady for one (rice ball) with beef. The lady grabbed one and wrapped it up for me to take away. I walked over to the piazza in front of the church and sat down to eat my Arancino. I opened my little package and pulled out the Aracino. “Wow!” It was amazing, and without question the best Rice Ball I’ve ever eaten in my life., really good, and I was amazed how delectable this little ball of rice was. Well not so little I guess, it was the slightly larger than a baseball. I tell you, I felt the fortunate one, being at the piazza in front of Santa Maria Church in Positano, and here I had a quite yummy morsel that cost me a little less than $2, it was just scrumptious, so I was one happy fellow. Now this was the 3rd item of the trip that gave me quite a revelation, remember that best Pasta ever, the Paccheri that Maria made for me the day before at Villa Maria. Then there was the panino the girl at the salumeria in Minori made me with the tasty combo of sweet Sopresseta and Smoked Provala, and now this, the Tastiest Aracino ever! And at this point in my 2015 trip to the Amalfi Coast, I had know idea that I’d get hooked on numerous Arancini (Rice Balls) and those special panini along the way. So for the rest of this trip, when I was a bit hungry between my meals of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, each day I run into any number of salumerias (Italian delis) to get either a panino (Salami & Provola) or Arancini, or both to hold me over between meals, or take on boat or bus rides wherever I might be going, as in the bus ride to Sorrento and the boat ride to Capri, I had either a Rice Ball or Panino (sandwich) with me along the way.
I ate the rice ball and I was on my way, re-exploring my beloved old town of Positano. Yes I’d first come here in 1985, again in 86, and in June of 1988 as well, and that was the last time since then. Oh I’d made numerous trips to Italy in-between, but those were mostly to Verona, Venice, and Tuscany. I had to see what was up in my beloved town and if much had changed in time. Well change it did, I immediately noticed how very crowded it was. Yes people had known of Positano back then, but nowhere to the extent of now and the past 15 years or so I guess it is? Where as before, it was more or less those “In The Know,” as they say, Positano had been discovered. And not my just a few but unfortunately by the masses. This little town was now inundated by way to many than would be in such a small town. I was flabbergasted, and not too happy I can tell you. But what can one do. And the prices? Well I guess Positano has long been expensive, but now? The prices of a hotel room have sky rocketed, so if you’re looking to go, be prepared to fork over plenty of Scarola (money). Any way, enough of that. Yes, the town is packed in certain spots, especially down at the center of town. but if you walk up to my favorite spot, at Da Vincenzo, the crowds diminish drastically. This is a good thing. The town has lost none of its beauty, it’s still as gorgeous as ever, it just now, there are way too many people coming here.
So as for my exploration? I walked around, and yes made the frightful discovery that my beloved town of Positano, a place not too many had know of when I first started going there, had now become inundated with people from every corner of the globe. Positano is now one of the top tourist destinations in the World, with of course people coming from of course the United States and England, but now there are so many coming from Japan, China, and even India. But the Amalfi Coast is not just Positano, and as I’ve always loved Capri and have always stayed there, splitting time staying in Positano as well, now I prefer spending more time in Capri, and staying also at my new discovery of the lemon farm agriturismo Villa Maria in Minori, and I can take a boat from Minori to Positano to have lunch and hang our in town before heading back. Yes, besides Positano, you can stay at the lovely town next door in Praiano, or Amalfi, Ravello, Minori, Sorrento, or Capri and take ferry boats to visit where ever you like to go.
Let’s get back to my exploration. So I’d been away for quite some time, and I was Jonesing for some Spaghetti Vongole at my favorite place in the World to eat the dish, and that place is my old favorite Da Vincenzo a little way up the hill. I love this spot, as right behind Da Vincenzo is my favorite hotel in town, the Casa Albertina where I used to stay. And next to Da Vincenzo was the Bar DeMartino which was the coolest bar in town to have an apertivo and drink the night away after dinner with a couple Negroni ‘s or some of the local wine.
I bopped into da Vincenzo and was greeted by Jesse. He’s still there. I asked him how he’s been and he replied, “va Bene,” wmiling and making hand motions that meant everything was good. “Bravo, ” I said. We chit chatted a bit and Jesse told me to sit where ever I liked. I took a seat at a table next to the open window so I could look out onto the Via Pasteia as well as having a complete view of the top dining room and the one below and into the open kitchen, va bene. I looked over the wine list a couple minutes then ordered a glass of Falanghina from the waiter. The place looked nice with just a few minor changes in the decor since I’d last been here, but overall Da Vincenzo pretty much looked the same as when I first ate here back in 1985. The waiter brought me my wine and I took a sip. Yumm, I just love Falanghina, the local white wine I like best whenever I’m down in this part of Italy. Yes it tasted quite good, clean, crisp, and refreshing, Falanghina is the perfect wine for all the scrumptious seafood dishes you’re likely to eat on the Amalfi Coast. After looking the menu over, I decided on Gamberoni (Grilled Shrimp) as my antipasto, and I’d have my cherished plate of Spaghetti Vongole as only Da Vincenzo can make. I gave my waiter my order and sat back and relaxed. There was a nice couple from Pittsburgh sitting next to me, who were in Positano for the first time. They told me how much they liked it, and we swamped stories of daily adventures along the coast.
The waiter brought me my antipasto, and it was most tasty, the shrimp were grilled to perfection and tossed with a few green beans and Cherry Tomatoes dressed in Olive Oil, fresh local Lemons and herbs. It was a delightful dish, and went well with the wine.
As I sat back and relaxed, I came to the decision that I wouldn’t go down to Sicily after all. It would just be too much. I really wanted to go, but since Tony pulled out on me, I was having a lovely time, back in my old stomping grounds of the Amalfi Coast and especially Positano, and I wasn’t really into taking a train back and forth to Sicily which would have taken almost two full days. I was having a great time at Villa Maria in Minori and my beloved Positano as well, and I was going to go to Ravello, and a 5 day stay on Capri as well as one more day in Napoli night before I would leave to fly back to New York. Yes I wanted to go to Sicily, but it could wait until next year. Basta.
The waiter brought me my plate of Vongole, and I just starred for a moment. I dug in, and just as before and as Rene Ricard had once told me, “Da Vincenzo makes the Worlds best Spaghetti Vongole of all. You just got to have it,” Rene told me back on 2nd Avenue that day. And so it was, still is, and God willing, always will be.
I savored about an hour and a half at Da Vincenzo before departing.
When I stepped out onto the Via Pasitea, I looked over to the terrace that used to belong to Bar DeMartino. Along with Da Vincenzo, the Beach at Music on The Rocks, and my hotel Casa Albertina, Bar DeMartino was one of the spots in Positano that I loved most, and hadd some of the most wonderful times, hanging out with Nicoletta and other friends, whether having my late afternoon apertivo after I’d left the beach, or hanging out there most nights after having dinner, I’d head to Bar DeMartino for a couple nightcaps before retiring back to my hotel room to read myself to sleep, breathing the fresh Mediteranean air that flowed through the slotted shutters of my room.
It made me a little sad that Bar DeMartino was no more, and was now a place called Caffe Positano, much more expensive and far less cool than the old bar of my youth. Well, things change, but why did this have to change, couldn’t it be the Bar International up above. The Bar International where the Blue Cita Bus will drop you off or pick you up from this location, is good, but it’s no DeMartino. Cie la Vie?
Excerpted from Daniel Belino Zwicke’s forthcomong new book POSITANO – The Amalfi Coast. Due for 2019 Publication …
Me at Da VINCeNZO
MEMORIES of POSITANO
The AMALFI COAST
New York and Italy