Five great books set in CHILE
Talking Location With author Jan Mazzoni – The Amalfi Coast
17th June 2019
#TalkingLocationWith… JAN MAZZONI, author of Dreamland – ITALY’S AMALFI COAST
The Amalfi coast needs no introduction. Everyone has seen pictures of the vistas that take your breath away: of craggy mountains tumbling down to a shimmering blue sea, of houses perched like coloured bricks on ledges, of jasmine-draped walls and bougainvillea-draped balconies, all of it so perfect that it can’t be real, it has to be a film set. You’ve all doubtless heard too the list of superlatives used by the media and guide books, and by the many celebrities who go there – they claim – to get away from the crowds. Stunning, picture perfect, glamorous, stylish, breath-taking, dizzy-making. A playground for the rich, and for romantics.
Of course you still have to see it yourself before you can really believe that, amazingly, it’s all they say, and more. Today’s Amalfi coast is a shining example of how a resort can offer everything a globe-trotting visitor with the highest standards can need, and yet still retain its Italian-ness.
When I first came to Positano in the late 1980s I thought I knew what to expect. Yet I was as stunned as my fellow travellers who – thanks to this new trend for package holidays – had accompanied me from UK airport on a shaky charter flight, then on a sweltering coach to step, exhausted, dazzled by the panoramic vista spread before us.
But as a writer, I was stumped.
I went back again and again, falling under its spell, wanting to capture this unique place in words. But to be honest, it’s not the kind of setting writers usually choose for their fiction. It’s almost too perfect. How can you write a story of hatred, passion, of intrigue and terror in a place that feels so welcoming, so safe? On top of that was the unwritten but clearly understood expectation that everyone was going to have A Good Time. Happiness was obligatory.
A true piccolo paradiso then, as the locals insisted on describing it.
In those days most of the visitors were there for a week or two, just long enough to see the recommended sights, get addicted to limoncello, and get sunburnt. Not long enough to see the underbelly that exists everywhere if you dare to look, the darker side of life. Barefooted youngsters lurking in doorways haggling over drugs. People from the city dumping unwanted dogs and then driving off, leaving the commune to deal with an ever-growing population of scraggy strays. Whispers that the Comorra mafia was spreading from Naples, getting ever closer to this affluent stretch of coast, and who knows with what intentions? And even here, there were a few lost souls tucked away behind closed shutters living lives of loneliness.
I began to see the possibilities. There was plenty of material all around me, I just had to figure out what to do with it.
And then I turned my attention to my fellow travellers, making a point of observing them more closely, even (I’m ashamed to admit) listening in to snatches of conversation. I made copious notes. I soon noticed that something happens to people when they step out of their everyday lives into a world that’s a dreamland. They change. They grow braver, more reckless, often more stupid. They fall in love way too easily. Or out of love with someone they’ve known for years but can now see in a different light.
My decision was made. Rather than a novel I’d write a book of short stories, all set at the same time in the same place, but each one complete on its own. My characters would wearily climb the same dusty steps, sit at a table outside the same trattoria. It’s possible they’ve been served by the same flirtatious young waiter in the pizzeriain the mainpiazza. Like one of the mosaics that decorate the entrances to the posher hotels, snippets of this and that combined to make a complete picture of a time and a place.
Dreamland and other stories is the result. The one problem is that – unlike a novel – this project has no end. Today’s Amalfi coast may be more upmarket, more swish, certainly busier. But the stories are there all around, just waiting to be told. Next time maybe?
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