onsdag 3. august 2011

A siesta in Praiano


The waves won't move his cradle, but at least he has the sound of the ocean, the man who sleeps in his boat on shore in Praiano. (Sorry for the photo quality, it's a scanned dias.)

Armchair travelling has never been easier. Guidebooks, newspaper stories, advertisement brochures and - maybe even more so - blogs don't just tell us what we can and should see, with photos already showing it, but also contain all sorts of practical information about business hours, prices, timetables, the whereabouts of the post office, and which beach bar that offers the most beautiful sunset.

A traveller can easily be fooled into making the journey nothing but a walkthrough of all this information.

Probably just as common is to fool oneself into unrealistic expectations like those described by Alain de Botton in "The Art of Travel": The decision on where to go and the anticipation on what we will see there, are often made based on just three glossy photos in a brochure. When we actually arrive we are disappointed because reality also includes things like power lines, posters, and office buildings that are just as square and soulless as the ones at home.

I'm glad to say the world has more to offer. I guess that's the reason why some of us are constantly planning our next adventure with a backpack, a phrasebook and an open mind.

Take the picture above. It's from Praiano, a small village on the Amalfi Coast, one of Europe's most famous - and dramatic - stretches of coast. On Unesco's World Heritage List, written up in glowing terms by John Steinbeck, and described in detail in guidebooks (most publishers, like Frommer's,Lonely PlanetandThe Rough Guidehave their own books on Naples and Amalfi alone).

But still, neither the detailed guidebooks nor my simplistic preconceptions prepared me for the one moment that I remember best from my first trip to Amalfi:

I had given up renting a moped or bike (too expensive), so I set out from Atrani to Positano by foot. In Praiano I went down to the tiny harbour on the pebbly beach for a rest. I pulled up my tripod, and started taking photos of the boats lying there. Just then an elderly fisherman came walking by, almost passing me before he clambered on board one of the wooden boats I was studying. There he went to sleep, covering his face with a handkerchief and one arm. A nap, a siesta, a stolen half-hour somewhere his wife would never find him. I have no way of knowing. The fantastic parenthesis was not described or explained anywhere (and I would never wake up a sleeping man to ask him).

So, you say, a sleeping man? It's not exactly the Sistine Chapel. But still, it's this kind of moments that stick. Because they could not be planned, and not be imagined by an armchair traveller. Moments like these only come to the ones who travel.

Ironically this blog can lead someone to do just that: walk down to the harbour in Praiano hoping to see an old fisherman take a nap in one of the boats lying there.

They can just forget about it. But I still recommend Praiano. Maybe there, they will see another next-to-nothing episode that they had never imagined.

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