The Ghost of Happiness Past

Part 1

The lemon perfume brings it all back, nostalgia setting in after only three days back home. Perhaps this makes me a drippy sentimentalist, but I’m okay with that. This was a trip worth feeling drippy and sentimental over.

It all started on Thursday. The spouse who comes up with 90% of our insane great ideas casually mentioned over lunch, “Hey, I have tomorrow off work. Want to go camping on the Amalfi Coast?” Try as she might to get bogged down in details, the practical spouse’s latent whimsy had been triggered. “Sure!” I chirped while sprinting for the grocery store.

As often as spontaneity gives me spasms, it’s one of the things I love most about our little family. How a day can morph from average to incredible in the space of a sentence, how my husband and girls are always ready to take on the world. I don’t thank them nearly enough for stirring up glittery waves in the life I would all-too-readily leave stagnant. “We’re standing on memories!” Natalie announced when we piled out of the car at Herculaneum on Friday. Glorious.

Balance beam

Herculaneum is not exactly on the Amalfi Coast, but how could we pass up the opportunity to explore a city once buried in 20 meters of volcanic debris? We couldn’t. We entered houses last occupied two millenniums ago, pushed strollers up cobblestone streets, imagined ourselves serving restaurant patrons from the giant clay cooking pots… and my heart stretched a size or two larger as it always does when I discover new corners of the world. A real person painted that fresco. The neighborhood women bathed together in that tub. The owners of this house must have had an unbelievable view of the sea. The ghost of happiness past never fails to take my breath and replace it with a reverent joy.

Ruins from above 5

Natalie and Sophie consider ancient city ruins their own personal playground, which assures me that this crazy life we’ve brought them into is a good one. It’s the future Dan and always hoped for—watching our laughing children play balance-beam in an archaeological dig. History and future, projected together on the sun-dappled stones… with a splash of silliness, because we’re really still twelve.

Footloose and fancy free

Driving away from the ruins through the never-ending outskirts of Naples was a noteworthy experience in itself. Neapolitan traffic is a noisy tangle of bent-fendered anarchy, and we were utterly fortunate considering that we DIDN’T DIE. On the main one-way street outside of Herculaneum, four cars were disregarding the stoplight. A delivery truck and sixteen scooters were driving the wrong direction. Several motorists had ventured onto the sidewalk, and everyone involved was using his horn in lieu of the brakes. I took no pictures because I was busy narrowly avoiding death, but I desperately wish I had at least videoed the rotunda. The Rotunda Of Bedlam And Nearly Certain Demise.

Despite being a mere three hours’ drive from our city, Naples is a different world where trash piles line the streets and laundry flaps off the edge of crumbling balconies. I never realized how grimy southern Italy would feel compared to the breezy affluence of the north. Whenever we spotted a well-kept house, Dan and I nodded at each other like experts—“Must be Camorra”—and drove a little more quickly. I was relieved to get out of the city and catch my first glimpse of La Costiera Amalfitana

The famous white cliffs

…And by “relieved,” I mean mesmerized, breathless, smitten. My daily dose of beauty for the next decade lay right before us. Sparkling sea guarded by intricate rock formations, purple wisteria sunning itself on garden gates, hillsides hidden beneath ripe lemon trees… Descriptions do so little justice to a part of the world that is, at heart, a sensory feast. Just trust me that magic was alive and generous around every bend of the road.

Wisteria and roadside gate

Look for Part 2, coming soon to a blog near you.

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  1. Ooooh, I can’t wait for more. It sounds and looks absolutely glorious!

  2. Looks wonderful!! (And after living in Switzerland for eight years? The whole rest of the world looks a little grimy.)

  3. oh oh oh, how LOVELY! How wonderful that you went and had so much fun and tucked all those memories and sensations away for looking at later, too. 🙂

  4. Is this for real? I think I’m dreaming, or your dreaming and somehow I see it too! I am so jealous. (Not really–actually very happy for you!)

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