The ups and downs due to covid have prompted us to reflect, forcing us to deal with what I call man’s worst enemy: time. After the interminable days of the first lockdown, there was one place in particular I wanted to return: Maratea. Yes, come back: I spent three summer holidays of my adolescence at Pianeta Maratea, a residence located 400m above sea level. But this time it was different. There were no tapes of Dalla and Baglioni to accompany the trip. There were no recommendations from my mother, the uncoordinated dives in the pool, the scopone tournaments. There was no blue Citroen Saxò of my father, the companion of a thousand battles, my sister’s impatience, the afternoon nap. There were not even my uncle’s jokes, the table football games with my cousin, the shows in the small amphitheater. But there was an air of possibility, of discovery, of relief that I didn’t want to give up.
First weekend of September: I load the suitcases into the car and leave. Across the highway, the mountains, and already at the Lagonegro Nord exit, I begin to glimpse certain familiar colors, sounds and smells. Just over 200 km and I reach my destination. But this time there was no hotel, B&B or residence; I opt for a studio apartment near the station, a few kilometers from the magical village of Maratea, also known as “the city of 44 churches”. In the historic center there are many Churches rich in history: the church of the Annunziata decorated in Baroque style, the eighteenth-century church of the Addolorata with the characteristic stone obelisk placed in front of the access steps and the church of the Immaculata with a minimalist facade. In the village – perched on a rock of Monte San Biagio, where at the top is the statue of Christ the Redeemer – one of the first things that leap to your eyes will be Palazzo De Lieto, the first hospital in Maratea (today a museum), and the refined Fountain of the Siren, a bronze work by the sculptor Alessandro Romano… just a simple appetizer before reaching the charming alleys of the village. When walking these streets, it’s hard not to feel a sense of surreality, a feeling of nostalgia that borders on magic. I follow the streets and stop at Pasticceria Panza where anyone will be conquered by the delicate flavor of the “bocconotto“, a typical shortcrust pastry filled with cream and black cherry or chocolate.
Aware of the period we are living in, I realized from the beginning that those were not the usual late summer days. There were far fewer people than usual, but in part, I must admit it was also pleasant. Walking towards Piazza Buraglia, the main street, like a solemn rite; I stop under the obelisk of San Biagio, a statue of the saint with a stone base and coat of arms of the Bourbons and the city of Maratea. Advancing with small steps, I look up at the ancient houses massed together; on the loggias, on the doorways, on the hanging clothes, on the balconies adorned with splendid vases of flowers. Before getting back to my car, I paused at the Belvedere of Pietra del Sole: a dreamlike setting where sky and sea seem to almost make a pact with eternity. And with this image in front of me I left the town behind and directed myself towards the beaches; I recalled something I read by Indro Montanelli:
“Perhaps in Italy there is no more superb landscape and panorama. Imagine dozens and dozens of kilometers of jagged cliffs of caves, stacks, overhangs and soft beaches in front of the most spectacular of the seas, now wide open and open, now closed in bays as small as docks. It separates it from a Dolomite chain, all flesh-colored rocks, dotted with villages […], ruined castles and ancient Saracen towers, a wooded slope broken by small rivers and streams and buried under the fronds of holm oaks and chestnut trees. “
For some historians, Maratea is of Greek origin; not surprisingly, her name derives from the Latin màris and the Greek théa, meaning “goddess of the sea”. Although I had minimal contact with some Greek islands, I find a certain similarity between the two places, especially in the way of experiencing the beach. On this day I pick between my favorite hamlets of Fiumicello and Acquafredda. The first is crossed by a stream that flows along the Maratea valley where in some places the current is colder. The fascinating and wide sandy expanse, frequented mostly by the elderly and families, is a few hundred meters long; in addition to the suggestive presence of the Ogliastro promontory, it is bordered by a chain of rocks and above all by some caves in which the remains of Paleolithic settlements have been found. The second is characterized by a sandy bottom beach (Luppa) and another with a stony bottom (Anginarra). The two portions are separated and, at the same time, joined by a platform of rocks. Luppa has a simple appearance; that of Anginarra is more impressive and wild. This long strip of pebbles is enclosed by a high cliff and a series of inlets. As in the case of Fiumicello, remains of Pleistocene fauna have also been found here. Its name is Greek for “full of sea urchins” and the incredible pine forests overlooking the sea, which seem to be anticipating a dive into the sea, give a sense of protection that every sacred place deserves.
In Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty Romano, the character played by Carlo Verdone, lets himself reflect:
“I have spent all the summers of my life making resolutions for September, now not anymore. Now I spend the summer remembering the resolutions I made and which have vanished. A little out of laziness, a little out of forgetfulness. What do you have against nostalgia, huh? It is the only entertainment that remains for those who are wary of the future.”
This encapsulates Maratea in my eyes: a certainty that, albeit sporadic, faces the future with nostalgia and courage.