I am certainly not the first or the last person to buy a painting on a visit to Positano. The famous town itself and the surrounding Amalfi Coast are an artist’s delight so you can be sure to see beachside and street side sellers at every turn. Add to this the number of galleries amongst the various boutiques and souvenir shops and the options for buying art in Positano are more than plenty.
My picture was from none of these places but a few words on the town before an explanation as to the fortuitous circumstances of my purchase.
What is it about Italian places that attract the “timeless” tag? Venice, Garda, Portofino all in my book have that timeless quality and Positano fits right into the same bracket. Maybe it is that these locations retain the same essence and allure as they did a century ago. They may have many many more visitors cramming the streets but from the right vantage point the views remain the same as they did before anyone ever had the task of finding somewhere to park the cars!
The fabric of Positano remains stubbornly Italian. While the rest of Europe craves the ubiquitous appeal of the boutique hotel and the growing fashion for the outdoor lounge Positano remains boldly true to its heritage.
Our hotel, right by the beach front and clinging over five floors to the hillside is adorned with antique furniture and a unique sophistication that is only possible when a sense of history is maintained. As the sun sets each evening the view of the shore and of the town implants a warm satisfaction that being on the Amalfi Coast lives up to the grandeur of the postcards and paintings.
And it is due to the unique and quirky nature of both the town and the hotel that the story behind the very unique painting unfolds. As thunder threatens on our second day the town is hit with an interruption to its electricity. At this point the relatively small lift system is rendered non-operational and as chance would have it just as my wife is making her way to the fifth floor. The hotel switches to their generator for alternative power and my wife makes it safely to the pool area, but both shaken and stirred!
As the lift story is relayed by the pool the sole audience is an American couple newly migrated to Italy. The conversation extends to mutual appreciation of Positano, followed by the fact that my wife and I have a travel company, and that I intend to write something of note for a local publication. That something of note is intended to be my participation in a local cookery school but the conversation with Cheryl and Peter Reimold promise a much more unique opportunity.
The story they tell is of a man known locally as “the Hermit of Positano”. A man who has for over 44 years lived a simple existence caring for the animals and the natural habitat in the Il Porto canyon close to the town. Gianni Menichetti is both an artist and a poet and manages to survive from his paintings which he sells from time to time to those that make his unlikely acquaintance. As chance would have it a meeting is arranged later that evening whereby I will get the chance to meet Gianni.
Gianni is a quiet and gentle man as expected. He tells me his story of how he moved to Naples from Tuscany to study ancient scripture and became captivated by a young Australian artist called Vali Myers with whom he shared the canyon home until 2002. During this time in a home no bigger than most garden sheds, without the comfort of running water or electricity, he has cared for a long list of animals, all remembered and recorded through Gianni’s immaculate command of calligraphy. My biggest fear on the first meeting was how I would respond to his art. Though I had every confidence that it would be skilfully conceived there was no guarantee that it would be to my tastes and I might then have the awkward role of showing admiration without an authentic appreciation of the work. Thankfully Rebecca and I were immediately captivated with the paintings from the very first intricately detailed owl to the salamander that we eventually settled upon buying.
The following day I make the journey up the remote canyon to visit Gianni in his simple home. The path meanders along the valley floor then up into the canyon to a hidden oasis far removed from the year round tourism that is a short walk away. For the next hour I sit with Gianni in his humble surroundings and talk to him about his life and his continual fight to protect the canyon and its unique ecosystem.
During his time in the canyon Gianni has battled attempts to spoil the entrance of the valley to accommodate a car park and recently received an honour from the town for his dedication to the local environment. The canyon sees only five hours of sunlight in the summer and the winters are dark and cold but Gianni survives where for most of us the peace and contentment would not soon give way to the need for easy warmth and modern luxury.
On leaving Positano we walk up the steep and narrow streets while our cases are transported to the top of the town by the reliable trolley system. As we weave our way among the lanes, stopping for a range of gifts that are all things lemon (risotto, candles and limoncello) I think of Gianni and his only convenience, a large calor gas bottle that he has carried up these lanes to the canyon beyond for over forty four years, and still does so at over sixty years old.
As we moan and try to gather our breath in the spring heat I look down at the painting that is a very different picture from Positano all brought about by an interruption to the modern comfort of the lift system!
We stayed at the hotel Covo Dei Saranceni for 4 nights in a Junior Suite with private taxi transfer from Naples Airport. For details of similar breaks and for details of Gianni’s work contact Bliss Travel on 01302 719000.