On Italy's Amalfi Coast, Passion (And Paper) in Spades
It seemed as if there was a beguiling art display to gawk at or a golden-skinned boat captain backlit by the most gorgeous blue sea around every bend as we meandered the 40km-long Strada Statale 163 along the Amalfi Coast. A tumble of pastel-hued buildings and perfectly manicured vineyards clung impossibly to the sides of sheer cliffs while hunchbacked moped-riders zipped and swerved between the cars and busloads of tourists.
But set back from the gelato stands and clothing kiosks, wedged between two nondescript buildings, sits La Scuderia del Duca, Amalfi's paper shop.
If you look close enough, all countries inevitably give up what they hold most dear. And Italy is no different: It's passion, and time, and history that consumes her, much like the rest of us, but without that exhaustive Western-bred anxiety that goes along with it. Here, the elderly are idolized, not ignored. The souvenir shop owners leave patrons in peace and don't desperately try to bargain with them as they leave. Passions are nurtured, regardless of their origins. Italians' moods are lifted, too, more inviting in a way that begets the idea that they know how to properly enjoy their time.
For me, La Scuderia del Duca was the brick-and-mortar illustration of this exact idea. Walking inside, it was almost like feeling the weight of Amalfi's history all at once. The chatter of tourists and smells of diesel faded away, replaced instead by vanilla-tinged larch and quiet.
When you feel the weight and texture of a piece of Amalfi's handmade paper, you're holding in your hands an important piece of the town's - and of Italy's - history. Though now it may be famous for its umbrella-soaked beaches and near-vertical ascents (and maybe George Clooney...), Amalfi was once one of the greatest sea republics of the Middle Ages, a leader in trade throughout the Mediterranean. This allowed them to be introduced to - yup, you guessed it - paper.
Looking back on my visit there, I really didn't even stand a chance: I come from a world ruled by the slow decline of paper but relish the time we held newspapers in our hands and still knew what a library book smelled like. That day, I bought a piece of handmade paper, a quaint reminder of my trip, a quaint reminder that we may be permitted to slow down and pursue our passions (however inefficient they may seem) and still be considered valuable.