Mysterious hillside town delivers intrigue & drama
With the release of "Angelina" two months ago I decided it was high time to put the finishing touches on a book I've been working on for quite some time. Writing is a fickle craft sometimes, and I still am a bit uneasy calling myself a "writer". It feels rushed or even unworthy to label myself a "real life" writer. Where does a hobby end and a profession begin? Well, I suppose that's up to the readers, as it should be.
This past week I decided to post the first few words of chapter 1 of my upcoming book "The Lemon Wars of an Italian Seaside Town" publicly. A quick flash of the story that's been swirling around my imagination for months, hopefully worthy of generating some smiles and intrigue. Enjoy.
The sun baked the landscape, putting a warm blanket across most of Italy’s Mediterranean coastline. It was the mid-nineties in Italy, and while the rest of the country had embraced the new decade years earlier, Orenzio remained unchanged and undisturbed with the passage of time. A small hilltop enclave sat nestled above the tourist-laden seaside towns of the Amalfi coast, situated just out of earshot from the constant buzz of civilization below.
Once a strategic lookout point for Mussolini’s army during World War II, Orenzio today was all but a ghost town overlooking the vast aqua-blue seashore that stretched for miles in all directions. The town itself was a spec on the map, a footnote at best with a single narrow cliffside road leading in and out of a tiny ramshackle piazza. While painfully close to the beauty below, Orenzio and its inhabitants remained uninterested in the advances of time, in particular modern day technologies or conveniences. With only a few families remaining, Orenzio was equally a quiet paradise largely undiscovered and a mysterious enigma still bantered over by curious tourists and nosey wanderers.
Tall tales about the cliffside town began to swell a few years earlier among the seaside vacationers and giggling teenagers looking for an escape from their parents. Outlandish rumors even spread between beach-goers and shop owners alike, each one with a new and intriguing tidbit about the secluded town just above. In reality, Orenzio was underwhelming for any rumor-seeking trekker that found himself standing in the lone piazza, quickly realizing that the gossip about the small town was just that - gossip.
A single path was the only way into and out of the town. The path, just wide enough for a single Ape, weaved its way back and forth up the steep slope until it disappeared into the thick overgrown brush of the landscape, eventually leading into the small quiet town square. Time had placed a heavy burden on the piazza, a cruel reminder that everything crumbles to pieces in the end. Built in the mid 1600’s, the square itself was a collaboration between Italian marble workers and North African miners. The town was deemed “The Watchman over Amalfi”, built upon the idea of a necessary cliffside village with advantageous views of the coastline to thwart possible invaders. As time inevitably advanced the town remained largely unused since World War II, collecting more dust than visitors.
Even in its decay, Orenzio remained beautiful. A small circular Piazza encapsulated the surroundings, large trees hovering along its perimeter hiding the vast seascape just out of view. The square was paved with grey-blue cobblestones, meticulously placed in an elaborate design that mesmerized those willing to study it. In the center of the square sat a large fountain, long since dry but still magnificent in its presence. A large and intricate obelisk towered above the fountain, presumably an addition made by the North Africans centuries earlier. The once glowing white marble of the fountain was now covered in green moss and years of salt air. Besides the faint sounds of the rustling winds, a single shop at the far corner of the square was the only sign of life.
Contrary to the rumor-mill of the towns below, people did live in Orenzio. Just beyond the outskirts of the piazza, the landscape morphed into acres upon acres of lush farm land. Little yellow dots could be seen as far as the horizon, blanketing the views with miles of beautifully manicured lemon groves. The groves were hidden in plain sight, nary a fifteen minute walk up the cliffside, thru the dusty old piazza and down a small gravel road. Two large Villa’s could be seen in the distance, each with large Juniper trees coaxing you up to breathtaking courtyards.
A fork in the gravel road leading up to the villa’s separated the two farms, each in plain view of the other but just far enough away to make it apparent they were separate operations. A number of small one-level bungalow’s could be seen alongside the far corner of the property, each with their own view overlooking the vast landscape of green and yellow. Tool sheds, tractors and wheelbarrows were peppered in every direction. Deep within the groves small lookout huts were situated every few hundred yards, tall enough for a single worker to climb into and overlook the countless number of trees.
The two villa’s sat no more than two hundred yards away from each other, each with their own access road. On the left the Rennato home, a large burnt Sienna colored villa with a strikingly beautiful terra-cotta roof and courtyard filled with small lemon trees growing in pots every few feet. The facade looked more like a dreamy Tuscan farmhouse than it did a seaside plantation. Large vertical windows, left half-open, covered most of the front while the side of the villa revealed a formidable pergola adorned with climbing cucuzza plants and surrounding fig trees bursting with brilliant purple fruit.
Vibrant bougainvillea flowers engulfed the rear of the villa, overlooked by a vast pastel blue sky. A long wooden dinner table sat only feet from the first row of lemon trees. Two large cooking grills could be seen adjacent to the table along with evidence all around of a full scale working farm. Rife with painfully maintained crops, the Rennato farm was a gem tucked into the cliffside of the Amalfi Coast, unknown to virtually every tourist that lay sun-bathing along its shores below.
*The Lemon Wars is set for release shortly