A Day In: Agropoli, Italy

Come enjoy a morning with us

Hello! Welcome to the 72nd issue of Place. If you’re new here, today’s dispatch in part of our “A Day In” series, where we take you on a walk through a part of the world you may not have experienced before. This week’s destination? A small town on the coast of Italy called Agropoli. Pour yourself a cuppa and come enjoy this seaside morning with us.

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A [Morning] in Agropoli 

The mornings there were wet, the bedspread navy, the floor, bright white, slippery. The jeans I picked up crumpled from the floor were always damp, like a soggy dishtowel. The layers of sickly clothes did nothing to warm me, and then, I would open the door to the balcony. We faced north, and the cool air of morning gave no respite. But the ocean gave a hint of one. The lace from the froth of the waves woven onto the cliffside looked soft, and what's more, it held the sun.

At 7:30, the time I woke up and stepped onto the balcony, the fisherman would be heading out, checking traps, casting homemade nets into the sea. Guiseppe and Guiseppe Padre were two vessels I watched closely. Son in yellow coveralls, father in red. Both boats were blinding white, like the floor of our flat, with blue trim painted around the bow. 

Often, they sank into the swells directly in front of our balcony, from my view, nestled into a small cove between two crags. As they drifted, gulls flew in close, waiting for a scrap to be thrown overboard. 

One morning, a Sunday, when the fisherman rested, I saw a diver in that same spot, a black neoprene shape that moved clumsily across the mouth of the cove. I wonder if he saw their trap. I wonder what he saw in that blue, even now.

At 8, I’d leave the flat to get coffee. The road outside our entrance-way was narrow, made of uneven stones, only accessible by car from one way. There was a house across from us, pale yellow, with a terracotta roof, and a large garden that butted up against the cliffs leading down to the sea. An elderly couple lived there, and around the time I went to get coffee, the woman would let her bulldog into the garden (he immediately started barking when he saw me). The road turned into two narrow sets of stairs. The one on the right led downwards towards the sea, the one on the left, up to the top of the hill, where the church was. 

The Church of our Lady of Constantinople was Agropoli’s shining beacon, a mid-16th century structure that hung on the lip of a cliff in the old part of town that used to be walled. It overlooked the harbour, where Guisseppe and Guisseppe Padre docked among other familial boats, lightly bumping each other when the chuck got rougher. The church’s facade faced southwest, and in the morning, a bench in its courtyard was the first place on our hilltop to get sun. There was a water fountain there too, where stray dogs would linger to lap up remnants of the dripping tap. Legend has it that the church was built after the statue of Madonna placed inside of it, near the altar, was found at the bottom of the sea. 

There were two places for coffee. The first was a shack across from the harbour promenade, run by a woman in her early thirties, maybe. Her black hair was always tied back in a bun, she counted my change out loud. The second was a cafe on the Piazza Vittorio Veneto, called Bar Hercules. To get to both, you had to descend the steps from the church, wide stone things that went on for what must have been over 100 yards. On the way down, I would say hello to a grumpy looking grey cat that sat at the door of a jewelry shop that was never open. 

My order was an espresso with sugar, sickeningly sweet and strong. I don’t normally put sweetener in my coffee, but something about the place and my damp clothes made me want to shake my bones up with a bit of that potion.

It was March when I was in Agropoli, a town on the Tyrrhenian Sea, about an hour's train ride south of Naples. I decided on it as a destination because of the cost effectiveness of the Airbnb I was staying in for a month. When my Airbnb host picked me up at the train station, I asked him what the town was known for. “Well nothing, really,” he replied.

Throughout the duration of my stay, Italy was in a level ‘orange’ lockdown, the second most serious in terms of restrictions. I read on the news that you weren’t supposed to leave your house without a form that could inform police where you were headed to. I never saw anyone in town with one, and most restaurants and shops stayed open. That said, the streets were always quiet, especially so in the morning. A few people would be out walking their dogs, but I never had to wait in line for coffee. I think I was often the first customer of the day. 

I would make my way back up the steps to the church, where I would sit at the bench now bathed in sunlight until the clock struck 9. I thought a-lot about the fisherman, and what their day consisted of. Waking, walking to the sea, wondering what they would catch that day as they head out of the harbour, in whatever weather. I was jealous of their closeness with the water, their ability to touch it every day, to watch the way the clouds changed with the seasons; for their weeks and months, tallied in fish and net repairs. 

Otherwise, as I sat in front of that church, I watched green geckos pick their way across the courtyard, while the cats napped. I would puncture the styrofoam espresso cup with my nails, thinking about how it would never decompose. I would let the minutes tick by as they pleased. Often, I thought of nothing at all. 

There is something about a place that is so kind to its mornings, and of course, I could say wonderful things about Agropoli’s afternoons and evenings as well.

Like the deli I went to for lunch, and bought heavy slices of lasagna from. The supermarket on Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi, where Rino, the man who worked the checkout, told me how to properly prepare baccalà. Or Trentova beach, a 30 minute walk down the coast to the south, where the waves came in long and rough, where I suntanned on Easter Sunday amid fully clothed Italians, who knew that it was actually still quite chilly outside, that the real heat was on its way. I could write about the buffalo mozzarella farm I biked to one Saturday in the country, or the train ride from Naples, that passed under the shadow of Vesuvius, that statuesque deity. 

But really, when I think of the precious time I spent there, I am brought back to the mornings, the blue and the white and the wet of them. If anyone asks, you can tell them that's what Agropoli is known for. 

- Kylee Pedersen is a writer and editor currently based in Alberta, Canada.

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