I don’t speak to ghosts

August 30, 2019

The rain sounded like a knock.
So I went to the door,
to invite it in.
Bewitched – water from the sky!
I find you there,
not alive.
I wish I could hold your soul inside.
But my new swell of presence
won’t allow it –
another dark subtraction, trickling
down at my bare brown feet.
Go – go –
with you, I’m not safe.
Don’t knock at my door;
you’re no longer part of this world.
I’m more cautious than I used to be.
I don’t speak to ghosts.
I don’t invite them in.
I no longer grind my teeth
in sleep.
I’m no longer wild like a banshee.
My haunted time is done.

Nisha Bhakoo

never forgets

August 30, 2019

“Faerie music is the wind”, he says, “and their movement is the play of shadow cast by moonlight, or starlight, or no light at all. Faerie lives like a ghost beside us, but only the city remembers. But then the city never forgets anything.”

Charles de Lint
Waifs and Strays

first make thieves

August 30, 2019

For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.

Sir Thomas More

Positano memories

August 30, 2019


I first heard of Positano from Alberto Moravia. It was very hot in Rome. He said, “Why don’t you go down to Positano on the Amalfi Coast? It is one of the fine places of Italy”. Later John McKnight of United States Information Service told me the same thing. He had spent a year there working on a book. Half a dozen people echoed this. Positano kind of moved in on us and we found ourselves driving down to Naples on our way. To an American, Italian traffic is at first just down-right nonsense. It seems hysterical, it follows no rule. You cannot figure what the driver ahead or behind or beside you is going to do next and he usually does it. But there are other hazards besides the driving technique. There are the motor scooters, thousands of them, which buzz at you like mosquitoes. There is a tiny little automobile called “Topolino” or “mouse” which hides in front of larger cars; there are gigantic trucks and tanks in which most of Italy’s goods are moved; and finally there are assorted livestock, haywagons, bicycles, lone horses and mules out for a stroll, and to top it all there are the pedestrians who walk blissfully on the highways never looking about. To give this madness more colour, everyone blows the horn all the time. This deafening, screaming, milling, tire-screeching mess is ordinary Italian highway traffic. My drive from Venice to Rome had given me a horror of it amounting to cowardice. I hired a driver to take me to Positano. He was a registered driver in good standing. His card reads: “Signor Bassani Bassano, Experienced Guide – all Italy – and Throt Europe”. It was the “Throt Europe” that won me. Well, we had accomplished one thing. We had imported a little piece of Italian traffic right into our own front seat. Signor Bassani was a remarkable man. He was capable of driving at a hundred kilometers an hour, blowing the horn, screeching the brakes, driving mules up trees, and at the same time turning around in the seat and using both hands to gesture, describing in loud tones the beauties and antiquities of Italy and Throt Europe. It was amazing. It damn near killed us. And in spite of that he never hit anybody or anything. The only casualties were our quivering, bleeding nerves. I want to recommend Signor Bassani to travellers. You may not hear much of what he tells you but you will not be bored. We squirmed and twisted through Naples, past Pompei, whirled and flashed into the mountains behind Sorrento. We hummed “Come back to Sorrento” dismally. We did not believe we could get back to Sorrento. Flaming like a meteor we hit the coast, a road, high, high above the blue sea, that hooked and corkscrewed on the edge of nothing, a road carefully designed to be a little narrower than two cars side byside. And on this road, the buses, the trucks, the motor scooters and the assorted livestock. We didn’t see much of the road. In the back seat my wife and I lay clutched in each other’s arms, weeping hysterically, while in the front seat Signor Bassano gestured with both hands and happily instructed us: “Ina dda terd sieglo da Hamperor Hamgousternos coming tru wit Leegeceons”. (Our car hit and killed a chicken.) “Izz molto lot old heestory here. I know. I tall.”

Thus he whirled us “Throt Italy”. And below us, and it seemed sometimes under us, a thousand feet below lay the blue Tyrrhenian licking its lips for us. Once during the war I came up this same lovely coast in the American destroyer Knight. We came fast. Germans threw shells at us from the hills and aircrafts splashed bombs at us and submarines unknown tried to lay torpedoes on us. I swear I think it was much safer than that drive with Signor Bassano. And yet he brought us at last, safe but limp, to Positano. Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone. Its houses climb a hill so steep it would be a cliff except that stairs are cut in it. I believe that whereas most house foundations are vertical, in Positano they are horizontal. The small curving bay of unbelievably blue and green water laps gently on a beach of small pebbles. There is only one narrow street and it does not come down to the water. Everything else is stairs, some of them as steep as ladders. You do not walk to visit a friend, you either climb or slide. Nearly always when you find a place as beautiful as Positano, your impulse is to conceal it. You think, “If I tell, it will be crowded with tourists and they will ruin it, turn it into a honky-tonk and then the local people will get touristy and there’s your lovely place gone to hell”. There isn’t the slightest chance of this in Positano. In the first place there is no room. There are about two thousand inhabitants in Positano and there is room for about five hundred visitors, no more. The cliffs are all taken. Except for the half ruinous houses very high up, all space is utilized. And the Positanese invariably refuse to sell. They are curious people. I will go into that later. Again, Positano is never likely to attract the organdie-and-white linen tourist. It would be impossible to dress as a languid tourist-lady-crisp, cool white dress, sandals as white and light as little clouds, picture hat of arrogant nonsense, and one red rose held in a listless white-gloved pinky. I dare any dame to dress like this and climb the Positano stairs for a cocktail. She will arrive looking like a washcloth at a boys’ camp. There is no way for her to get anywhere except by climbing. The third deterrent to a great influx of tourists lies in the nature of the Positanese themselves. They just don’t give a damn. They have been living here since before recorded history and they don’t intend to change now. They don’t have much but they like what they have and will not move over for a buck. We went to the Sirenuse, an old family house converted into a first class hotel, spotless and cool, with grape arbores over its outside dining rooms. Every room has its little balcony and looks out over the blue sea to the islands of the sirens from which those ladies sang so sweetly. The owner of the Hotel Sirenuse is an Italian nobleman, Marquis Paolo Sersale. He is also the mayor of Positano, a strong handsome man of about fifty who dresses mostly like a beachcomber and works very hard at his job as mayor. How he got the job is an amusing story. Positano elects a town council of fifteen members. The council then elects one of its members mayor. The people of Positano are almost to a man royalist in their politics. This is largely true of much of the South of Italy but it is vastly true of Positano. The fishermen and shoemakers, the carpenters and truck drivers favour a king and particularly a king from the house of Savoy. This was true when the present mayor was elected. The Marquis Paolo Sersale was elected because he was a Communist, the only one in town. It was his distinction in a whole electorate of royalists. One of Sersale’s ancestors commanded a gallery of war at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 when the power of the Moslem was finally broken and Christian control of Europe assured. He does not say why he became a Communist. But he does say that he left the party in 1947 not in anger but in a kind of disgust. The township was a little sad about his losing his distinction, but they have elected him ever since, in spite of that.

John Steinbeck
(from Harper’s Bazaar, May 1953)

Early one morning in the summer of 1952, Patricia Highsmith awoke in a room at the Albergo Miramare hotel in Positano, Italy. The 31-year-old author had been traveling through Europe with her girlfriend, Ellen Blumenthal Hill, and the two weren’t getting along. Leaving Hill in bed, Highsmith walked to the end of a balcony overlooking the beach. It’s not as if things weren’t going well for her—her novel Strangers on a Train had just been adapted for the screen by Alfred Hitchcock. But the tumultuous relationship was taking a toll. As she gazed out at the sand, pulling on a cigarette, she watched “a solitary young man in shorts and sandals, with a towel flung over his shoulder, making his way along the beach. There was an air of pensiveness about him, maybe unease,” she recalled in a 1989 issue of Granta magazine. She started to wonder: “Had he quarreled with someone? What was on his mind?”

The intrigue stuck with her. Two years later, while living in a cottage rented from an undertaker in Lenox, Mass., Highsmith drew from that image as she began a new novel, about a man named Tom Ripley. Even then, she sensed that she was onto something special. “She considered [The Talented Mr. Ripley] ‘healthier’ and ‘handsomer’ than her other books at its ‘birth,’” Joan Schenkar writes in her excellent biography The Talented Miss Highsmith.

Highsmith’s instincts were correct: With the charming sociopath Ripley, she’d created a new type of character entirely. In five novels over the next four decades, he’d become not only her most acclaimed and memorable creation but the prototype for a new kind of antihero: the unlikable, immoral, cold-blooded killer we can’t help but like anyway. Ripley was a character so fully realized, so simultaneously compelling and disturbing, it seemed as if he were based on someone Highsmith knew intimately. In a sense, he was.

Jen Doll
The Bizarre True Story Behind “The Talented Mr. Ripley”


I honestly don’t recall how many times we’ve visited Positano. Seventeen, eighteen times over the years. We’ve always gone there by boat – avoiding all those steep steps. We’ve always had good food and fine wine. But, unfortunately, John Steinbeck was wrong: the Amalfi coast line has become very commercialised and touristy, but it’s still very beautiful –