'Do you think someone could put their hands in our mail box and pull out letters ?', my other half queried.
'Why would they want to do that?' I replied.
'Apparently the witch has other tricks up her sleeve now.'
Which witch? Fornillo, a historical part of Positano has it's own residential eccentric who lives a mostly nocturnal life. Her meandering barefoot, rain or shine around the stairs, roads and gardens of the area are well known to all. Not only does she save on shoes but she is nimble -footed and light-fingered to boot.
For many years she has taken over a narrow patch of terraced land which is not her own but public property and cultivates her orto (kitchen garden) under the menacing jutting boulders. She raises chickens and has at least two roosters who crow from four in the afternoon to five in the morning. From the way sound travels in the conch of the mountain, the noise seems to come from right outside our bedroom window. With time, we have grown used to it, so that its no more disturbing than the sound of the sea.
In summer, her impossibly green lettuces line the dangerously crumbling public path that leads across the Fornillo cliff face and her herbs and pumpkins spread vertically in pockets of compost ever downwards towards the villas below, reachable only by her makeshift steps.
That she is an creative and accomplished gardener there is no doubt. But it would be undermining her talents to stop here.
For this Strega (witch), as we have nicknamed her, dips her hands into other people's gardens as well. Vegetables awaiting the table of their owner's disappear overnight. Melanzane (eggplant), zucchini, tomatoes, just ripe for the picking are magically transferred elsewhere to the dismay of the rightful harvester.
It seems that she bears a long held grudge against us too.
Long ago, she asked my other half if she could cultivate our outside garden. My other half, having heard about her canniness had not given his permission, using the excuse that it is 'the wife's garden'. Obviously this didn't sit well with her, because our gardener began telling us of vegetables that he'd planted that had gone missing, apricots that he suspected were picked in his absence, and oranges and lemons which were taken.
'Eat the things in the outside garden first', he began telling us. 'They won't be there on your return.'
Many years ago, when we still enjoyed daily door to door rubbish collecting, I had woken very early in the morning to go to the bathroom parallel to the public stairs. In the very dim morning light, I just made out the shape of a shadow through the frosted window, climbing over our garden gate. I mentioned it to my other half on going back to bed thinking it was probably the rubbish collectors who had dropped something. My other half peered over the balcony railings to look at the stairwell. Then a moving shadow caught his eye in 'my' garden.
I suddenly heard a stream of Neapolitan cursing from him.
'What's up? ' I asked.
'She's crouching underneath the zucchini plants', he whispered back.
'Go down and tell her to get out', I said.
'No. She'd be likely to whack me !' he replied.
To make a long story short, after a good half hour of shouting ('Mariola' - Neapolitan for thief) at her immobile figure ducked under the immense zucchini leaves from the safety of our balcony, at the break of dawn she very quickly managed to scramble lightly up a neighbour's wall and take cover in their garden. I must mention here that she was close to sixty at the time!
On other occasions I had planted heirloom Mortgage Lifter tomatoes and was very proud of their size. I lovingly laid fresh compost at their feet and had thought that the pick of the crop would be perfect in the morning. Of course it was no longer there but the bare footprint was perfectly outlined on the compost next to it.
I've given up on growing vegetables out there, but it's still hit and miss with the fruit trees.
Her prowess is famous all over Positano.
One man related the tale of how he was unloading a van full of five-litre tins of olive oil for one of the shops. He had placed them on the roadside in order to move the van out of the way. Then he realised that the woman had picked up a tin, placed it on her shoulder and was calmly walking up the steep stairs to her house.
Another recently, while doing (unofficial) work to their house at 1 am at night, wondered why she had stopped and was just watching them .
Eventually he asked 'What are you doing here?'
'I want a lift up to Montepertuso' she said. She had a metal casing from one of the drain covers at her feet. It had been too heavy for her to carry. She now in her mid-seventies.
Her weathered face and stealthy gait still sends alarm bells ringing in my head when our paths cross unexpectedly in the alley behind our home, and I know now to avoid going in the early morning lest I should encounter her with her bulging plastic bags of vegetables.
Nor do I take the scenic walk along the cliff face under her garden in the times of the day in which I am likely to see her.
She'd probably mistake me for a thief...
This post is dedicated to Paul Anater who wrote of Positano:
"I saw more quirks and curiosities in that ancient little town than I thought were possible".
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