Don't you just love local festas with their catchy traditional Neapolitan dance music.
We had a gardener at Positano a long, long time ago, long before I arrived on the scene who loved to get up and dance the tarantella at these local parties. The music was improvised and spontaneous with tambourines, castanets and guitars. The mood was inebriating, the food cooked on the spot. Michele, our gardener, was a local personality.
Michele came from Montepertuso just above the town of Positano and had worked for my husband's family for over two decades. My elderly mother-in-law lived alone in the house after her husband passed away and having someone come in regularly to look after the top garden gave her a sense of security.
Michele was a poor man and didn't need much to make himself happy. He looked after many gardens in Positano. He considered the vegetable and fruit orchard at the top of the house his own and spent many a day in it cultivating his vegetables for himself and his sister. He'd arrive with his plastic shopping bag with a flagon of wine and bread and make himself lunch with peperoncini and whatever else he could find to eat at the moment.
A yell down to my mother-in-law in the lower section of the garden was the signal to tie on a basket to a rope. The height between the levels is equivalant to three storeys so a long electrical cord improvised for a rope and he would pull the basket up to the garden. Another 'Signora!' followed and the basket would dangle back down with whatever the garden had to offer at the time.
My husband shared many a meal with Michele when he was in Positano. I was lucky enough to meet Michele in the later years so we also had quite a few lunches together.
Being a true full blooded italian, pasta was essential at lunch, and always made with garlic that Michele pulled out of his pocket. I remember looking for chili peppers while preparing the food, and seeing his hands dip into his pockets for the fieriest pepperoncini you'd ever had. One or two seeds from these chillies were enough to liven any dish. If I ever rubbed my eyes after touching the chili, they burned for ages. Michele liked his pasta so 'al dente' that he used to say that it should stand up on your fork.
For seconds, he did without meat or fish preferring to shallow fry delicious tiny new potatoes still in their skin with rosemary and bacon. The potatoes that he'd grown were sizzled in sugna or fat, which he also happened to have with him. All washed down with his flagon of local homemade wine. Add the fruit to that and we could barely lift ourselves from the table.
The meal went on for hours, with Michele regaling us with his stories of when he was held prisoner of war in Africa by the English. He also boasted that he could still remember a few words of the English language. He'd had a hard life, as his wife had left him for another during his imprisonment. Although I could barely understand what he was saying, as it was a strict dialect from the mountains that he spoke, I was happy to keep him company. My mother-in-law from Poland, was completely lost and would just smile and nod her head, with my husband translating occasionally. Michele loved to reminisce about the parties that had been held and was proud of his prowess for dancing.
Later Michele became too elderly to garden and my husband's uncle moved in and began to look after the place. Michele didn't get on too well with him as he considered the garden to be his and although he still planted his vegetables there, the harder work was left to the younger generation. He still came for meals at our place and was with us just a few days before he died.
The irony is, after both Michele and my husband's uncle died, they were placed side by side at the local cemetery.
The beat of tamburriati (tambourines)at the festa's remind me of him and the days long gone.