Call it love at first sight. Call me a sucker as it happens more times that my fingers can count. Sometimes it’s romantic. Sometimes it’s not. But magic it is.
Being on a sailboat is one of life’s great feelings of liberation. Pulling into port has it’s own metaphor, right out of The Ancient Mariner. The going out to sea.. the coming home. There is a sending off and a welcoming back that is as potent as an in-breath and out-breath of a meditation.
Puttering into the port of Amalfi the first time with our Captain Antonio, I felt an unexpected experience of immense respect. The Port Master, Aniello Sposito, held his gaze with Antonio for the longest time until our boat had been steered into the proper spot. (If you know anything about boats, this is tricky at best, but risky as well with the neighboring real estate.)
At 63, Aniello is as nimble as an amphibian, jumping in and out of the water for tangled anchors, hopping from boat to boat to secure the fenders, tossing the ropes to the first mate to draw the boat up to the dock and to secure with sailor knots. I have been out of many ports where the marina guys do the same work, usually lazily and not with much presence. But Aniello was different. His work was easeful, skillful and dare I say? Sexy. His job is an opera del’arte a piedi nudi (a barefoot work of art).
A quiet man with deep, piercing eyes, his presence has more than dignity, he has heart. He nods knowingly when the boat is secure and shakes hands with the Captain. He raises a welcoming hand to the others on board, then sets off. It has felt similar to a blessing; an Ave Maria of sorts. As we settle in, put out our gangplank and set up for an aperitivo, Aniello is already back with a bottle of Limoncello. His bright eyes flash a smile as he hands over the bottle, the other is over his heart. We ask him to stay and join us. Even though he nods positively and politely, he is gone again. The next thing we know, he is back with a few boxes of fresh pizza from his favorite place.
This sort of generosity is not uncanny for the Costiera Amalfitana or the Neopolitan way, yet the vein of his intelligent humility is exceptional. His job and the people he meets who recognize this mean the world to him. His father and his grandfather were port master before him. The respect he has for them is
sacred. He carries a brilliant lineage from times gone by. He will tell you stories of how his father treated everyone fairly and respectfully from Fiat giant Agneilli, President Kennedy, down to the local fisherman. Aniello is also one such man. He will tell you everyone loved his father. If we were to say, ‘everyone loves you too’, he would then again, hand over his heart, say, “my father was ‘un grand oumo,’ a great man, a great man. I am simple”. He also says this is a different time. People don’t have the same ‘simpatia’, a mutual feeling of respect and recognition, like they used to. He is married to a German woman a few heads taller than him and has triplet boys. “They love the work,” he says, “but I don’t want them to stay here. They are educated and should take a different route.”
Meanwhile, his sons come and go, each one of them blonde and tan and more handsome and capable than the next. At 17, they will always have Amalfi as home and their father as an inspiration of how to live a meaningful life with meaningful work.
Aneillo stops by again with a present of large, yellow, sfuso amalfitano lemons that we will perfume our water with and make a sauce for spaghetti al limone. We say goodbye, eye to eye. I feel like I am in the presence of an unsung legend. Another one of the greats who are still present, but in transition with their work. I don’t leave without giving Aniello a jar of homemade jam. I am now prepared for the exchange of gifts, something he isn’t prepared for, but accepts willingly.
Now I get the hold the gaze of the port master as we sail out into the bay until the harbor is no longer visible. He does not move.
* Photos by Ashley Mulligan.