2001 - a tough year. The full extent of our financial pummeling from the DotCom bust had become sadly evident, and, worse, irredeemable. Oh, what to do, we whined and whined?
Simple, spend a year licking wounds and feeling sorry for ourselves in – yes, the wound licking, feel sorrying in paradise – Italy. How many Italian immigrants have returned from a multitude of promised lands - and said, what was I thinking leaving here – la paese piu bella? We met many.
September 11, 2001, bright and sunny, Janie (from Virginia) and I (from the UK), packed and left our apartment in Washington, DC driving our stupidly too big car (Infinity Q45) to Baltimore to ship it to Europe. We hit I295 with the burning Pentagon in our rear-view mirror. Strange? We turned on the radio - “roads being blocked, ports being closed”, it hysterically crackled. We gunned the car - reached the docks literally with minutes to spare. Checked in the car, oddly, uneventfully – packed with stuff including my favourite leather jacket, a gifted authentic sombrero, a little black dress – three items never seen again. I, to this very day, picture a big hairy sweaty stevedore wandering Baltimore docks in that hat, jacket and little black dress – so adorable.
We picked the car up in Amsterdam, and made the long trip down the speeding German autobahns, through the Swiss Alps and their terrifyingly long tunnels, down Italy’s Autostrada del Sol - past Como, past Tuscany, past Umbria, Rome, Montecasino, Naples, Pompeii, the Amalfi, past the three astonishing Greek temples of Paestum which unbelievably few visit - if we were licking wounds, it would be in uncompromised sunshine and beauty – south we headed relentlessly.
We hit the coast of Maratea like hitting a wall - 10 miles of awe. Stopped. We stared in awe; continued to stare and not talk in awe, in awe, in awe - it was the Amalfi, not today’s Amalfi, but the Amalfi of 60 years ago – without the 6 million tourists spoiling, polluting, jamming it all up with their 53 seat coaches on roads designed for bloody chariots - the Amalfi without the €15 donut & coffee. It was the Amalfi without the gaudy pottery, the cheap silver bangles, the expensive gaudier tea-shirts. Our blood pressure dropped – the talking started but serenely.
Sometime later, Traveler Magazine described it as -"Maratea is Heaven - It's The Amalfi Without The Crowds.... Italy's Best Kept Secret".Our plan had been to find a hotel for the night and go further south – but we had accidently arrived. Instead, we rented for a year a cottage in a small orchard on the side of the extinct volcano, Bulgheria, overlooking the bluest of seas and the perfected, just as we dreamed, ancient fishing village of Scario. In the orchard, there were vines, oranges, lemons, olives, cherries, plums, persimmons, and, my favourite, figs – the near majority of which survived my stewardship, my husbandry.
Scario is located in the Cilento National Park, next to the Coast of Maratea. Fascinatingly, the park is dedicated to preserving, not so much flora and fauna, but to preserving an ancient and traditional way of life. It contains 100 small hill-towns and fishing villages. The towns are paid by the government not to change. So, today there are donkeys working the fields, old ladies in black with loads on their head, peasants manually working the earth, wine at €1 per litre.
The first night we placed a bunch of lemon leaves on our pillows – and scented ourselves to a deep un-fitful sleep - the DotCom bust faded and faded. The slow, slow, slow dream had started.
The next morning, we were awakened by an angry donkey and, weirdly, by a bell. On the driveway, stooped at 45 degrees, was on old lady selling fish and shell-fish straight from the sea - wow! - la paese piu bella – la dolce vita. A hour later after the mandatory morning cappuccino - a gruff voice outside saying something related to - “Signori, per favore” - did not even sound like Italian – it wasn’t, it was dialect, and he was Signor Santino who owned, among many others scattered over the mountain, the small farm next door. He refused coffee, but as a welcome, gave us bags of tomatoes, garlic, and nuts all grown, be boasted, in nature’s finest fertilizer - rabbit shit. We loved Signor Santino – we called him the “Great Santino”.
Later that morning, as for most mornings thereafter, off we walked down the steep mountain side to the idyllic fishing harbor (we became quickly known as “i camminatori” - the “walkers”) – stopping for the planet’s finest bread and, even finer, coconut macaroons. Italian bread highlights the value of intense competition – every paese (local town) strives to make the best bread – and all of it is magical, some more than others. We would go day after theraputic day to the harbor café populated daily with a few other stranieri (foreigners). Everyday, as we gazed over the Golfo di Policastro, the same question would be questioned by all - why does no one come here to this perfect paradise?
That first morning, after coffee and meeting a bunch of new friends, including our future partner Lucia (originally from Connecticut), Janie & I headed over the mountain to explore. Passing magnificent, goat-leaping-cliff-lined deserted beaches, we found the hill-town of Pisciotta, some 15 miles away. We found the most important find in Italy, Osteria del Borgo – a total hole in the wall restaurant overlooking the sea and olive groves. The owner Gerardo, an implant from Rome, suggested alice (fresh anchovies) to start - not any old anchovies – but ones that had been freshly caught that very morning by a local fishing boat – and, as a favor to Gerardo, when caught, immediately fileted and placed on a tray and covered in fresh squeezed lemon juice - then picked up by Gerardo at the port on his way to open the restaurant, where he added his magic - garlic, olive oil, pepperoncino, parsley. The Alice was followed by Zuppa di Cozze – a wonderful shell-fish soup – sided with the world’s best french fries - all washed down with a fine bottle of Falanghina – a delicious local white wine. The perfect €20 for two lunch with wine.
We looked at the sea - it hit us smack in the face – my God, finally, unlike our stock portfolio, we had made the right choice. The perfect day to book-end endless perfect days.
Near the end of the year and innumerable alice and rabbit-shit nutured vegetables and nuts, unsettling panic set in – it was nearing time to leave - to leave Scario and the nearby coast of Maratea and the Cilento National Park, our blissful home; it was time to leave €2 bottles of wine (restaurant prices, of course), to leave our daily gorge of authentic Italian food, the mountains, the blue sea – to leave the last of authentic Italy. Necessity may be the mother of invention, panic prods the mother.
In late 2002, we are sitting with the usual crew, at the usual café, asking the usual question – why does no one come here; it's dream like? Lydia, a Swedish jack of all trades, knower of all languages, gazing at the wondrous coast of Maratea across the Golfo di Policastro, said – “I always wanted to start a honeymoon business” - Eureka, the perennial question was answered - lovers would come. But I couldn’t think of a worse business than a honeymoon business - you advertise beautiful hotels, villas, castles, etc. - the couple books with them on their own. The couple gets their dream honeymoon; the venues get a profit, and you get, well, nothing.
Now - a wedding business in the land God made for weddings, not any old weddings, but a Slow Dream Weddings – well, that was a business.
That afternoon, talking to Janie and her friend Lucia (now two of the most revered wedding planners in Italy), I said – let’s do a wedding business. Since I had spent a life time managing (but never actually doing) high-tech, I said, give me three days and I will figure out and build a wedding web-site. One year later, like all high tech projects I ever managed, 352 days late, I emerged from my office in that little cottage in that little orchard on the side of that huge extinct volcano, overlooking one of the most beautiful bays, coast lines and idyllic fishing villages in Christendom - with a web-site - 600 pages and thousands of photos.
We had spent that year taking photos, chatting with venues, bargaining with mayors - promising if they would so something special, something different from the rest of Italy (beautiful compelling Italy) - something that would makes couples by-pass the Alps, Como, Tuscany, Umbria, Rome, Montecasino, Naples, Pompeii, the Amalfi, the astonishing three Greek temples of Paestum.
In return, we promised to make Maratea & the Cilento world famous for weddings – our site now gets visitors each year from 160 different countries - so, we are getting there. We certainly have impacted the local economy. Eccola! Voila! - we have Slow Dreams, extraordinary weddings in Italy. Lydia never did forgive us for “stealing her idea”. Sorry. For family reasons, we left seven idyllic years later – but the Slow Dreams continue - you are welcome to come and dream with us with your "Idyllic Wedding in Italy" be it a wedding in Maratea or Tuscany or any of the beautiful locations we offer. .