“No – no foto!” The small, elderly woman hustled through the piled plates towards us.
“Non posso fare …?” My bad Italian faltered.
“No!” Her finger flicked sternly from side to side as she halted in front of us, dark eyes flashing with suspicion.
“Who are you?” The slow English syllables were weighted with menace.
Startled, we clumped together in front of the shoulder-height fury. I hung my camera in shame.
“Siamo inglese …”
The eyes narrowed. “Why are you here?”
“Uum … to buy, to look … mi dispiace …”
“Where are you from?”
Slowly, slowly the eyes began to smile rather than stab – they studied our faces and then invited us, with a warm laugh, to have a look.
We edged from our guilty corner (we hadn’t seen the ‘no foto‘ sign) to join a sales dance round the stacked sunshine of the ceramics. Outside the weather turned brutal.
We soon discovered that our scolder, and charmer, was Signora Avallone whose family have been ceramic artists in Vietri sul Mare for generations.
In a jumble of Italian/English she told us she didn’t want photographs taken as the designs then became easy internet pickings. We were allowed this one photograph.
Next Signora Avallone tempted us to a standstill with her dazzling ceramics and reassured us constantly about taste: “brava signora, brava“. We learned of the old traditions, of Signor Avallone, and of the young ragazzi – ‘artists’ until they had made enough money to move on … and we only just resisted leaving with a cockerel that definitely hadn’t been on our wish list.
Mid-point through our tour a young local couple, engaged to be married, came in to buy a few things. There was excited chatter and then, with a ruthless twinkle and the plate-we-think-we-chose half-wrapped, Signora Avallone hurried us out from the shop towards the cash point.
“You must not hear this … ” she laughed as we left. “I want to find a good price for the soon-to-be-weds.”
We returned cash in hand to find the deal done and our plate sealed … with two small cups for limoncello. A toast to Signora Avallone and all the brides in waiting of Vietri!
Next we headed further along the Amalfi coast and up the steep turns towards Ravello, hidden behind an even thicker wad of soaking clouds.
The whole town was indoors when we arrived apart from a few intrepid entrepreneurs fishing for tourists.
The gardens at Villa Cimbrione were open but to find the viewpoint through the sheets of rain we would have needed oil skins and an anchor.
We abandoned that mission and searched instead for lunch.
Our first hope was the beautifully dry Hotel Villa Maria. A wind flung us in through the front doors but we were out of luck – the restaurant was closed. Their advice, following a quick telephone call, was to head back with their free umbrella to a small place directly across the piazza.
We forced ourselves out into the freezing wind. Within minutes the gift of an umbrella had turned itself inside out and snapped a couple of limbs but, even so, the soup at the far end proved worth the struggle. So did the ceramic shop that beamed at us on our way back to the car.
It was the flash of lemons on blue and white that caught our eye through the grey.
We entered the showroom with cameras firmly buckled. The owner, who rushed in behind us with his excellent English, gave us the same reason for his ban on photography – the well-founded fear of design-theft.
Ceramiche d’Arte is the shop of Ravello-born Pasquale Sorrentino and with every step that we took into its interior a little slice of our breath was stolen – the brush-strokes were so densely layered, so beautiful we had to pause just to let our eyes understand.
Pasquale Sorrentino is passionate about the work he showcases and takes great pride in his insistence on the highest standards from his artists. Every piece in his shop has that shimmering quality of light that all good ceramists add to paint but there is also something different: intense complexity – intricate patterns repeated beneath striking glazes; light-handed flow – summer meadows of floral dinner sets; and distinct colours – rich Roman reds and ochres.
Pasquale is no ceramics snob, in fact he praised the cheerful simplicity of some of Vietri’s famed products but added that his problem, or his talent depending on how you looked at it, was that now, after more than thirty years in the business, his own standards were very high. The stunning results, vivid celebrations of his knowledge combined with the skill of others, were piled throughout the vaulted cavern.
We left Ravello mid-afternoon that Sunday with our minds fired with design and colour. Pasquale returned to his office.
Our route back to Naples was over the hills. It proved a little hazardous in the half-light with rain-slipped rocks, and a huge, mysteriously abandoned teddy-bear tumbled on to the tarmac, but we made it around the debris and through the sheep.
Wet? Yes. Worth it? Every minute.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2016