There is a place where dreams are captured in real life. They drift inland on cool breezes across choppy turquoise seas tossing beneath pink clouded skies. They are captured by the rocky green hills that rise straight from the sea. The hills, worn by time and weather, stand as silent witnesses to a culture of hard work and dedication and a desire to create a visual masterpiece, a perfect mixture of nature’s harshness and man’s desire for not only sustenance, but beauty.
The hills are terraced as they tumble to the sea from high above. The mortarless walls of the terraces, built over centuries by masters of stone craftsmanship, are perfectly shaped to capture the soft morning light. The fertile earth yields everything necessary to not only sustain life, but to nurture it. The terraces are covered with ancient olive trees and carefully tended vineyards. Lemons and other citrus grow in small groups of fragrant color. The sweet smell of the bright yellow lemon trees fills the senses with hope. Basil and rosemary grow in small herb gardens, seemingly wild, their fragrance perfectly complimenting the freshness of the lemon.
A few small boats are tied to brightly colored buoys in the tiny harbor. The sea is rough today and most of the brightly painted boats have been removed from the water. The salt air is crisp, summer still a distant dream. Seagulls hover and dive aggressively above, testing the breezes and currents. They seem to fly for fun and not for food. Speeding with the wind, they bank sharply before hovering and lightly touching down in the chilly water. They are healthy and well-groomed from proper diets. No scavengers here. A fisherman mends a net nearby, his practiced hands neatly weaving the repair of a recent tear.
A cobbled thoroughfare winds through the town from the tiny harbor that hides behind the stone seawall. It follows the path of the stream that provides fresh water for agriculture and people. The rush of water from recent rainstorms is clearly audible through grates along the path. At different points along the way, tiny waterfalls are visible along the exposed black rock. Carefully placed stonework channels water into glistening pools that feed the houses and gardens along the path.
The architecture compliments the land. Red tiled roofs cover hand-hewn houses with iron balconies and brightly painted shutters. The powerful salt air peels the pastel colored stucco walls, sometimes to the brick below, in perfect patterns from the multistoried buildings. The mottled result blends perfectly with the rough landscape. The houses cling precariously to the gorge that was carved over eons by tiny streams that flow from distant snowcapped mountains, unseen behind the terraced hills.
Narrow passageways lead through shadowy gaps between the tightly packed buildings. Worn brick arches form magic gateways through which the townspeople make their way upwards. Unrailed staircases twist their way up the steep hillside. Tiny plazas, terraces and secret viewpoints await those who make the climb. Every open space is used for a purpose. Where houses can’t fit, gardens are built. Where fruits and vegetables won’t grow, flowers are planted. A few ancient trees grow behind natural stone walls that contain rare patches of greenspace.
On the thoroughfare, a tiny vegetable market displays its produce on tables placed along the street. Striped canopies extend above the brightly colored fruits and vegetables, many grown locally. The land provides the necessities of life, but not without incredible effort. Many vendors sell locally grown wine or olive oil. Fresh herbs from tiny gardens nearby fragrantly scent the air. An assortment of delectably aged local cheeses looks appetizing in a refrigerated open display inside.
A small fish market across the way exhibits a wonderful assortment of the silvery catch of the day. Octopus, shrimp and a variety of shellfish fill out the display. They smell of salt water and sea air. Most were in the ocean just a few hours before.
A nearby bakery smells of sweet flour. The smell of heated sugar permeates the air. Colorful sweets are displayed in the small glass case near the window. An ancient espresso machine shines impressively behind the counter. The smell of rich coffee mixes with the aroma of sweetened fruit and demands a brief stop. It is one of few shops open for visitors in these last days of winter.
The ingredients seem so perfectly paired that, when combined together simply, they create a cuisine so delicious that it could only have been created by nature itself. Tomatoes, garlic, basil, olive oil, fresh seafood, lemons and local cheeses. Focaccia, farinata and pesto were created here. Combined with wonderful local wines, a simple, deliciously healthy diet sustained the activity necessary to create this region of work and wonder.
Higher up the hill, a tiny church stands open for visitors. A bell in the tower rings out for all to hear. Black and white stones are equally spaced creating a striped façade which is unique to this area. Inside the hand painted statues are not gaudy or overly elaborate. They display a simple beauty that compares easily with the more ornate places of worship built by rich patrons in places far away. The design here suggests closeness to a faith formed by the recognition of how much man and nature depend on each other to survive.
Three old women sit on a bench near the tiny square next to the church. They wear aprons and happily chat to everyone who passes. People greet each other heartily and with good cheer. No new baby can pass without everyone gathering around to make cooing sounds and wiggle a toe or tiny hand. A one eyed cat sits laconically on the tiny stoop. He seems to know that the sun finds its way here at this time every day. His face tilted upward to the beam of light, he seems to be content with his fate.
The cemetery at the top of the hill provides the perfect final resting place. Well-tended flowers mark the shiny polished white marble crypts. The view across the never-ending terraces, along the road through the town, above the colorful houses, further to the harbor and finally to the amazingly blue sea is amazing. The perfect place to spend eternity. A few boats are visible on the horizon. As if on cue, the sun peeks from behind the parting clouds. The rays of light that shine seem perfectly focused to highlight the achievements of people who have worked hard to create a place of amazing beauty and abundance. The natural curves of the land are perfectly complimented by the man-made additions of years of unending dedication.
Smiling photos of the townspeople’s faces mark the graves. They show a handsome, humble people who lived a life of work and care. They are faces that look out over all they have created with all the satisfaction, achievement and contentment of a life well lived in a beautiful land where their dreams really did become reality.