Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone. Its houses climb a hill so steep it would be a cliff except that stairs are cut in it. I believe that whereas most house foundations are vertical, in Positano they are horizontal. The small curving bay of unbelievably blue and green water lips gently on a beach of small pebbles. There is only one narrow street and it does not come down to the water. Everything else is stairs. You do not walk to visit a friend, you either climb or slide. Nearly always when you find a place as beautiful as Positano, your impulse is to conceal it. You think, ‘If I tell, it will be crowded with tourists and they will ruin it, turn it into a honky-tonk, and then the local people will get touristy and there’s your lovely place gone to hell.’ There isn’t the slightest chance of this in Positano. In the first place, there is no room. There are about two thousand inhabitants in Positano and there is room for about five hundred visitors, not more. The cliffs are all taken. Except for the half-ruinous houses very high up, all space is utilised. And the Positanese invariably refuse to sell.
Again, Positano is never likely to attract the organdie-and-white linen tourist. It would be impossible to dress as a languid tourist-lady and climb the Positano stairs for a cocktail. She will arrive looking like a washcloth at a boys’ camp. There is no way for her to get anywhere except by climbing. This alone eliminates one kind of tourist, the show tourist. The third deterrent to a great influx of tourists lies in the nature of the Positanese themselves. They just don’t give a damn. They have been living here since before recorded history and they don’t intend to change now. They don’t have much, but they like what they have and will not move over.
A Walter Goetz drawing that accompanied John Steinbeck’s original piece (above)