The elderly man walking toward me is holding out his hand. It seems he wants to give me something.
We are the only two people on this stretch of beach in Southern Italy, and have been quietly lost in our own musings until now.
Clearly his intense scrutiny of the sand has revealed a treasure he would like to share with me. Speaking in Italian, he smiles and drops a tiny shell into my hand.
I can't understand what he is saying, but I'm charmed he wants to gift me with the snail shell, and I would like to reciprocate.
Reaching into my pocket, I pull out a recently found treasure and offer it to him. A piece of green ceramic, it is the only colored chip I have found so far on the beach.
His reaction surprises me.
He chuckles and shrugs, walking away to continue his search without taking my gift.
It occurs to me this man has probably lived here in Vietri sul Mare for many years. Strolling the beach, smoking his cigar and quietly scanning the sand is not a new past time for him.
I decide rebuffing my gift with a shrug is actually his way of saying that the bits of Italian pottery on the beach are familiar to him. I am just a silly American who may not have realized that.
Continuing my stroll a few feet from the surf, I wrap my scarf around my neck and pull up my collar, shivering in the breeze coming off the Mediterranean.
I am here on the gateway to the Amalfi Coast in March, alone on the beach with one Italian man, peacefully searching the sand. This part of the coast – a lesser traveled one by tourists, is exactly what many people dream of seeing in Italy.
The colorful character of the people and charming homes with laundry lines almost an art form; the wonderful smells of pizza and Italian coffee – it is abundant here.
Suddenly I see one.
Grabbing up the bright stone from the beach, I examine the intricate floral design, still bright yellow on the orange pottery worn smooth by the tide. For the Italians who live in Vietri, a visitor's fascination with colorful bits of ceramic washed up by the tide probably seems silly.
Although the largest factory, it is one of many in this small coastal town that supplies the hotels, shops and restaurants along the Amalfi Coast
with a huge variety of pottery and tile art. Short of a sofa, there isn’t much of anything that Italians won't construct into ceramic.
High above the village, St. John's church has a distinctive green and yellow ceramic dome that speaks to the artesian roots of Vietri. Visible from miles away, it marks the tiny spot on the Italian coast where you can find a one-of-a-kind ceramic in an idyllic place tourists often overlook. Add the adventure of beach combing for colorful scraps of pottery polished by the sea, and you have an authentic Italian treasure hunt.