So, my love affair with Italy continued recently with a visit to Sorrento. I knew very little of the history of the place, beyond the basics about nearby Pompeii.
A word of warning here, don’t get a taxi from the airport. I got massively ripped off by a taxi driver who played loud music and drove like a maniac. Apparently the train station at Naples Airport is dodgy too, so I’d suggest to organise a transfer car before you go.
After checking into my lovely hotel, Maison Tofani, in the centre of the old town, my mum and I set off to explore the enchanting streets, gorgeous architecture and taste some local food. The area is famous for its lemon groves, and there are lemons everywhere in Sorrento, from great misshapen lemons hanging outside fruit stands, to citrus soaps and intricate tiles.
I started to notice another theme among those narrow charming streets; mermaids. Now let me just say that I have been enchanted by mermaids since I was a little girl when my mum took me on the bus to Inverness to see Disney’s The Little Mermaid at the La Scala cinema. I particularly remember that trip as some old guy did a shit on the bus, but let’s not distract from the romanticism here.
From then I was addicted. I read the original Hans Christian Anderson story (and cried), and obsessed over the Splash films (yes, there’s two) all the while fantasising about having my own glorious iridescent tail unfurl whenever my legs got wet. I’m pretty much happiest when I’m by the sea. The village I lived in as a child even later on acquired a mermaid statue, I got married on a beach, and I wrote about the sea in my debut novel.
There is something about the sea that incites a feeling of fear and respect in me, alongside wonder and awe. On a boat trip around Capri, I marvelled at how the sea changed colour from a pale green to vivid turquoise and rich indigo. And swimming in those clear, warm waters made my mermaid soul sing.
After returning from my trip, I was keen to find out more about the local mermaid lore. The area in and around Sorrento is often described as the land of the mermaids. In Ancient Greek mythology the mermaids were known as sirens and depicted as having the body of bird with a beautiful woman’s head. It was the Romans who worshipped them as sea deities with fish tails.
The name Sorrento is said to have derived from the word Surrentum, from the sirens. An archipelago of three islets off the coast of Amalfi were believed to be the domain of the Sirens, and therefore known as Le Sirenuse. The most famous of the sirens were Parthenope, Leucosia, and Ligeia.
I think if I was a mermaid, I’d choose that area as my home too. The sea water was refreshing but warm, and the way the sunlight sparkled on the waves was mesmerising. When I returned home from my trip, I dug out my rarely used Tarot of Mermaids tarot deck and daydreamed about one day attending mermaid school (yes please! Though it’s in the UK, not Italy).