personal essay

Pizza, Positano, and a Honeymoon Kind of Love

published Jul 8, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Ann Mah sitting on stone steps
Credit: Laura Mulkerne

I had been to Italy once before, as a kid with my parents. Now I was an adult traveling with a friend, my best friend — my new husband — and we were landing in Naples in the middle of a heat wave.

It was early August and so hot even my fingernails felt sweaty. We were headed to our honeymoon destination of the Amalfi Coast, anticipating an Italian holiday straight out of The Talented Mr. Ripley (minus the psychopathic serial killer), saturated with color, and opera, and sunshine.

From the very start, Italy upended my expectations and I scrambled to regain my footing. There was the taxi driver who took us from the airport to the ferry terminal, who wanted five times the metered fare. The owner of our vacation rental demanded extra cash, even though we’d already paid in full. It wasn’t what I had expected, but I was an inexperienced traveler.

Now I was in the real world where negotiations sometimes went a little crooked, the corner shop sold 13 types of pasta but no sunscreen, and an army of ants marched across the terra-cotta floor of our rental apartment, up the cabinets, along the counter, stove, and refrigerator door.

We had planned to cook a few meals, but one look at the ant highway in the kitchen nixed that idea. That first night we went out for pizzas cooked in the blazing heat of a wood oven, their blistered crusts tapering to a molten center, a lucky blind choice in a town filled with restaurants.

The next day we ate tiny clams in swirled nests of spaghetti, and the next there was buffalo mozzarella still warm from its hot water bath, and then panini at the beach club, our feet sandy and bathing suits damp; lemon ices perfumed with knobby bits of zest; grilled fish that had been plucked from the sea hours before. It wasn’t that every meal was perfect, but each one became a memory. 

“Even the olives here are the best olives I’ve ever tasted!” exclaimed my husband, as we sipped Prosecco before dinner and dabbled at a crossword puzzle. I felt a wild burst of love for his enthusiasm, his joy in travel, his interest in trying new things. By the time we had met, he had lived in Russia, Central Asia, and France, and his work as a diplomat would continue to move us every three or four years. Our marriage vows had included an unspoken commitment to support each other as we lived in far-flung destinations around the world.  

This was the beginning of our new adventure together, and also the end of the familiar. In just a few weeks, we would move from New York City to Beijing, China, where nearly everything about our daily life would change. But for a brief period we were suspended in this bright, hot place where my greatest concern was whether I should order hazelnut gelato or pistachio. 

In the years since our wedding, we’ve talked about going back to the Amalfi Coast, but there’s always been something — work, pregnancy, money — that stopped us from making the trip. Of course we’ve been on other vacations — trips to visit family, holidays to tropical islands and sunbaked French villages — but their details never etched into my memory quite the same way.

I think of those Positano restaurants and wonder if any of them are still around — the pizza place by the beach with the wood-burning oven, the farmhouse in the hills that served homemade pasta with wild boar ragu. Did they survive the pandemic?

I think of us back then, that young couple full of dreams and ambition. We had no idea of the joys and disappointments that lay ahead, or that the ants and disreputable taxi drivers of our honeymoon would become jokes that we still laugh about all these years later. But I do know we were ready to take on the world. The Amalfi Coast was just the beginning.