Italy Day Three – 4.25.07

Interestingly, crossing Amalfi’s coastal range is similar in climate to crossing the mountains east of San Francisco. One goes from a cool welcome climate to severe, unbearably hot desert quickly. Still in a jet-lag induced stupor we took the directions to Pompeii from the hotel concierge. They assured us it was easier than getting the trip to Herculaneum. They were so nice and willing. and we were mostly rudderless. We should have known better as the directions led back over the coastal range through Cava.

Setting out in the daylight, the drive up the coastal range was spectacular: lush, green, and bucolic. And dangerous. Rounding a corner on a wide, state road we had to wrestle the punto to an unexpected sudden stop in order to refrain from mowing down a herd of unruly sheep.

Cresting the coastal ridge one is accosted by “the other side of the ridge,” so to speak. Cava unveiled in daylight reeked of baked, third-world industrial drearyness and desert heat. Not good combinations. The driving chaos had not improved from the trip in two days before, and unclogged by dueling buses the traffic flowed much more quickly. This time it was apparent that the road was not wide enough for the combination of speed, oncoming traffic, and cars darting into traffic from side roads when there was a space of more than eleven inches between bumpers. Thwacking another car’s side mirror didn’t even cause a pause for consideration of what had happened. Having driven in various places in Europe even – Sevilla, Spain and Athens, Greece – Cava is a new experience. Traffic in those places seems somewhat orchestrated, as if there is some method to the insanity like following schools of fish. A schools of fish darts everywhere and turns on a dime, but it moves in harmony. Driving in Cava was like multiple, separate, belligerent schools of fish darting at one another oblivious and uncaring of the outcome. The stress is unparalleled, and then one gets through it after making a dozen last second decisions in direction, often at the last minute and just as often illegal. And of course signs that clearly say Pompeii on them with an arrow indicating a right turn. But then in the moment you don’t recognize the icon for the sign or the Italian sub-head beneath the huge lettering for Pompeii that you find out is really the “Pompeii Supermarket” only after you’ve fully committed to making the turn. Emotionally exhausted, we finally found parking outside of Pompeii literally called, in English, “Safe Parking.” Oddly, we did not once consider the safety was for the car or our possessions, but pulling in and parking on the grassy lot we felt safe for the first time since leaving Ravello. Gaby literally put her head on the dash and cried strongly considering staying in Safe Parking rather than going back through Cava.

Despite being emotionally drained Pompeii itself was interesting. It brings to mind the passage from Kirk Vonnegut:

“It posed the question posed by all such stone piles: how had puny men moved stones so big? And , like all such stone piles, it answered the question itself. Dumb terror had moved these stones so big.” –Cat’s Cradle

After the drive and a couple of hours in the afternoon heat it is difficult to really engage with a ruin, especially one as expansive as Pompeii. The coliseum was architecturally amazing. The forum baths were amazingly well preserved and culturally fascinating, and the preserved bodies macabre. We cut the visit somewhat short and enjoyed the walk around the wooded perimeter as well as the main attractions. We also needed to preserve something for getting back to Ravello.

With trepidation in starting back down the state road to Cava, there was a moment of brilliance. This kind of thing would never occur when home, but going down the coastal road rather than back through Cava was illuminating. After a split-second exit and paying twice for tolls, we headed north instead of south we were on highway. The road widened and widened again. We slowly made our way through well-spaced mountain-side villages with smiling school children. And the Amalfi coast in all is beauty was waiting for us as we crossed the ridge. No feral dogs, no mad drivers darting about. Sitting on the cliff-side porch back at the Villia Maria we had the two best beers of our lives and sat and watched the sunset and the canyon below leading down to the Mediterranean.

The hotel had suggested and arranged for tickets at the Villa Ruffolo that evening. Ravello is know for its summer music festival and reportedly one cannot get within miles without reservations a year in advance. This seemed more aligned with the hotel’s knowledge set. The concerto was piano and and violin. Elena La Montagna and Pierfrancesco Borrelli (Piano). Mascitti, Haendal, Nicola Antonio Porpora, Bach Tomaso Antonio Vitali. The day ended harmoneously.

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