Saturday, October 6, 2012


Thanks to time and seismic activity, the urban strata of Naples exist at various levels. The new subway station by the Castel Nuovo has been under construction for eight years because they keep finding Roman ships down there. You can see Roman avenues from glass bottom boats in the bay, and there is a Greek city on view under the Duomo. I was urged not to miss it, or the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, or Pompeii, and yet I managed to miss all of them. I kept arriving everywhere too late or on the wrong day. Lisa Norall and I made tentative plans to go to Herculaneum, but I was frankly glad that we ended up having lunch at her house in Posillipo instead.

Days were consumed walking around the city looking at walls and doorways, hopping on a bus or a metro when my feet got tired. 

If my landlord had not pointed it out, I wouldn’t have noticed that the undersides of these strange granite punts on the facade of Gesu Nuovo are etched with Aramaic letters. 

(It is now thought that they correspond to notes on a scale: "Read from right to left and bottom to top, the coded engraved notes form a 45-minute concert for stringed instruments." --

I would have canceled my side trip to the Amalfi coast in favor of more walking around but my apartment had already been spoken for. So I got up early and took a couple of buses to Ravello, an immaculately preserved tourist village 5 or 6 km above the Mediterranean. Principal products: limoncello, hideous ceramic plates, and jaw-dropping views. Accordingly, it’s jammed--even in October--with aussies, brits, krauts, and yanks. I felt like I must have been the only person under 60 who wasn’t selling or cleaning anything. Lisa N. had recommended a hike from Ravello to Amalfi—down a gorge called the Valle della Ferriere, past an abandoned paper mill. That's my kind of ruin.

The descent begins with a series of olive-lined staircases.

Occasionally, you have to walk along the road to find the next staircase. I got confused a few times about whether to go up or down.

After a while, it became impossible to ignore a pair of German tourists who were obviously following the same route. We arrived at the village of Pontone along with a coach full of brits, and I thought I'd lost them in the crowd, but they were right behind me when found my way to the descending path. We were on a scrabbly trail now, with goat droppings, wild oregano, blankets of cyclamen.

We plunged into a wooded gorge. I started seeing ruins.

I wanted to be alone now. “I think I’ll stop and have my lunch now,” I said, but Ulrike and Bernhard were staunch companions. They sat with me while I ate, and we headed off again.

Seeing a waterfall, I told them I wanted to explore. Possibly bathe, or even nap.

Finally I was alone.

My kinda ruins.

I emerged from the woods into a landscape of terraced gardens. New settlements appeared alongside the foundations of old buildings.

The only thing I wanted from Amalfi was a dip in the sea. It must have been a lovely seaside resort once. It’s 90% honky-tonk now--which, in Italy, means you can buy a barbecue apron with Mussolini on it. 

They charge 50 cents to use the public toilet, but a guy renting beach chairs let me change in his shed. The bathers were a nice older crowd. Mostly Italians, I think.

I missed the direct bus Naples in the morning, so I had to go south to Salerno and catch the commuter train. Salerno seemed like a good spot. The train station was grimy and slightly menacing. A skinny teenage boy sat next to me and teetered on the verge of a nod for a while before disembarking in some anonymous stucco town. Vesuvius, that Clare Quilty of landmasses, stayed with us for the last hour.

The train followed the coast through the hard-looking exurbs of Naples. I spotted a few lonely souls sunbathing on the greasy rocks or even standing waist-deep in the caf√© au lait foam. Too tired and dreamy to take out my camera, though. It was a fabulous ride, and it only cost 4 euros. Oh, and I made it to Pompei(i) after all.

1 comment:

  1. Really great. Hard to shake a good German. Surprised you managed it.