Naples Marina Seen from Grand Hotel Vesuvio
aspire to. I saw something to this effect recently, a saying on an inspirational plaque. I agree, dream about achieving something enough and it may become the catalyst for a plan to transform a dream into reality … some veiled, willed destiny presently beyond our grasp, what may be, what will be, if we had our druthers. In a way, dreaming is a whimsical type of internal planning mechanism, where dedication to a desire helps us define our lives. In my own small way, I’ve closed my eyes many a time and let my imagination loose in a dream of what might be. It helps explain why occasionally I’ll buy a lottery ticket and while awaiting the drawing, get my dollars’ worth dreaming of what I’d do with the winnings. I must say that while I go through the motions of my plan to win, sporadically buying tickets, as of yet my winnings have not materialized. Lotteries are such fickle things though, way beyond our control. As a youth, I dreamt of becoming a pilot. How I’d do that I had no idea, but in this case the stepping stones would for the most part be under my control. My single-minded determination eventually willed me into a cockpit. At other times, in a flight from the reality of the moment, I’ve had simpler imaginings as for instance of us standing atop what Romans jokingly refer to as the “Wedding Cake” (Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II), sandwiched between the Forum and Piazza Venezia, surveying the breadth of Rome, a view even Rome’s Caesars never enjoyed. It’s something we’ve not yet experienced, but know we will. Then again, maybe in a relaxed daydream state, you, as I, have walked maze-like passages bordering on streets, in a medieval stone and cement cluster of beehive dwellings, once home to ancient humanity. When our Cinque Stelle tour finally arrived on the streets of Calitri, our son, Chris, experienced a déjà vu moment as his dream moved to fulfillment, a blur in the divide between what he’d imagined and his present surroundings there among the network of cobbled, hallway-like streets of Calitri. Clearly at times we get to live our dreams.
navigation, i.e. taking a longer route, caused by believing a sign verses what GPS “Margaret” advised, was the culprit. The drive from Tuscany, north of Rome, was long enough without adding to the jaunt, which we somehow managed to do as we followed the ridge-running, zig-zag, up and down course that awaited us. Chris wanted to see Italy and I assure you our route offered him that opportunity. We made a few stops in this dream-like landscape, the first being to the picture-perfect Abby of Sant’Antimo, dating from the time of Charlemagne. Most recently a community of Gregorian chanting Benedictine monks call it home. The abbey is inspirational, the centerpiece of a beautiful valley not far from Montalcino. It was from here that what looked to be a shortcut, proved instead to be the long way to just about anywhere.
It was an OMG moment when from behind him on the stairs we both heard him exclaim, “Oh My God” as he stepped onto the terrace and took in the view from our eagle’s nest. We only wished we’d been able to catch the expression on his face at that moment. It would have more than repaid us for all the work it had taken to make it happen. As he took it all in he remarked, “It’s a lot nicer than you made it sound, mom.” Well OK, maybe in a protective move we had lowered expectations some over the years. Don’t expect much and in-kind you won’t be disappointed. Perhaps we had downplayed things. On the upside, you just might be astonished by what does materialize. Over the years, we’d made steady improvements. Only weeks before, in anticipation of his arrival, we’d added long needed head and footboards to the guest bedroom. Nothing but the best, right? Too our pleasant surprise he was impressed and we were pleased. We’d been able to share our dream with our son. The stars, more than simply five, were shining.
Double Jack’s for drinks. Jack’s proprietor, Bruno, knew the makings of a proper martini down to the particulars of Chris’ precise instructions, which always seem to confound me concerning stirring, dryness, twists, and “dirtiness”. Served up properly, Chris was more than impressed and dumbfounded when he learned their modest cost in comparison to what he customarily laid out for the same concoction in Manhattan. I am now sworn not to let Bruno know! Chris’ aches and pains now soothed somewhat, we next headed to Tre Rose, an establishment that while void of cocktails shaken or stirred, serves up local comfort food like cingul and canazza pastas by the bowlful. You can always expect to have a good time in the company of owners Michale and Canio, while Mimmo, in his Tre Rose official vest, sees to our every need. That night was no exception.
at our hotel by taxi. We were staying at Grand Hotel Vesuvio, a distinguished five-star establishment that is as much a landmark as Castel dell’Ovo, which faces it from the sea, across a short causeway. Because our rooms suffered from spotty internet reception, the wind moved us to rooms at the front of the hotel facing the sea, a marina, the imposing castle, and an arcing view extending from Pozzuoli (where Sophia Loren grew up and did prison time for tax evasion) around to the left off toward Sorrento and the end of the Amalfi Peninsula. Who needed the internet with that view! This view of the Bay of Naples was amazing and we could have sat there enjoying it along with some red wine for hours but that would have to wait for that incessant wind soon had us moving again.
Stretching east-west from Piazza Gesù Nuovo along Via Benedetto Croce and continuing along for a few more streets, this narrow passage literally splits (spaccare) the city in half, accounting for its name. It’s an adventure where just about anything can occur from street entertainers to street thievery, which also includes overpaying. With a good pair of shoes and a grip on our wallets, we picked up the trail a few streets behind our hotel with a cut across Piazza Plebiscito, directly in front of the massive Palazzo Reale, once home to Spain’s Bourbons, and in due course, the House of Savoy. From glitzy uptown we soon made the transition to the visceral nakedness of downtown Naples. The transition, though gradual, was noticeable as it broke to the underside of life in the streets, heralded by what else but a sign for a strip joint. Leaving the lap and pole dances behind we walked the length of Spaccanapoli finally finishing up on San Gregorio Armeno, referred to as the Christmas everyday street and a tourist destination of its own. It is known worldwide for its workshops where cribs and nativity figurines of all shapes and sizes came to life to be carried off by the hundreds of shoppers that rummage through its stalls.
Replicant or real, she drove like a banshee, lurching about as though in one of those epic race scenes from Ben Hur. While her arms were festooned with personal body art, mine remained anemically white as I gripped the hand-hold throughout our madcap dash to Pompeii. I didn’t understand her need for speed especially since she’d agreed to wait there for us for two hours while we explored Pompeii.
wander its deserted homes and gardens, some of which took-up entire blocks. He especially enjoyed the amphitheater, the oldest in the Roman world with a capacity of 20,000 spectators. Maria Elena and I enjoyed it too because it gave us a chance to sit down. Positioned as it is in a peripheral area of the city, its builders had clearly anticipated a traffic jam, not of cars, but of pedestrians. Not unlike soccer games these days, sometimes there were riots. We learned of one, in 59AD, twenty years before it was destroyed, between the people of
These were later accompanied by wine and seafood dinners worthy of Neptune’s favor. We enjoyed our wonderful meals in a nautical atmosphere unmatched in location - the sea lapping hulls ranging from humble skiffs to luxuriant yachts while the daunting silhouette of Vesuvius dominated the distant horizon. While the boats may have been securely tired down, our appetites were unmoored. Our tabletop soon groaned from the weight of heaping-full entrées, a veritable smorgasbord of alici fritte (fried anchovies - something I’ve raved about before), pasta alle vongole (a fave of Mare’s), insulata caprese (everyone’s favorite), pesce spada (swordfish) and risotto alla pescatora (fisherman style risotto with mussels, clams, calamari and shrimp) into which I vanished.