Monday, December 31, 2012

A Flood of Streaming Thoughts

I’m recently reminded of a vignette going around the Internet about an elderly gentleman who decides one day that it's time to wash the dishes piled high in his sink. Short on detergent, he heads for the pantry for more and while there discovers a screwdriver he’d been missing and decides to put it away in the garage workshop where it belonged. Entering the shop he came across the needle valve he'd been looking for to pump-up the grandchildren’s basketball and decided to inflate it right then. When he found the ball outside on the grass, he also discovered the morning newspaper lying in the driveway so he decided to take a short break from the nothingness he’d accomplished and read it. Sitting down to enjoy the news, he realized he’d enjoy it even more if he had a cup of coffee to go along with his favorite editorialist so he got up to get some coffee and so on, and so on, and so on. Come to find out, by end of day the dishes hadn’t been touched and he'd still accomplished niente (nothing)!

Though I’m nowhere near as bad, only occasionally entering a room and not recalling why I'd gone there in the first place, I do sometimes find myself cascading through thoughts, one leading to another. Attention deficit on my part? A raised eyebrow on Maria Elena would most likely indicate she concurred, but truth be, I always seek her attention! My hopscotching thoughts are especially the case when I’m in that morning semi-awake fog state somewhere between sleep and consciousness. I want to believe that it's at times like these that something similar to 'defragmenting' your computer's hard drive is going on. Only in this case your brain may be physically organizing your memories, removing the wasteful gaps between our recollections, tidying up what space remains in my grey matter. Here is an instance from just the other day where I can recall fiddling with my ‘not-pointy-enough’ fingers on the tiny pseudo-buttons of my iPhone touchscreen to suddenly find myself in the Netflix streaming video application in the middle of a BBC made for TV Robin Hood episode. No matter the adaptation, whether it be the version starring Kevin Costner and his Moorish sidekick (played by Morgan Freeman) or one of its many other variations, that classic scene with Robin Hood splitting an arrow with an arrow is sure to be depicted.

This reminded me of current attempts to hit a bullet with a bullet, or more precisely, one projectile with another as in my experience when I worked at Raytheon. We were hitting a missile with another missile, something quite technically feasible these days as demonstrated by the advanced missile defense system being developed to protect ground forces from tactical ballistic missile attack. Nothing as simple or foolproof as the legends of Robin Hood would have you believe.

Case in point, my thoughts skewed to friends who while at the gym recently and although the drone of the siren had been deadened by the sounds inside the gym, still heard the warning with enough time to escape into an air-raid shelter. Minutes later, now in the safe confines of the shelter, just as the stress from the stench of sweat was about to exceed any concern for the threat posed by the attack, thankfully, the all-clear sounded following the successful intercept by their Iron Dome missile defense system. At this point many headed for the showers, then home, but for my friend, Rony, and his wife, Malca, the sudden drop in the number of patrons meant the added bonus of returning to a practically empty gym to avail themselves of the best of the machines! Later that night, he was literally caught with his pants down or better said, off! When the sirens once more sounded he had to scramble, trailing a path of water out of the shower with nothing more than a towel, down into their basement shelter. This was Israel where every building is required to have a shelter. Moments later, following the whoosh of another Iron Dome interceptor, indicating another inbound missile lurked somewhere in the night, there followed a tremendous explosion, seemingly next door. Unknown to them at that moment, Iron Dome hadn't worked as planned. The incoming missile had leaked through the defenses and hit a six story building only a half mile from their home. Feeling safe, naively confident in their technology, they emerged from hiding, each picking up the routine of their lives once again, resuming their routines as best they could, as though nothing had happened, his wife back to making dinner and Rony back upstairs to finish his shower. For the people who had occupied that nearby penthouse apartment (see photo album) there'd be no going back for dinner, finishing a shower or any chance to change from towel into proper clothing. Hearing him tell it, there is humor even in terror, but nonetheless, still a game of Russian roulette. My mind segued to the image of my friend draped only in a towel trudging up two flights back to his shower, most likely muttering something off-colored in Hebrew, preferably a prayer in thanksgiving for being spared. Strange how my thoughts cascaded to thinking about water. I actually wondered if he'd bothered to shut the shower off on his hasty departure! Then in another detour, I wondered about how valuable water must be in such an arid place as Tel Aviv, let alone all of Israel, certainly nothing like other places with an abundance of water, even some to spare.

Water now flooding my mind, my thoughts flew elsewhere, this time to a Sunday visit to Caposele, headwater of the Sele River. Funny I mused, as my attention deficit to an attention deficit kicked-in, here Mare and I were in the heart of Italy yet still searching for Italy, kind of like being in the middle of Rome and looking for the Italian section of town! But to return to my original wayward thought, the Caposele flows westerly approximately 40 miles through Campania to the Gulf of Salerno just below Naples. We visited Caposele (meaning 'Head of the Sele') one shiny Sunday afternoon in October on the invitation of my friend and barista, Mario. Along with Mario were his suocero (father-in-law) Angelo, Mario's son Yuri and UK buddies, Bernie and her husband Gerry. With a group this large we needed two cars. Our convey formed in Piazza della Repubblica, just outside Mario’s Caffè, and headed off to investigate the waterworks of Caposele.

Straying into another memory I recall how it was an especially nice drive down one of my favorite valleys along S91 from Lioni. I can see it even now, the valley bordered by mountains rising bare and wild, with numerous hilltop village outcroppings, all worthy of a visit. That day we'd get to explore one. Not many miles from where S91 began, it was already time to exit. You can't miss the exit because there are a couple monuments of sort that serve as visual cues in case there is too much conversation going on at the time. One is the mountaintop Church of San Vito, off to the left (we got to the top once only to find that God had locked up for the day), and to the right, close to the exit, sits the Basilica of San Gerardo. We had visited the Basilica about a year earlier and found it not only open but full of tourists, to include busloads of pilgrims. With its towering conical appearing roofline the Basilica can be seen from afar. Its stained glass windows recounting episodes from the life of the saint for which it is named.

Saint Gerardo (Gerard Majella) is legendary in this area of Campagnia and in fact is the patron saint of Caposele. He was a saint of the people. From a humble beginning in a poor village family he initially worked as a tailor but with little success as measured in profit. Instead, possessing a strong devotion to serve God, he one day went off to follow his calling, literally trailing a pair of brothers as they departed his village. They initially refused his desire to join their order telling him he was unsuited for a life like theirs, but he persisted. His incessant labors and devotion eventually won their hearts. Thereafter his life was an amazing sequence of miraculous events. Highlights of the saint’s life are in fact presented inside the Basilica in storyboard fashion (see photo album). Gerardo died in nearby Materdomini (meaning 'Mother of God') of tuberculosis on October 16, 1755 at the young age of 29. The tomb of St. Gerard Majella quickly became a destination for pilgrims with the crypt of the saint today located at the center of the church behind a beautiful marble relief.

For a brief moment I flashed back and remembered the inside of the sanctuary. I vividly recall an area that at first I thought was lined with telephone booths! Inside the ‘booths’, however, you could only dial God for these were confessionals where the faithful received absolution for their sins. I’d never before seen so many in one place but neither had I ever been to the focal point of pilgrimage; a shrine entirely devoted to a saint’s memory. In another area we entered rooms filled with baby pictures and ribbons of blue and pink. It was as if you'd entered a perpetual baby shower. Here in way of thanks, parents celebrated some miraculous intervention in the lives of their children. There was also somewhat of an equivalent for adults. On an upper level, silver replicas of various limbs and organs ... arms, legs, kidneys, hearts, breasts, feet ... you name it, lined the walls. I'd seen shops in Naples where these medallions could be purchased and now I understood the custom. As a sign of thanks for their recovery from some life threatening ailment, survivors presented these tokens in gratitude to St Gerardo for his apparent miraculous intervention. On a lighter note, in the basement underpinning of the shrine, was a large room filled with miniature nativity scenes (presepi) and dioramas detailing village life in the past. These weren’t the small type you might see at Christmas time under a tree. Instead, a great deal of real estate was taken up by these scaled renderings of bygone times. Each tugged on your attention to spend time to examine their minute intricate details.

Now past these religious waypoints and with their memories behind us as well, we arrived in Caposele in a sizeable piazza and parked beside the modest Chiesa della Sanita (Church of Health). When the aqueduct project first began, the powers that be determined that this church needed to be moved. It was moved, stone by stone, leaving behind only its bell tower, Il Campanile delle Sorgenti (Bell Tower of the Sources), which still stands there today overlooking the hydraulic station. As the story goes, the first engineer in charge died when he began to move the church. His replacement had the same fate but the third engineer to be appointed was spared, seeing that the church had by then been successfully repositioned. Indeed the “Church of Health” had been well named. Apparently, there were other powers to contend with - your health might depended on it!

My mind spooled to when we met our guide for our afternoon excursion. He was a young, local, Pro-Loco (historical society) volunteer named Nicky. Following introductions in the piazza, he directed us to the nearby, fenced Carabinieri compound. After unlocking the gate, he directed us around to the opposite side of police headquarters to a non-distinct, squatty stone building that housed the Caposele aquifer. It made sense to protect such a valuable resource. Unlike the origins of many rivers, the Nile for instance thought primarily to be Lake Victoria, the source of the Sele River is not visible for it originates from deep beneath nearby Monti Picentini. Before entering, Nicky pointed out that the field adjacent to the waterworks had in past times actually been a lake. Underground springs had kept it filled to overflowing and from this wellspring the Sele River originated. Various channels once flowed through the town supplying Caposele with an over abundance of water. There is such a plentiful supply that to this day the townspeople do not pay for water. They in fact sell it. What a deal! There had been enough flowing through town to power water wheels for mills, drive olive presses and even allow for washing laundry by hand along its edges. With all these streams coursing through town it was a veritable Venice in Campania, less the gondolas.

My recollection soon had us inside the station. The interior of the building was immaculate. It looked as though it had been completed only days before. Large glass panels allowed glimpses of the incoming and outgoing channels in addition to preventing visitors from falling into the waterways. On the work-floor stood four large black metal control valves, their threaded shafts disappearing into the floor. Each had the appearance of the helm of a ship, although these were double sided such that two brawny individuals could rotate the wheels to, I assumed, control the flow of water. And water there was. Crystal clear it gushed through brick sloughs in a torrent. Amazingly over 3200 liters per second rushed by before disappearing into feeder tunnels! To help me put that into perspective I tried to imagine the equivalent flood of 4,275 bottles of vino being simultaneously emptied every second. Certainly enough for a lifetime, if not a few wonderful years! Just imagine the spectacle of it if not the formidable stain that would result. Although snowmelt run-off was mentioned as a source of the water, it would take the end of an ice age to consistently create this much water! In keeping with the religious nuances of the area, I was a "Doubting Thomas" in this regard. In 1694 Caposele was completely destroyed by an earthquake. Almost 300 years later, much like Calitri, Caposele was again seriously damaged by the Irpinia earthquake of November 1980. In this area where tectonic plates clash, terremoti (earthquakes) are common and a condition of everyday life. Surprisingly, the violent shaking has not yet disrupted the century-old masonry or the flow of water from deep beneath the earth.

In ancient times, the Sele was known as the Silarus and was the location of the Battle of the Silarus. It was in this battle in 212 BC that the pesky Carthaginian, Hannibal, won a major victory over the Romans, killing 15,000 legionnaires in the process (this after a similar mauling four years earlier at Cannae, west of Calitri, when an estimated 55,000 Romans fell on a single day). This was not the only blood to stain the waters of the Sele, for this was also the local of the battle in which Spartacus (remember him, played by Kirk Douglas), leader of a slave rebellion against the Romans, died. In 73 BC, Spartacus, a former Thracian slave, trained to kill in the arena as a gladiator, escaped with about 80 others and eventually wound up leading a slave army of about 100,000. They defeated Roman forces on a number of occasions, including one particular mountaintop battle (thought to be pre-volcanic Mt Vesuvius), which had only one narrow path to its summit. The rest of the mountain was steep and slippery. Spartacus' army, apparently trapped, made rope from the ample supply of vines on the mountaintop, which they used in the night to climb down and surprise their Romans attackers from behind. Pursued and harassed for an additional two years, the rebellion eventually ran its course and the slave army was decisively beaten near Caposele. In a conjunction of then and now only the Sele remains.

Cradle of Roman history, home to a Saint and the origin of the Sele River certainly all of these, but there was more. Through an ingenious bit of engineering, Acquedotto Caposele is also the source of the Acquedotto Puglase system of pipelines. This system channels millions of cubic meters of water through a most impressive series of hydraulic works through Basilicata into Puglia on the eastern side of the Apennines as far as the very stiletto tip of Italy at Capo Santa Maria di Leuca. Funny, at an outside fountain that day we had not only sampled the cool water at Caposele, but in the past had also unknowingly enjoyed the same water at its distant terminus in Capo Santa Maria di Leuca. When the first of the waters arrived in Bari on the Adriatic coast in 1915, it marked the beginning of the permanent end to the thirst and parched earth that had plagued this arid region for centuries.

Our tour of the 'Source' completed, Nicky then took us for a walk along what appeared to be a main avenue through town. Not far along Corso Europa, across the street from the Sunday crowd at the Crystal Bar, I recall coming across sort of an annex to the bar. When there are just too many games on a given day, the bar’s patrons spill over into this rather fashionable tent. Ever been to an Italian soccer match? As a close second, ever watched one on TV with a tent full of passionate Italian fans cheering on the likes of Mario Balotelli or Andrea Barzagli? That's what this tent was all about. Inside, in addition to a seven foot mushroom-shaped gas heater, the kind you sometimes see outside restaurants to keep warm by, there was a couch and plenty of plastic tables and chairs - nothing so valuable that it couldn't be broken in the excitement following a goal or the torment expressed in a loss. Everything was angled toward a large flat-screen TV. Unfortunately, the tent was empty at the moment so after just a peek and a disappointing sigh I continued to thread my way farther down the Corso Europa until arriving in Piazza 23 Novembre.

In my mind’s eye I vividly recall how this piazza was dominated by a fountain, no ordinary fountain, but one dedicated in dramatic style to the earthquake on that November day in 1980. Inside a circular catch-pan rose a seven tiered, three sided stone obelisk. Steeply tapered, it had more the look of an inverted icicle rather than some broad based pyramidal shape. At its summit balanced a metal sphere from which water emerged to begin its cleansing descent down the sides into the stone basin. Striking in itself this was not what made this memorial to a disaster so memorable. There was something more, which gave it a unique stylized signature. To one side, inscribed on a large metal slab in witness to lives lived were the names of all the townspeople who had perished in that Sunday evening terremoto, the youngest only three years old, the most senior having been born in 1884. To its side stood a bronze statue of what might best be described as a soul in agony. Naked but for a loincloth he half knelt, half stood, hunched over, his head bent toward the ground concealing his face, his left arm extended, rising over his head toward the top of the monument. As your eyes took it in you couldn't help but follow his arm up its length to his hand where in a poignant expression of his torment, a spike pierced his palm. It left so much unsaid it could have been mimed. Pondering its symbolism I struck on the only image of a spiked palm I knew, that being Christ crucified. Both his palms had been pierced. In a rush of imagination I wondered if the people of Caposele, on their own journey toward closure, unwilling to eclipse the image of their savior’s suffering, were attempting to express their own communal anguish in a similar though diminished degree?

Though no way near as prominent as the fountain, my mind hesitated on another interesting though invisible feature of this piazza. Nicky pointed out that the Commune of Caposele had installed free wireless internet access. He’d installed the servers himself. In evidence, antennas were visible on the roof of the nearby post office. This was somewhat rare in provincial Campagnia. Only recently had Calitri started the dialog for such a capability but no signal yet. In addition the Pro-Loco historical society had Facebook and Twitter accounts. Caposele was definitely on track to the 21st Century, its history coexisting with its future, moving forward arm-in-arm with the past, its future rapidly becoming the present.

Our turnaround point was the Church of San Lorenzo but not before we had an opportunity to explore its interior, something hard to ever forget. It was relatively new, having been consecrated only recently in 2009 as a replacement for a church of the same name that had been destroyed on this spot as a result of the earthquake. Telling from the end result, the intervening years had been well spent. The architect's hand had captured the essence of Caposele and its persistent theme and lifeblood of water. As the water of the Sele and Acquedotto Puglase flow from Caposele to give life to the countryside, near and distant, so the spirit of this church flows, heals and gives life to its believers. In 1988 in recognition for its apt interpretation and adaptation of the essence of Caposele and its history, we learned that its design won the first prize at the International Exhibition of Architecture in New York. Water, the one classic element on which the theme of this church is based, was represented not only in its architecture but in water related Biblical scenes and verses. Water even spurted from the mouth of Jonah’s whale into the baptismal font! The main isle added the illusion of a large river flowing from the entry doors to the altar, while above and about you, waterfalling down from the ceiling and continuing onto the walls, terraced steps of concrete prolonged the illusion of whirling eddies of water in form, color and in a glorious flood of light.

As we headed back toward our cars, Maria Elena, Bernie and I were still discussing the interior of the church as we passed a home near San Lorenzo. Our conversation must have caught the attention of an elderly woman who happened to be out on her balcony, for soon she offered us an enthusiastic “boungiorno”. Bernie was the first to respond with a heavily British accented “boungiorno" of her own. Bernie’s English accent then triggered a conversation between the two. Come to find out this woman, born and raised in Caposele, now lived in the same English town as Bernie. They even shared some of the same friends and acquaintances! As we continued on, our conversation now not only encompassed the church but also the small world phenomenon we had just experienced. Coincidence? Small miracle? I didn't want to go there since we were nearing the Church of Health!

Like an old fashioned rolodex my thoughts then turned to that memory when as we were passing the Pro-Loco office and the local watering hole next door, I fell behind. It wasn’t that I needed an espresso or caffè corretto. What had caught my attention and thus caused my delay was a line of old timers passing their day in that favorite of Italian pastimes, kibitzing al fresco. A dozen or so of them stretched along the wall by the side of the street and just begged for a photograph. As I studied them they likewise studied me. As an icebreaker I lifted my camera motioning to them that I’d like to take their picture. I told them their facce di Italia (faces of Italy) would be my subject but first I needed to know who the best looking among them was! Bordering on street theater antics, just about all their hands went up while the more modest pointed to various others. It was a neat moment and I got the shot (see photo album). The game then turned to just exactly what breed of straniero (foreigner) I was. They went through the usual list … English, then Tedesco (German), various Scandinavian guesses … but hardly ever American until I let them know. They muttered “Americano” as I moved on to catch up with my disappearing group. Whatever happened to leaving no man behind?

By this time I realized that while being lost in my thoughts I’d missed quite a lot of the Robin Hood episode I'd stumbled upon. I could always rewind but then my mind freewheeled to that other classic scene where Little John and Robin kindle a friendship by dueling with wooden staffs over a river crossing and … on and on and on … my thoughts still streaming through my mind like the waters of the Caposele aquifer. I’d managed to accomplish nothing thus far, that is unless the serendipity of memories, setting my course, counted.

From That Rogue Tourist, Paolo

For related photos, click here on Eyes Over Italy. Then look for and click on a photo album entitled “ Streaming Thoughts”.