Friday, March 31, 2017

Living the Dream

Naples Marina Seen from Grand Hotel Vesuvio
Living the Dream
There is waste in dreaming.  I mean in negative dreaming.  These pesky night marauders that occasionally punctuate my nightly reveries scale from forgetting my passport to having my wallet stolen - just enough to block-out more pleasant notions and thankfully put me wide awake in an instant.  But these aren’t the dreams I want to describe.  Instead, I’ll focus on dreams of the conscious variety, the dreaming that allows us to become what we
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.  
Our arrival in Calitri had been delayed some, though certainly not because we were late in checking out of Castiglion del Bosco, which would have incurred a 500 Euro penalty for each hour we were late.  No, we were certainly motivated to depart on time.  The drive from Castiglion to Calitri in our Renault Espace spacecraft had for the most part been uneventful.  An error in
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.
When we finally arrived in Calitri it was late afternoon.  We’d made one stop for gas and some lunch at an Autogrill on the A1 Autostrada.  Where we come from they sell bottled liquor at the rest areas.  In Italy, Chris learned that they serve pasta!  We made an additional stop in Lioni at one of our favorite watering holes, Memphis, styled after the musical history of Memphis, Tennessee.  Chris wanted to order a martini, but we advised he not try.  Translating just how “dirty” he wanted his drink, that is if they made martinis, would have been a challenge.  Besides, they didn’t have his Ketel One gin nor any dry vermouth!  His five-star attitude hadn’t worn off yet.  Instead, we toasted our almost arrival with Aperol Spritzes. 
I must admit, we were done-in after our daylong drive.  At least I was.  Eager to get to the house, we left most of our belongings behind and exiting the piazza through a tunnel into the Borgo, headed to our home.  We were both eager to see Chris’ reaction to our humble abode.   At the door, I fumbled for the keys, lost at the bottom of my backpack, but soon all the tumblers and sliding bars were breached and we were inside.  After a quick tour,   
which due to its size didn’t take long, we climbed the stairs to our terrace that overlooks the expanse of the Borgo and more.  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.

It wasn’t long after and we were enjoying wine right there on our rooftop terrace until long after the greeting “buòn giorno” had properly turned to “buòna sera”.  The wine by then had gotten a handhold on us and a late-day torpor had set in.  We were too tired to prepare something for dinner ourselves, so instead we opted for dinner at Locanda dell’Arco, only a short walk from our door.  It is a wonderful spot to enjoy the finest in local Irpinian dining overseen by a friendly family staff.  Elegant and inviting by anyone’s standards, it makes its home in a grotto hollowed from the mountainside.  Mare enjoyed an eggplant dish while Chris and I forked into pillows of homemade ravioli as together we shared in a bottle of the Baron’s wine who owned the Palazzo Zampaglione just above our heads.  
During our fleeting segue to Calitri from our Cinque Stelle tour, we sampled more than just the Locanda.  Early the following morning, we took a walk around town stopping at three cafes: Mario’s for introductions and coffee of course, Ideao Galose for its modern twist and to say hello to Francesco, and then to Zabatta’s for its classic pastry and another try at getting Mrs. Zabatta to smile.  Full of coffee and pastry by then, we returned in time for a late breakfast on the terrace.  The day obliging, we later walked the borgo, along with Maria Elena this time, making our way as far as the Santa Lucia Church where a grand view back toward the borgo made it all the more worthwhile.  Late that same day Chris put myself in low gear and headed off for a Castle tour.  Subsequently, to help recover from his climbing exploration, we stopped off at Roxy Bar for beer and a Naples verses Rome soccer grudge-match.  Our day concluded with another dinner out, first with a stop-off at
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.
Although nothing was said, I suspect that after a few days Chris had tired of Calitri’s unhurried pace.  While he’d found a place far away from the busy everyday pace of places like Florence and Milan, our local version of the big city lifestyle he was accustomed to had soon dwindled to just about nothing.  He’d seen all the nightlife that Calitri had to offer by then and there was so much of Italy yet to see.  His brief off-the-beaten-path stay at mom and dad’s place concluded, the next day we departed to pick-up our Cinque Stelle trail, this time in Naples, a place that never rests.  
Naples proved no different from many of our earlier stops - a whirlwind.  The wind began to howl soon after we returned our rental to the airport and arrived 
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.
Our first objective was the National Archaeological Museum.  We caught a taxi to the museum where we thoroughly enjoyed a private tour.  From an early age, Chris had enjoyed history and archaeology.  I recall, long before the adventures of “Indiana Jones” and the tomb raiding exploits of “Laura Croft”, how he’d eagerly devour the National Geographic when it arrived in our mailbox and go on to tell us tales of the temples of Abu Simbel, Jordan’s rose colored Petra, and Schliemann’s discovery of lost Troy. 
One of the venues our guide led us through was the not to be missed, the once forbidden, so-called "secret cabinet" of erotic art.  It was full of suggestive art, everyday items of an explicit sexual nature, pieced together from the excavations of both Pompeii and Herculaneum.  It was apparent that Romans held a robust appreciation for sex and boldly depicted it throughout their homes in everyday objects, figures and scenes.  It proved to be a wow showcase of the well-endowed, full of naughty satyrs, perky oil lamps, and depictions of sexual encounters and secret trysts.  There were many red-faced, blushing tourists among us who appeared somewhat troubled by the explicit imagery.  Contrary to our puritanical predilections, these everyday items presented an ancient people’s appreciation for the erotic, which they deemed totally normal, and like a rabbit’s foot, symbols of good luck.  Many nowadays might consider the objects lewd and vulgar, though personally, after first blush, I found it rather funny.  In the company of frisky, well-endowed satyrs, we found it to be an equal amalgam of philanderer, Don Juan, lecher, Casanova, stud, and from some of the grips, outright masher.  We’d visited this restricted collection before and can report that not a thing had changed during our absence with everything as erect as we’d previously found it.
But enough with the naughty.  There is no better way in my estimation to get a feel for the human energy of Naples, a city like none other, than to walk its streets.  Words to describe it miss the mark.  It must be experienced.  And what better way to experience Naples than to stroll, or better put,
wonder with no destination in mind, through the historic heart of the city known as Spaccanapoli.
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.
With the sea to our right and Vesuvius looming to our left, we next headed for Pompeii, a place frozen in time.  It was a toss-up on whether to visit Pompeii or closer Herculaneum, but Chris chose Pompeii.  After all, of the two, it had the greater reputation and he thought that if asked whether he’d visited Pompeii while in Italy and he said he’d toured Herculaneum instead, most people would have screwed their faces into a questioning expression, mainly due to their unfamiliarity with Herculaneum.  Whichever the destination, it was a question whether, like the ancient inhabitants of these ill-fated cities, we’d survive the trip.  I’d heard of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” but not yet of “Valeria of the Careening Taxi”.  She too had her share of tattoos, although she may have kept her dragon under wraps, likely on her heavy foot. 
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. 
As old as it was, it was all new to Chris.  Though he’d read about Pompeii, it was an altogether different matter to walk its streets among corner water basins, stepping stone crosswalks, urine collection pots, fast-food shops with their sunken terracotta containers intact, and
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
Pompeii and those of nearby Nocera.  It was so bloody that the Senate of Rome voted to close the arena for 10 years.  Talk about a suspension, Tom Brady!
      After all this intense racing about, you can imagine how tired we were.  We needed to sit, sag, and relax somewhere, at least until the adrenaline rush subsided once we said goodbye to Valeria.  She was nice enough to hand me her card in case we’d like to go somewhere else in the coming days.  I gladly accepted it though with not the least of intent to ever use it.  It was The Transatlantico across the causeway at the foot of Castle dell’Ovo that came to our timely rescue.  There among a bobbing fleet of pleasure boats in the marina, we sat outside on a dock-like affair and enjoyed the evening.  The drinks of course were of the martinis variety.  Chris, more practiced in martinis than either of us, led the way while we followed his lead. 
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. 
We went long and stressed that very liberal Italian practice of not delivering the bill to the table until requested … so much so that when we called for it we were the last to leave.  It punctuated the end of our visit to Naples, for with the dawn and following an amazing breakfast at the Vesuvio (yet more food), we found ourselves aboard a high-speed train to Rome.  We’d apparently chosen an opportune time to depart.  As we exited the hotel to an awaiting cab, not Valeria’s, we discovered police officers and police cruisers by the entrance, along with a tour bus.  Apparently, Rome’s soccer team, Roma, had come to town to play arch-rival Naples once more.  The powers that be were taking no chances.  With the past so close at hand in Italy, all I could think of was that riot of 59 AD.  It seemed not much has changed in the interim.
Andiamo, we were off.  Another fabulous day in Italia had begun and there were so many more dreams to realize.  Next stop, Roma.

From That Rogue Tourist