Friday, May 29, 2015

Day 9- 10 Getting into the garbage with a lurker

Warning, this is a long one, so pull up a chair and  I hope you have your reading glasses on!

Day 9 of the trip was mostly spent taking the train from Lecce to Castellammare di Stabia, a sleepy little seaside town at the southern end of the Bay of Naples, just before the Sorrentine Peninsula begins. I skipped over the Amalfi coast because Marianne wasn't with me to take in a romantic sunset, and because it's not a good area to save money, being mostly geared to higher end tourism, which leaves me out! Honestly, as much as I do love good cooking, I am just as easily satisfied with picking up the local stuff at the market and eating simply: tomatoes, some arugula, a smoked cheese or some fresh mozzarella, maybe a little marinated vegetables, and a bit of chocolate or a gelato. Done! For the equivalent price of an appetizer in a low end restaurant.

Wandering in the streets of Castellammare di Stabia made me feel like I was in an old Fellini movie. Very normal people, and no tourists at all.

Because we were mostly eating as a group for the conference in Lecce, I hadn't really stocked up on anything when I left town on the train at 7 am, and all the connections (I took 5 different trains to get to Stabia!) didn't have much layover time, so by the time I got there I was pretty hungry. I found my little B&B with a bit of luck and a friendly local who knew where it was exactly, and as soon as I was settled I took off to see the town, which I had visited two years ago with Marianne. The first thing that struck me was the piles of garbage everywhere! They must be having a strike there ( I never did learn the true story) because last time it was not at all like that. I made my way down to the seafront and was somewhat surprised to see that the entire beach area was cordoned off with construction barriers that hid everything! I say somewhat because the last time we came it seemed in serious need of a makeover, with a weedy trolley track that seemed unused, and a dirty beach devoid of all people (on a very hot day!) I walked along it for a bit until I saw some kids slipping through a chink in the fences, and I followed them down to the beach, where a few kids were playing soccer at the far end, but which was generally deserted.

Most of the places along the beach north of Stabia (going towards Pompeii) seem to completely ignore the waterfront. Imagine if they built like this in Hermosa Beach! As always, Vesuvius lurks in the background!

The beach there has a very odd character, with much of the architecture ignoring it completely, unlike anything you'd find in the US. At the water's edge, I found bits of lapilli, the little balls of pumice that rained down unmercifully on Pompeii, and I tossed a handful into the water to see they'd float. Yup, they did. Even a chunk as big as a baseball sat on top of the waves! Vesuvius' shadow seems to lurk behind every corner, casting it's warning glare over the whole area, as if to say "enjoy it now, suckers,  because it won't last forever!" It's truly frightening to think of another eruption on that scale at the present time, with buildings that go right up the flank of the volcano, and it's not a question of if, only of when. Vesuvius is in fact deemed to be close to another eruption in the next 100 years or so, though that's probably about as accurate as weather prediction.

Kids playing soccer on the edge of the forlorn beach. They'll have great memories of this after it all gets fixed up and nobody can use it.

I got down to the other end of the beach, where you can clearly see two things- the 9th century castle from which the town takes its name, and the now defunct gondola, which closed some time ago, but left the structure going all the way up to the top of the hills south of town. Looks like it must have been an amazing view of the Bay from up top of the mountain. Speaking of mountains, I was pleasantly surprised by the journey from Lecce, which was far greener and hillier than I had expected to see. From Brindisi, on the Adriatic coast, the train had crossed the peninsula to Taranto, a busy port on the Ionian, then skirted the coast for a while through large stands of pine trees that reminded me of New Jersey's forests. Then it became hilly, green farmland that looked like Northern California…with castles. Slowly it became a mountainous area that was quite green and covered with dense forests like the Adirondacks, while we descended alongside a river for a long time before finally reaching the plain that led to Salerno, the city on the southern side of the Sorrento peninsula, where I changed trains again, finally crossing the last bit of hills and into the bay of Naples, where I found my last connection to take me back southward to Stabia.

Somewhere between Taranto and Salerno. Just like Central California....with castles!

After checking out the beach I finally got a gelato. I have a weird thing when I get hungry- I kind of go into overdrive, and I'm not yearning for food, but I know that if I don't eat I'll conk out eventually. The gelato was holding me though, so I walked back towards the hotel and shopped for a belt and a jacket, which I needed because it has been surprisingly cool here. I had it on all day today, which is amazing considering last time we were here it was around 100 degrees a lot of the time! Makes it soooo much easier when it's not boiling! I grabbed a few things at a corner store, had an in room meal, and hit the bed by 10:30 for the first time in two weeks!

This beautiful little alley on the way to the ruins was completely lined with garbage, but it couldn't ruin the wonderful morning for me!

The next day I got up and had the breakfast they offered, then headed out to see the two Roman villas that sit up on a bluff above the town. There are actually around eleven villas that were explored and mapped here in the 18th century, but most of them were reburied and the rest are not generally viewable. I knew the route from our former trip here, and the weather this morning was extraordinary- clear and refreshing- just about perfect weather for exploring. As I got to the entrance of the first villa, called the Villa Arianna, there was a small tour group just ahead of me with a mixed bunch of mostly Brits and Americans, and I sort of tagged along because I thought the guide was pretty good, and had very little accent (or attitude) to overcome. Me being me, I sort of opined on a couple of things about the paintings, and the very friendly guide invited me to join with them to walk around the place.

One of the advantages of being with this tour group is that they opened a couple of rooms I hadn't gone in last time here, including this gigantic atrium of the second complex villa at Arianna

 Both of these villas were seaside getaways for very wealthy families. They had large rooms that were very well decorated, private bath areas, large exercise fields, and one had an exquisite swimming pool down the middle of it. They sat on a bluff that was once directly over the waves, though they sit about a quarter mile inland now due to the fill left by the volcanic detritus. Nowadays they look out over a large sea of rooftops before you see the ocean.

I think the rebuilt upper walls and roof of this atrium at Villa San Marco give you a better sense of the space- plus the protect the walls from moisture.

They are also generally in better shape than the houses at Pompeii due to the fact that they have been extensively rebuilt with protective upper walls and roofs, which I personally like, as I think it gives a better impression of what the spaces were like then, especially the atria, where you first entered the house, and where much of its business centered. Of course these were pleasure places, so there wasn't a lot of business going on there, other than running the household, which must have been quite an undertaking, considering their size and all the features they had.

The crazy faux marble room at the entry of the Villa Arianna second complex was closed last time too!

The servants and slaves must have been an army, and I often think they were seen more or less the way we see our appliances today, which explains why it wouldn't have been strange to be naked around them or that they would be constantly at hand to offer any convenience needed. Of course some were educated and even rose to take a place in high society, either by promotion by their owners, or by saving enough money to buy themselves out of bondage. Others, like those who stoked the fires of the baths, did not have an easy life and probably had little hope to advance.

One more detail of the trompe l'oeil work in that small vestibule

The tour guide offered to give me a lift on their bus to the other villa, which I accepted and did not regret, as it was a tad longer than I had remembered. The little plateau the villas sit on is amazing farmland due to the volcanic soil, and the gardens up there are dense with all kinds of stuff; I saw citrus trees, stone fruit trees, olives, grapes, tomatoes, onions, lettuces, broccoli, zucchini, all looking absolutely perfect and much denser planting than anything you'd see in the States. I wish we could grow something like that at home! 

A woman picking up cuttings on her farm next to the Villa San Marco. Everything was just about to start ripening now.

We toured the second villa (San Marco) again with the guide, who was born in the US, but grew up in Italy and lives in Vicenza, up in the north. They offered me lunch with them, but I declined in order to spend a bit more time shooting photos and doing a recreation of the design of the walls of the peristyle there. I had brought some snacks with me and repeated the repast that Marianne and I had done here two years ago, sitting under the sycamore trees by the swimming pool, imagining the splashing and squealing of bathers that must have sounded a lot like today. I walked back into town past the farms and got some fresh picked cherries from a farm stand (I really wanted to climb the trees I saw there and pick them myself!)

View from the peristyle of San Marco. Guess who's peeking!

Grabbed my things from the B&B, got the train and took the short ride up to Pompeii, where I'm sitting in the hotel tapping this out as the sun goes down, looking forward to a third visit to the site, and hoping that it isn't as limited as the last time I came, when I was very frustrated by closures. I took about 325 pics today, which feels more like my norm for these trips, having been slacking in Lecce and while in transit. 

Vesuvius can be seen everywhere, even from Paris (aka Kiddie Park in Pompeii town) 

1 comment:

  1. Great post! The frescoes are really good. Keep wandering and reporting back!