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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Five Tales from Ischia: The 2nd Tale (The Arrival)

A view from the terrace

The Bar Maria

Just as we were about to arrive in Ischia Porto, I suddenly realized that I had not asked about the stops, I’d have not even thought about leaving the boat. Where I would have ended up, I am nor sure—likely I’d simply returned to Pozzuoli, but perhaps—had the boat moved forward—I’d have eventually wound up Sardinia!

As we began to enter Porto Ischia I went downstairs to see if I could find the iron cage. Many people had already gathered there, and a number sat waiting in their cars. I found the cage and was delighted to see my baggage still in place.

They opened the haul and people begin to pour out. Soon after someone came with a key and opened the cage. I pulled out the two bags and went forward like Vasco Di Gamma to greet my new worlds. Directly in front of me was a lovely young woman holding up a sign that read “Hotel Cappizzo.” A bit later the couple from Milan appeared, and we were led, this time round, to a very small van which quickly spun off.

I could already see that this island was not at all the same as the fantasy port of Procida. Everything here looked much wealthier, more lush, and somewhat hidden. Indeed it reminded me of the posh Riviera estates I have seen in films. The road from Porta Ischia to the Hotel was certainly busy, but I recognized that Paul Vangelisti’s insistence, a few days before my departure, that the island was “filled with cars” was an exaggeration. There was a lot of traffic, but if the autos were on any normal road one wouldn’t even notice them. It was simply that the roads were so narrow that one quickly became aware of every car that passed. I kept feeling that we might soon be sent over the cliffs by a passing truck. But the young driver was not at all intimidated.

The drive was quite beautiful, with hotels appearing every few feet along the way. We dropped off the Milanese couple at another inn, and began the drive up the hill (the same cardio-vascular exhausting hill I must walk every day upon my returns from Forio) to Cappizzo. Maria—the owner —magnificently greeted me, and called Rebecca Goodman, Marty’s wife, appeared soon after. Marty had evidently gone into Forio to await my arrival, having not been told that this particular ferry stoped only in Porto Ischia!

I went to my room and showered, returning to the very pleasant lobby, trying to assimilate the place. My room was quite small, but had a fairly large bathroom. Painted entirely in acqua, it led through a shuttered green Mediterranean- tyle door directly onto the large pool, heated by natural volcanic gasses. Next to the door was a table and chair that if I brought in close to my door, allowed me to take the computer (with cord) onto the terrace.

The view beyond the pool, however, was even more spectacular. My room looked out onto a large cliff with the ocean below, with those agean blue-green waves striking the shore that I could watch while sitting at my small desk within my room. Surrounding the hotel, moreover, were carefully kept Royal Palms and large catci that climbed into the sky.

The lobby was quite spacious, with a bar, several couches and chairs, all with the same stunning view. My arrival coincided, evidently, with cocktail time, and a few of the hotel Germans (most of the hotel is filled with Germans—no Americans save Marty and his class) had begun to sip on their drinks. I ordered a campari and soda. After about two hours, dinner was announced. Each room had its own regular dining table, and the Nakells and their students were assigned a long table in the center the room. My seat looked—once more—directly upon that ragged, green cliff and at the ocean below it.

That night we had a fish called Dentrice (which had been translated into English as Dentrex—we all wondered if we were to brush our teeth with it), a fennel salad, and vegetable pasta before it. Desert was simple, fruit (a fresh pear or fig) or gellati.

The most beautiful time of the day, however, came after the meals, when everyone retired to the front terrace beneath the Royal Palms. As hot as it had been all day, the wind had risen, cool and refreshing. A bartender served drinks until late as everyone sat under the stars quietly talking and drinking until 10:30 or 11:00, when all but the students trotted off to bed, the students speeding off into town or other island destinations, sometimes not returning—so I was been told—until 4:00 a.m. Ah youth!

I slept well, and awoke to write my adventures of the first day.

After a large breakfast, with Italian sliced meats and cheese, juices, many kinds of bread, jellies, fresh unpeeled kiwis and cereals—and of course the thick mud of coffee—I decided that despite the heat (the African sirocco was in its third day; I was told that such weather always lasted three days) I would walk into Forio.

Forio is about 20 minutes away, and much of the trip is hilly—although it’s much worse on the way back. I was told to take a bus or taxi upon my return. You travel the coast for much of the way, the ocean off on your left. When you come to a fork in the road with a sign pointing to the right saying “centro,” you turn again. But I could hardly believe that this little path of a road was the major entrance into the village. I took the road least likely to be traveled, nonetheless, following it at my peril—anytime a car or motorcycle drove by one had to stand aside for fear of being hit—until I reached the outskirts of Forio. I’d gone just a short ways when the police signaled all cars to stop. I walked forward to encounter a priest in full regalia led by a young alter boy carrying the cross, a small van with a coffin within following. As the priest spoke the ritual words, an older man beside them repeated in antiphon. A small crowd of mourners followed. It looked like something out of Sicily!

I walked into the center of the city, first taking a turn toward the bay itself, sitting for an espresso at a bayside bar. I then turned back, taking the other lane which led into the shopping district where the major bars, beautifully stocked groceries, wine stores, gift shops, clothes boutiques and other more tourist-based activities existed. It was a very lovely town, ancient yet clearly modernized. Royal and larger palms dotted the city center, and if one turned from this street, as it ended, to the right he arrived at a kind of esplanade that overlooked the ocean, at the end of which was a stark white church that appeared at first sight, somewhat, like something out of the American southwest, as in New Mexico.

I sat for while at Bar Maria with a lemon-lime juice trying to write. But I was so dripping with sweat that it fell even upon the pages, and I felt frustrated in the attempt. After I had caught my breath, I decided to buy a hat, an inexpensive white straw hat, just my size. Then I turned back to the hotel. I worried during the walk about my health, particularly since most of the return was an uphill struggle, the worst part being that last trek up the road to the hotel. But I survived—realizing that this is what is meant by exercise. Upon resting for a few moments in my room, I went for swim. It took me nearly an hour to stop the race of my heart—that was indeed a very good cardio-vascular workout! I was sure that if I ate fish and drank as little as I had so far, I’ll come home a bit thinner.

Marty and his students met from about 10:30 until noon, and then again from 1:00 to about 3:00, discussing literature and their own writings. They’d been reading Dante when I arrived, but were talking about the Italian poet Porta when I last listened in.

Rebecca was a true inspiration to all, getting Marty to the proper places and coordinating their travel plans with the hotel owner Maria, whom they call Mama, a friendly, scolding mother. Although breakfast was served until about 10:00, the next day she told the students that they must appear at around 8:30; they’d been missing breakfast, which wasn’t good for them!
She insisted that when I swim I must wear a cap! The filtration system, evidently, did not like hair—although the Germans were so covered with body hair I couldn’t imagine that the hair on my head had any great effect. The next afternoon, however, I wore a hat!

Marty spoke Italian quite capably, trying out new verb tenses, etc. And the Germans, who often joined us at our table, were a quiet folk, very friendly, some of them having returned for over ten to twenty years to this same spot.

On Wednesday we awoke to a completely clear day, almost chilly, the wind tossing the waves against the cliff below. The sirocco had moved off, just as Maria had predicted. I walked into Forio again, this time taking photographs. I stayed at Bar Maria longer than previously, working on my Marinetti essay (writing on his novel The Untameables, a work located on some volcanic island with a beastly hot sun hammering the desert). But I still didn’t stay too long in town since the hotel was even more pleasant, the views even better than they were from town.

For dinner we had runner beans with Fusilli. At first, the combination sounded strange, but it tasted wonderfully—remarkably fresh. Although they served Swordfish, I chose grilled Pollo, also flavorful, served with a beet salad. For lunch Marty, Rebecca and I had gone down the hill (in the opposite direction from Forio) to a small beach cafĂ© directly on the water. It was absolutely cold there, with a strong wind. We met an acquaintance they had met the year before, a member, evidently, of the Italian mafia—or the local Naples-based comora.

In the lobby I finished Rae Armantrout’s new book of poetry, and returned to my room to type things up.

Ischia, Forio, June 28, 2007

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