Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Five Tales from Ischia: the 5th Tale (The Trip to Amalfi)

Ravello in the light

A Ravello ceremic shop

The street below my entry room window

My balcony at Smeraldo

A view from the front of the balcony at Smeraldo

A Positano ristorante at midnight

Some of the Chapman students: Danielle soucy, Kellye Zollers, Jaclyn Javier, Midzara Pencenkovic, Wesley Frazee, and Hyrum Taylor at my vineyard reading

Jean-Luc reads the Italian. All the women students (and I) were agog!

From Pompeii Marty, Rebecca, the two students, and I had planned to travel up the Amalfi coast to the small town of Praiano, where Rebecca had found a hotel in which we would stay the night. Somehow, however, we missed the coastal road, and Marty decided to take the mountain route, coming in from Ravello and driving down to Praiano.

For what seemed like forever, he darted down side streets in the town near Pompeii, but we soon lost any signs that might indicate the direction of the road we were seeking. Indeed, there seemed to be no other path, and we repeated it several times before pulling into a small gas station. Suddenly two beefy men, covered with grease came forward as Marty, speaking in Italian, attempted to get directions. The bovine mechanicals looked us quickly over, as one leaned into the car on Rebecca’s side where a map sat on her lap. He began to speak and soon after reached in and pointed on a spot on the map, the other quickly followed his lead, furtively placing his hand on the map as well. All of us looked on in consternation and they joyfully punched at the map, pleasuring themselves, evidently, by touching the paper that separated them from Rebecca’s crotch. We quickly pulled away, realizing that we would never receive any cogent information from them.

Soon after we pulled down a side street, stopping in front of an old man who stood on the sidewalk. Marty called out to him, again explaining what we sought. Suddenly the man beamed a huge smile, as if absolutely delighted with the question, almost as if he had been waiting his entire life for just this moment. He moved a bit forward and began to talk:

Abon me uh da umm bunbun ju jee gon abonma fe quo ja ja,

he mumbled, continuing for a long while in a private language of babble of which none of us could discern a single recognizable word.

Me a mo abon jug on de de mmmmm aaaabbbbb jjjjjjooooooo,

he continued, smiling beneficently. Daniel and Nidzára had slipped to the floor of the back seat in uncontrolled giggles, as the remaining three of us sat erect, pretending a friendly comprehension everything the old geezer said. I waved to the students, hand out of sight, to pipe down, but they simply could no longer hold it in as we continued the charade.

Grazie, said Marty as he began to drive away. We had moved only a few feet when Marty stopped the car as we all exploded into gales of laughter.

Another circle around the area brought us to a gellati truck, where this time Rebecca asked for directions in Italian. The gellati workers said they would be happy to give directions—if we would all buy ice cream from them. Rejecting that idea, we drove away, one of them jumping onto a motorcycle that began to follow us, finally speeding away in a whoop of derision.

The only thing we could imagine now was to turn around and take the same route in the other direction. Sure enough, a large sign proclaimed the way to road we had sought!
Soon we were approaching Sorrento, thereafter, climbing into the mountains on roads so narrow that when a bus approached, we had to pull over as close as we could to the treacherous lip of the highway just to let it pass. The drive continued in an excruciatingly terrifying trip that, from time to time, triggered my sense of vertigo, forcing me to simply close my eyes. But when I did open them, briefly, I witnessed beautiful sites.

After winding up and down the mountain trail, we reached Ravello, where we stopped, grabbing up the only parking space that seemed to remain, to tour that small, lovely city, celebrating its annual music festival. The square at Ravello looks out over the mountains on one side, flanked by two large cafes at the center of which sits a lovely white, stucco church. The light was absolutely luminous, reflecting, so it seemed, the colors of the large stanchions of flowers that stood about the place.

Ravello is also the center of a region famous for its tiles and mosaics, and several of the shops were devoted to that craft. A gallery, showing work by Yoko Ono and other performance artists was of particular interest to our small group. We also attempted to enter the church where many of the festival’s concerts were held, but it was, at the moment, closed. We walked about the town for an hour before returning once again to the road.

We passed the town of Amalfi, reaching our destination, the hotel Smeraldo in Praiano. I don’t know how Rebecca had discovered this gem of a small hotel. A recent check of hotels in Praiano on the internet showed ten hotels, without listing our choice. But once we had reached our rooms, we had all fallen in love with the place.

What a surprise then to find these exceptionally beautiful accommodations—Marty and I stayed in the hotel proper, while the students slept at a hotel apartment (three bedrooms, a kitchen and a bath) across the street—all for a nightly rate of 140 Euro.

My space had its own entry room off the street (a stairway with what seemed three million steps to the sea—Marty later reported that he’d been told it was actually 400 steps!) That room, like the bedroom, was completely tiled in red, containing two stylish chairs, paintings, a large mirror, and a window that opened up to view those never-ending steps. A sizable bathroom stood off to the side.

The bedroom itself was designed in a style that I might have described as “sheik monk,” crosses hanging over the large double bed and another single bed (for any alter boy I might meet, I guess). The room, even by American standards, was gigantic, with a full desk and a huge dressing cabinet.

On the balcony was a round, stylish metal table appointed with two Mediterranean-style chairs. In both corners of the balcony sat marine-blue lounging chairs. The view from the balcony, both from the front and the side was spectacular—the sea below and the coast line, with a view of the entire city of Positano. For the first night a large yacht lay moored beneath my window. Marty and Becky had a Jacuzzi on their balcony, a couch in their room. But I liked my room better.
We had a pleasant dinner at the hotel restaurant, home-made thick, flat noodles for primi and grilled fishes (sword fish and large prawns) for the secondi. We ordered a bottle of white wine and Daniel had brought a gift of a very good red wine.

After dinner (11:30) all came to my balcony to the watch the holiday fireworks in the ocean
below. Tentatively the Nakells and the students wondered what I might feel about staying on for second day. “Oh, we must!” I readily concurred, “We’re in heaven.”

The next morning we all got up rather late for breakfast. Marty was especially exhausted from all the driving. As in Ischia breakfast consisted of beautiful rolls, breads, jellies, fresh fruits and meats—prosciutto, Genoa salami, etc.—and juices, thick muddy coffee served with hot milk.
I toured the small city after, walking down some of the 400 steps and back, visiting the lovely church of S. Gennaro, and stopping by the local fruit stand to buy some water and a peach. Marty and Rebecca were obviously off on their daily wander, and the students (we discovered later) were walking almost to Amalfi, running up and down the 400 steps and doing various other endless activities.

I determined to return to my beautiful balcony to finish my essay on Marinetti. The writing moved quite slowly, but I plodded through into early afternoon and finally completed it. I briefly napped and then begin reading IT, an exceptional book of poetry by the Danish poet Inger Christensen. It was truly pleasant in the blue lounging chair. What bliss!
The Nakells briefly stopped by before retiring to their room next door. We decided to dine at a restaurant at the bottom of the 400 steps at 7:30.

I retreated to a nearby bar, sipping on a campari, nibbling on prosciutto, crustini, and green olives while reading my book.

At 7:00 we met for the long descent. Marty, Rebecca, and the students all chose one of the daily fishes, while I selected a local squid, cut differently than calimari, into long strips and served with fried potato rounds. It was excellent, and I far perferred my choice to theirs. They all had marzipan fruits stuffed with gellati, I a slice of lemon cake for desert.

It was now quite late, and we knew we could never again climb the steps. So we took the advice of the waiter and took a water taxi over to the neighboring city, Positano, planning to return by land taxi by to Praiano. There’s something truly exciting about being in a small boat in the ocean in the middle of the night!

Positano at midnight was a madhouse of celebration, filled with young and middle-aged, rich, loud frat-boy and sorority girl types, women dressed up in bizarre fashions that made them look more like call girls than the attractive, wealthy women we knew them to be. It was the first time I had heard so much English since I arrived. The whole city seemed to be literally partying, hopping with drunken whoops of noise. I didn’t like it, and, like some Puritan elder, led the way through the narrow streets up and up where we might find a taxi, the others trailing in their obvious desire just to wander about. When I arrived at the point where I recognized a taxi might appear, I could see the Nakells conferring with the students, and soon Becky came forward to announce that they wanted to stay on in Positano for a while. Fine with me, I responded, but I was taking a taxi back. I was tired. It was now 1:00 a.m. I told them to go on and enjoy themsevels, but as they often do, they stood frozen in place, and when the taxi finally appeared, Daniel suddenly decided to join me. He had seemed to be in a kind a funk all day. And the next morning he explained that he had run out of his thyroid medicine, which had drained him of energy. By that time, his whole personality had returned to normal.

Marty and Rebecca, so I later found out, had sat with Nidzára in a bar for a while, before wandering on, until someone poured a bucket of water upon Rebecca from a window overhead. By 1:30 I was safely snuggled up in bed.

The morning after we had returned to Ischia, I taught Marty’s class, discussing my publishing activities and attempting to explain what publishing was in relationship to being a writer. Then I turned to my own poetry, Bow Down, a book in both English and Italian which they had previously read. It went nicely, although they had only a few questions.

I then walked into Forio again, forgetting it was a holiday. The town was dead, with no shops open except for the bars. I sat at my favorite, Bar Maria, for a single campari, where I caught up on my daily journal and attempted to make some notes on Paul Auster’s novel, Oracle Night, which I’d finished reading on the plane.

The next day I returned to Forio, where I had a lemon-lime soda at Bar Maria writing letters and updating my journal. I returned to the hotel, read some, and wrote a little before dressing for my scheduled poetry reading at a nearby vineyard.

We took a taxi to the vineyard up the hill further from the hotel. It was a lovely spot, under a parabola of grapes where visitors come to taste the wine. The vineyard also served dinners (everything grown fresh, fish caught in the sea below and rabbits trapped in the hills about), and the Nakells and I decided to return for dinner two days later as my going away celebration. Since everything was cooked to order, we were asked to decide on our dinner choices ahead of time. I ordered the rabbit. But Marty and Becky couldn’t escape the vision they’d had of a man with a bag of rabbits they’d encountered in Ischia Ponte a few days earlier. Obviously he was on his way to slit their little throats!!

The reading was attended by the students and two British women doctors (M.D.’s) who had happened to visit the vineyard from their hotel in Ischia Porto. It went very nicely, with the handsome Jean-Luc (the manager-owner of this small winery) reading three of the poems in Italian. He was an excellent reader, who told me he’d performed all the Goldini plays in high school.

We then returned back to the hotel for a dinner of pasta and fresh pesce, retiring to the terrace to sip a dessert wine Marty had purchased at the vineyard. It had four fruits—apricot, cherry and two others—consisting of 45% alcohol content! Our waiter, Augusto, served it up like it were wine (the bottle might have lasted for many months) and Marty and I had no choice to drink up the brew right there and then! I woke up the next morning slow and achy, not quite awake.
Rebecca reminded us why we were feeling so groggy!

I had slept well again, however, listening to the ocean waves all night.

The following day, July 4th, Marty took the students on a boat trip around the island of Ischia. Already filled with good memories and needing to get some time to write, I stayed behind to work on my essay on Auster. I read, and caught up with my cleaning. Despite all the shirts I brought, I didn’t bring enough clothing for all the heat and perspiration I had endured.

The meal the next evening at the winery was excellent, a perfect balance of each course and pre-selected wines—but it was so filling I was almost ill. Besides, I was now quite depressed. In another day I would have to leave Ischia, when I felt my time on the island had just begun. By now, however, most of the Germans had left, and the Neapolitans—not at all appreciated by the local Ischians—were soon to arrive.

At a birthday party for one of the students, Wesley Frazee, I sadly said goodbye to the hotel staff and students. The next morning Marty and Rebecca went with me by taxi to the ferry for my last trip across the bay. “I can’t leave yet,” I protested. “We never did get to see Amalfi!” By midnight I had flown back to Dublin, leaving for Los Angeles again early the next morning.

Los Angeles, July 9, 2007

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Five Tales from Ischia: the 4th Tale (Cities of the Dead)

The ampitheater at Pompeii

Pompeii ruins with Vesuvius in the background

Ruins at Paestum

Marty and Rebecca entering by the Temple of Athena

A few days after my arrival on Ischia, Marty and Rebecca decided to travel during a holiday weekend to Pompeii and on to the Amalfi Coast, asking if I’d join them. Two Chapman University students, Daniel Fingerhut and Nidzára Pecenkovic, joined us. Daniel was a sensitive Jewish boy who kept kosher (nearly impossible on the Mediterranean diet), Nidzára a beautiful Muslim girl with similar dietary restrictions (nearly impossible on the Mediterranean diet). The other students in Marty’s group had decided to spend the weekend in Rome.

We took the 9.00 a.m. ferry to Naples to pick up a car before setting out on our travels. To get to the car pick up spot, we had to break up into two cabs, I with the two students had a driver who, when he overheard me say something about Norway, asked if I spoke Norsk. Suddenly we were talking Norwegian! He was Swedish. I remembered more of the language than I had for years, in part, I suspect, because speaking Norwegian was almost a refuge in the strange city of Naples, a city at once beautiful but absolutely ugly, poorer than nearly any European city in which I’d traveled—and a more dangerous one.

Our Swedish driver had obviously learned to drive like a Neapolitan, which means operating the vehicle almost as one might a Sherman tank, moving fearlessly in and out of traffic on both sides of the street, even onto the sidewalks if necessary. Since nearly all the others cars drove in a similar pattern, the driving event was more like a bumper-car derby than anything else.
In any event, we eventually found the place, picked up our car, and inched ourselves into the same traffic. Marty, it turned out, had learned to fend for himself, darting into the oncoming lanes with the greatest of ease, even driving, at one point—when we had missed the turn-off for Pompeii—over a concrete medium, as others had done before us, to reach the coast highway. The authorities, in their inexplicable wisdom, had put the sign on the wrong side of the road.
We soon arrived in Pompeii and spent several hours walking through the vast ruins.
I hadn’t imagined the enormity of the space. Pompeii was, after all, a city of about 20,000 people at the time of Vesuvius’s eruption in 79 A.D. Although the city had already severely suffered from an earthquake in 62., some of Pompeii had been rebuilt before the volcano.
As I entered the gate to the city, I overheard a young boy ask his mother how did the city get destroyed by the volcano since clearly Vesuvius was too far away from the lava to pour out over it? She had no answer.

Hours later, after we had toured much of the space—one could spend days wandering down every street of the entire space—we stopped at a nearby pizzeria before continuing on our trip. I repeated the young boy’s question, and suddenly we heard a voice of a middle-aged woman from the next table (there is always someone in my adventures waiting at the next table): “The child was right. The people of the city did not die from the lava but from the smoke and ash which fell over it a few days later. Actually, most of the population had evacuated the city by that time, and only 2,000 people actually died of the gasses and ash, those left behind, mostly servants and the children of the wealthy for whom they cared, along with pets.” The woman was an American Latinist, visiting from upstate New York. For about a half an hour she gave us an informative short lecture about Pompeii, Herculeum (where the escapees were buried in caves into which they had retreated) and Paestum. She seemed apologetic for her erudite talk, but we were all transfixed by the information she supplied—a performance far more entertaining than a standard Baedeker entry or conversation with a local tour guide.

A couple of days later, we visited Paestum, after a leisurely drive from Amalfi. I had long known of Marty’s and Rebecca’s tendency to wander, having previously travelled with them to Northern California, and, although I desperately tried to resist my instincts for organized and planned behavior, by this time I had begun to show some impatience with their sense of timelessness.

Although I had hoped to get an early start on our trip to Paestum, where we had decided to go before returning to Naples, I knew that Marty and Rebecca would never be able to rise at an early hour. So I slept it until 8:00. I was surprised when they telephoned me. They were having breakfast already! But it still took another two and one-half hours to get through check out and to gather the students. It was 11:30 before we returned to the road—Rebecca (with the smallest bladder on the earth) had to pee, so a stop in Amalfi would be necessary.

Actually, we had all wanted to visit Amalfi during our stay on the coast, but when we finally reached the town, no matter where we looked, there was no parking. At the beach, Marty attempted to drive down into a lot that looked filled to me, and then, because of traffic, he was unable to exit, and was forced to back up—while several shopkeepers along the way gave various and contradictory instructions—what seemed like miles in a lane that was hardly wide enough to edge forward, let alone to speed away in reverse. Miraculously, he achieved our backward ascent, with a car driving toward us all the way up! But now, it was clear, Amalfi—which truly did look like a beautiful city—was out of the question.

We stopped instead in Maiori, where Becky and Daniel decided to get sandals made, while Marty got hungry and ordered a plate of mushrooms, cheeses, and olives. We weren’t on the road again until 2:00. Then, just before Paestum Marty had to stop for the famed local product of Compania, Mozzarella di Bufala (Buffalo milk Mozzarella). It was delicious, I admit, and well worth the further delay.

But we didn’t reach Paestum, the 7th century B.C. Greek City lying in that countryside, until 5:00. And we had still to visit every tourist shop in Paestum, eat gellati, consume a few more drinks, and tour the ruins before we could even begin our return to Naples, which would acquire several further stops along the way. I pondered if it would be possible to reach the last ferry in time. Oh well, I said to myself, if we miss the ferry, to quote both the Bourbons of Naples and James Bond, I’ll “see Naples and die.”

We had agreed to spend only an hour in Paestum, although I knew from the start that it would take longer for Marty, Rebecca, and the students to accomplish the task. I immediately bought my ticket and entered, and even as I moved toward the larger temples in the far distance, I knew I would have toured the entire place before they even entered it. They could not resist the many tourist shops gathered at the gate.

This fabulous Greek city on a flat dusty plain beside the ocean is an awe-inspiring sight. This is agricultural Italy, and corn and other crops grow up right to the fences that separate the ancient site from the farms hereabout.

There were three major temples: the Temples of Hera, Apollo and Athena, all in quite good condition, along with the amphitheater.

I walked very slowly to the far end of the site, discovering a beautiful tree-covered ristorante with a bar at the far end, where I sat down and ordered a campari and soda. After finishing it I returned to the park, having seen almost all of the major sites. I tried to dawdle, even loaf as best I could, wandering back toward the first gate, where the lovely white Temple of Athena stood. But all of this took only about thirty minutes. There—as I had predicted—came Marty and Rebecca, having finally entered the place.

I’m not complaining in reporting this; their sense of time was just different from mine, and as much as I tried to accommodate for the strolling-wandering life, I remained more clock oriented. I was impatient. But they so enjoyed their journeys, and the two of them were so similar in their patterns, that it was really was quite lovely to observe their peregrinations.

I left the park and sat at a café with another campari. Fortunately, the drink is light and not terribly alcoholic (and relatively inexpensive—each about 4 euro). I waited forty-five minutes longer for Marty, Rebecca, and the students to return. Then, as I had predicted, they had to have gellati, buy some water, and wander about the tourist shops a bit more! We left Paestum finally, at my urging, at 6:30 p.m.

Almost immediately we were in a long line of cars stalled bumper to bumper to Salerno and the entrance of the autostrasse. We thought perhaps that it was the pay lines at the entrance that had so held back traffic, but after about an hour and a half, we saw that it was the autostrasse itself that was backed up! We entered the highway and sat in bumper to bumper autos for 5 ½ hours all the way to Naples (what might normally have been an hour trip)! Of course, we had to stop for the bathroom along the way, and everyone was hungry again (except for me), and it was now clear that we probably would miss the midnight boat. There was nothing any of us could do but tell stories, sing, and laugh. Indeed, we had such a raucous time that Daniel suggested we meet again the next day in a car and “just hang out!” Our imitations of various family members might have made for a hit comic-skit.

Finally, we arrived in Naples, where all could observe that Marty was utterly exhausted as he seemed almost to change personalities, doggedly determined to get to the garage where we were to leave our car. The closer we had gotten to Naples, the more crazily he had begun to drive, and by the time we entered the city again he was a Neapolitan, speeding down streets on the left side of the road through red lights, traffic and anything else that crossed our path as we made our way back to the garage. I suggested he should be awarded a medal for all the driving he had done.

At the garage, they called for a taxi, which soon arrived. If Marty had developed some Neopolitan techniques of driving, we suddenly realized that the taxi driver was the “real thing.” Yet he was also used to tourists and respected their fears. He calmly drove a block as Marty explained that we were attempting to make the last ferry from Bevellaro. He turned back to the rest of us and beseechingly requested: “Permisso?”

The kids were confused, but I knew exactly what he meant. Marty and I shook our heads in reply: “Yes, permisso.” Suddenly we were tearing through the streets jutting in and out of traffic, ignoring every red light, missing other cars my inches, jumping over medians, and generally creating havoc in space. Each time he broke through the traffic, Michali (taxi drivers each tell you their name, as if it were a personal relationship with them that you had established by entering their cab) shouting “Permisso!” Laughing joyfully, like a terribly bad boy, he sped on. I believe we had clipped at least two cars along the way. We now realized that, although Marty had passed all the tests for Neapolitan driving, he was not yet a full-fledged citizen! The ride was breathtaking, as if he had gone into some amusement park—“the taxi ride!” Disneyland should add it to their fantasyland park.

We arrived at Bellevaro just in time to get tickets to the last boat to Ischia—not to Florio, but to Porto Ischia. It didn’t matter; we’d make it home that night.
The boat was a comfortable one, much nicer that the one I’d taken that first day, and roomier than the hydrofoil we’d taken across three days earlier. We also stopped, as I had on that first day, in Procida, that beautiful little town. I tried to snap some photos with the night vision setting, but the shutter took so long, that any hand movement blurred the image.

When we finally arrived at Porto Ischia, the Nakells were determined to stop for pizza, but the students and I desperately needed a shower and bed. I was one of the first ones off, quickly capturing a taxi. The others were the last to leave the boat—indeed all passengers had departed about 15 minutes before these stragglers finally dragged themselves forward, nearly frozen in space once again!
As the three of us sped away to Florio, Marty and Rebecca, looking like exhausted refugees returning to their homeland, trudged down the street for their 2:00 snack! I think perhaps Marty just needed to decompress a while before entering another car!

Forio, Ischia, July 3, 2007

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 café 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