Elaborating Connections in
Southern Italy

 Prepared by:
James C. Mancuso
Los Angeles, CA     90020
Summer, 1998


This account of an eight-day visit to Southern Italy reflects the personal observations of the author, and does not necessarily represent positions of any of the organizations involved with this world wide web site.

For the convenience of the readers, many hypertext links have been built into the text of this account. By clicking the mouse on any of the links, the reader may connect to those world wide web sites that give more information on the topic that is linked. Some of the sites to which the links connect provide excellent photos of the locations under discussion. In some cases, more than one site contains relevant information. In such instances, the same term is linked more than once


Table of Contents
Tuesday, March 10. 1998: Arriving in Rome
Map of Italy - Rome to Naples
Tuesday, March 10, 1998: Monte Cassino
Map of Italy -- Naples to Capo Palinuro
Wednesday, March 11, 1998: Naples
Thursday, March 12, 1998: Naples, The Amalfi Coast
Friday, March 20, 1998: Vietri sul Mare and Paestum
Saturday, March 20, 1998: Palinuro and Cuccaro Vetere
Sunday, March 21, 1998: Pompeii
Monday, March 21, 1998: Rome

Tuesday, March 10. 1998: Arriving in Rome

The young people of our family had made several efforts to arrange to spend some time together in Italy. For one or another reason, we continued to fail to effect a plan. When The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) announced its Heart of Sicily Tour in Fall, 1996, we agreed that we had been offered an ideal combination of price and convenience. Unfortunately for us, by the time that I inquired into the possibility of our joining the Heart of Sicily Tour, every post on the tour had been booked. The NIAF tour organizers promised that they would place us on the waiting list for their 1997-98 tours. As soon as we received notice that the NIAF was organizing the tours for the 1997-98 season, we booked for the March 2-10, 1998, tour. As things turned out, we managed to sign up a party of four - which included Susan and I, who had visited Sicily for several weeks during previous trips to Italy; Dennis, our son-in-law; and Bryan, a friend since our boyhood. Neither Bryan nor Dennis had previously visited Italy.

The agents who had organized our Sicily tour had arranged matters so that Susan, Dennis, Brian, and I left the tour at the Rome's Leonardo da Vinci Airport. There, along with our co-tourists, we left the plane which took us from Catania to Rome. As we retrieved our baggage we had ample opportunity to bid goodbye to the people with whom we had shared our stimulating and satisfying tour of the heart of Sicily. We were also gratified to find we had no difficulty in picking up the baggage which we had checked at the Catania airport.

We had made arrangements, through Internet connections, to assure that an agency would have a van awaiting us at Rome. The second part of our trip -- the one week exploration of the area south of Rome -- would include a fifth member, our daughter Renée. Thus our party would include myself (chronicler/navigator); Susan (wife, mother), Dennis Ryan (chauffeur, Renée's husband); and C. Bryan G. Smith, (chroncler's pal since our days as high school students of baking); and Renée, (daughter, restaurant researcher). Renée would join us at Leonardo da Vinci Airport. When we made arrangements for the van we calculated that five travelers and their baggage would best be accommodated if we were to have a sufficiently large vehicle.
 

The employees of the firm through which we had made arrangements to rent the van proved to be most accommodating, friendly, and cheerful. They had informed us, via e-mail, that they would be waiting at the main entrance of the terminal, holding a sign on which our name would be printed. Renée had arrived in Rome several days previously, and had engaged in interactions with several business associates. Since she had arrived at the airport by taxi, it was she who spotted the car rental agency's employee holding up the sign with our name on it. Thus, when I went in search of the person who was to meet us with the van, I found not only him, but also Renée. The special delights of our tour had begun propitiously. Our reunion with Renée, who Dennis had left in Los Angeles about a week previously, and who we (her parents) had not seen for six months, was especially joyous.

Gathering up our baggage and depositing it into the van which was driven to the car rental agency by their employee, we continued our pleasant interaction with those persons who completed the paperwork and briefed us on the finer points of driving the van. They gave us the appropriate maps, and directed us to the autostrada which we would follow to take us to Naples, our first stop.
 


 
 

Map of Italy

Showing section from Rome to Naples
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, March 10, 1998: Monte Cassino

As we left the car rental agency, we inquired about the possibility of finding a nearby restaurant that would be recommended by the employees of the agency. They assured us that we should simply leave the autostrada at the first convenient exit, and that we would certainly find a restaurant that would be satisfactory to us at any exit.

We followed their instructions concerning the restaurant, and after passing several exits on the autostrada we turned off; and, as soon as we did, we found a very inviting restaurant. The advice we had been given proved entirely reliable. The fare in the restaurant was superb. We followed a practice which we have instituted when ordering a smaller meal in one of the Italian restaurants. We chose to take a sampling of the exquisite delights which covered the antipasta table, and supplemented that by sharing one of the generous pasta dishes which we had ordered. Of course, since we were in the Frascati region, we needed to sample a bottle of the Frascati wine which the waiter had recommended. This excellent meal served to remind Renée, who had not visited Italy for approximately 20 years, that one of the important reasons for visiting Italy was to indulge oneself in the superb tastes of the food and wine which is so readily available throughout the country. We thoroughly enjoyed participating in Renée's re-introduction.

We had determined that Dennis would be our chauffeur, and I would act as the navigator -- keeping track of the maps our route, etc. We were willing to believe that Dennis enjoyed driving the commodious van, and we all agreed that he did an excellent job throughout our trip. This first part of the trip, being largely limited to driving on the autostrada, did not put a great strain on his driving ability. He would soon find, however, that he would need to call on his best skills to navigate some of the roads in Italy.

Our destination, after leaving the restaurant, was the famous and historic Abbey at Monte Cassino. After about an hour's drive from our restaurant stop, we arrived at the exit for Cassino. The route to the abbey took us through the city of Cassino and to the road which looped back to scale the mountain. Here Dennis' driving skills were first severely tested. I'm not sure of the distance between a the turnout to the mountain road and the Abbey, but I would be willing to estimate that we traveled 10 kilometers as we wound our way back and forth over the steep mountain road.

The motto of The Benedictine Order is, "Work and Pray." When Benedict selected this site as the location of their monastery (in 529, C. E.), he certainly had chosen a place which would offer very few distractions from those two activities. Once settled in the monastery, a monk would have little choice about what activities he might pursue. Traveling back and forth to the village would surely have required much more effort then even the most worldly monk would be willing to expend. And, certainly the project of building an access road would have required many years of labor by a whoever was assigned to the task of connecting the abbey to the town in the valley below.

Once having arrived, we were well rewarded by the opportunity to visit this immensely impressive, extraordinarily beautiful building. The light grey stone of the massive complex, viewed at close range, provides a perspective that enhances the appreciation that superior masonry gives to a magnificent architectural accomplishment. We had viewed the monastery from a distance as we approached on the autostrada. The imposing character of the structure, when viewed at a distance, enhances the awe which one experiences when he/she considers the venerable history of this monument. A close-up view reinforces the admiration that one must extend to the great order of The Benedictines and their place in the history of Western civilization, in general, and in southern Italy, in particular.

We entered the great sanctuary of The Basilica of The Abbey just as a contingent of the monks were completing one of their worship services. The chanting of the monks echoing through this splendid baroque interior provided exactly the right atmosphere to give us an extra appreciation of the creativity by which we were surrounded. Unfortunately, though the buildings were faithfully restored after they had been destroyed by a massive bombing during World War II, the paintings could not be replaced. Thus, one must admire the superb inlaid marble work (marmo misto) that decorates the surfaces and can only regret that the paintings which once were displayed in this basilica are no longer available for viewing.

As we wandered through the various arcades and courtyards, enjoying the magnificent views of vast areas of the surrounding countryside which one has from many different vantage points around the abbey, we heard a number of the other guests speaking Polish. We were reminded of the great tragedy which befell The Abbey in 1944, when the Allied armies were moving north on the Italian Peninsula. Several of the top officers of those armies made the now questionable decision that the abbey represented a strategic strong point for the German occupiers. It was then determined that The Abbey must be taken before the armies continued their northward advance. Accordingly one of the most massive air strikes of World War II completely demolished the then-standing abbey. Among the particularly tragic results of the decision to assault the German forces in The Abbey, was the death of about 1,700 young Polish soldiers who were fighting in conjunction with the British armies.

The rebuilding of The Abbey became a top priority after WWII had come to an end. After the nation of Poland reconnected to the rest of Europe, 50 years after the destruction of the Abbey and the death of those young men, many Poles now make a pilgrimage to Monte Cassino to pay homage to those of their compatriots who died so far from their homes.

Our pilgrimage to this hallowed location, as well as all parts of our trip toward the south of Italy, needed to end rather abruptly. We still needed to make the descent down that winding road, and we needed to find our way into the heart of Naples -- a city whose traffic patterns are known to be quite intimidating.

The autostrada ride into the city of Naples was, as expected not particularly demanding. Also, as expected, we did encounter confusion when we left the autostrada and attempted to find our way to our hotel in the center the city. Daylight was giving out when we left the autostrada, and the navigator became a bit disoriented. According to his calculations we were heading in a southerly direction after our exit from the autostrada. In actuality, we had looped around at the exit, and we were heading north. Suddenly we found that we were passing, in the opposite direction, the exit we were to have taken in order to arrive rather directly at our hotel. Our only choice was to take the next exit and to head for what we thought was the center of the city. Fortunately, we knew our hotel to be near the train station so we took advantage of every sign directing us to the terminal. Whenever we found ourselves confused, we asked one of the passers-by to point us toward the railroad terminal. Neapolitans, like Italians in general, have a great tolerance for tourists -- particularly if they sense that the tourists are Americans, for they seem to feel that Americans are especially in need of tolerance. Our strategy took us to our hotel; where, thanks to the internet, we had a reservation and were expected.

One complication faced us in the hotel. We had made reservations for only two rooms, and we needed three. The desk clerk, showing the usual Neapolitan tolerance, worked things out in order to accommodate us. He also, showing what I took to be typical Neapolitan shrewdness, was reluctant to give us a figure on how much would be added to our bill by these changes in our requests.

The desk clerk then, showing what I took to be typical Neapolitan ingratiation, played rather neatly into my basic vanity. He asked me, "Where did you learn to speak Italian like that." I replied, "I took several courses at the university." He then replied, "You didn't learn to speak Italian like that in the university. That is family Italian, not university Italian." With that I was seduced into postponing our discussion of additional billing until the following morning, as the desk clerk had suggested.

By the time we had unloaded our luggage, checked out our rooms, refreshed ourselves, and again gathered in the lobby of the hotel, we were ready for another Italian meal. The highlight of our search for a good restaurant was, it turned out, the taxi driver whom we had selected to take us to a restaurant that we had picked out. The restaurant we had chosen was closed, and we were not very successful on our second choice. As always in Italy, one very rarely ends in a bad restaurant. Our choice that evening was not a bad restaurant, nor was it one that we would recommend when there are so many superb restaurants available in Naples. Our loquacious taxi driver, however, made up for the disappointment with the restaurant. Knowing that he had a load of American tourists, he took the liberty of giving us a brief tour of some of the highlights of central Naples. The route which he took gave us a dramatic view of the castle which was built at the port by the Angevin French when they ruled Southern Italy. Formally known as Castel Nuovo, the castle is commonly called Maschio Angioino (The Angevin Keep). The night view of the Castle was most impressive, with lights playing on the massive towers and huge walls. Of course we determined that we needed to return to view the castle in the daylight, particularly since it stands in harbor area, which in itself is worth viewing.
 

Wednesday, March 11, 1998: Naples

Our location near the central railroad terminal gave us ready access to all the bus lines running through the city of Naples. As in most European cities, the routes of all bus lines pass through the piazza or square in front of the railroad terminal. Early on our first full day in Naples we took the bus that would deliver us to the newly renovated museum/gallery on Capodimonte. The gallery was once known as Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte, and is now known as Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte. The gallery recently was completely refurbished. Spending several hours in the gallery does not do justice to the marvelous collections on display. In addition, the location of the gallery, which was once one of the summer palaces of the Bourbon kings of Naples and Sicily (1734-1860), offers a visitor the opportunity to take in some of Italy's more dramatic sights. In every direction one can see for miles -- the entire city of Naples and its harbor in one direction; Mount Vesuvius and vast expanses of The Campania in another direction, and so on. The ample grounds surrounding the gallery are maintained as a park, and that ambiance provided us with an ideal place to consume the variety of cooked meats and cheeses, complemented by a variety of olives, etc. which we had brought with us to that idyllic site.

We left Capodimonte in mid-afternoon, taking a bus that took us to Piazza Dante. Leaving the bus, we took a casual stroll down Via Roma, past Piazza Carita. We passed the terminal for the famed funicular, recently renovated in celebration of its 100th anniversary. We had chosen Galleria Umberto I as one destination of our stroll. This galleria, which essentially duplicates the galleria in Milan, might be considered to be one of the first completely enclosed shopping malls.

One of the wings of Galleria Umberto I exits directly in front of the San Carlo Opera House. In that we arrived at the Opera house in the late afternoon, there was no possibility of entering this venerable theater. We paid our respects to the great artists that had passed through this magnificent building by walking around the building, entering the box office section, and noting the direct connection between the opera house and the Pallazo Reale.

We joked about how the dilettante King Ferdinand IV (1759-1825) might have entertained his friends and guests for a day. We created a scene in which the king's guests would arrive at palace on Capodimonte for a day of arranged hunting, followed by a grand meal at the palace on the crest of the hill overlooking Naples. Thereupon the guests, having adorned themselves with the latest Neapolitan fashions, would bundle into lavish carriages which would take them to San Carlo Opera House. There they would be treated to a spectacular performance of the young Gioachino Rossini's latest major hit. Following the performance, we speculated, the King and his retinue would stroll over to the Palazzo Reale; where once again, they would enjoy a lavish midnight Neapolitan supper. We were not sure that the scenario we created had ever in actuality been enacted, but we were willing to assume that we were not far off target; and surmised that we would have found it extremely interesting to have been a part of the king's party. We further speculated, however, that at best our part of the party would have been enacted as cooks and waiters at the midnight supper.

In further considering who might have been privileged to enjoy the performances at San Carlo Opera House, we wandered if some of our immigrant forebears would have been aware of The Opera House's existence. By personal experience, we knew that the immigrants were very familiar with the great Neapolitan tenor, Enrico Caruso, who was esteemed not only for his operatic singing, but also for his appealing renditions of Neapolitan songs. We also knew that many of the immigrants from Southern Italy and Sicily had considered themselves connected to the great conductor, Arturo Toscanini, who had once been a leading conductor at New York City's Metropolitan Opera, and who had conducted frequently at San Carlo. We found it ironic to think that our grandparents might never have heard of those great artists had they remained in their villages in southern Italy; rather than migrating to the USA, where they could acquire the financial means to purchase radios and phonographs.
 

Leaving the area of the opera house, we continued our stroll toward Piazza Municipio. We passed by the extremely imposing Castel Nuovo, known locally as Maschio Angioino. We have not yet done the research to determine how this familiar name was given to this imposing Castle. The term maschio, of course refers to manliness or masculinity. The dictionary also indicates that the term maschio refers to the keep of a castle -- the prison, where prisoners are kept. Observing the huge, round towers that stand out so clearly as one observes the building, one is prompted to wonder if the use of the term maschio, which refers to maleness, might represent some kind of pre-Freudian Neapolitan joke.

Our stroll around The Castel Nuovo provided a test of our navigator's directional skills. Our chauffeur, Dennis, mentioned that this was the Castle to which our taxi driver had taken us on the previous evening. The navigator, having had the impression that the taxi driver had done a 360 degree cirumnavigation of the Castle and further believing (incorrectly) that Castel Nuovo fronted directly onto the water, insisted that this was a second Castle in the city of Naples. The navigator's certainty was heightened by his having observed on the map that Castel Sant'Elmo -- another of the cities imposing castles -- might well have been circumnavigated by the taxi. Dennis was more certain, however, of our previous evening's tour. We did remember, however, that the taxi driver had given the navigator specific instructions on how to pronounce the word Angioino. We checked with some of the personnel around Castle, and found that this indeed was the Castle that was referenced by the term Maschio Angioino. Dennis won his friendly bet about the identity of this Castle!

Exercising our rapidly acquired skills in using the bus system in Naples, we made our way back to the hotel. Thereupon we plotted our route to another of the restaurants which Renée's research had uncovered. As we made our way from the bus stop at which we left the bus, toward the location of the restaurant, we frequently asked people we encountered to direct us to one of the famous churches in the city -- San Giovanni Maggiore. We knew that the restaurant was near that church. The simple act of asking directions in Naples turns out to be the source of many delights. The Neapolitans showing the characteristic tolerance for strangers, will often engage in rather extended conversations as they offer their help in finding directions. At one point we stopped in a small salumeria to ask the employees (proprietors??) directions to the church. In the shop we could not resist admiring the beautiful array of cheeses, cold meats, and other delicacies. The proud employees soon were passing around samples of the various olives and cheeses. Thus, we enjoyed a small antipasto before we arrived at the restaurant.

When we arrived at the restaurant which we had targeted for that evening's meal, we were not surprised to find that we could not be seated if we had not made our reservations. The waiter who gave us this unwanted news, however, graciously directed us to another nearby restaurant. After our exceptionally fine meal, accompanied by the matching service, at La Chitarra; we did not regret our visit to this part of the city. Our regrets centered around knowing that this would be the last evening which we would have to explore the restaurants that we might find in other parts of Naples.

Thursday, March 12, 1998: Naples, The Amalfi Coast

On our last morning in Naples, we explored the collection at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. We had toured this museum during previous visits to Naples. Though we have always found it rewarding to spend several hours visiting great museums which we had previously visited, that morning's tour of Museo Archeologico Nazionale gave us unexpected pleasure. Like many other museums, this museum has greatly improved the information that is posted throughout the exhibits. Several informational exhibits, for example, demonstrate the ways in which the museum experts had reconstructed the original Greek and Roman statues from fragments of statues which had been unearthed in various excavation sites.

The museum contains a particularly extensive collection of material that had been unearthed at Pompeii. In that we have become more familiar with the development of artistic formalisms, we could review in the artwork and statuary in the museum from a very different perspective than that which we had brought to previous visits. Looking at the ways in which color, shading, and perspective are represented in the fresco paintings which were removed from the walls of homes and buildings in Pompeii and then transferred to this museum, we could better understand the immensity of the loss which resulted from the decline in artistic endeavor that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire. We could speculate on the possibility that tens of thousands of great paintings and statues might now exist had Europeans continued to create the kinds of masterpieces that the Greeks and Roman already had been creating. We also were reminded of the even greater tragedy of the destruction of huge numbers of similar works that had been destroyed during the time that the works of the Romans and Greeks were regarded as unacceptable.

As we finished our tour of the archeological museum we needed to reconstruct our plans for the remainder of the day. A rather steady rain had begun, and our plan to spend the afternoon at Pompeii did not appear to be a practical plan. Instead, we decided to drive directly to Vietri sul Mare, where we were expected at a hotel at which we had already reserved rooms.

During our drive to Vietri sul Mare, we reminisced about our previous trips to Naples and compared our reactions during those visits and our current visit. For thousands of years Naples has been viewed, by some visitors, as a somewhat overactive entrepot, teeming with the kind of activity that infuses a great port city. Though Naples also has been known as a lively cultural and intellectual center, Neapolitans have constantly been put on the defensive by negative reactions to the city and its inhabitants. Under the cloud of these negative reactions one can easily forget that Naples was once the home of world famous personages of great creativity -- George Frederik Handel, Domenico Cimerosa, Giambattista Vico, Eduardo De Filippo , Giovani Paisiello, Benedetto Croce, etc. It is worth noting that one of the most effective responses to those negative reactions came from Wolfgang von Goethe, in his classic text, Italian Journey. In this 200-year-old journal, Goethe notes the ease with which one can conclude that the Neapolitans, who revel in their enjoyment of life, do very little that can be considered to be productive. He then recounts his observations, aiming to refute that impression, and goes on to describe the achievement of the people of this city which he loved.

Negative impressions, however, do find reinforcement. Clerks, waiters, people in the street, etc., constantly warned us to keep our wallets, bags, and other valuables firmly under our arms and in clear view. On one occasion we did experience what we later perceived as a "hustle." As we entered one of the buses a man leaped directly into our path and began jostling us as we made our way to the little machine where one validates his/her bus tickets. Two other men also seemed to be vying with us to reach the machine. As the incident occurred, we took it to be an example of early morning rush hour rudeness. When we noted that the three men exited the bus a short distance from where we entered, it struck us that they were exploring the possibility that the bags and wallets of the five obvious tourists might be relatively unprotected. Prompted by this suspicion, I felt embarrassment at not having immediately been more prudent in responding to theirbehavior, and at having lost sight of the constant warnings to exercise caution regarding valuables.

Despite the possibility of such incidents, our observations during this visit lead us to conclude that the city's leadership has made impressive progress toward assuring that visitors to Naples will have little reason to affirm any negative imagery. Naples continues to reflect the vivace which has characterized the city throughout its history, but recent developments have made it possible for visitors to enter more comfortably into that vivace. We look forward to frequent opportunities to share the liveliness of the city. We have seen Naples, once again, and we want to repeat our visit many times before following the advice of the old saying, "See Naples and then die!"


 

Map of Italy

Showing section from

Naples to Capo Palinuro
 
 
 
 

After settling into our rooms at the hotel at Vietri sul Mare (an attractive seaside town, essentially a suburb of Salerno), we traveled along the a Amalfi Coast to the town of Amalfi. The drive to Amalfi, which takes one over some of the most stunning landscapes in the world; is, in itself, an activity worth completing. The winding road which has been cut, in many places, into the precipitous hillside skirting the sea, allows the traveler to see one after another magnificent vista. Unfortunately, the driver must attend constantly to the road, so that his/her enjoyment of these vistas is somewhat limited. Dennis discovered the usefulness of the mirrors which allow a driver to see around the bends in order to prepare for oncoming vehicles. On this particular drive, we took our time and stopped frequently to enjoy the scenes lighted by the remaining daylight.

Our brief visit to the town of Amalfi was somewhat clouded by the cold, rainy weather which prevailed at that time. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the warmth of an excellent cappuccino at a very comfortable bar. We also accepted an offer to sample a local product that has become rather famous throughout the world. The surrounding area is famous for its lush lemon groves. The local people plant lemon trees on every available terrace We had admired lemons of this region during previous visits, having enjoyed the tangy lemonade that results from pressing out one of the large, especially zesty lemons grown on the hillsides along the Amalfi Coast. Since our last visit to this area, a major industry has developed around the making and marketing of a highly flavorful liqueur that is made from these lemons. We were appreciative of the shopkeeper's generosity in allowing us to sample several variations of the liqueur, which is known as lemoncello. Unhappily, the restrictions on what we are willing to pack into our bags constrained us from buying several bottles of this delicious drink.

A visit to be historic duomo of the city and to the adjoining cloister completed our afternoon's touring. During this visit we became more familiar with the legend which claims that the remains of the Apostle, Andrew, are buried in a vault adjoining the cathedral. While viewing the altar that covers the site holding the Apostle Andrew's remains, we were reminded that Amalfi at one time was one of the most prosperous seaports in the Mediterranean; and that Amalfi, like other prosperous seaports vied to acquire the remains and artifacts of Christian history as a way of enhancing the status of the city. If Venice could claim the remains of St. Mark, Amalfi couldclaim the remains of St. Andrew!

Once again, it was time to take up our continuous exploration of Italy's great cuisine. Since we had an excellent chauffeur, we had decided we would take the trip up the mountainside, to the town of Ravello. It was dark and raining, and we knew that we were definitely taking advantage of Dennis's skill and patience. We simply could not pass up an opportunity to revisit Ravello, even if under the somewhat unfavorable conditions. Besides, Renée had chosen again a restaurant which promised to offer another excellent dining experience.

Ravello, like other cities in southern Italy, has modified features of its geography in order to better accommodate the tourists who visit this town, which has constantly attracted persons whose fame assures that the town will receive coverage in travel magazines and will, as well, profit from it visitors' fame. A spacious parking lot has been built so that a short climb over a staircase takes one into the town's main piazza.

The town is rather small, so we had no difficulty finding the restaurant, Cumpa Cosimo's. We entered the establishment and were greeted warmly, as usual, by the staff. I asked the male host to introduce us to Cumpa Cosimo, since we had chosen restaurant not only because of the recommendations in the sources which we had consulted, but also because I had a special feeling for the term Cumpa (a dialect pronunciation of the term compare. It is this term which would have been used to address Don Corleone, in Puzo's widely disseminated and influential novel. The term godfather, which became the title of the novel, reflects the use of the term cumpa to address a friend of the family who had become the godfather to one or more of the family's children). I told our host that our family had originated in the nearby countryside, and that our family, like other Italian-American families, had schooled us to use the term cumpa as a term to signify the special respect accorded to close friends of the family. The term was particularly reserved for friends who had acted as a baptismal sponsors for children in the family. The host sadly informed us that Cumpa Cosima, his father, had died several years ago, and that the restaurant was now being operated by him and his sister. Our meal was superb, but the comradery generated between our party and the host and hostess filled our evening with an immense gaiety. As we departed the restaurant, the host expressed his pleasure at becoming acquainted with those descendants of the region's emigrants who return to maintain contact with their heritage.

The rainy weather through which we had taken our excursion along the Amalfi Coast continued through the night; and, in that our hotel, in Vietri sul Mare, was built atop a small precipice above the Bay of Salerno, the night wind driving across the bay, into the windows of our room, reminded us that our activities for the next day would be restricted. Thus, on formulating our plans for the day, we decided that we would spend the morning exploring the pottery works for which Vietri sul Mare has become famous. We were fortunate to find a very large establishment which was in full operation that morning - Solimene Ceramica. We were delighted at being able to wander through the establishment to observe every phase of the making of the colorful pottery to which we always have been attracted. For us, the most intriguing phase of the operation was that in which the artists painted the various designs on the ware. Their deft hands flew from paint-dipped brush to plate, where extremely facile strokes left behind the delightful drawings that would be baked into the pottery. The painters, obviously, had been highly trained in order to achieve such dexterity. In addition, the process of designing the pieces, we concluded, involves a high level of creativity. Again, unfortunately, our unwillingness to add more weight to our luggage constrained our impulses to buy stacks of the colorful pieces; though none of us could resist selecting several pieces to which we were particularly attracted.
 

Friday, March 20, 1998: Vietri sul Mare and Paestum

In laying out our plan for that day, we had decided that we would stop at Paestum, the town in which one can find three of the best preserved remaining Greek, Doric-style temples. The oldest of three, The Basilica, was erected in the mid 6th century B.C.E. The Temple of Ceres was erected in the late 6th century B.C.E. The largest and most impressive of the temples, The Temple of Neptune (known also as The Temple of Hera), was constructed in the 5th century B.C.E. At Cumpa Cosimo's, a fellow diner had informed us that we would find The Temple of Neptune to be completely covered with scaffolding and plastic shrouding.

Our plans also included stopping at one of the cheese factories between the city of Salerno and Paestum. The area is known as Italy's leading area of production of the famous mozzarella di bufala - the mozzarella made from the rich milk of the water buffalo. Most people in the USA know mozzarella through having eaten pizza, which is assumed to be sprinkled with mozzarella. Anyone who has eaten mozzarella di buffala would be totally perplexed by the question of why the two cheeses - that on the pizza, and that which is called mozzarella di buffalo in Italy -- are both called mozzarella. The two cheeses are vastly different. The mozzarella commonly used on pizza is a relatively tasteless, dry mass that differs little from processed white American cheese. Mozzarella di buffala, on the other hand, is a creamy, moist, subtly flavored delicacy.

The difficulty we had as we traveled South, toward Paestum, was deciding on which of the cheese factories at which we should stop. Having chosen a place to shop, we went through our usual process of selecting a nice variety of cold meats and cheeses, including two chunks of mozzarella that looked like two large, white pears. At the bakery next-door, we made a selection of the crusty rolls that would accompany our lunch. At another stop, down the road, we selected a variety of fruits and a kilo of savory, pickled, green olives. To get away from the fruit store with as little produce as we did acquire, we needed to resist the blandishments of a very attractive, very insistent, and almost persuasive young woman who tried to convince us, for example, that we should buy at least the three kilo container of olives which was being offered at a special price, as well as a dozen of the magnificent, in-season artichokes which were on display.

Needless to say, when we arrived at Paestum, despite being restricted to the van by the rain, we thoroughly enjoyed our lunch. Following the lunch, we took a tour through the very informative displays in the constantly improving museum. We then braved the rain to look at the 2500-year-old temples.

One cannot avoid being appropriately impressed when viewing these temples. To begin, anyone who has even the slightest familiarity with building design and construction must marvel at the level of human ingenuity which is reflected in the design of these magnificent columned structures. As we surveyed the largest of the temples - the Temple of Hera (Neptune) - which was surrounded by a massive super structure of scaffolding, we counted the levels on the scaffolds, assuming that each level represents one floor of a modern building. There are ten levels of scaffolding around the building. Surely, the architect who planned this structure had a thorough understanding of what would be required to raise a roof that would be supported by the walls and columns of so tall of building. Additionally, one must consider the kind of and number of stone masons who would have been employed to build this building. Looking at these buildings in their current state, following 2500 years of wear, who would not wish that he/she could go back in time to see these buildings at their most resplendent.

Even on this rainy day, we had no difficulty agreeing that we had been inspired by a rich day of observing the splendors of human creativity -- colorful ceramics, delicate mozzarella di buffala, the museum's displays of lively fresco paintings retrieved from tombs found in the area, crusty rolls, lofty Greek temples, spicy olives, beautiful ancient artifacts beautifully displayed in the museum, etc.

We needed to finish off our afternoon with a hearty cup of cappuccino, followed by a cone of gelato.

The modern, limited access highway ends about 25 kilometers from our destination, Palinuro. Our chauffeur's driving skills were once again in demand, particularly since the rain persisted. When we arrived at The Hotel San Paolo the hotel personnel expressed their displeasure at our arrival having been marred by the inclement weather. Behind their displeasure, however, one could sense the gratitude that they felt for having had two days a steady rain. They reported that there had been no rain in the area for at least seven months, and that this rain would assure, at least, a reasonable harvest over the coming summer. There is a saying in the region;

Quando piove in aprile, (When it rains in April),

Ogni goccia uguaglia un barile. (every drop equals a barrel).

We suspect that though our hosts sympathized with our unhappiness at having the unpleasant weather, they had that proverb in mind!
 

Saturday, March 20, 1998: Palinuro and Cuccaro Vetere

The pleasures of spending some time with our three cousins -- Nicola, Mario, and Antonio Carrato -- and their families cannot be expressed fully. This was the first opportunity which Renée had to witness the enthusiasm of the reception they extend to us. I have no doubt that she and the others in our group found the enthusiasm to be contagious.

Our cousins, my peers, are the children of my mother's cousin. They live an area inland from Palinuro, having remained connected to the town (Cuccaro Vetere) in which the Carrato family had been established when my grandfather left the region about 100 years ago. It happens that my cousins' grandmother was a sister to my grandmother. In addition, their grandfather was the brother to my grandfather. That is, two brothers had married two sisters. The grandfather of my cousins was the only brother of my grandfather's five brothers who remained permanently in Italy. My grandfather (Antonio) and one other brother (Giovanni) had migrated to Pennsylvania to work as miners of anthracite coal. Three other brothers, to the best of our knowledge, had migrated to Montevideo, Uruguay.

A significant feature of our visit was reflected in Smitty's reaction to our reception. Smitty had frequently visited the home of our grandmother - the great aunt of our cousins - when we would journey to their home in Pennsylvania. There he was greeted warmly by our grandmother, who always took special pleasure in providing us with one of her splendid meals. The similarity of the ambience created during our gatherings in the homes of our cousins practically duplicated the ambience which we regularly experienced in our grandmother's home. Though separated by fifty years, the experience - down to duplication of some of the dishes - was uncannily revived. To top it off, our cousins exuded the same pride as did our uncles and aunts when they informed us that they had produced, from seed to table, many of the delicacies which we were enjoying. Pride in self sufficiency still exists in the home of our cousins, who have established themselves very comfortably!

We did not need the constant admonitions of our cousins to remind us that we had allotted only two days to our visit to that southern end of the Province of Salerno, known as The Cilento. The mountain scenery, from many vantage points, is constantly eye-filling. The scenes along the coast duplicate those one finds along the coast of California. The beaches that open wide along the numerous inlets and bays, in warmer weather, would irresistibly invite us. The warmth of our reception would surely survive a lengthy visit.. It is no wonder that with each admonition Renée repeated more firmly, "Dad, why don't you take a place here for a couple of weeks. Then we all could come to and stay for a suitable visit!"

Visits to the surrounding towns, guided by an adequate account of the history of the area, would keep us occupied for months. Some of the aspects of the history of the area are quite transparent. The main piazza in Palinuro, for example, is named Piazza Virgilio. Reading Virgil's Aeneid offers an explanation of why the esteemed Roman poet's name is celebrated in this little town. Virgil, perhaps operating from a previous myth, tells his readers that Aeneas' helmsman was named Palinuro. In the story, the helmsman was washed overboard, and arrived at this little bay, alive and clinging to a log. He died shortly after reaching the shore. When Aeneas and his party made their landing and heard the natives' tale of Palinuro's death, they held a funeral celebration to honor their comrade!

A contrast to the aura created by Virgil's text, I recall our first visit to Palinuro. I asked Nicola, "What did they do here when my grandfather left 75 years ago." He replied, "The people in this town fished the bay for anchovies. They then cleaned and salted them. When they had a basketful, they put them on their head and walked up to Cuccaro Vetere to trade them for a basketful of chestnuts."

My grandmother would say, "There was no money in Italy." After hearing Nicola's response, I understood her statement in a different light.

If only one could find a way to read the ideologies and world views which the people of this area had developed throughout the variegated course of their history! How did the villagers change their beliefs as different major ideologies weakened and strengthened? Did it matter to them whether the Greek nobility was replaced by the Roman nobility? How did the person-in-the street accept Christianity as a replacement for paganism? Did the people in this area understand what was happening when the Byzantine general, Belisarius (c.505-565), destroyed a town located about 35 miles (Roccagloriosa) to the northeast, as he tried to break the hold which the Goths had of Italy? How did the townspeople respond to the 26-year presence (889-915) of an Arab enclave in the coastal city of Agropoli, some 30 miles to the north? How many townspeople joined Cardinal Ruffo (1755-1827) when he moved toward Naples inducing the people to believe that their fate would be better tied to their god and king than to the French-supported Republic of Naples? How did the peasants speak of the nobility in the years immediately before Garibaldi (1807-1882) evicted the Bourbon dynasty? How did the young men react when they were called to serve during the two devastating world wars of the 20th Century? In what ways did these events shape the everyday, shared ideologies which the emigrants brought to the cities of The USA?
 

Sunday, March 21, 1998: Pompeii

Other demands forced us to limit our visit to the two days that we had planned to stay in the area. We left Palinuro on a beautiful Sunday morning, heading northward to Pompeii. En route we stopped in the utterly charming town of Pisciotta. Pisciotta - another of the seacoast towns that was settled by Greek colonists - has been carrying on a campaign to advertise its charm and the possibilities of enjoying its ancient ambience. We stopped briefly to visit the nephew of the barber at University at Albany (NY). Aniello Gatto's nephew, Giuseppi D'Alessandro practices law in Pisciotta, and we enjoy the opportunity to bring "Dan's" greetings to the D'Alessandro family. We found it difficult to resist the temptation to pass this warm, sunny, spring, Sunday morning in the piazza of this attractive, medieval town!

Pompeii now stands as the most visited site in Italy - surpassing even Florence. People find themselves strongly attracted to the mysterious pull of the opportunity to see a community that was stopped in time, when Vesuvius erupted in 79 C. E. Wandering the streets from which the 20-foot layer of volcanic ash has been meticulously removed, one can readily imagine the bustling population that crowded those narrow streets, in the days immediately prior to the stupendous eruption.

Again, constrained by time limitations, we decided that we could use our time more profitably if we hired one of the certified guides who offer their services. Indeed, the guide can take a visitor directly to some of the more intriguing sites, and the guide's knowledge of the history of the area does allow one to get a reasonable overview of the town. Additionally, a guide can alert a visitor to some of the unobtrusive detail which reveals a great deal about the life of the town.

Following the guide to the places which he believes will be most interesting to most tourists, however, one would leave the town wondering how the Romans managed to rule an empire which, by Roman calculations, was about 800 years old when Vesuvius erupted. Where would they have found time, between all that party and sexual activity, to make laws, to appoint tax collectors and to organize an army, to plan and to build roads -- among other more mundane activities? But then, perhaps the guides are aware of the necessity of feeding the post-Roman stereotypes, by which Roman life is denigrated in order to enhance the image of the nation states which have evolved on the foundation of ideologies called western European civilization. Ah, if there were but world enough and time enough!!! We could return to Pompeii, armed with dozens of readable tracts, and guided by someone who would direct our attention to the human creativity revealed by fine points of the sculpture, fresco paintings, architecture, and the everyday artifacts which were used in the daily life of the inhabitants who fled the town 1900 years ago.

But, today we would like to reach our hotel in Rome before nightfall. Renée must catch an early morning flight out of da Vinci Airport, and would like one last Italian meal before attempting to get several hours of restful sleep.
 

Monday, March 21, 1998: Rome

When we awoke on the last full day of our Italian visit, Renée had already departed. Dennis and Smitty had never before visited Rome, and a visit to the Vatican City's Sistine Chapel was their highest priority. After their visit we planned an excursion which would allow the most effective tour of sites which one must include in a one-day visit to The Eternal City.

Leaving The Vatican City, we took a taxi to The Spanish Steps, not only to view this most-visited monument, but also to complete some business in the area. Tourists, especially young people, come to mingle with the lively crowds, circulating in the area. As one faces the steps, he/she can note the museum maintained as a monument to the Romantic English Poets - John Keats (1795-1821) and Percy Shelley (1792-1822)

- that adjoins the piazza at the foot of the steps. Shelley never set foot in the house. Keats died in one of its rooms. Aside from celebrating these two esteemed poets, the museum celebrates the connections between Italy and the great figures of English and American literature who reveled in their associations with Italy - Henry James, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Mary Shelley, Henry W. Longfellow, Edith Wharton, William Faulkner, John Ciardi, etc.

From the Metro stop near the Spanish Steps, one takes a short subway ride to the crossing of the two lines, and then transfers to the line traveling westward, in order to arrive quickly at the stop at the south end of The Roman Forum - the location of the remains of The Coliseum. From that spot we could walk leisurely to visit some of the most impressive sites in Rome.

After a brief viewing of the exterior and interior of , we circled The Arch of Constantine to view the carved scenes of those events regarded as the defining moments of the life of The Emperor who ended the state-sponsored persecution of Christianity. Crossing the street, we entered The Roman Forum. Another arch, the triumphal arch built to commemorate Titus's conquest of Jerusalem, is one of the first monuments to visit, after entering The Forum. Every visitor makes a point of viewing the panel on the interior of the arch that shows the triumphal disp lay of Menorah that had been taken from The Temple after Jerusalem's conquest. Walking northward, through The Forum, one can observe the remnants of ancient Rome that remain, 1700 years after the capital of the empire had been moved to Constantinople. At the north end of The Forum, at the foot of The Capitoline Hill (Campidoglio), we pass another arch, The Arch of Septimus Severus. This arch, like so many of the monuments we would like to observe, is sheathed in plastic, to protect the workers who are working to restore and preserve the arch. Skirting the northwest corner of The Forum, one climbs to The Capitoline. Unfortunately, our one-day excursion through the highlights of the center of Rome does not allow us to take time to visit the magnificent museums which crown the hill. We must be content to view the newly refurbished statue of Marcus Aurelius, in its setting on the dramatic piazza which Michelangelo Buonarotti (1475-1564) had designed in 1530s. Passing the gigantic statues of Castor and Pollux which stand at the top of the staircase leading from Piazza Venezia to The Capitoline Hill, we descend to that grand piazza which has frequently been the center of the life of Rome as the capital of reunited Italy. From there we can get a good view of the grandiose monument to the unification of modern Italy and to King Victor Emmanuel II, who served as the figurehead for the establishment of the republican monarchy which was formed in 1870. Following our maps rather closely, a short stroll takes us through a tangle of Roman streets to another spot that few tourists dare miss - Piazza Novona. On the way, one can inspect the Piazza della Minerva and the major buildings which face it - The Pantheon and the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Three aspects of these buildings attract special attention. Everyone who enters The Pantheon will search out the tomb of Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520). In the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva (Rome's only Gothic Church), one must view the Michelangelo statue The Risen Christ, as well as other superb statuary in the church. .The third aspect is the memory of a funeral -- that of one of Italy's most esteemed movie actresses; Anna Magnani. When Magnani died in 1975, the world-wide coverage of her funeral in the basilica guaranteed that movie fans of that era will see Santa Maria sopra Minerva in a special light.

Seeking a deserved rest stop upon arrival at the Piazza Navona, one can find a seat in one of the piazza's many bars, to enjoy a gelato or a spresso. From that seat, one can observe the outlines of the racecourse around which the square's building had been erected. The impressive Fountain of the Four Rivers, planned and developed by Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), Rome's premier Baroque sculptor, deserves a very close inspection. That inspection will provide the evidence for the claim that this is perhaps the most magnificent fountain in Europe.

Crossing The Tiber River, to end of our excursion at our hotel, we could satisfy ourselves that we had covered a great deal in our one-day visit to Rome. Of course, such a tour only reinforces the constant regret that we were unable to allot more time to visiting the city's points of interest. We also had reinforced the observation that the turning of every corner in Rome brings one into contact with another site that deserves extended attention. Even on our day's walk we forced ourselves to hurry past major points of interest - The Church of The Jesu, The Theater of Marcellus, The museums on The Capitoline Hill, etc.

After this day of wandering among the great monuments to human achievement which dotted our route, we were once again prepared for a very relaxing evening. Our gastronomic research took us to a restaurant in Trastevere - an area of Rome which is especially noted for its superb cuisine. Choosing to take the most relaxing mode of travel, as the 8:00 P. M. hour approached, we ordered a taxi; and we followed the tactic which we had found to work well. We asked the taxi driver to take us to a noted church which we knew to be close to the restaurant we had chosen - Santa Maria in Trastevere; a fourth century church. Traffic was heavy, and having lost sight of the living patterns of the Italians, we asked an explanation of the heavy traffic. The driver deftly realigned our perspective. "Everyone is on his way to his evening meal. Romans also eat." We found many of them eating at the restaurant we had chosen. Our research paid off. Our last dinner in Rome, even in the absence of our chief restaurant researcher, enhanced our conviction that one must think of Italian restaurants as a part of the exploration of the admirable human achievements that attract a traveler to Italy. The taxi driver, who we recalled when we were ready to leave the restaurant, was pleased to hear our lavish praise of la dolce vita Romana.

As always, we must satisfy ourselves with a self indulgent pledge to return to Rome. We did not pass The Trevi Fountain, so we did not have the opportunity to toss into it the coin which putatively guarantees one's return. Our promises to ourselves will need to serve as the most potent guarantee of our return!!

This essay was developed as a part of the effort of The Albany (NY) Area Lodge of The Sons of Italy to make available material that will develop an appreciation and understanding of The Italy-to-USA Avventura. The writers of this essay and other text found on this world wide web site claim sole responsibility for the content of their productions.

       


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. The author, Jim Mancuso died on June 10th, 2005. We maintain this site in memory of all the things that he did for us.

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