A few years ago, I spent the time between seasons in America working at a bookstore, which sadly does not exist anymore. There was no job I’ve ever enjoyed so much; maybe it was the eclectic group of colleagues that surrounded me, or the warm feeling of being immersed in so much knowledge. Either way, I never once dreaded the early morning drive. There were instances when I would brave the Berkshire Hills covered in vast amounts of sleet and snow in my front wheel-drive car, to attend work. The job was simple but necessary, the brunt of my responsibilities included managing merchandise inventory and shipments, but occasionally would require my time at the information desk, assisting customers.
In between the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, a father and his two younger children, a boy and girl around the age of 3, were browsing through a sea of books within an ear shot of me. The little boy was walking close to his father, when he came across a dollar on the floor. The boy smiled, picked up the dollar, and held it up for his father to see.
The father smiled back and said, “good job, but someone is probably looking for that. Give the dollar to the lady over there in case someone wants to claim it”. Without thinking, the boy turned and walked towards me, looked me dead in the eye and reached up as high as he could to relinquish his treasure. I smiled, said ‘thank you’, and the little boy walked back to his father. Proud, the father gave his son a high-five, and the family continued shopping.
I laughed and replayed the scene over in my head, recalling the lesson this man taught his young children with this small random act of kindness. I remember thinking, no matter how many negative or bad encounters that may occur, there are always some good (no matter how small) to keep the world balanced. To this day, I carry the third of that dollar with me wherever I go, and glance at it just in case I need a reminder.
Last Sunday, Jack Johnson concluded his 2011 ‘To The Sea‘ tour in Europe. Jack, known from SNL funnyman Andy Samberg’s impersonation on the Mellow Show, performs pop/rock music, at a slow pace. Also referred to surf-rock, this ex pro surfer’s music can calm anyone into a peaceful lull, his most famous songs being; Banana Pancakes, Flake, Taylor, and Good People.
Jack has created such a following in the United States, it has become a lifestyle; attitude, apparel, vernacular, and all. Most followers come from beach towns, would rather wear a pair of board shorts and sandals than a tuxedo, and prefer a lazy day of laying on the beach, mixed with a little surfing. Read more…
According to ancient Greek mythology, Hephaestus, the Greek God of Fire, found home in the Greek settlement of Dikaiarchia, in the bay of Naples. After the Romans ousted the Greeks, Hephaestus became Vulcan and his home, the entrance to hell.
As dramatically as possible, steam and fumes of the underworld carry over a rocky barren stretch of the entrance to the path of the underworld. Roman Christians who wished to enter the gates of heaven, began their journey from the fields of fire, enduring excessive heat and putrid smells emitting from the ground, through the settlement of Cumae, leading finally to the grottoes of the entrance to Hades.
In modern times, the starting point leading those on the path to hell is actually the volcanic crater of Solfatara¹; created by the scientific act of bradyseism – the gradual uplift or decent of the earths surface due to the emptying or filling of magma chambers, or hydrothermal activity below. The hell-like ambiance is created from fumaroles²; jets of sulphorous vapor, carbon dioxide, and baths of boiling mud. Created over 4000 years ago by a volcanic eruption underneath, the volcano remains dormant to this day, the last eruption occurring in 1198.
Upon entering the surface of the crater, the scenery resembles Mars; a open stretch of dry land with bumps on the surface for hills, fuming holes, and little vegetation. One of the first things that can be seen is a Fangaia, or mud bath. Fumaroles and spa water below the earth’s surface create a giant bed of natural mud, in a rolling boil of 140º C (284º F), once used as a medicinal remedy for rheumatism.
After walking through a lumpy dirt field with neon green holes spitting small vaporous fumes, visitors make their way to the Bocca Grande, the largest fumarole which exhibits high temperature vaporous steam at 150º C (302º F), and red arsenic sulfur crystals. Visitors can walk directly up to an active fumarole and touch it, except the heat is overbearing; standing close to the opening of the earth was enough to partially melt my flip-flops.
After exploring the giant opening in the earth’s crust, visitors come across an oven-like structure, built into the side of a hill. Upon closer examination, sulfurous steam excretes from two different holes in the structure. The Stufe Antiche, with two separate openings appropriately named Purgatory and Hell, was once a sauna, and used for the inhalation of sulfurous vapors, an old medical practice which cured respiratory illnesses.
Not every day is someone able to view steam shooting from the ground without being alarmed, even though very few tourists hung around at the main attraction. For those interested in science, volcanoes, or strange places; this is a perfect day trip from Napoli. There is also a campground on the western side of the crater, for the adventurous individuals whom enjoy the smell of sulfur. If the sulfur stench isn’t something you are into, go for the day trip.
¹ Meaning derives from Latin – Sulpha Terra – Land of Sulphur
² An opening in the earth’s crust that emits steam and gasses
* Solfatara lies in the Phlegraean Fields; a 13 kilometer-wide stretch of volcanic craters, west of Napoli. Included within this mass of volcanic craters is the town of Dikaiarchia, founded by the Greeks in 530 B.C., known today as Pozzuoli.
Life in Caserta and surrounding towns, can be different from the affluent suburbs of the north; the lack of job availability and overall personal wealth creates a welcoming environment for criminal activity. Wooden or metal shutters found on every window and door, prevent potential thieves from entering and claiming the possessions inside. No matter what the preventative measure, criminals adapt to their environment, and creatively find ways to break the law.
Most thieves decide on a target by gauging the level of difficulty, theft crimes must be completed quickly; the simpler it is to grab and run, the higher chance something will be stolen. If a thief looks inside a car, finds a GPS on the windshield and iPod on the passenger seat, without thinking they break into the vehicle. If these items are hidden away under the seat or in the glove box, the chances of a robbery declines significantly.
A few weeks ago, in a parking lot outside a salsa club while looking for a place to park, the car I was driving was stopped by a man dressed in black holding out one finger pointed upwards to the sky, as he mouthed un attimo (one moment). As our car idled with the man in black impeding any movement forward, 3 other men dressed in black quickly hopped out of a car and spread out to three cars parked simultaneously next to each other. Quickly, each man busted out a passenger window, took what was inside, and slithered back into the car. As soon as all three thieves were in the car safely, the man holding up our car jumped in the driver seat and sped away. All of this happened in less than a minute.
As a whole, Italy is safe, appearing to have a significantly less occurrence of violent crime than in the United States. The fist thing many are unknowingly afraid of is the Mafia or Camorra – the mafia in the Naples area – but fail to realize the only people that fall into trouble with this group are the kind that are in contact with them. The Mafia / Camorra does not waste time committing random crimes.
In Napoli, Grimy street children initiate nonsensical conversation as pick-pockets locate and lift currency, cameras, and cell phones. Thieves on scooters drive by and grab the bags of pedestrians, or reach into cars with the windows down and pull bags out. As far as strong armed robbery, some have found themselves looking down the barrel of a handgun, with the assailant screaming for the expensive watch on their wrist; a recent news report from May relayed a story of a Puerto Rican man beaten to death for his Rolex. Car break-ins occur very often for a cd player, GPS, loose change, or to smash up a nice looking car for fun (this happened quite often to one of our Navy friends – he had a BMW).
Napoli is a wonderful place, each time being there, I have had a positive experience. It would be ignorant for me to say crime is non-existent or the city is peaceful, but I believe the best way to enjoy Napoli and stay safe is to be aware of your surroundings, and leave the Rolex or diamonds at home.
The average visitor can become overwhelmed with the vast beauty and eccentric social structure of this wonderful country we call Italy. Everything is beautiful; from the time spent carefully crafting each dish in a meal, to the lavish churches, and even the people. The locals are wonderfully animated and passionate, and gesticulate more than any other group of people in the world.
Groups of people can be classified into five separate categories: old, middle-aged, contemporary, teenagers, and children. I’ve never seen so many old people in one place at a time; none of which are over 5 feet tall. Come to think of it, throughout each category named, I’ve rarely seen anyone over the height of 5’7″, male or female. Many people always ask me the same question, “why are Italians so small?”. As if I were to know the real reason why, my answer is always the same: the turtle theory. Read more…
After our team captured the second consecutive league championship last year, I hopped the next plane and headed back to the good old US of A. Making the decision to hang up the cleats for the (fifth) final time, I decided to pursue other interests. I immediately began coaching.
As a faithful employee of Frozen Ropes in Danbury, Conn., I began the fall as an instructor; torturing athletes with strength and conditioning drills, giving pitching and batting lessons, managing and coordinating the plans for a start up summer softball program, and handling the day-to-day operations of the business. Along with the responsibilities at the training center, I was offered and accepted the head coaching position at Ridgefield High School. Read more…
I have to admit, New Years has never been a favorite holiday. Either due to the lack of enthusiasm for abrupt change; the numerical change in year takes at least 2 or 3 weeks to get used to, or because of the nostalgic feelings for another good year that quickly passed by. Maybe, the spirit of change; in scenery, language, and accent; would help me appreciate the holiday a little further. Only a short 4 hour drive from Milan, is the Côte d’Azur (French Riviera); including Nice, Saint-Tropez, and Antibes, among others. A little over an hour drive on the motorway from the Italian border, is the well-known Riviera town of Cannes.
Arriving on New Years Eve, the air blew in a mild chill, closely resembling a September autumn night. Making my way through the narrow, cobblestone paths of the historic city, up the slight grade of le suquet hill, eventually led to an old building in a small alley. Opening the wide, 5’8″ tall wooden door, resembling a moat drawbridge, I made my way up one flight of stairs to another door which from the outside, appeared to be a storage closet. Another key turned, and as I pulled down the knob and swung the wooden door inside, behind the small closet door was actually a small slice of luxury. The apartment was equipped with a queen size bed in a small bedroom, a rainfall shower, hardwood floors, a leather couch which doubled into a futon, a cordless phone with the capability to call any country in the world, wireless internet, a range and stove, fridge, French satellite TV, and of course, a bottle of champagne. Read more…