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Hell On Earth

July 30, 2011

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.

B and E

July 29, 2011

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.

My Turtle Theory

June 17, 2011

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…

Italian Mentality and Southern Hospitality

December 14, 2010

Italy is a collective society; the history of Italian Government has created an involuntary need for interdependence, having priority over individual desires. Beginning with the Romans, who set the standards for western civilizations governmental rule, Italian society has developed through the split of the Napoleonic Era between the Kingdoms of France and Italy, the Fascist era of Mussolini, and finally took shape in 1946, becoming a democratic republic. The citizens of Italy look out for number one, feign interest in society, and have thick skin. Coming from a history of the government evolving from bits and pieces, into a unified state, the Italian way of thinking can easily become understood.

Italians have a strong sense of right and wrong; not to say the rules aren’t bent, but more that Italians know how and when to bend them. Image is of great importance in society, peers are constantly watching each others every move; what clothes are worn, what car is driven, hair style, and especially what words are spoken. For each and every event during the day, there is a designated time; meals are consumed at the same hours, naps and bed times are specified by some unwritten rule. Read more…

Last Thoughts

October 18, 2010

My time here in Southern Italy has finally come to an end. Due to technological issues, I have not been able to share many of my recent adventures, which I will have to update in the future.

I would like to thank first my teammates (roommates), for there would be no story and no fun without them; Our president, because there would be no teammates without him; the fans in Caserta for their support; the friends we have made throughout the year, and our personal tour guide Erasmo (and his wonderful, tolerating wife Silvia, who listens to each and every lecture he gives…). I have found Caserta (and Napoli) to be hospitable, full of character, and a wonderful place to spend 8 months.

In five short years, I learned more about European history than I ever thought possible, enhanced my gastronomical taste in cuisine and wine, learned the Italian language on an advanced level, and most importantly submerged myself in a completely foreign culture and came away loving it.

Embracing the Italian method of living in the moment, I can not say whether or not I will return. A part of me will always remain in this country, especially the South. I end with a quote, from the first Italian film I recently viewed in theatres, Benvenuti al Sud:

“Quando vieni al Sud piangi due volte, sia quando arrivi, sia quando te ne vai.”

(When you come to the South, you cry twice: once when you arrive and once when you leave.)

Oh, and we won the championship for the second consecutive year…

 

Vesuvius

September 23, 2010

The lower regions of Italy contain the most active, dormant, and extinct volcanic activity within all of mainland Europe. In the southern regions of Italy, the 3 active volcanoes (which have erupted within the last hundred years) Etna, Stromboli, and Monte Vesuvio, are waiting for the next opportunity to erupt once again in Sicilia and the Campania region. Mount Vesuvius is the most dangerous of the three, due to its reputation for explosive eruptions and the mere 3,000,000 population living in the vicinity.

Vesuvius did the most damage in 79 AD, destroying Pompeii and Herculaneum. Pompeii was a city full of debauchery; the town was home to many brothels, and lewd sexual acts in public areas were common. According to Neapolitan legend, Vesuvius erupted because of God’s will to destroy and cleanse the city; to rid this particular Roman settlement from evil. Legend or not, Vesuvius buried both cities completely, only to be accidentally re-discovered in the late 16th century. Read more…

Underground Naples

September 20, 2010

Italy is an active volcanic country; volcanic activity is present from Tuscany through Sicily. The volcanic arc in the Campania region contains many active, dormant, and extinct volcanoes. Geothermal activity from Mount Vesuvius, the active volcano 5 miles east of Napoli, created a yellow sandstone called tufo; soft enough to extract, yet durable enough to be considered as building material.

In the 8th century B.C., the Greeks established Neopolis (meaning new city) on the Bay of Naples. Inhabitants carved grottoes and shelters into the tufo stone, creating the first residences of Napoli. The Greeks later allied with the Romans in defending the new territory, and further expanded Naples; extracting tufo stone from the earth, and building on top of the ancient caves; creating the framework for the city we are familiar with today.

The stone extraction and pre-existing caverns created an idea of underground aqueducts, to meet the demands of an increase in population. Early Romans engineered a system of underground reservoirs and sewers, using the existing tunnels and aqueducts carved by the ancient Greeks, (reaching as far as Avellino 60 kilometers away) bringing fresh water to residences within the bay area. These underground aqueducts were maintained until the late 19th century, when cholera infected the aqueducts, and closed down operation of the underground water system.

During World War II, Napoli was the most bombed city in the country of Italy. The city constructed access points, with sets of stairs leading deep below the city surface, and covered up old wells, using the designated space as air-raid shelters. New caverns and passageways were carved for soldiers and residents to use as refuge, adding to the complexity of the underground world. Read more…

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