60 Years Ago Today

Monday, 30 June 1952:

I had a good continental breakfast with the seething masses of people already up early. There were all kinds of vehicles. We proceeded to an ancient church built in 1600 a.d. that was restored. It had 54 silver statues with each one representing a saint. Our guide told us about the parade and feast day with different floats sent from each church. We found a sculpture in silver created in 1695 a.d. that weighed 45,000 pounds. It was St. Michael with a dragon. A large and ancient baptismal font was used to baptize by immersion. We passed through a section of the city that had been attacked during World War II and people were living among the ruins.

We got off on the wrong track to Mount Vesuvius and ended down at the Mediterranean Sea. We stopped traffic getting the bus turned around. And I observed a church with two beautiful yellow and green domes. There were purple frustration flowers creeping over the walls of the ruins and cactus plants in the courtyard. Then we squeezed by an overflowing wagon load of baskets. I noticed the dark rich volcanic soil. No matter how often it erupted, the Italian people refused to abandon the city.

Orchards and vineyards lined the road in Vesuvius. Italians had plenty of fruits and orchards, but lacked minerals. Then Andre had another tight squeeze past a small vehicle on a one way street. Some little kids ran to watch us and raised their hula hoops as we passed. The curves were too sharp for our long bus, but once again Andre did a super job. I viewed a man in the street without shoes.

At last a panoramic view of Naples, the valley, and the Mediterranean as we climbed higher and higher. Naples had a population of 1,600,000. By the side of the road there were little pepper fields. We passed a man and his family taking fruit to the market by wagon.

Again we had trouble with the curves. Andre really earned his money today. Lava flows had taken over some of the orchards here. Various kinds of vegetation were popping up everywhere since Mount Vesuvius had last erupted. This included wild grass and flowers. There were still some strips of fruit trees higher up in some spots between the lava flow.

The bus engine heated up with its 4000 ton load. We made it around the curves without having to back up. We stopped at the Eremo Restaurant and Hotel to pick up our guide and to gain the privilege of going on a private road for 300 lire apiece.

With our finances collected, the road turned out to be rather narrow and treacherous. We parked the bus and took to our feet, and me in Voodoo sandals, through loose lava, slate and dust. The road went inside the original crater that had destroyed Pompeii. A small crater had fallen into the larger crater in 1944.

At the top of the huge new crater it was still smoking in one section. Herr Watkins had been here nine days before the last eruption in 1944 and said the landscape had completely changed since then. He had gone clear to the top in a funicular which was destroyed in a 1944 eruption. There had been 33 previous eruptions recorded on Mount Vesuvius.

We climbed for about 30 minutes after leaving the bus. Then we reached a spectacular view of Naples, Mediterranean Sea, and countryside. It was from one side of the top to the yawning mouth of the other side of the crater. My sandals and rocks made even better friends with each other on the way down. The soles of both feet and sandals were walking on rocks. They came in from both the front and back of my sandals. There was only one advantage, no dirty socks.An Italian trail repairman at the bottom gave me a pretty rock with gold colored flecks as a medal of valor for my bravery in hiking Vesuvius in my sandals.

Andre did a good job turning the bus around on a really narrow road while we were gone. Going down was even more hair-raising than going up. Andre’s brow was furrowed from the strain when a huge rock got lodged between the left rear dual tires. It felt like riding on the rim and a square rim at that! We couldn’t stop to remove it until we got farther down.

While Andre maneuvered our big unwieldy long bus around one sharp turn after another we ate lunch. Andre backed up on many of the curves to make it around them. Finally, we found a level spot and stopped to remove the rock. Italian truck workers stopped to help Andre remove it. They had to partly remove the outside tire to get rid of the huge rock.

All of us relaxed again when we reached the foothills. We passed a wagon load of barrels that were hanging out on all sides of the truck. After crossing a railroad track, we made a detour to visit a cameo factory. I caught sight of little kids asking for cigarettes and a tiny shoeshine boy at the side of road who was busy at work.

What a madhouse the cameo factory turned out to be when we arrived! First I was busy taking pictures of Andre, the bus and purple frustrations. I missed seeing how the cameos were made. However, I got a pretty good explanation from the other kids afterwards.

In any case I didn’t miss going into the shops. There were so many beautiful cameos. I looked and looked and was tempted and tempted. But at the ninth hour I settled on a beautiful cameo ring set in gold for Lois. I was almost the last one on the bus.

Now we’re off for Sorrento. The view from the bus window en route was superb or more so than heretofore. Mount Vesuvius and the Island of Capri looked like thick purple mists on opposite horizons. The road curved high above the edge of the Mediterranean Sea and olive trees terraced from the sea edge to the roadside. I tried to pick out our hotel as Sorrento buildings came into view across a strip of the Mediterranean Sea. There were plumed horses pulling buggies through the streets.

We arrived at Hotel La Terrazza and the grounds were like an estate. Alice said she thought it used to be someone’s pensione. We went exploring while the rooms were being assigned. There was a terrace overlooking the sea with beautiful flowers. I wandered down tons of steps to the private beach below.

First thing on the docket for me was a dip in the Mediterranean Sea. It cost 100 lire and I was the first one in. What fun I had riding the waves! I played water ball and talked to Puerto Rican girls who knew the kids on the Sibijak. I found a warm shower on the beach, my bath for today.

Afterwards there was a long trek up just like climbing the steps of Notre Dame.
We dressed for dinner on the terrace. We had sliced bread, water, soup with a little macaroni, hamburger with a cheese topping, and cheese rolled in pepper skins. The meal was 300 lire and dessert was a potato-like ice cream or pastry cake fruit.

Then we went downstairs to the square called the Bagalella. A boy from the hotel showed us the way to the native Tarantella dances. This traditional Italian folk dance had a fast upbeat tempo and used tambourines like castanets. There were beautiful costumes, a blues singer, and musicians wearing black and white striped shirts.

Another group of American girls were there from Roanoke, Virginia. They were really dressed up. I sat by a man and his wife and daughter from Buenos Aires, Argentina. He pronounced thousand as Susan. Alicia talked to the daughter and a small Italian man asked me to dance. He was a good dancer and smooth, but so short.

We sat down to talk and he asked me what “ice block” meant. He had a letter from a girl signed “ice block.” I tried to explain. Then another character came over. I decided it was time to bid them adieu before things got involved. They both had spoken pretty good English though.
On the way to the hotel one of them followed us on a motorbike and offered to give us a ride. I said okay if the two of us could come. Eloise hung tightly to him and I to her for a hair-raising ride to the pier. We rounded the curves laying on one side of the motorbike. We climbed up on the pier and talked for a few minutes.

Then another bike roared up the hill. It sure looked liked a “put up job.” He asked permission to introduce us. I said “You can introduce us but that’s all.” The second bike left and I decided that we best get out of there. No! He said he’d take us home in a few minutes.

But before a few minutes were up the other bike came back. Then the other guy came up and talked to us. We convinced both of the bikers that we don’t smoke or drink and must get back to the hotel. We insisted on going back together, but they swore so sincerely to take us back to the hotel that we relented. We arrived at the door safe and sound, but the manager complained about the noise of the motorcycles.

It was a gorgeous view from our room. However, there was no water stopper in the tub which made taking a bath challenging. Margaret, Helen, Alicia and I took our mattresses out on the terrace to sleep under the stars.


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