Friday, September 24, 2010

Going to hell...twice

Yesterday, we met with our landlady and realtor at the house we hope will soon be ours. The meeting went well - basically, we asked our realtor if we could have things like patio furniture, the alarm hooked up to private police, the gas tank fixed, etc., and the realtor replied no, we could not - as I understand it, our house is considered pretty desirable, so we don't get any extras. Our house is pretty desirable to us, but the other lady who looked at it first hated it, so who knows. The landlady and her husband built this house and lived in it for decades; she now picks who she wants in it, and they have to take it as it is. She cleans it up and makes repairs as needed, but we don't get to come in like all the other Americans in rentals and negotiate a whole bunch of things, like maids, gardeners, private police, patio furniture (which we desperately need!) and so on. We can live with that.

Since Nathan didn't have time to attend this meeting, ferry me back to the boondocks, return to work, then return home, we had a couple of hours to explore some nearby sites. Without prior planning, the two places we visited were both once considered entrances to Hades. How on earth we managed this coincidence, I don't know. First up was Vulcano Solfatara, an eery, volcanic crater with fumaroles (smoke) escaping all over the place.

This is a dormant area, so no threat of catastrophic eruption, but it's unique in the numerous fumaroles of sulphuric gases. There are also a couple of bubbling mud-pits. We alternated between two names for the place: Fire Swamp, since it looks like an all white version of the one in Princess Bride, and Earth's Anus - it smelled seriously bad. In fact, for any of you coming to visit who wish to visit this place, I have already determined that I will be waiting for you in the car up at the entrance. I just cannot smell that again. The Fire Swamp name really stuck though once we crossed paths with a couple on a little tour. Their guide lit up a torch and started waving it across the ground. The fire sucks out oxygen, which then causes more fumaroles to steam up. We walked across this area just after the tour guide finished and the ground was still burning hot in some places and soft from the steam. I kept imagining steam shooting up as I stepped on a patch and then a pit of boiling mud opening up. Hell, indeed.
Tour Guide in the Fire Swamp

Bubbling Mud Pit, OR...Pit of Despair

We also visited Lago d'Averno, which is just a short walk from our (hopefully ours) house. We have two lakes and the sea (the Tyrrhenian, not the Mediterranean, is our shoreline) just a short walk away. Lago d'Averno has a walking path that goes all around it, about 1.5 miles total, and several restaurants line the shore. The restaurants are concentrated on one quarter, though, leaving the rest to vineyards, ducks (and duck blinds - guess hunting is big on this little lake), and a couple of ruins. Odysseus entered the Underworld from here as did Aeneus in the poet Virgil's writings. The Temple of Apollo is thought to have once been a thermal bath area and had a domed roof rivaling that of the Pantheon in Rome. In 37 B.C., Agrippus (the Roman General) turned this lake into an important naval port, linking it to Lago Lucrino (right by our house) and the sea with canals. He also built the first, major road tunnel that allowed chariots to travel to and from nearby Cumae - it was just over half a mile long. That tunnel was in use up until the 1940s! Yet another interesting tidbit is that just two months ago, police seized the lake from it's owner, who is accused of being a mafia frontman. News reports state that he allegedly purchased it on behalf of a former godfather Giussepe Setola. Setola was featured in the book, Gommorah, a bestseller about the Camorra (mafia) here in Campania (the region of Naples and surrounds). I haven't read this book yet, so I hope our library on base has it in stock.

And finally, Sibyl's Grotto is also located on the shore of Lago d'Averno (although other locations have also been suggested). Sibyl's were legendary ancient prophetesses, and this one, the Cumaean Sibyl, was the most famous among Romans. She first appears in writings from 500 BC. She is later featured in Virgil's Aenid, and also makes an appearance on the Sistine Chapel, painted in among Old Testament Prophets. This is due to the Middle Age belief that one of her prophecies foretold the coming of a saviour, perhaps because Emporer Constantine interpreted one of the written Syballine Oracles as holding an acrostic in which initials from verses spelled out "Jesus Christ Son of God Saviour Cross." The Cumaean Sybil lived 1000 years due to a deal with Apollo, but because she refused to sleep with him, he granted her only a long life, not youth. Sybil aged the entire time, so by the end, only her voice remained. Or so goes the legend. My favorite reference is in Virgil's poem - Sybil is a guide to the Underworld, which is entered through Lago d'Averno (Avernus):

Trojan, Anchises' son, the descent of Avernus is easy.
All night long, all day, the doors of Hades stand open.
But to retrace the path, to come up to the sweet air of heaven,
That is labor indeed.
(Aeneid 6.10.)

We did not get to view Sibyl's Grotto. At the mouth of the path up to it were still smoking, fire remains. We passed those and continued up the path, to find the same thing. At the third fire, we turned a corner and glimpsed a man with a loose dog hanging about. Considering we were heading into a tunnel with a man who seemed to like to enjoy lighting fires within 10 feet from one another (creeeeeepy!), we elected to turn on our heels and quickly exit back to the lake path. The lake is a nice walk from our house, and will be a good place to walk Scully, so we'll save it for another day.

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