Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Around Our House

I think I used up all of my energy in our first two months here. A friend invited me to her house for dinner last night, and while we were discussing living in Italy, I realized that we've now lived in our house for two weeks. In that time, my excursions to explore our neighborhood have consisted of three dinners out (including the Chinese restaurant!), one short drive to a little beach area called Capo Miseno, and a visit to the Baia Archeological Park, which I did on Sunday. That's it. I have not gone out for gelato (horror of horrors), I have not walked around the nearby lake, I have not gone to the supermercato (grocery store), I have not walked around the shopping area in the next village over, I have not explored any of the great ruins we have within a 5-10 minute drive from our house, other than my Sunday excursion. It's shameful, really. But I wanted to write just a little about our area.

We live in the area of Campi Flegrei (in English, called the Phlegraean Fields). It's home to thousand years old ruins, volcanic craters, a place where myths were born and the Sybils offered up their oracles. Amazing wines grow on it's hills, and those hills abound with Greek and Roman ruins, the oldest of which pre-dates Christ by about five more centuries. We don't really live in a village. I call it a roundabout (a traffic circle) because really, we're located in between two smart looking, seaside villages. Our little roundabout hosts a gelateria, a newspaper stand, a salumeria (fancy 7-11), macelleria (butcher), tabacchi (guess what that is), and several restaurants. Oh, and my favorite, a "beauty farm." The roundabout and these lovely places are on a small lake which was once a hotspot among the wealthy Romans. Many of their villas are either long gone or under the sea...which leads to some disturbing information. We live on the slopes of a place called Monte Nuovo (new mountain), so called because the entire mountain appeared in one week in 1538! This is not a joke. A volcano erupted, and in the ensuing aftermath, this mountain was formed. Nathan finds it "cool" that witnesses actually watched a mountain form 500 years ago; I find it terrifying. Also nearby is what I hope will become a favorite: Terme Stufe di Nerone. Thermal baths. In the 1960s, two brothers re-discovered thermal baths and grottos located among some Roman ruins on land they inherited from their mother. They created a modern complex to "take the waters," have massages, etc. I look forward to trying it out!

The Archeological Park of Baia is a lovely area with lots of ruins to explore. In places, columns and pedastals are just sort of toppled over. One of my favorite things was the most unassuming - as I walked down a dirt path and found about five rows of mosaic tiles poking up from the dirt, the remains of an old floor taking its last gasp before time covers it completely. One of the men working at the site was generous enough to share tidbits of info with me, which increased my enjoyment of the site immensely. Especially because we conversed in Italian. His sentences were long and fluid, while mine were punctuated with lots of pauses and the vocabulary of a two year old, but still, it's progress. He showed me a little area I would have completely missed, which is an itty, bitty room that used to be a sauna. A culvert in the floor allowed the steaming water to pass through, and the ceiling still had the carvings of the Romans decorating it.

There is also a huge, domed structure, called a temple, but what I've learned is that a few hundred years back, when lots of these sorts of things were "found," folks labeled anything they weren't sure about a temple. Nowadays, there are a few more ideas about the varying purposes of structures, but the temple names have stuck. So the Temple of Mercury is built just as the Pantheon in Rome was built (Thomas Jefferson based his design of UVA's Rotunda on the Pantheon), only this one in Baia was built 100 years earlier. It is eerie to visit because you enter through a short, stone tunnel, and step out onto a metal walkway. After you've stepped out, you realize there is water about 2 inches below this metal walkway - I'm a child of the 70s/80s, so I just can't help but say this - it was a "Goonies" moment. As with so many fascinating ruins here, they are edged with modern (sort of) buildings edging them. What sorts of treasures and history lie beneath these apartment buildings and houses?

Can you make out the remains of the frescoes?

1 comment:

  1. Steph, don't sweat the slow down in exploration! You're settling into life in Italy and you'll be there THREE YEARS! Your curiosity and joi de vivre will take you where it will in good time - no sense dragging guilt into it ;-)