Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Winter Day at the Beach

Last weekend, we had gorgeous weather with clear, blue skies and warm temperatures. Thinking it would be nice to take Scully on a walk on the beach, we soon changed our destination from our small, local beach to the wide expanse of sand just over the hill from us. We had yet to visit this beach, but we've taken good looks at it from up on high, while visiting the ancient ruins of the Cuma settlement. A friend who takes her dog there gave us directions, and with Scully full of excitement in the back of the car, we headed out. After a few wrong turns, expected, we found a road we thought could lead to the beach (our directions included "turn down the unmarked, dirt road") and voila. The unmarked dirt road is one car wide, full of ruts, huge pits, water, and has broken, barb wire fencing falling into it, but it does parallel the Cuma hill, which has some really cool caves that are only visible from the beach. This beach is unlike almost all other beaches in the area. There are no "clubs" with parking and fancy structures and beach beds, the beaches are wide with light colored sand rather than volcanic sand, and edging up to the sand is all vegetation, not a human structure in sight. Getting out of the car, I almost doubled over in horror at the smell. Stink is not even the word for it. Horrible, putrid, icky! There is a sewage outlet at this beach, and supposedly, the sewage is treated before it's dumped. But this is Naples. Now I'm not saying the sewage water wasn't treated, but I am saying the place smelled like a public toilet that hasn't been cleaned in a few months...or years. But Scully was just so excited, so we decided to at least let him run on the beach. That is until we actually stepped onto the beach and saw the trash covering it. My picture above doesn't really capture just how much trash was present. Tiny pieces of litter were everywhere in addition to the big stuff, like metal drums, cargo ship sized boat fenders, even a refrigerator. There was so much trash we decided to keep Scully leashed in fear of him cutting up his feet. Between the smell and the trash, we didn't last long. Thankfully, the same friends who gave us directions also recommended a walk in the forest.

Heading back to a turn-off road, we followed a narrow, dirt path that opened onto a small parking lot and a walking trail. We could hear the roar of the sea, but smelled only fresh air while surrounded by trees. Scully even found an old temple to play on (these are the remains of a Temple of Isis, built in the 1st century B.C. and in use until around 400-500 A.D.). We may give that beach another try at a later date, or we may just skip it and head to the lovely walking trail. I love to think about how we're walking the coastline where the first settlers of mainland Italy landed and began creating a new city that, 3000 years late, is part of the densest city in Europe.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Santa's a Witch!

Not really. But he is an old, wrinkly woman who carries a broom and has a hooked nose. Tonight is the night that La Befana visits children and leaves them treats here in Italy. There are several different stories as to her origins. One story is that the wise men got lost while trying to find the Baby Jesus, so they stopped at an old woman's house to ask for directions. She put them up for night, but declined their invitation to come with them due to her household chore list (boy, does that sound familiar!). Befana regretted this decision, so she followed after the Wise Men, giving treats to little children as bribes for them to help her find the Baby Jesus. She still hasn't found Him, so to this day, Befana visits children and gives them treats in search of the Babe (or, she gives each child treats in hope that he/she is the Babe). Another story is that the Befana legend has come down from a pagan goddess of Roman times who gave gifts to celebrate the new year. OR, the ancient Romans visited an old crone at the winter solstice to have their fortunes told, and Befana is the modern day old crone who gives gifts instead of fortunes. And why the broom? Some say she rides her broom through the air, some say she needs the broom to clean up the soot after coming down the chimney, and yet another explanation is that cleanliness is so important to her that upon seeing the Star of Bethlehem in the sky, she set off to find the Baby and help the Mother with her cleaning. As far as her name goes, one theory is based on the Italian word for epiphany - Epifania. Befana is a play on Epifania...maybe. One Italian town even sets up a post office where children can mail letters to Befana (but she lives here in Italy, not in the North Pole). Santa may like milk and cookies, but wine and biscotti are Befana's preferred treats. And by the way, bad little children do indeed get lumps of coal in their stockings from Befana.