|Reaching Italy, I finally had a chance to relax
a little. Perhaps it was due to the vino
rosso (this from the sedimentary plains of Asti) or the shock of RED
oranges. I took an overnight ferry from Genova to Palermo on
the Island of Sicilia after meeting my first Italian
artist in the supermarket at the Genova port.
Palermo has a very large number of damaged and apparently abandoned cars and the most interesting thing that I saw was a protest of some type that had 2 bus routes and their intersecting streets completely blocked and the police apparently helpless to deal with the matter. I saw my first fish market that was chopping up a swordfish, which is not just a game fish here.
I headed for Agrigento on the south coast. There are interesting ruins here and a fine temple. There was another temple here that is referred to as the 8th wonder of the world (it definitely has more left of it than the 7th wonder of the world that I saw in Turkey although much of it at the site is reconstructed like this reclining giant and the column here).
From Agrigento I wandered backroads to a fabulous hunting lodge built for an obviously important Roman near Piazza Armerina in the center of Silicia. The mosaics are preserved under glass and gives a rough estimate of just how large this lodge was. It was also comfortable since there was an elaborate heating system and a mosaic decorated Roman communal bathroom. The mosaics cover the floors of all the rooms and are very well preserved. This small portion from a very large room show the return from a hunt, the bbq, and the folks enjoying the feast. I particularly liked the boss(?) doing the bbqing. There are some pretty provocative mosaics that indicate that the Romans were not only hunting when they were here. This room was full of bikini clad young ladies, giving evidence that the bikini definitely did not originate in California!
I then went on to Syracusa which not only gave Athens a run for dominating the Greek scene but defeated the Athenians who came to show Syracusa who was the boss. The invaders ended up working in the quarries! One portion of the quarry has what they call an ear shape and it does have unique sound amplification characteristics, but to me it looks like a meandering cave that has been excavated downward. It even looks like you can see the positions of the old stairsteps (supported by posts stuck into the rock?) up to the level of excavation. These ruins have both a Greek amphitheater and a Roman arena almost side by side and allow contemplation of the variations in what they were interested in viewing. Later buildings like this church in the old city simply incorporated the older columns into the more recent structure. The city also has a very nice museum on papyrus that happens to grow here (apparently donated to one of the rulers of Syracusa by Egyptians). The museum addresses the growing, harvesting, preparation, and use of the plant in history.
From Syracusa, I moved to Catania to explore Mt. Etna that had reportedly been erupting several days before. From near my campsite that evening it was barely visible in the distance. The next morning it was better. With two couples from Germany that I met in the campground, we headed for the summit. As we climbed the mountain an eruption started and continued for quite a while as we drove upward. I violated my sense that I don't like being around volcanoes like this before they erupt and this view of the volcano between the spires of the church in Belpasso gave me thoughts of my visit to St. Pierre in Martinique. We finally reached the gondola that took us up closer to the summit. From the end of the gondola, buses took us up to the observatory close to the summit. We then had to climb the rest of the way (note the "smoke ring") to get our best view of the crater that changed very quickly because of the high winds. We actually saw a very small eruption and did see red lava bubbling from the crater in the foreground. The observatory demonstrated the capabilities of the eruptions and near the end of the bus ride a date on the lava showed just how recently the ground we were standing on was created (this was April 1st and hopefully not an April Fool's joke). As we passed the Rifugio Sapienza, we were all happy that we didn't end up this way! We got off the mountain and enjoyed wonderful dinner and a bottle of Basalto from grapes grown on the slopes of Etna.
On July 17, 2001 a large flank eruption occurred and by July 31, 2001, the gondola station and the Rifugio Sapienza with the Etna Burger were being threatened by the lava flows. Updates on the Etna eruption can be found on Boris Behncke's wonderful ITALY'S VOLCANOES, THE CRADLE OF VOLCANOLOGY website.
and the clear transformation from crystalline basalt to the glassy rind around it.
That evening, from my campground in Taormina the view was supposed to be directly toward Etna so I set up my tent with the door in the right direction, but it was obscured in the cloud and haze. Turns out that as I was pitching my tent I had noticed all this black ash accumulating on it and in my hair. I thought it might be coming from the road above, but other campers assured me that it had been happening all day here down wind of Etna(thoughts of Pompeii ran through my head). The view at night of the lights on the shore were pretty, but no flowing lava was to be seen. so I had sampled some local wine that had the same shoreline on the label (all in the name of research folks!). Finally the morning view of Etna was pretty good.
From Etna, I headed from the Aeolian Islands to see Volcano (yes, the one which gives the name to the phenomena), explore the island of Lipari and hopefully get to Stromboli (which has been active for so long that sailors referred to it as the lighthouse of the Med. Lipari has extensive pumice deposits that are still being mined, large masses of obsidian (this piece incorporated into a shrine) and some very interesting obsidian and pumice flows, with some surface features that have preserved very thin strands of glass, like Peles' hair found in Hawaii on the surface. Since the weather turned bad and no boats were going to Stromboli I went around the island again, this time picking up some more German tourists and giving them the geologic tour. They bought the Messina beer from Sicily....I had been concentrating so hard on the local vino rossos, like this one from the volcanic island in the background with the same name. Actually I got to see what is believed to be the oldest spa in the world, that is built like a Minoan funeral urns and has some microscopic terraces (like those in Pamukkule...remember?) formed from the warm water trickle entering the spa.
When it was obvious that the only way to see Stromboli was to spend 4 days on it, I opted to go back to Sicily, head for Messina and the mainland. I did get some nice views of Volcano and beautifully symmetrical Stromboli as we sailed away.
Violating my principle of not driving on the Autostratas, I was rapidly headed for the Naples area, when about noon, I saw a sign for Serra San Bruno...(important point here, I spent most of my school days in San Bruno, California)...so me thinks...maybe I can find some lunch here and see if there is some connection and just who this Saint Bruno was. When I got to the city it was closed up and there was no lunch to be found, but the city had a fascinating main street where even the gutter drains were granite and there were granite churches. There were also extraordinary granite doorways and sculptures on them, as well as a wide variety of granite balcony supports. I was thinking that I must be, here in Calabria, very close to the core basement rocks of the Appenine Mountains. Noticing an Internet Service Provider office, I went in and inquired if they also provided Internet access for tourists. The individual who I first talked to simply took me to a computer and said "go ahead". When I was done, I asked how much I owed and he said nothing. In the course of our talking, I mentioned that I had grown up in San Bruno, California. Turns out I was talking to one of the many Bruno's in Serra San Bruno and he didn't believe me since just the day before he and done an Internet search on San Bruno and found only the reference to San Bruno, California. Bruno took me to several spots that are one of the home grounds to the Ceratosan order of monks and where the Bruno who became the saint had lived the latter part of his life and died. The grounds are beautiful and peaceful. The next day these three from left to right, Gino, Salvatore and Bruno gave me the grand tour and showed me the quarry where all the granite came from and allowed me to put my hand on the spine of the Appenines...turns out the monks were excellent stone cutters and taught many of the local people how it is done. Among other adventures one was most amusing in that my guides had a place in mind for lunch...but it was closed and we went to several other villages in search of food. Finally a fellow on the street took pity on us and went to a small market and got the lady proprietor to open up and she would only do it if the fellow who contacted her would make the sandwiches! He did and we enjoyed them on a piazza bench. And that evening I was made a proud, card carrying member the Il Bregante Associazione Culturale.