The monster on the horizon

The monster on the horizon

This last week we were in the Bay of Naples as I tried to get good photographs of, and from, Mt. Vesuvius for use in my sabbatical book project on Pliny the Younger’s letters about the A.D. 79 eruption. Simon was on a school field trip in the same area, and the weather was supposed to be brilliant all week (it was; 58 and sunny), so it seemed the best time to go.

Both Simon and Jakob had twice been up the mountain; the former had made the 20-minute cindery climb from the parking lot even at age two; the latter I had to carry both times, so I was grateful that Micah was willing to hike, though he was fairly apprehensive during the approaching drive, constantly asking whether the volcano would blast off while we were up there. Assurances that Vesuvius had been sleeping since 1944 did not appear to help.

On the way up, we noticed some new artistic installations built into and cut out of knuckled outcrops of frozen lava; Micah and Jakob immediately insisted on jumping out to climb around:

Micah rustles up some courage

Micah holds the coin he intended on throwing into the volcano

Thankfully, the kids completely missed that the ground below these sculptures was thick with the detritus of incontri dell’amore della notte — the association between dalliance and danger has ever held a strong appeal.

Some slight worry...

Some slight worry…

Micah was impressed by the view, though it was much hazier than I had hoped; little wind and warm weather had helped the smog to settle over the sprawling metropolis of Napoli. As we ascended, he was happy to notice a lollipop stand in the ranger station that gave access to the rim. As soon as we told him he wasn’t allowed to look down inside the volcano, his bravery increased…

"I'm going to throw Vesuvius into the sea!"

“I’m going to throw Vesuvius into the sea!”

He was soon ready to dig out his coin:

Making the offering.

Making the offering.

He quite enjoyed poking around the edge, and then sat down, satisfied.

He thinks he's safe now.

He thinks he’s safe now.

But after we reached the end of the path and met a grizzled ranger who monitored the last lonely post, Micah began to get hungry, and insisted on running back to the gift shop to get a snack.

"Ho fame"

Ho fame subito

The ranger muttered, “che corre, cade.” “He who runs, falls.”

The volcano wins this round.

Vesuvius wins round one.

The ranger applied some First Aid, and then we added Second Aid (the lollipop). Though by the time we had descended to the scavi of Herculaneum, he had long forgotten his injury. There Jakob was able to introduce him to the boys’ very favorite thing at the sites buried by the volcano: the chance to play 2000-yr. old ‘shop’

May I help you?

May I help you?

* * *

The next day we visited a different volcano, the Solfatara, one of 40 cones set in and around modern Pozzuoli. There is even a camping site inside (apparently popular with Germans, evidenced by the several closed-for-the-season huts that advertised cured meats auf Deutsch). The interior is half gentle forest, half blasted landscape, where the ground temperature can be 160 degrees Celsius. As we exited the shade and entered the hot, bleached ground, the sulfurous smell grew. We stopped to take a picture of a yellow-encrusted sulfur vent, and Micah began to retch; the stench was too much. Round two to the volcano.

Jakob and Rebecca continued bravely on to the Bocca Grande (the largest of the vents), spewing H2O and H2S. I walked Micah back through the middle of the cone, passing by a pond of boiling mud:

Mud at 160 degrees Celsius

Mud at 160 degrees Celsius

While we found the smell a bit hard to take, apparently the locals credit the sulfur with naturally-Viagric qualities, which they proudly promote.

As we found a wooded path again, we noticed some odd trees bearing a yellow-red fruit:

Micah pointing out the fruit

Micah pointing out the fruit

This is the ‘Strawberry Tree,’ which while being nutritious, has a foul taste:


Strawberry Tree

Strawberry Tree

At the end of the path, across from the campsite, Micah found a playground, and suddenly the crater was marvelous.Happy again