Under the White Crown of Vesuvius
In March to Athens on 13 February 2012 at 23:14
March to Athens
Day 97-XXIII, Naples.
Day 98-XXIV, from Naples to Santa Maria la Bruna, 18 km.
Torre del Greco, February 13
Naples – Neapolis – means ‘new town’, even though it’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities of Europe. The old town, Partenopea was named after the mythical siren Partenope.
The song of the siren was famously irresistible. It enchanted sailormen, leading them astray until their vessels would crash on the rocks and sink.
Odysseus, on his wanderings, was one of the few who resisted the song of the siren. He put wax in his ears and had himself tied to the mast. He and his men sailed safely by.
When Partenope realised that her fatal song had had no effect, she jumped of her cliff and drowned. On the beach where her body washed up, the old city of Naples was founded.
The eras have past, and even though the siren is long gone, the call of Naples is tempting. Many people from the march lent their ear to it, and so when the scheduled hour to depart arrived, they didn’t move.
In this sense, the march is a bit like a donkey. When it doesn’t feel like going, it doesn’t go. This splits the group, because there are many people who want to keep moving according to schedule and fix a date of arrival for Athens.
So yesterday, instead of going, an internal assembly was called for in the centre of the galleria Umberto, because it was raining. It turned into a kind of group therapy session where everybody tried to do some autocriticism, while carefully avoiding to talk directly about the main problem. The internal conflict between the people who want to march on schedule, and the people who just want to go with the flow was all but resolved by it. Soon it will return.
Today we finally left Naples, and we did so with the blessing of the sun. While I stroll through the alleys of the old centre, I suddenly experience a déjà vu. I recognise one of the streets, not from having been there before, but from an Italian movie. I don’t remember the name, but I do remember the plot. Sophia Loren interpreted the lead role, a Neapolitan woman who sells bootleg cigarettes on the streets. Her husband is unemployed. She is the one who supports the family. They have eight children, not because they are obiding catholics, but because the law forbids a landlord to evict a pregnant or lactating woman. Getting pregnant has been a way to avoid paying the rent for ten years. Now the youngest child is growing up, and Sophia has to get pregnant again. Her husband has had it with children, so she starts to look elsewhere for someone who can do her the favour…
I walk my own rhythm, through the lively suburbs, along the oldest railroad connection of the Italian peninsula, Napoli-Portici. And further, through the town of Ercolano which was buried by mount Vesuvius just like Pompeii in 79 AD. Today Ercolano is just another town around the bay. Of the ancient city, a luxury beach resort in Roman times, only a few blocks have been excavated in the centre. It’s one of the most fascinating remainders of antiquity, but today I won’t stop there to reflect. This march is about the present. And yet every once in a while I look up at mount Vesuvius covered by the snow, and I remember the account of the eruption that was written by Pliny the Younger. His uncle, the great ‘phenomenologist’ Pliny the Elder went to the rescue, and he staid ridiculously calm while the world around him was falling apart. When all the others were leaving their crumbling houses, they did so ‘out of fear’, according to little Pliny. But old Pliny wasn’t afraid. He only fled “after a thorough analysis of the situation”. He died stoically, suffocated by the deadly vapours of the volcano.
The last eruption of mount Vesuvius was in 1944. At the time, the suburbs of Naples were still little villages, and the damage was relatively small. Nowadays the metropolis has spread all around the mountain and far up the slopes. Whenever it will erupt again – in five years, ten years, fifty years, or maybe tomorrow – the catastrophe could be considerably bigger than ever before.
I arrive in Santa Maria la Bruna, an outskirt of Torre del Greco, and I don’t find the group. So I walk and walk and walk until far after nightfall. Finally I go to the local police station. I walk straight into the surveillance room, to which all the public cameras are connected. The officers on guard were surprised. They hadn’t seen me coming. I ask if they have noticed a caravan of thirty people with shopping carts full of stuff passing through Torre del Greco.
They hadn’t noticed a thing.
On the one hand I’m relieved, because obviously big brother isn’t really paying attention over here. But on the other hand, I still don’t know where to go.
Finally, late in the evening, after asking around wherever I could, I find the camp on a parking lot. There’s excitement in the group as a result of the recent events in Athens. Some people would like to go straight there if the uprising continues. It’s an interesting idea, but for now I go to my tent, I take off my shoes, at last, and I sleep.