Friday, August 14

I hired a driver to take me from Naples to Positano because I wanted to climb  Mount Vesuvius on the way and look down into it's crater.  Umberto is a charming conman and a ridiculously flirty Sicilian beast.  As soon as I got in the car, he told me I had a beautiful smile and that my eyes sparkled like a child.  Anyone who knows me is well aware of the scowl I sport and the chronic squint of my eyes from denying the need for glasses. However, like any woman, I appreciate a good lie.  

Umberto's english is fair.  My Italian is worse, but thanks to a fancy little translator ap and my mad pantomime and drawing skills, we were able to communicate.  His favourite line seemed to be "Attenzione!" It meant "look over there, look over here, watch your purse", but mostly it meant "Nancy, shut up and listen to me!" I tried to explain my quest and why I carried an egg.  He seemed confused at first and once it registered, he said "Yes! Like Easter!"  Yes Umberto like Easter. 

The drive from Naples to Vesuvius is glorious and often ridiculously high. En route we stopped at every Limoncello stand we could find.  The lemons in Italy are like grapefruits and some clever Italian realized it was easier to make booze out of them rather than grapes. Limoncello is served cold as ice in tiny glasses.  When I get home, I will invent the limoncello slurpie. 

As he knew I was an old woman heading up a mountain, Umberto thoughtfully packed me a bottle of ice water, a towel and a croissant.  I had enough to lug, but he had clearly been through this before, so I thanked him and started my toddle up the hill.

Vesuvius is steep and covered in thick small stones like a shitty beach.  There are old Italians who try to sell you sticks along the way.  Not the selfie sticks they peddle relentlessly across Europe, but common garden variety sticks to help you navigate the terrain.  I saw many perfectly fit, tired, wet people come smiling down toward me confidently skiing along.  I don't need a stick. I am a morbidly obese woman pushing 60, why would I need a stick?  

I get up about 100 yards and can neither walk, nor breath.  I am soaked in sweat, parched, and have fallen thrice.  I consider going back for a stick but decide to take a drink and move on.  The water weighs 10 pounds.  It's one of those giant bottles and as I put it to my lips anticipating it's refreshment, I realize the water is frozen solid.  I am devastated.   Halfway up after tiring of licking the outside of the bottle, I toss it's frozen corpse.  I want to toss my paints, my egg and my clothes, but I recall the quest and continue dragging my fat ass up the mountain.  There are fat little black pigs who run up and down this mountain all day, inspired, I figure if they can do it so can I.

I misread the smiling faces of those coming down the mountain.  The higher you get, the sadder and more miserable everyone looks.  There are no more joyful waves of camaraderie. It's every human for themselves.  I stop often and pretend to take photos or to empty at least half of the stones in my shoes.  This isn't really fun at all and  the thrill of adventure has known better to join me and returned to the van.

I replace it with stubbornness and continue to the top. Glistening bodies are strewn against every possible leaning place or laid out where they landed along the path. The sound of people guzzling water echoes from the crater. I peer out from the towel I have been wearing like Mother Mary for the last hour and try to regain some dignity.  I am so thirsty I want to lick the sweat off a man who has stripped down to his shorts.  I brought no money, so I opt for the free coffee and hot chocolate they offer.  Yes, HOT coffee.

The crater is really spectacular.  I enjoy a moment of pride and satisfaction.  I have completed the first thing on my list of things to see and do.  I feel empowered and smug.

Reasonably restored, I set my egg on a log and get to it. I chose a brown egg because I think I am funny.  Brown as if it was sunburned and baked by lava.  It doesn't seem funny anymore. Sweat is dripping into my eyes and I feel faint so I only get the impression of the thing, I will finish it in the hotel.  I abort, toss it into the abyss, and steal a stone from the ridge.  I get the feeling Vesuvius thought I was an egg throwing thief and a little tremor of fear inspires me to head down.

The people coming up look pitiful and pleading, so I cheer them on.  Most have no idea what I am saying, but they smile weakly.  Some respond, and I feel I have inspired them, but for all I know, they are swearing at me.  By the time I see the finish line, I am practically skipping, patting the backs of incomers and boasting of the awe which awaits them.  They smile enthusiastically with their dry shirts, hair in place and sticks dug in ready for the jaunt.  I remember being in their stoneless shoes. Under my breath I mutter, "Suckers."

I take one more tumble and deliriously flail my way to the car.  I feel stoned. Umberto ensures all of my ass is in the car, buckles me up and puts an ice cold towel on my head.  I smile like a simpleton, close my eyes and pass out.

I wake up at another limoncello stand with Umberto smiling over me with a tiny glass.  He tells me he watched me coming down the mountain and that my legs look like Mozzarella sticks.  Our relationship is evolving to a more truthful state.

 If you ever want to climb Vesuvius, do it in the morning or in winter.  Do it naked and have someone else carry water.  Lose the sunglasses, they will feel like welding gear in an hour.  Even a hotel key will feel like an iron ball. Most importantly, it is probably a good idea not to get all giddy on limoncello before a monster climb in 100 degree weather. The brochures warn that the crater is often covered in fog and the winds kick the sand up often and violently, so I am thankful it was a calm, clear day and very glad I did it.

I am also thankful for my first sun kiss.  I haven't had a suntan in years and though the drape of my veil has left me with one red stripe down the middle of my face, with white rings all along my chins, it makes me look like the warrior I am.