Dear Jack: I have a routine. Weekdays I get up, drink strong coffee, and then spend five or six hours writing or working on photos. Then, after a late lunch and a nap, I either head for the beach or I sit out on the terrace. Saturday I do the same, except after my work I do housecleaning. And on Sundays, I take a healing soak in the radioactive pool of Hotel Royal Palm. When I’m sufficiently healed I come here to the restaurant for coffee and cake. By now Giuseppe, the young waiter, doesn’t come to take my order, he just delivers it. Enclosed is a shot of my regular table. Nice view, isn’t it?
There’s rich history here. For instance, a hundred years ago Henrik Ibsen lived for a while in Forio and composed a poem entitled Brand, which became a great popular success in Norway. Brand is about a rural pastor who was obsessed with the idea that he had to give all of himself—or nothing—to God. And the pastor, in turn, expected the same from not only his parishioners but also his own family.
This knucklehead’s obsession allowed no compromise, and he was not swayed by human sympathy or warmth. God’s law WAS the law and it had to be enforced to the letter, no exceptions. He was a thick-skulled moral absolutist who presumed to know exactly what was on God’s mind, and he was prepared to instantly act upon it.
At the end of the poem this zealot is engulfed by a roaring avalanche. The last he hears are ironic words from a disembodied heavenly voice:
“HE IS THE GOD OF LOVE!”
Ibsen’s inspiration for the catastrophic collapse of earth that served as Divine Justice for the narrow-minded pastor came from Punta Imperatore, which, as you can see in the photo, sits majestically like the Sphinx paw, its claws curling into the sea. After a long climb, Ibsen became terrified by the nearly vertical drop from the side of the narrow path to rocks far below.
Timorous Ibsen was convinced the cliff would at any moment crumble and fall into the sea. His companion, a guy named Bergsoe, laughed. “We are in proportion to this cliff as a fly to a tower,” he said. But Ibsen shook his head. “Even a fly can bring down a tower if it were on the point of collapse,” he replied.
Not too long after I arrived here I decided to retrace Ibsen’s path up the promontory. At its base were ancient stone steps. I began the long climb up. Arching over the steep path were pines and birches, and other trees with spiky, dusty-green leaves on thin, pale white branches. In some places erosion had exposed writhing roots that looked like a mass of snakes.
As I slowly climbed I inhaled damp earth smells, and the fragrance of wildflowers. I heard the melancholy calling of a few bright white gulls, who extended their wings and floated on thermals. Far below was the churning and frothing of blue-green water around black rocks.
I continued my climb, and then came to a clearing. At the top of a slope was a vertical wall of soft, white pumice. And there, on that crumbling pale surface, I saw it. A scratched outline of an erect cock, two balls at its base. That crude graffito, so unexpected at this isolated spot high above the village, startled me.
As you know, I did a lot of reading in preparation for my visit here. And among the books was “D. H. Lawrence and Italy.” This fellow had a wholly irrational hatred of Italy and Italians. He was convinced that the secret of Italy’s attraction to foreigners, and the reason so many tourists crowd the country, is to witness—guess what?—phallic worship!
“To the Italian,” Lawrence wrote, “the phallus is the symbol of individual creative immortality, to each man his own Godhead.” Can you imagine the outrage this caused here when first published? The Phallus, the madman went on, is also a symbol of creative divinity. “But it represents only part of creative divinity. The Italian has made it represent the whole. Which is now his misery, for he has to destroy his symbol in himself.”
Lawrence believed Italian men had an unashamed enthusiasm for war. He said it was partly true phallic worship, for the phallic principle is to absorb and dominate all life.
“But at the same time it is a desire to be exposed to death, to know death, so that death may destroy in them a too strong dominion of the blood.”
Makes your head swim, eh?
Anyway, enough of the ravings of madmen. Let’s talk instead of more pleasant things. I hope you have given serious thought to visiting me. As I told you earlier, I have plenty of room in my villa for you, Marcia, Jennifer and Lucy. I’d like you to see this wonderful place. You must come, Jack. I’m serious!
My love to you all...
P.S. I couldn’t resist adding this photo I took when I was in Pompeii a few weeks ago. It’s in the vestibule of the House of Vetti, a villa owned in 62 AD by two rich merchants named Aulus Vettius Restitutus and Aulus Vettius Conviva. The figure is Priapus, god of fertility, put there by the gay couple to ward off the evil eye of those envious of their wealth.