I came to this mysterious island four years ago to take a close look at the place that shaped my Vittoria, thinking that if I could come to understand it then I might better understand her. Likewise the other day I went to Pozzuoli to see if I could discover what shaped Vittoria’s biological mother, Maria Marrella, the famous movie star.
Like Beverello in Naples, the area around Pozzuoli’s port is busy and noisy, jammed with traffic and crowds of people. Signs pointed the way to the Flavian Amphitheater, and the Roman Temple of Serapis.
As I was taking photographs at the train station, a man carrying a red flag shouted, “Signore! Signore!” and hurried across the tracks.
“You are a journalist?” he asked.
“I am sorry, but photography is not permitted here.”
“No? But I have come all the way from America just to see this train station. Perhaps in my case you will make an exception.”
Last year, I told the same story at the tomb of Vergil in Naples, to a guard who’d said it was closed. He laughed, and said “Va bene,” and what’s more he gave me a private guided tour.
“I am sorry,” the trainmaster said, “but no exceptions can be made.”
“Very well,” I said, and departed.
With some map-reading difficulty I finally found the entrance of the Serapis Temple. But a sign announced it was closed on Tuesdays. I headed for the Flavian Amphitheater. It, too, was closed. Bad luck, eh?
The Amphitheater was said to be the third largest in all of Italy, built by emperor Vespasian in the second half of the first century AD. It seated 40,000 citizens who cheered as hundreds of gladiators and all manner of beasts were slaughtered.
I took some pictures through the bars of the iron fence that surrounded the ancient structure.
Maria Marrella’s biographer says that as a young girl she regularly walked from her mother’s nearby apartment and played among these haunting ruins. From an early age she was drawn to things associated with public performance. As if from them she got hints of her destiny of international fame.
Afterward I found a small public park. Unlike the surrounding noisy streets, it was empty and silent. I sat on a bench. I breathed in the scent of exotic flowers, damp grass. Clouds crawled past umbrella pines. The sun was delightfully warm on my face.
Before embarking on this Pozzuoli expedition I printed out a number of IMs and emails I’ve exchanged with Vittoria. I intended to bear down and focus upon the recurring themes she has been presenting me in this whirlwind of a romance, and in this latest nightmare. I wanted to fully comprehend everything that woman was trying to tell me.
Half an hour into my reading I looked up. A young woman walked down the park’s narrow pathway and found a bench. She sat down to eat her lunch. She glanced at me nervously. Apparently she was used to eating here alone.
I got up, hefted my bag, and headed out.
On the boat back to Ischia I stand on the top deck and look out at the island that now is my home.
Caro, siete sempre nei miei pensieri. Tanti baci.
That’s how she ends her letters to me. She says I’m always in her thoughts, and she sends me many kisses.
The “small cloud” the radiologist has found on the right side of Vittoria's brain expands, fills the atmosphere. My island’s beauty is thus despoiled, disfigured.
These days I’m more aware of the pollution of traffic noise, the metallic rattle of countless motorinos and apes urgently rushing up and down the roads, and the trash that sometimes washes ashore on the beaches.
When I finally get around to telling Harold everything, he’ll probably quote me some Emily Dickinson. “After great pain,” the poet said, “a formal feeling comes.”
This is the Hour of Lead--
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect
the letting go--
Harold will say this last stanza could be read as the acceptance espoused by the Roman stoics. Epictetus. Zeno. Chrysippus.
Yes, of course.
And don’t forget the Roman Bishop Hippolytus.
He says that a dog chained to a moving cart can elect to follow but at the same time it is also pulled, making its spontaneous act coincide with necessity. But if the dog does not wish to go, it will nevertheless be dragged along. So the moral of the story is that even if we resist, we all are compelled to follow what is destined.
Yes, I am compelled, and I feel formal. A weight is against my chest. I can’t move, I can’t breathe.