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A Formal Feeling

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 Snow--
First--Chill--then Stupor--then
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.

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these photos are stunning. oh, i just noticed the "caro, siete sempre." i was taught that it's typically southern to use the Voi form instead of Tu. interessante!

tante grazie.

Thanks, as always I'm grateful for your interest in my work...

those pictures are beautiful. absolutely breathtaking.

Thanks, glad you think so...

They are great pictures.

But why on earth would you not be allowed to take a picture of a train station?

Thanks for your comments. As for the rule against photography at Pozzuoli, it's like the same rule that applies in the New York City subway, or in some shopping malls. They intend to protect the passengers/shoppers' privacy.

OK. That makes some sense. I was thinking that people are all paranoid that terrorists would take pictures of their little depots and plot elaborate ways to blow them up or something...

Maybe I'm more literate than pictorate, but what I really love is the dog and cart story. It's a neat encapsulation of what is, for me, a fresh take on free will/predestination. It reminds me of the conclusion I reached about the verse in the Our Father which says Thy Will Be Done. Of course His Will is going to be done - he's God, after all. The verse must be aimed at inducing acceptance of whatever comes next on the part of the person reciting it.

The key word here is "inducing." Religion's aim is to bring comfort, and somehow if we are brought to believe that what befalls us has some mysterious divine purpose, well, somehow it makes being dragged along less murderous.

"The aim of Religion" is doubtless fodder for a whole separate post. My own offering would be to say that Religion codifies spiritual experience in order to either a) make that experience accessible to others (benign interpretation) or b) control and limit unmediated access to spiritual experience (conspiracy theory)

I believe that ultimately we have the obligation to choose our own way. I prefer the consolations of poetry, literary fiction, art, philosophy.

There is another choice besides the benign interpretation and the conspiracy theory: and that is, the spiritual experience is too nuanced to be codified.

You're completely right. Spiritual experiences are by nature ineffable, so we shouldn't try too hard to eff them. I'm coming down in favour of a pick n mix spirituality in preference to any specific dogma. Thanks for the stimulating post and responses.

Had to check out your journal from Aishas....

Wow... amazing pictures... I have to see more.

Ty. Its been a pleasure.


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