Catastrophe – Pompeii is one of the most famous versions. One day in late August, the people of Pompeii celebrated their Roman god of fire, the next day Mt. Vesuvius erupted. In just six hours the city was buried with 25 meters of volcanic debris. In a moment, every creature was dead as a result of the intense heat and then preserved by a blanket of thick ash. When this story is recounted, historians typically emphasize how quickly the city was decimated, highlighting the expressions of shock and terror on the dead citizen’s faces. Nearly 2,000 years later, I sat in the outdoor cafeteria with one of my roommates eating lunch. The exciting, morbid curiosity that had caused us to stop in Pompeii on our way to the Amalfi coast, had all but faded completely. The low quality, bland tasting, over priced food and the sprawling noisy gift shops combined with the suffocating number of tourists – if I squinted my eyes just right, I could have sworn I was in Disney Land. As I was squinting and trying to imagine the orange service tray in front of me offering anything but the oily pasta I had ended up with, something rubbed against my leg under the table. By the time I had regained composure, my roommate was lavishing attention on the street dog and gently massaging its greasy head. It was time to go.
We approached Sorrento and the air-filled with the lusty scent of citrus, it was incredible… I could literally smell the botanical seduction. The lemon orchards were everywhere and perhaps it was the sensuality of the trees pollinating but the entire coastline with infused with an epic sense of romance. The area between Sorrento and Salerno, just south of Naples, is gaspingly beautiful; lush, scented cliffs drop straight down into the most perfect, clear, blue sea. A road follows the dramatic contours of the cliffs and villas hang like floating castles off their faces. Leaving Sorrento, we took a local bus to Amalfi and sat on the beach watching the ocean and absorbing as much beauty as was possible in one afternoon – until it was clear that a couple nearby was in desperate need of some privacy. Returning to the small city we decided to climb the stairs of the main cathedral and from its grand entrance looked out on the colorful cafe umbrellas which populated the cobbled stone plaza below. Briefly, we explored the dark interior of the cathedral and then headed down the coast to Salerno.
I had not booked a room in Salerno and because of this we were forced to get creative – all of the hotels in our price range were full that evening. In the guide-book a campground was listed and as a last resort we walked along the coastal road a short while out of the city and discovered a group of tents clustered together in a wooded area above the beach. After negotiating with the supervisor I managed to secure the use of a small camper parked towards the back of her property. That evening we explored the city by foot for a few hours and then happily returned to the camper to spend the rest of the night eating chocolate, drinking wine and talking about history – all the while the scent of lemons.