After being indoctrinated by my new friends into the vagaries of the whole place and time, I started going to some of the wonderful places located around the Naples area. After having been there for about a year, I attempted to buy a car. This was an undertaking that you wouldn’t believe. I had the money all saved up from my business at my previous duty station. I was what was called a ‘Loan Shark” in polite company. I used to loan out $5 for $6, $10 for $12, $15 for $18, and $20 for $24. This was never for more than a two-week period. Then every body paid up and I started all over again. I think it is called “Usury” and it is frowned on mightily by the Navy. Anyway, that is where I came by my stash as I arrived in bella Napoli. It turned out that none of the Volkswagen dealers in Naples, make that “the” VW dealer, would sell me a car, because of all the regulations required by the military and the civilian government. I wound up flying up to Germany with three friends, and two of us went to the Volkswagen factory where they were only too happy to sell each of us a brand new 1959 VW for the grand total of $1050! Each that is. We then went to the nearest Army base and got a set of temporary plates to get us back to Naples. Once there, we were able to get our two vessels registered with the local controlling military authority, i.e. CIC AFSOUTH. That means, Commander-In-Chief, Armed Forces, Southern Europe. They were nice big plates too. About two-foot long and 8-10 inches high, white with red letters and a red border all around the outside edge! There was therefore, absolutely no doubt in any ones mind that here comes an American serviceman! Money on the hoof!
Now this next statement is no lie, as any person from that era can attest. As you drove through traffic in downtown Naples, it was usually at about 5 to 10 MPH, and people had no compunction about crashing into the front of your car and falling into the road screaming and thrashing around on the ground. When the Carribinary (State Police) arrived, there were always about fifty people who would come out of nowhere and all would most vociferously attest to the fact that you were speeding along and deliberately ran the poor person down! Never mind the fact that the traffic was almost dead stopped! Well, after about an hour of “negotiations” between the Carribinary, the victim and the driver, wherein they each received about L10,000 Lira, that was $16 bucks back then, the victim would miraculously be healed and cured and off every one would go, happy with the outcome. The other two parties because they had once again duped the “stupido Americano’s” out of their money, and the driver, because he wasn’t going to the notorious Napoli jail! After a while, you’d get real smart about watching people who looked like, “jumpers” and slamming on the brakes before they could commit the deed. In the course of the three plus years I was there, I managed to divest myself of about $300-$400 dollars in donations to the people of Napoli!
That little VW had about 8o,ooo miles put on it running all over Italy. One of my favorite places in the whole area around Naples was a little town called Sorrento. It was about 15-20 miles to the south of Naples, and it looked to me as though it hadn’t changed in the last five hundred years. It was at the end of the Amalfi Drive that ran from Napoli to Sorrento. This road was cut right into the side of the cliff and followed every curve that the cliff made. It was the best place in all of Italy to ride a motorcycle, because you were weaving back and forth around all the corners constantly. It was kind of scary though because the “guard rail” was about two feet high and would stop nothing from going over the edge to the bottom about 250 feet down!! It did make you a more cautious driver than you might ordinarily have been!
The streets in Sorrento were cobblestones and narrow, to the point that two small cars had to maneuver real cautiously to get by each other. We would go down there on a Friday afternoon and rent a small pensione for two days. The car would get parked for the entire time we were there. The pensione that we always rented had a little balcony that hung out over the street and you could sit there and watch the people go by under your feet, which I did by the hour. We took all our meals in a small trattoria (restaurant) right at the end of the street, which ended right at the waters edge. There was a small stone wharf that always seemed to have a couple of boats tied up as some fishermen worked on them or their fishing gear. Having come from a fishing village myself, it was a comforting feeling to just sit and watch them. After many weekends down there, and having become somewhat proficient in the use of pidgin Italian, they let me help a little with the nets they used when they found out I could use a mending needle. We would sit at the tables, set outside the door, and have a few glasses of vino during the times we weren’t out exploring the surrounding area. All meals were eaten al fresco at that place, and it was always what everyone else was having. Half the time I never knew just what it was I was eating, but it was always without fail, something really good. During the summer months when I was actually in Naples and not flying all over the European continent, I would spend at least two weekends a month down there in Sorrento.
I know this sounds really laid back for a USN sailor, but it was a wonderfully romantic and beautiful place. I’d love to go back but am afraid it wouldn’t live up to my recollections. I know we went there on some pretty cold and blustery days, but all the ones I remember are the balmy summer ones with the smell of the flowers in the air. The flowers seemed to grow right out of the rocks and their perfume scented every thing around, and the assortment of colors was absolutely astounding! The place to me is the quintessential location when I think of romantic interludes, and beautiful nights.
There are two other towns near by that we spent a few days exploring too. They are Pompeii, and Herculeaneum. Both were buried in the great explosion of Vesuvio back in the ????? Century. It is amazing how the towns were reclaimed from under all the ash and magma that was rained down on them on that fateful day. You could even see the ruts worn in the cobblestones by the passage of wagons and probably legions of Roman soldiers too, over the centuries. When you walk around those two small towns, you really get a sense of the passage of the previous two thousand years. It really makes you think of the number of generations of families that have passed.
Those Old Italian “nobles” from that time period were a bunch of lecherous old dudes, ‘because they had local artists paint very graphic pictures on the insides of their houses. It wasn’t just the naked form that was painted. It was the naked form in all sorts of shall we say “compromising positions”. They would have pictures of themselves, with certain parts of their anatomy grossly exaggerated! Talk about people with swelled heads! During the time period that I was there, women were not allowed to even enter those houses. I guess the head guy up in Rome, Mr. Pope and his minions, had convinced the populace that the naked form was something not to be viewed by the ladies!
Another nice place to visit was the Island of Capri. Whoever reads this should really try and take a trip to Italy and go see this Island! It was about 15-18 miles out from the Bay of Naples. About the best way to get there was on one of the then, new hydrofoil boats that ran between the two ports. They were called “Aliscarfi” in Italian, and would make the trip in about 30 minutes. Upon arrival we would take a taxi up to the top of the Island where all the hotels and most of the shops were. It was strictly a tourist trap place even back then in the sixties, but I thought it was just plain beautiful. You could go walking all over the place or hire one of the little donkey carts to take you on a tour. Those poor little donkeys were so small though, that we’d get out and walk up any sort of an incline so the poor little cuss didn’t have to work so hard. The owner of the cart thought we were all nuts for doing that. I guess there wasn’t much love lost between man and beast.
On one excursion over there I went with a young lady who was to become my wife in the near future. It was early in the spring and we had decided to take a tour of a place called the Blue Grotto. It is a rather famous cave in the edge of the Island, where the ocean flows in and out. Its main attraction is the cerulean blue of the water inside the cave. I never was able to find out what made it look like that, what with only my pidgin Italian to converse with the locals. Anyway, there we were in a boat with the guide, with our swimsuits under our clothes. When we informed him that we were going to get in the water, so that we could tell all our friends that we went swimming in the Blue Grotto, he looked at us as though we were completely nuts and kept muttering about the “crazy Americanos”. Back then we were just the “crazy Americans”, we hadn’t metamorphosed into the ‘Ugly Americans just yet. Well we jumped in, and immediately back into the boat, as he was right when he said it was too damned cold to be swimming in April! Well, we had our swim and in the ensuing forty odd years, I’ve never run across another single soul who had done the same thing. I guess there just aren’t as many nuts out there as you’d think. We used to stay in a pretty nice hotel there on the Island and they didn’t want you to be dressed like a street urchin. So I went out and bought myself a nice dark suit with some kind of sparkly threads running through it. It was the “in” thing back then. I also had bought a Homburg hat and a cane, and thought I looked the right proper English gent. So now I could get into any of the nicer hotels wearing that getup. Although when I wore it into the Loundres Hotel one evening to “do a deal” with Mr. Lucky Luciano, he told me I looked like a high class pimp! I guess it was all in where you decided to go when “dressed to the nines”!
Two other guys and myself, had taken a lease on a house about four doors down from the one my future wife lived in out past Pouzzouli, home of Sophia Loren, on the beach at Licola. At about the same time I had bought a 24’ day-sailer boat from another guy who was headed back to CONUS, Continental United States. It was a nice little wooden boat in great shape, and we kept it right on the beach in front of the house. We would sail it right up on to the beach where we had positioned a couple of round poles to act as rollers. After coming ashore we’d pull it up on them a little so the tide didn’t take it out in the middle of the night, and I’d tie it up to a pipe driven deep in the sand. Well after having it for a while we decided to take it on a long weekend sail over to Capri which could be seen in the distance. It was about 16-20 miles out into the big Bay of Naples. So off we go on a nice bright sunny Friday afternoon and in about four hours and just at dark we arrived at the Island. We spent that night and the next generally drinking and ogling the women, uh, people, and then decided we’d head back to Naples the next morning early. We left Capri about six AM and had been out for about an hour when in rolls this dense fog bank and the wind quits blowing. Now here we sit, right in the middle of the shipping lanes into Naples with no outboard motor, and worse than that, NO COMPASS! Nor any kind of signaling device! Well, we wound up sitting out there all day and most all of the next night till a breeze came up about three in the morning and we could see the lights of Naples and we managed to make it back to port in time for quarters that morning. When we explained where we had been and why, we were let off the hook because we had been declared AWOL, (absent without leave) and were subject to arrest by the Shore Patrol or any local Italian cop the saw us. I’ll tell you though; it was some damned scary sitting out there in the fog listening to those big assed ships going by in the night. If one of them had run us down, no one would have ever known what had happened to us! I only took one other trip across the water with that sailboat and it was over to the Island of Ischia, which was right out in front of our house about 3 or 4 miles distant. We went there because it was where they were filming the movie “Cleopatra” and we wanted to get a look at Liz Taylor if possible! Richard Burton? Who the hell was he?
A Sailor’s Thoughts…
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