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While in Barcelona as a Merchant Marine, I noticed many tourists gathered at an old ship docked near the walkways on my way back to the USS Rose. A sign identified it as Christopher Columbus’s Santa Maria, fully refurbished like the fourteenth century ship. Only seventy-four feet long, twenty-five feet wide, she had a compliment of forty men with a draught of seven feet. Columbus' crew worked in four-hour shifts. Their duties included pumping bilge, cleaning the deck, working the sails, checking the ropes, and inspecting the cargo. When they were off duty, they slept anywhere they could find space. Columbus spent days without sleep. Only the captain had private quarters. The sailors' lives were hard, and they often died from disease, hunger, and thirst. Religion was the focus of their lives. Every day began with prayers and hymns and ended with religious services. The crew received one hot meal a day cooked over an open fire in a sandbox on deck. Their diet consisted of ship's biscuit, pickled or salted meat, dried peas, cheese, wine, and fresh-caught fish. They lived in cramped quarters that made the voyage rough. It had a single deck and three masts. The slowest of Columbus's vessels performed well in crossing the Atlantic, but ran aground off present-day site of Cap Haitien, Haiti on December 25, 1492, and was lost.
Our voyage to Naples took us past white homes with orange or red shingle roofs splattered on hilltops and on perches with three hundred and sixty-degree views of the beaches from cliffs that tapered off gradually below, or in a steep incline. Ramshackle multi-storey apartments decorated with fluttering laundry, scrawled with graffiti, their balconies cluttered with furniture, dotted winding streets leading downward to the beaches choked with traffic and bathers. Naples stunk so bad I decided to wander out of the dirty dusty confines of the city.
Some of the friendliest people I found anywhere on my trip resided at this busy city. At a small restaurant I had to try pizza assuming the genuine Italian fare would dwarf anything I had sunk my teeth into back home. However, the dough tasted flat and spongy, covered with cheap cheese, far inferior to what I loved at home. When I mentioned this to a few of the experienced messmen, they made it clear that Italian chefs made pizza much differently from, and often better than, the way the chefs at American pizza parlors do—what did I expect from a tiny roadside shop? Surprisingly, our ship warned us about gangs of youngsters who had a reputation for shoplifting, fighting and stealing wallets and merchandise from tourists. They jumped onto buses to get a free ride if unnoticed by the driver. If the driver observed them, he yelled in Italian a warning or he chased them down. They roamed the streets at all hours and survived in squalor anyway they could.
A boat from Naples drove through splashing waves to the famous Blue Grotto on the Isle of Capri a few miles away. Sunlight passing through an underwater cavity and shining through the seawater, created a blue reflection that illuminated the cavern. The view of the bright coastline scattered with white homes, dazzled under the bright sky, while sail and motor craft left their white wake behind. The turquoise sea shimmered with the flashes of sunlight on wind driven curls rippling the surface. Myths the tour guide shared with us attached to the Grotto predicted good luck to those who swam here. When we departed from Naples, Mount Vesuvius sent plumes of smoke skyward that reminded me of the eruption we studied in Latin class at Jordan High.
A bus to Pompeii dropped me where I walked amongst its ruins. My textbook displayed pictures of statues made from people caught in a river of volcanic lava that buried homes, buildings, and inhabitants. Archeologists and historians had cleared away the rubble and reconstructed the city as it looked before the devastation. Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. destroying Pompeii with a population of twenty thousand, and Herculaneum, with five thousand. Our guide took us to erotic frescos in the ancient city. He led us to an intersection and pointed downward, “Have any of you noticed these raised carved stones on each of the paths we have walked?”
Rock shaped penises were in plain view in the walkways. “Carved penises pointed in the direction to the nearest house of pleasure.” He took us to many houses where he showed us wall paintings of various sexual positions Pompeii’s prostitutes and their customers enjoyed. “Erotic images lured the Roman soldiers into entanglements with the sensuous Pompeian women, mostly slaves, who plied their trade inside these walls.” At the entrance of the excavation the shop owners sold necklaces that had a winged penis on a chain. Many elderly women tourists purchased these trinkets and placed them around their necks that created a humorous moment for the guide; “Do you suppose they know what they have around their necks?”he said laughing.
Local Pompeiians caught in the lava flow from the force and speed of the volcanic eruption appeared at various places throughout the city in the position their bodies had taken when they performed routine tasks. The lava preserved them, “frozen” for antiquity when they took their last breath. For example, the swift flowing lava caught a woman who had just finished baking bread, which excavators had carefully sculpted away. The ancient city, so close to Mount Vesuvius, had the haunting specter that another eruption could happen at any time while we casually ambled through ruins where nature locked so many lives in lava tombs. The guide said, “The people here are willing to take the chance of the volcano eruption to live in such a stunning area.”
On the way to Tripoli, North Africa, the Rose passed near an active volcano,the Island of Stromboli, puffing smoke and ash into the atmosphere. We cruised by rolling hills planted with gold wheat framed by grape vines and olive trees at the island of Sicily. Rock towers circled by seagulls nesting in the crevices jutted from the water and enormous rocky formations hurled up by the sea guarded glistening bays beyond.
A radio played Arabic music as we arrived at the North African city of Tripoli. The flute and obo wailed repetitious sounds followed by a high pitched voice in a prayer to Allah. Sonny and Chris joined me for a walk from the ship. A vendor sold me a ring of a many-scaled silver snake that wrapped around my ring finger. The brutal heat and dryness drew me to a bar where cold Lebanese beer quenched my thirst.
Piraeus, Greece, the port closest to Athens, had an obnoxious odor as awful as Naples near the wharf and ships. A tour bus to Athens’ stunning beauty and historic wonders rewarded my persistence to the birthplace of the arts,democracy, and western philosophy. Socrates, Sophocles, and Pericles, helped ancient Athens achieve the status of a powerful city-state. The guide pointed out the Parthenon on the Acropolis where we spent an hour dazzled by stories of Plato and Socrates. The heritage of the classical age flourished with ancient monuments, Greek sculpture, and art.
Roman ruins in Istanbul told of former powerful forces in this city that had undergone many changes and was once called Constantinople when Constantine ruled Rome. Catholic and Muslim structures housing different religions stood next to each other. At the bazaar vendors wore turbans with flowing robes. In a narrow alley a tobacco shop merchant sold me a yellow-stemmed meerschaum pipe whose whale-bone bowl was a turban man’s head that caught my fancy.The huge and decorative Blue Mosque, a spiritual place where people stopped to pray after washing themselves in fountains outside, with its beautiful domes and semidomes, courtyards, and six slender minarets, breathtaking interior chandeliers and blue tiles, enchanted me. I enjoyed the acoustics of this ancient landmark. Immediately across from it rested the Hagia “Divine” Sophia “Wisdom” Church from the Golden Age of Byzantium. It became a mosque when the Turks invaded. Converted eventually into a museum, the huge red structure stood 150 feet high and 72 feet in diameter. Adding to its ambience were green and purple columns.
At Izmir, Turkey, ancient Greeks settled this central and strategic city on the Aegean coast of Anatolia. Once it had an acropolis on a steep peak about 1250 feet high overhanging the northeast extremity of the gulf known as the “crown of Smyrna,” but it lay in ruins. It rested partly on the slopes of a rounded hill near the southeast end of the gulf, and partly on the low ground between the hill and the sea. Ancient coins depicted the beauty of Izmir, clustering on the low ground and rising tier over tier on the tranquil hillside.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine
“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” – Samuel Johnson
“All the pathos and irony of leaving one’s youth behind is thus implicit in every joyous moment of travel: one knows that the first joy can never be recovered, and the wise traveler learns not to repeat successes but tries new places all the time.” – Paul Fussell
“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” – Jack Kerouac