January 17, 2012

Pozzuoli, Italy. September, 1984

OK, I admit it. The only reason I took the brief train ride from Naples to visit nearby Pozzuoli was because it’s where Sophia Loren grew up. Sue me. Still, when I got there, I was happy to find that there is more to experience than just movie-star thrill. San Procolo, the city’s patron saint, was beheaded here in the fourth century; because his feast day (November 14) is often rainy, he is affectionately if sacrilegiously nicknamed ’u pisciasotto (the pants-pisser.) This smokey plot, the Solfatara, is actually the site of Saint Piss Pants’s martyrdom, happily presented for your visual enjoyment here without the overwhelming sulfurous odor that exists at the location itself. A sign warns, "Danger!" And for good reason. Not only is the land prone to tremors, some of which occurred during the time of my visit, but the allegedly dormant volcanic crater regularly emits jets of noxious steam (used for medical purposes since Roman times.) There are also foul-smelling mud pools. Some historians believe that the area’s eerie vapors may identify Pozzuoli as the Land of the Dead that Odysseus visited during his Homeric travels. Maybe, but that wasn’t enough to get me -- or Sophia -- to stick around for very long.

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