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Click here to see a La Crosse Tribune article about the mission in Uganda.

Monday, June 11, 2012

It all Happened So Quickly

James “Cool Papa” Bell played center field for the St. Louis Stars of the Negro National League and, after that league disbanded, went on to the Pittsburgh Crawfords, considered to be the greatest team in the history of Negro League baseball. Cool Papa was fast. So fast that Satchel Paige once said “he could turn off the lights and get in bed before the room went dark.” Now that’s quick.

It’s just that kind of quickness I’ve experienced from time to time on my bike. Sure, I’ve written about my below average riding pace before. But, I’m not talking about riding; rather this is all about falling. Truth be known, there have been a few spills in my short riding career. There was, of course, that 20 mph crash in Switzerland that left my collarbone permanently rearranged. But there have been a few minor tumbles, too, these resulting in skinned elbows and knees and, once, a sprained thumb. It is the suddenness with which these latter spills occur that is so amazing. It's a quickness that even Cool Papa could appreciate – when taking one of these falls, I find myself wondering how serious the injuries are before I even know that I’ve fallen.

We all have those moments that remind us of just how quickly life can change. Dramatic events shuttle us off in new directions; sometimes they even throw us to the ground. We think that these events mark difficult times. We might be right. Or we might consider Pompeii...

This free day in Naples greeted us with cool temperatures and high, blue skies. The harbor across from our hotel made it seem as if we were on the Mediterranean coast of Italy. Go figure. We were in a nice place with good weather - it was promising to be a grand day.

The front desk informed us that there were still no bikes and no suitcases. But there was a plan upon which this lamentable lack of luggage had no impact. Today was set aside for a visit to the ruins at Pompeii, a short train ride south of Naples. After breakfast, we set off down the steep hill to the regional rail station to catch a train to Naples.

Upon arriving at Naples' Central Station, we changed over to the Circumvesuviana rail line, popular with tourists as it serves Pompeii, Herculaneum and the Amalfi coast. Which, of course, makes the line popular with Italian pickpockets. In fact, we were treated to a first-hand look at the tactics of one of these nefarious groups as we boarded the train. First, one man stepped up, stopped in the doorway of the car and spread his arms out a bit, enough to impede the progress of the crowd of people attempting to board the train. Meanwhile his compatriots moved in behind the stalled group. We were aware of this risk and were pretty well prepared. As it turns out, I was able to move past the man in front before he could completely block the doorway. Bill, on the other hand, found himself surrounded. But, he had the presence of mind to move sideways to the edge of the door where he turned around and slid into the car with his back to the wall. Having been thus thwarted, the group simply stepped off the train and went back to their seats on the platform to await the next train and the next group of tourists. Welcome to Naples. Sheesh...

Pompeii was an amazing place, ever so much larger than I had thought. Well preserved buildings gave a glimpse into daily life as it was nearly 2000 years ago. There were tiled baths, amphitheaters, lavish homes and even a fast food shop. The narrow cobbled streets were deeply rutted by the passing of countless wagons; on wet days, these streets would be, shall we say, unpleasant. As a result, there were numerous stepping stone crossings to allow pedestrians to traverse without getting into the muck but with stones spaced so the wagons could roll through.

Pompeii with Mount Vesuvius in the background...

Large buildings and open spaces are found throughout the city...

A fancy tiled public bath...

A fast food emporium. Bowls of food were set out in the recesses in the counter and customers could walk around and serve out a meal for themselves...

Smaller of the two amphitheaters in the city...

Cobbled streets with wagon wheel ruts and a stepping stone crosswalk...

Mount Vesuvius, which rained down so much terror on the city in 79 AD, was quiet and almost unobtrusive in the background. Again, not exactly what I had expected. It would have been difficult to imagine what Pompeii's final days were like, walking around as we were on a sunny day, surrounded by other tourists. Except there were these plaster casts of the bodies of citizens caught by the sudden onslaught of superheated vapors and hot ash. So sudden as to suspend them in the pose of their last moments in this life. The ash making such an accurate mold as to reveal some facial features on a few of them. On this beautiful day and in the magnificence of this ancient city, buried in ash for 1700 years but now easily accessible to tourists in sandals and sunglasses, we found a few poignant reminders of one awful afternoon that saw everything wiped away in a veritable instant.


And then we left. Just that quickly.

The return to the hotel was uneventful and we were greeted by bike boxes and suitcases. Being so supplied, we unpacked and assembled our rides in preparation for the trip to Matera where the actual touring would begin.

1 comment:

Spiffer said...

Even the expected seems to come out of nowhere: kids' graduation, summer ending, death and taxes.
I love that plaster cast--eerie and sad and a reminder that each moment is precious.