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Dorien Grey

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Blogs by Dorien Grey

Baiting the hook
8/23/2007 12:04:24 PM    [ Flag as Spam or Inappropriate ]

Since the letters I wrote home while iin the navy more than half a century ago were actaully a form of blog long before blogs were invented and are slated for release in book form next year, I would like to offer you one letter in hopes of whetting your interest both in the forthcoming book and in the blog in which they all currently appear. (A World Ago blog at http://www.doriengrey.blogspot.com.)

Though I'm naturally somewheat prejudiced, I think I can say...with no false modesty...that they're not at all bad for a 22 year old kid. The following was written on January 2, 1956, from Naples, Italy, long before most of you were born.


And here it is:


I think I neglected to mention the trip up Mt. Vesuvius, made the same day as the one to Pompeii. After leaving Pompeii, during which the sun shone obligingly, we stopped at one of the little villages between there and Naples for dinner. While we ate, clouds drifted in from somewhere like sliding doors, completely hiding the mountain. As we started to leave the restaurant, Niagara Falls suddenly appeared overhead, & the street became a river, down which floated odds & ends of branches, celery stalks, & torn bits of paper.


Our guide insisted, with the fervor only Italians have (fortunately) that we couldn’t possibly go up Mt. Vesuvius—that we could see instead Little Vesuvius, an obscure mountain, or hill, that still had a little steaming lava in it. We took a vote, which came out 53 to 2 (the guides) in favor of Vesuvius. We tried pointing out that, if it were raining on big Vesuvius it would most likely be raining on little Vesuvius, too, & we would rather see nothing on the former than on the latter. So, amid a vivid splash of Italian from the guides, we ran to the busses—it was still raining a little--& away we went.


The rain gave way to fog, which turned into clouds as we got higher. We couldn’t see more than fifty feet in any direction, but could make out the road, which twisted & wound, & was directly above & directly below. At first, near the base, there were many farms, & a small village where the driver stopped for cigarettes. About ten people, mostly men & young boys, stood around in front of the "store" staring at us. One of the younger boys smiled & waved, & was immediately shushed & scolded by one of the older men. From then on till we pulled out they just stared at us & we stared back. I think they were a bunch of dirty Communists. (NOTE: Anyone who doesn’t like Americans is a "dirty Communist.")


Higher up the farms grow more scarce, & the road becomes more torturous. Now the lava can be seen—great walls of it—fantastic shapes—looking like cake batter. Small caves appeared where the lava had apparently splashed over the rocks beneath, trapping a bubble of air or gas. Mounds, ridges, bubbles, swirls; all imaginable shapes. I saw a farmhouse, made of stone, with its roof & two walls gone, cut in half by a rivulet of lava.


Up & up—patches of snow appear; the fog closes in—the bus creeps along, its motor grinding.


At last the bus comes to a comparatively wide flat area & stops. Snow, or hail, is on the ground, looking like large grains of salt. Hugging the mountain is a yellowish-white building. Our guide tells us that this is as far as the road goes—from the building a chair lift rises to the summit—but of course we don’t want to go up today. We do. On the first floor of the building is a bar, where some of the Chiefs decide to stay. Some of the guys hadn’t brought coats, & now regret it—it’s cold. From the second story, the chair lift starts. It’s a damp cold room, open at one end, which faces a sheer lava wall.


The chairs seat two—look something like the kiddie swings in public parks. You sit in, & a man pushes the chair, suspended by a single rod to a wire overhead, to a point where it somehow grabs hold of the moving wire---you look like you’re heading straight for the wall. Then, just before you hit it, you’re whisked almost straight up (actually, about at a 45 degree angle). And there you are. The fog—or clouds—act as a huge, damp blanket. There is absolutely no sound, except for the occasional whir as a chair passes going down, or a click as your chair passes one of the supporting towers for the wires, which loom like ghosts out of the mists & disappear as silently as they’d come. Your left side is covered with a sugar-like mist, which clings to your clothes & looks very pretty. Below you, about ten or twenty feet, is the mountain—snow coated ever so lightly—stark, bare, a few parallel tracks that puzzle you—what can they be? No car can go so steep—no skis, certainly. And then the chair whips into a smaller version of the building below. You get out, walk up a flight of stairs, over a ramp that looks down to the mountain behind the building, & onto the mountain itself.


It’s a weird, eerie, & beautiful sight—a long, winding line of figures, moving in solid white. On the right, the mountain drops away not sharply, but at such an angle that you’d roll a good distance if you slipped. The wind becomes cold & very violent; the snow is granular like below, only larger. It is mixed with the red of the ash. And then the summit—the mouth of the crater—the only way you can tell is because now the mountain falls away on both sides.


Large chunks of lava lie scattered about as we weave our way down—as we get below the rim of the crater, the wind no longer blows—it is a misty, silent fantasy. Grey. We go down as far as we can, until the slope ends & all there is is a sheer drop into nothing; the grey above meets the grey below. And you feel proud, awed, & very humble….


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