Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Italy Motorcycle Diary: 12. Music Amid the Ruins




                My route took me near a town called Nola and onto the A30/A1/E45 freeway that I knew pretty well by now. I had seen the sign to S.M. Capua Vetere the day before and didn’t have to rely on the GPS. I barely noticed Naples as I passed by it. There were some straddlers, all moving slower than I, but no more crazy drivers. Or maybe I was crazy, too?
Approaching the toll booth after the Capua Vetere exit brought mild panic, but this time I sailed through, paying twelve euro.
                I was tired but not wiped out. I felt fantastic. I was really here! Yet as I cruised into the town, my elation faded. Everything seemed closed. As in, the whole town. It was Monday. The streets were deserted. I soon found my destination at the end of a road – Casa Vacanze, right on the grounds of Anfiteatro Campania.
I’d texted the owner and caretaker, Pasquale, an hour before at an autogrill and he was waiting for me at the apartment. The place was beyond perfect. It has a gated courtyard plenty big enough for a patio table and a motorcycle, with stairs that go down to a marvelous yard of grass with a garden. Beyond the short fence are the ruins of the anfiteatro, the second-largest ever Colloseum-style stadium built in Italy.
Music stands for the concert in front of the ruins
After putting away my things I drove around old town for about 20 minutes, rumbling over its cobblestones, before deciding I could sit on the thing no longer. I parked and locked it, then paid admission to the anfiteatro and began my exploration of the ruins. The site was everything I’d wanted it to be: It was off the beaten path and I felt like I had the place to myself. Eight or 10 other visitors came in after me in the late afternoon, none of whom spoke English . I hung out in the subterranean passageways for most of the time, since it was a nice escape from the sun. Visitors can’t walk on the interior arena or the stone bleachers still standing. The surrounding area has a few big blocks with inscriptions or carvings, and allow for dramatic photos to be taken of the anfiteatro from all sides. Off to the side of the main ruins is a low wall – a remnant of the original sports facility where Spartacus fought or trained. Somewhere near here, Rome’s most famous slave broke out with his fellow gladiators and started their epic two years of freedom.
I stayed for an hour and a half, exiting a few minutes before closing time. A full-sized stage with spotlights had been set up before I arrived; now a couple of semi-trucks had pulled up and people were setting up a couple-hundred folding chairs. The European Spirit of Youth Orchestra was playing a concert there that night. I couldn’t have planned it better.
Dinner was a baguette sandwich and beer at the Jambon baguetteria up the street. I took one of the remaining seats at the concert and listened to the kids play stirring renditions of the theme from the movie “Gladiator” and Holst’s “Mars: Bringer of War,” all in the amazing setting of the anfiteatro ruins which were lit up dramatically with palettes of light. Soon I transitioned to the hammock in Pasquale’s garden, where I relaxed with a bottle of water, gazed at the illuminated ruins with the concert in the background, and dozed for an hour before going to bed.
The stadium is the 2nd largest next to the Colosseum
Santa Maria Capua Vetere came alive at night with partying youth, I discovered. It had been slow and dead through late afternoon and into the evening. Even the crowd who came to see the orchestra seemed to do little more than drive in, park nearby, then drive out when it was over. But during the last half of the concert and well afterwards, what sounded like a thousand teens and young 20-somethings within two or three blocks of me chatted and hollered and cackled and screamed into the night. Pasquale had made me paranoid about the bike, advising me to put it inside the courtyard and padlock the gate. But I’d left it outside because I couldn’t back it up over dirt and up a small rise. The front wheel was locked, but I couldn’t shake my stupid fears. These worries morphed into a crazy, long dream.
I got out of bed and looked out the window. A woman was hitching the R1200RS to a farm tractor so she could steal it. I called out to her, but she didn’t care that I saw. Her accomplices yelled threats at me. The Italian police soon showed up, filling up the apartment with gruff men in uniform who asked urgent questions in Italian and English. I gave them all the details I could, but the bike was gone.
Then I woke up confused and anxious. I hopped out of bed and opened the front door to check on the bike. Of course it was still there, parked next to some old trees outside the gate. The night was quiet now, the partiers all gone. A warm breeze rustled the leaves on the trees.
Exploring the underground tunnels of the anfiteatro
     In the morning I decided to check on the bike again. I opened the door of the casita – and beheld the astonishing sight of the anfiteatro. I was overcome with the strange feeling that I had to experience that exact moment twice, so I closed the door, then opened it again. Mama mia! What a view!
I ate breakfast in the backyard, munching a piece of toast and drinking the American instant coffee I had made for myself. Pasquale texted the night before, saying that I needed to be there for checkout, but that he couldn’t make it there until eight in the morning. At first I was mildly annoyed, thinking he’d ruined my plan to get on the highway early. But I had no plans, either for getting up early or for what I would do next. I’d intentionally left the last two days of the moto trip unscheduled, and had not booked a hotel room anywhere.
I needed to return the BMW the next day in Florence, which is nearly 300 miles from Capua. I knew I had a lot of driving to do. But as I sat on the picnic table in the yard, I also knew that if I was going to do anything cool, I needed to find some ambition.
I resolved to be in Viterbo by lunchtime.

Next: Viterbo and Siena

Wax figures reenact a match at the gladiator museum


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