A Bizarre Form of Locomotion

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Standing there, admiring the view, wasn’t going to make the walk down from Ravello any shorter.

Walking is something scientists believe we’ve been doing for somewhere between 250,000 and 1.6 million years, when Homo erectus, first decided to go upright.   Why that distant ancestor decided to stand up remains a mystery.  To get a better view across the tall grasses?  To reach the forest – and food – beyond those grasses more quickly?  To make himself look bigger when confronted by a potential attacker? Was he an outsider, or just a regular neanderthal looking for a bit of novelty?

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Even though I went up and down that mountain to Ravello in a (mostly) upright position, what I saw going downhill was remarkably different.  Here, one of the domes of Santissima Annunziata seen from ground level.

Whatever led that first ‘walker’ to stand up, it was a radical move, that none of the other 250 species of primates on the planet has yet to pick up.  This had led scientists to make all sorts of probably scientifically correct, if rather unflattering comments.  One anthrolopologist describes walking as a ‘unique and bizarre form of locomotion’.  Others have declared it the defining feature of being human.  Really?

This little shrine was virtually unchanged from my last visit.  It was strangely comforting.

It was strangely comforting to see that the little shrine nearby was virtually unchanged from my last visit.

However you define the essence of being human, from the first time we struggled to get up off our bottoms, we’ve all got used to doing it.  And although many of us still struggle to get off our bottoms, few of us aren’t aware of the many benefits to be gained from doing so.

The 'street' numbers picked up the iconic chapel and the dog from Pompeii was a popular "Keep Out' motif.

The ‘street’ numbers picked up the iconic domes.  The chained dog from Pompeii was a popular “Keep Out’ motif.

Turn on the radio or TV, or open a magazine these days and you’re bound to find something about the benefits of walking.  Or google ‘walking, benefits’ and pages and pages of sites extolling its virtues come up.  You might even start wondering if it isn’t the philosophers’ elusive gold.

Now and then I came across a small patch of colourful flowers.

Now and then there was a small patch of colourful flowers like these Helianthus (I think).

Or bougainvillea, apparently growing wild.

Or bougainvillea, apparently growing wild.

But most of the small bits of land that had been created by centuries of terracing were devoted to more practical plants - like grapes for making wine.

But most of the small bits of  flat land that had been carved out of the mountainside were devoted to more practical plants – like grapes for making wine.

Walking, we’re told, prevents or decreases heart disease, stroke and diabetes; lowers bad cholesterol and increases the good kind; strengthens bones, improves balance and coordination, thus reducing falls in the elderly – and since we’re all getting more elderly, none of us wants to fall, because the next thing you know, you’ve broken a hip and landed in hospital, where if you don’t get zapped by some nasty super bug, you get pneumonia and we all know where that leads to.

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Olive trees obviously thrive here.

Under the olive trees on one of the terraces I came across a spectacular clump of flowers.  With its soft pink blossoms, long thick stem and lack of foliage, it looked a lot like Amaryllis.  But it couldn’t be.  The only experience I’d had with Amaryllis was that of a bulb you bought, usually in a brightly decorated box, in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  You put the bulb in the pot and bit of soil that came with the bulb – making sure the soil covered only the bottom third of the bulb – and then you hoped you’d get lucky and the Amaryllis would be in full bloom for Christmas.  How could such a flower be growing, let alone thriving, in the dry, rocky corner of a mountainside terrace?

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What was this gorgeous flower?

Since I didn’t think I’d get anywhere by googling ‘pink flower on long stem growing wild on terraces of Amalfi Coast’ I decided, mostly because I couldn’t think of anything else, to look up Amaryllis.  To my amazement, up came a photo of the very flower gloriously blooming on that Amalfi Coast terrace.   There was also a description of its growth habits:

‘The leaves are produced in the autumn or early spring in warm climates depending on the onset of rain and eventually die down by late spring. The bulb is then dormant until late summer. The plant is not frost-tolerant, nor does it do well in tropical environments since they require a dry resting period between leaf growth and flower spike production. From the dry ground in late summer (…) each bulb produces one or two leafless stems 30–60 cm tall, each of which bears a cluster of 2 to 12 funnel-shaped flowers at their tops.’

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On the other side of Minori’s small harbour, a stretch of the Amalfi Coast Road. Notice how much space those cars are taking up. Add a full-sized bus to the mix and you get an idea of what driving along this road is like.

I was surprised to learn on a trip to Italy’s northern lake district a few years ago that Italians do not share the typical foreigner’s romantic notions about the cypress tree.   The cipresso (chee-press-soh) for many Italians is primarily associated with death.  Cypresses are always planted around cemeteries, something I had somehow failed to notice before.  I suppose that on a dull, cold, foggy day – do they even have those on the Amalfi Coast? – the narrow, conical trees might take on a somewhat spectral appearance, but on this hot, sunny day, I was throughly happy to see them.  Minori’s cemetery was at the edge of town.  I was almost at the end of my walk down the mountain.

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Opening hours. Oddly, the cemetery is chiuso (closed) Sunday and holiday afternoons.

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There is no sugar-coating what lies beyond the gates.

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NOTICE. For the anniversary of November 1 and 2 users are advised that from October 2 votive lamps may be reserved at the cemetery of Minori every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

In Italy it’s not the candy sellers that look forward to October, but the florists and nurserymen – especially those that grow Chrysanthemums.  The Festa dei Santi e dei Morti is held the first weekend of November.  The first of these two holidays, which in 2014 fell on November 1, is dedicated to celebrating the saints.  The second, aka Commemorazione dei Defunti, which always strikes me as much more decorous than ‘Festa‘ of the Dead’, is all about remembering the dead.   People bring flowers – Chrysanthemums are the flower of choice – never, ever bring Mums as a hostess guilt in Italy! – to put on the graves of their loved ones.  And votive candles.  In some places there seems to be some kind of controversy about those candles.  (Some cemeteries have switched over to LED lights.  I’ll write more about it when I get back to Tuscany.)  But it is a kerfuffle that doesn’t seem to have made its way to Minori, where you can set your loved one’s grave ablaze with a croce (cross) or cuore (heart) mounted with as many as 16 candles if you want.

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As they probably did in this life, entire families are grouped together ‘under one roof’ in the next.  There is a lot of symmetry to the floral arrangements.  Does that tell us something about the departed or the mourners?

In Italy, where space has always been at a premium, many tombs are vertical.  I wonder how much longer we’ll be able to keep on burying our dead in the beautiful, but enormous park-like setting of a typical Canadian cemetery.  There was an article in the paper recently of a cemetery in Mexico City where gravesides are available only on a leasing basis.  When the lease is up – three years on average – what is left of the body is dug up – without any pretence of dignity if the photo that accompanied the article is any indication – to make room for the next leaseholder…

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So many flowers, but not an Amaryllis in sight. Maybe they are considered too common.  Lack the desired level of gravitas?

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It was good to return to the land of the living.  As I made my way down the last set of  steps to the harbour, I vowed, yet again, to make time for that life-prolonging, daily walk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s also apparently good for our brains –

 

 

 

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2 Responses to A Bizarre Form of Locomotion

  1. This article reminds me of what Renato Fucini said: “For the Amalfi inhabitants who will go to the Paradise it will be a day like all the others”.

    • donnafenice says:

      Thank you, Dan. I hadn’t come across Renato Fucini before. Have just had a marvellous time learning about this (Tuscan!) poet, who, like so many of us, was also enamoured of the Amalfi Coast. The only downside was finding out that while in Amalfi (the village) I had missed the plaque with the quote you cite. One more reason to return…

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