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Naples City Skyline, Naples, Italy
As I shot my way out of Amalfi I wondered where today’s roundabouts would take me? I guess I was getting used to the whole routine; I didn’t have a lick of trouble getting to my destination.
I approached my gig at the Navel Base north of Naples at Gicignano di Aversa with a bit of trepidation because my task there was clear as mud. I would teach some people photography was the rough outline. Customer Appreciation Days hosted by the Navel Exchange for the troops.
I had prepared some power point presentations that covered photography basics, where I shoot, what I shoot, and how I shoot, and why. All with photo examples of wildlife, lifestyle, and landscape from the western United States. I planned to modify the presentations ASAP, now I had some Italy photos to add to them for more pertinent, practical examples. That is why I showed up early so I could present photos that would inspire them to go photograph their temporary local.
I checked into the base hotel and met a bunch of new future friends as well as seeing John and Bill again. I was briefed on the immediate schedule, a dinner tonight, and orientation meeting in the morning. Somewhere I mentioned my failure to get to Capri and without asking Bill insisted I skip the morning orientation so I could go do my Capri morning shoot. Excellent –I’m liking this gig better already.
A new plan quickly came together; I would leave the base at 5AM for Naples Harbor 45 minutes away to catch the first possible ferry for Capri. The guy at the hotel desk hearing my plans offered to rent me a GPS since Naples has 3.5 million people. Considering some of my previous challenges, I said yes.
All coffeed up courtesy of an American style hotel with a coffee maker in the room I was out the door, bright eyed and bushy tailed. The guy at the hotel desk programmed in my destination, and I was off and away. I had never used a GPS before, oh except for my I phone one that had me doing circles in downtown Calgary Canada. Oops, maybe I should return it while I still had a chance.
As soon as I exited the base my GPS instructed me to go 900 yards then turn right at – then it rattled off some three-named street, all well and good, it would probably repeat it again soon. Well soon I was at an unlit roundabout; of course, you turn right into the roundabout –why are all Italian street names so long. I missed the turn somewhere in the roundabout behind me. My GPS for the next twenty minutes instructed me in a seemingly mocking but pleasant voice through an endless steam of turn instructions to get me back on track, left turns and right turns all at the next intersection as I looked out at the slums of Aversa, some of which were starting to look failure.
Well I finally got out of there and onto the highway I already knew how to find from the base. I shouldn’t have started listening to the GPS until I was on the highway south Naples. Another navigation lesson learned. It was a breeze getting to Naples Harbor once I escaped the land of roundabouts to highways with clear exits.
It was the day after a full moon and that is when the moon sets in the west a little after sunrise and upon my arrival to Naples Harbor I realized I needed to skip the first ferry or two and shoot the moon, hopefully setting over the Isle of Capri. I started bushwhacking my way to likely places and found a harbor overlook a to captured a red sky over Mt. Vesuvius, the volcano that hovers menacingly over the city of Naples. By now I had bypassed the ferry terminal I had originally ai, but I knew another was on the south side of the harbor which gave me the opportunity to shoot a harbor castle or two while to maneuver to a spot to put the moon over some terrestrial cool thing, sadly it wasn’t going to be Capri. Well I thought I was on the south side of the harbor, but I now was watching the moon set over the city of Naples which I thought was east, but the moon sets in the west –good grief! It was the peninsula that jutted south from the north side of Naples Bay. Well with a population of three million people I suppose eight-story buildings could encircle the bay. Well I’m glad the moon somehow set over the city that was really cool, as well as unexpected. Now it was time to find the other ferry terminal and that was easy.
Mt. Vesuvius really doesn’t menace the locals; they probably don’t even notice it anymore. More than half a million people live in the volcano’s red zone (death zone) where destruction from a big eruption would be swift and brutal. Another 3.5 million people live barely outside the red zone. That’s why volcanologists consider it the world’s most dangerous volcano. Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79 and killed thousands of people in the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Nevertheless, the advantages seem to outweigh the disadvantages because wherever there is a volcano; there is rich fertile soil. Volcanoes are good for tourism, bringing towns lots of money. I live in the red zone of Yellowstone’s volcano. Around volcanoes there are lots of stone deposits from eruptions, which can be converted into quarries. Geothermal energy opportunities from natural vents near volcanoes can be used to provide geothermal energy. Today, Naples is looking to tap into and harness Vesuvius’energy to improve lives, the environment and living conditions. Four million people around this volcano have determined the benefits outweigh the risks. Those born here though likely haven’t even given it a thought. WellMt. Vesuvius looks quite bucolic today. It sounds as though we would all be better off with our own volcano! I wish I had time to visit Pompeii.
On the ferry to Capri, I met a nice couple on their honeymoon and I offered to take some honeymoon photos of them if they went in with me to charter a boat to circle the island. They thought it was a great idea because they couldn’t check into their hotel until eleven anyway but dang it, upon our arrival we found all charter operations didn’t open until eleven. Oh well, it would have been good to have a couple of young lovers for models for a quick tour of Capri considering its reputation as a romantic getaway.
About two seconds after the attractive couple disappeared, a boat captain named Alejandro approached me and asked if I was looking for a charter. Yes I am, but lets get after it quick before we squander the morning light. Alejandro was my default Capri model, a quintessential handsome Italian of sixty with the life of a sailor etched into his craggy suntanned face. Not an attractive bride, but Alejandro would have to do. With no plan or budget I have to take my stock photo opportunities wherever they fall into my grasp.
Alejandro gathered up his beautiful boat quick enough, and I was soon shooting the heck out of the Capri landscape/seascape; boat captain/tour guide, in sweet morning light under a bright blue sky. Now I often prefer some clouds, but with Capri’s sunny reputation a bright blue day was perfect. Alejandro took me and my camera through the tunnel of love as well as the rest of the island. Dang it, the Blue Grotto was closed because of high waves.
Upon our arrival back at the port, I had just enough sweet light left to walk around the waterfront and shoot some harbor atmosphere shots before ten o’clock sun ended the morning light. It would have been nice to rent a scooter and shoot Ana Capri, but I was lucky to have stolen the morning I was enjoying right now, it was time to head back.
The ferry ride back gave the opportunity to shoot Naples shipyard and skyline. I really had nothing pressing back at the base so I decided to get lost in Naples for a while. Driving into Naples before 6am there was no traffic, now at eleven AM, it was a whole different story. As much as I poke fun about taking wrong routes, I do enjoy seeing surprise places when I travel. I started zigzagging through the seaside section of the city for a while just to see what was there.
What a joy it was to observe the chaos of Naples traffic. I was stopped at a red light on a busy one-way five-lane boulevard and when the light turned green it was off to the races for fifty scooters and half as many cars. It was as if someone fired off the pistol at the Kentucky Derby. I laughed out loud as I entered the intersection and watched. A short time later I was trying to get to the right turn lane on a similar five-lane, one way, boulevard that ended at the harbor front boulevard. Traffic had to go either right or left, well I was somewhere in the middle stuck in a turn left lane, but when the light turned all traffic went wherever they wanted, people to my right were going left, people to my left were going right and I wasn’t going anywhere because I was laughing to hard, I had never seen such chaos.
After three more lefts, I achieved my right turn and decided to dead recon my way back to the base, hopefully up the coast. Naples is where pizza was invented and they had a great variety of very strange Pizza. Naples wasn’t laid out in an organized road grid; it grew organically over centuries from the harbor and its protective castle. One would have hoped that the city would have developed along the lines of a sliced pizza, all lines radiating out from the harbor but no! It was laid out like spaghetti, with some spiral pasta thrown in for good measure. As much as I tried to follow the coast I couldn’t. I was soon channeled south on a Linguini loop to a hill going back the way I came, on a hill looking down on the northbound road I tried to exit Naples on. My new plan was, considering my new, and opposite direction was to wind around until I found the freeway I came in on. I believe it was just down yonder a bit. It was great fun, getting lost is great when you have the time to do so. It is even funner when you can describe the adventure with Italian food metaphors.
Back at the base I had some laughs after I told some of my driving stories to some Naples long timers. They informed me that Italy has driving suggestions and not driving laws. They elaborated: The first and only rule of Italian driving is, don’t hit anything that is in front of you. There are no other rules. This means that quaint American rules like, always stop at stoplights, stay in your lane, don’t drive on the shoulder/sidewalk, stop for pedestrians, etc. don’t apply as long as you don’t hit anything or anyone! Americans perceive this as chaos; however, Italians see this as “no accident, no problem.” Making eye contact means that you see each other and one of you will therefore get out of the way of the other. Since it is often confusing which one will do so, it is often best to avoid eye contact. I found it alarmingly amusing that when informed that when two cars scrape in traffic it is called an Italian kiss. Italy has one of the highest road fatality rates in the European Union. More than 4,000 road deaths occurred in 2009, which totals 6.7 deaths per 100,000 people. The statistic was no surprise.
Next on the agenda was the business casual dinner for all us invited talent most notably our two Medal of Honor recipients. The 58-course dinner was great, all manner of strange stuff crossed my plate and all of it was good. I met some nice folks at my table. Dan Petek was an adjunct professor of advertising at Washington State University in Pullman Washington, and he worked in the industry as well, so we had many things to talk about. Dan another adventurous soul, he asked whether I wanted to go do some street shooting of local street vendors in the local village. Heck ya, if I can get back in time for my next presentation at 2pm. This was a good chance to get some good local color; it is nice to get away from the tourist areas so you can capture the culture and life of the normal people. We set up a time after my first presentation.
Friday was my first day of duties I put on the power point presentation for the high school and fielded a question and answer period. Later at 2PM I was to do another for all troops and their spouses who were interested.
After the high school presentation Dan and I headed to a couple of random villages and found street vendors and did a little shooting, but we desired a bigger market. Joe is a fan of dead reckoning also, so we set off for somewhere and we did get somewhere, wherever that was. We couldn’t find a good outdoor market, but did find an interesting village with a famous church. Lacking a market we just drove around shooting the ubiquitous 50-something shop owners inevitably standing in front of their business, or the ever-present group of men hanging out in front of the cafeterias smoking cigarettes. I also shot some Mafia looking gentlemen who glared at us with eyes of steel while Dan and I hoped to not get stuck behind a donkey cart accelerating away from their menacing stare.
Well we were fresh out of time, Dan had only a slight clue of where he had misplaced his dead reckoning ability, and I was little help with mine. We did get a grand tour of the village of Caserta which we both knew was the wrong direction of our desire. Here, after accidently seeing the town, we zigzagged under the autostrada trying to find the elusive entrance to the autostrada, a known route back to the base. So close, yet so far away. We made it back to base with fifteen minutes to spare, I don’t know what I was so worried about.
To my relief, both of my presentations were received well. My next duty wasn’t until the following day when I was supposed to hang out in the camera department of the base store and inspire people to take advantage of the customer appreciation day sale.
The evening dinner was somewhere out in Aversa, pizza; of course. It was a surprise and a pleasure to be seated with the Jason Michael Carroll country band that was here to put on a show for the troops. Dinner was good; the company was better.
Before my original arrival to the base was wondering how often I would be able to slip away so I could capture more bits and pieces of Italy, but the more I was around the base the more great people I met and I not longer desired to explore roundabouts on my own, I wanted to get to know these people better.
Saturday was the big day of the event. Competitions of all kinds, performances by circus acts, kung fu demonstrators, autograph sessions with famous musicians and the Medal of Honor recipients. I volunteered to photograph as much of it as I could.
Saturday I hit the ground running at 7am and shot the 5k race. Then it was off to Humvee pull. The autograph sessions with Jason Michael Carroll and the Medal of Honor recipients Thomas G. Kelly and Alfred V. Rascon, America’s Got Talent winners, Side Kick the kung fu performers, Viktoria Grimmy the circus performer and her husband Michael the unicycle juggler and the Vans BMX exhibition I soon had filled up more memory cards than I ever had before. What I was hoping to be a quick stop at the room proved to be an ordeal to empty my cards onto the laptop in time for the next event. Somewhere during the chaos above I slipped in my responsibility at the store. With new empty cards, it was off to the concert.
As a landscape, lifestyle, and wildlife photographer I hadn’t shot many things I had shot this day, but it was fun shooting new things. Having full access to the best BMX riders in the world, and top entertainment performers was quite a privilege and opportunity
Like everything else I hadn’t shot a concert before, and access in front of the front row seats couldn’t be a better place to enjoy a concert. I am a country music listener, but not an avid fan who keeps up with the whose who of all who come and go. I turn on the radio and listen, and today they often don’t say until after a set who they played. Well seeing the invited guests I googled up Jason Michael Carroll and realized I was a fan of many of his songs although I hadn’t paid any attention to who sang them. His song “I Can Sleep When I’m Dead” happened to be one of my favorites, both for its message and for the sublime delivery. “I Can Sleep When I’m Dead” had often been a standard reply to my kids when they inquire about my ridiculous photographers’hours. I was looking forward to shooting this.
Armed with my D5lll with a 70-300mm and my 7D with a 24-105mm I set about learning about concert photography. I was happy to warm up with the evening sun lighting the band. I was ecstatic as a Napoli sunset provided magical natural light and later thanks to modern high ISOs the cool light of professional concert lighting guys that provided awesome reds blues and occasional puffs of smoke just when needed. The most challenging part was getting the subject tightly framed while rocking out with the speaker blasting 150 decibels of great music in my ear. What a blast!
The following day I was the photo consultant on a bus tour of the Amalfi Coast. I couldn’t teach a thing because there was also a step on guide telling us all about the Amalfi Coast. What I learned on the bus tour was that I sure was glad I rented a car. We made one stop at a viewpoint above Sorrento and another stop in the town of Amalfi, quite disappointing. That said, Michael and Viktoria made some good models for our two stops along the coast.
That night I had the honor of dining privately with war hero and Medal of Honor recipient Thomas G. Kelly and his wife Joan. I was humbled.
Tomorrow was departure day for Italy’s Dolomite Alps.