In a world rife with misinformation, it is easy to forget all the crap you learned in grade school. Take for instance John Cabot. The famous English explorer. Bankrolled by Henry VII he is credited with bumping into Newfoundland and discovering Canada in 1497. To hear it told by my Canadian teachers, he was as English as Marmite and warm beer. Truth is he was as Italian as Christopher Columbus and born in Gaeta (our winter home). Even the road outside our marina is named after him, Via Lungomare Giovanni Caboto. It seems that Italian and Portuguese captains had a lock on trans-Atlantic seafaring leadership in the 15th century. Eager to encourage North Atlantic reconnaissance, the Spanish and English created plenty of job opportunities for them.
Thus, Gaeta has been home to sailors and adventurers for centuries. The peninsula’s cradling embrace protects the harbour from bad weather to the west and north. High hills behind the city keep easterly winds under control, leaving only troublemaking Sciroccos to rile up waters from the south. Such was the case last week as 50 knot gusts with blasts of rain pummeled the Gulf of Gaeta for two days. While we snuggled down with the cats in our temporary apartment, waves broke over the seawall into the harbour. Our neighbours Robin and Bob said it got ‘pretty wild’. Bob went above and beyond by going outside in the maelstrom and checking the mooring lines of other, absentee, liveaboards – like us. Despite a broken mooring compensator (a rubber doohickey that helps prevent line snatching), Aleta was still securely at dock and unharmed when we returned a few days later. Thanks Bob!
God in a Fog
Drive ten kilometres from Gaeta, then hike four kilometres uphill and you’ll find the statue of Jesus atop Cima de Redentore, a rocky outcropping overlooking the city of Formia. The well-tramped path up the mountain winds back and forth and takes you past the hermitage of St. Michael the Archangel. Fog swirled around us the day we visited, giving this little chapel carved deep into the rock a spooky feeling. Dating back to the 9th century and rebuilt in the 19th, pilgrims have been making their way up the mountain for benediction ever since it was first consecrated.
Today, though, the real set piece is the statue of Christ looming 100 metres directly above the chapel. This splendid example of neo-baroque Catholic iconography has a bit of a ghoulish past. Erected in 1907 under a ‘build a Christ on your hill program’ sponsored by the Pope, the statue was hand carried up the mountain and assembled by the local community. A year after it was christened, a huge bolt of lightning struck the statue and blew Christ’s head off. Toppling forward, it bounced over the cliff, dropped 150 metres, bounced again and rolled down the valley. After much searching, a shepherd (appropriately) recovered it and along with the rest of his village put Jesus’ head back on his shoulders. A heavy copper grounding conductor was added to the Holy Redeemer to ensure he stays there.
Speaking of Hiking
Carol decided she needed a new pair of boots. Having walked the lugs off her old Italian Zamberlan boots, she nearly died slipping on a via ferrata in Spain last September. Ever since then she has been desperate to put her feet into a new pair. Contacting shoe stores around the region of Latina yielded nothing. Women in Italy don’t buy hiking boots. At least not at stores that stock Zamberlans. Perhaps because these stores were all hunting outfitters catering to an exclusively male clientele. Undeterred, Carol went directly to Zamberlans and ordered online. These days shoe sizing involves a sheet of paper, a pen, and a tape measure. Online shoe shopping, like carpentry, demands you measure twice, then twice again, but cut an order only once. Her boots arrived a few days later. New, blue, and just the right size.
Guns and Rosés
Geared up, we are keen to tackle more hikes. Except that Carol’s research made us appreciate how many hunters there are in this part of Italy. Wild boar is the chosen quarry, shotguns the preferred weapon. Last Sunday, hiking up the valley outside Itri, we heard the occasional retort of gunfire. Sticking to the marked path, we weren’t worried about being mistaken for pigs. It was only when we reached the woods above the cow line and read the, Caution – Hunting in Progress, signs that we slowed up.
Soon, a dairy farmer drew his big black Nissan pickup alongside us and rolled down his passenger window. We complimented him on his outstandingly pretty cows, and in turn he warned us to watch out for hunters. He leaned towards me slightly and pulled on his lower eyelid, ‘Molto pericoloso, tieni gli occhi aperti!’ (Very dangerous, keep your eyes open.) Already three miles out, we prudently turned around and retraced our steps back to the car. My understanding is Italy has stiff regulations for gun owners, resulting in far fewer hunting casualties compared with the United States. Nevertheless, over a glass of wine later that evening, we decided to invest in a couple of high visibility vests before our next excursion.