Friday, April 1, 2016

Positano: From Misty Spirit to Comedy/Surgery

Positano: From Misty Spirit to Comedy/Surgery

Positano was just one of three or four places we visited on one day of our 16 day visit and cruise to Spain and Italy. No politics, policy, science or heavy philosophy. Just looking at beautiful sights and relaxing – a window into the ordinary life of this cruise. March 23. (Don't know why camera says March 22.)

We came to Positano as passengers in a van, starting earlier in Naples and going to Sorrento before Positano. Besides Luda and Chris and me, there was a couple from Ohio, three folks from Texas (including the guy who made the arrangements) and a driver, Giovanni.

            As we came towards Positano, Giovanni pulled over to place where we took many beautiful pictures, like this one. But no two-dimensional picture can capture the full breadth and scope of the full experience. (Click on the picture to get full detail.)
Giovanni told us a lot of things about Positano. For example, he told us there are many stories about where it gets its name. Greeks lived there before Christian times, but Giovanni was not an historian or archeologist (unlike our guides in Sicily and Tuscany). We had heard that the name might have something to do with Poseidon, but he told us that the Greek Temples were dedicated to two goddesses (Athena and Vesta I think), and even the main Christian Church is dedicated to Maria. One story is that the city was founded by Greeks moving along the coast from a sister city dedicated to Poseidon. Another story, the favorite in the city itself, is that a ship with Christian passengers got into a terrible storm, and that the icon painting they were carrying magically said “posi! posi!,” teleported itself to the beach you see in this picture, and thereby led them to safety. “Ever since, they have an annual boat parade carrying that icon, now in the main church, and named the city “Positano in its honor.” It is curious to me that people believe that so much when they know the city was settled before 0AD. We do have a picture of that icon, but I am stretching things to include three pictures.
            But humble human reality: while we all experienced this great view, I quietly walked up to Giovanni and asked: “Is there a WC I could use in that little restaurant here?” He said: “Not really, and we are on a tight schedule. But don’t worry, we are going down to the center, and there are places there.” From leaving the ship to “all aboard” was about ten hours – and I am in the embarrassing position of having a prostate problem, actually prostate cancer, for which I get operated on April 11. More on that below.
            Giovanni told us that there is actually only one road for cars in the entire city – mainly a one-way one-lane loop road. Naturally, it is not a 60mph road. When we got down as close to the center as one can get by car, he pulled off into a paid public parking lot, and told us how much time we had on our own, to get back there. So much beauty... but time had passed and I really, really needed to find a WC. “Giovanni, where is that place you mentioned?” “Oh, he said, just down there... and if that doesn’t work, there is also one down by the beach.” “Down there..”... I walked as fast as I could, down stairs after stairs.... and then... when I felt I would burst... I saw it, to my left... and it was a machine operated turnstile to get in, requiring exactly a 50 eurocent coin.  Luda, back at the parking place far away, had all the coins packed somewhere... so... OK. People had told me that recovery from prostate surgery is a whole lot quicker and more reliable if one does kegel exercises BEFOREHAND, so I took this as an opportunity to put in energy to do those exercises intensely and firmly for awhile. So I walked back up, exercising firm control, and got back to the parking area where Luda had been a bit puzzled about my disappearance. I did say I needed to find a bathroom, but only briefly, and tried to avoid compromising the experience, as we walked down more picturesque stairs towards the main church and the beach, looking at lots of things and taking pictures on the way down.
            Near the bottom, at the church, we took the picture of the icon inside (through the closed door/window), and then looked for a way to the beach – an urgent issue for me at that point. Two stairs went down – one on the right, away from the water, with a sign saying “beach”. The other actually went to the left, where the beach was. So with some urgency I went to the left, which led to a long narrow pedestrian shopping street and finally to the beach.
        Luda and Chris then looked around, and enjoyed that area immediately, as you can see in the rich next picture:
Please look closely. Luda is in front, and Chris is closest person to the left of her, looking at the water. Behind Chris is a long, wide stone pier. Towards the right side of that pier are two yellowish big announcement boards, under a restaurant-cum-hotel called “Saracen’s Cove.” But the sloped pedestrian street/ledge leading up to that restaurant and beyond to a small fort/tower is called something like “road of the Americas.” Near the middle of that pier, behind the other people, is a big anchor and a kind of special dedication from the city. Later, on that pier, I felt the maximum level of qi or spiritual input I did in this whole episode (not close to the maximum at Rome). I wondered if perhaps this really had once been a kind of powerful shrine to Poseidon, and certainly I remembered my concern for what H2S-producing archaea might do to the oceans of the world starting within just a few decades. I also remembered Orson Scott Card’s “Alvin” series, where Alvin always feels attacked by bodies of water – rather different from the story with me and my ancestors (one of whom, Mortimer Donohue, gave his relative Commodore Barry the ships which were the first mainstay of the US Navy). Maybe Card’s community, for all their great good intentions and positive aspects, still have very bad karma related to political causes which unwittingly make the H2S risk a whole lot worse; “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
            But before that, though I still tried to be open to other things, I focused my mind on alleviating the sheer physical pressure becoming harder and harder and more painful. “Where is that WC Giovanni promised me?” Just to the right of Luda, behind, you see two very small buildings and a stairway to their right. I saw the word “WC”! I ran, ran to the door at the base of the stairs... and there was no knob. Only an odd piece of rope to where the knob was supposed to be. A man came over and said, “No. No WC. No more.” That blended with the physical pain!! “HOW can I find a WC SOMEWHERE.” “Oh... go to the park (he said, pointing to the beach and the water)... and follow the yellow.”  Then he turned away.
            So I ran that other way (past Luda, after she dug out two 50 eurocent coins for me just in case) and looked frantically all around, seeing nothing. At the far, far end I saw the Texan in our group who had made the arrangements and knew the area, but he had no idea. I saw a row of beach lockers a bit inset, and hoped THEY might be something else, and even tried a door... no. Coming back... I saw no yellow markers or park, but I did see a couple of restaurants, as in the picture below, taken after I recovered a bit:
 Fortunately, this was not the crowded dinner hour, and many restaurant people knew a bit of English, so I walked into the restaurant you see on the right and asked for WC. (Now I know I should have used the word “toilet.”) A guy pointed in a fuzzy way up to the left. I went, and saw nothing. Another person sent me to the restaurant on the left. They sent me to the right, up towards stairs away from the beach to the city. (“Uh-oh! Yes I know there is a WC ‘way, ‘way back up in the town... oh no... I hope that is not it... enough to bust my entire time budget for the city!”) But as I was about to despair... there were yellow arrows on the stone stairs! And they did lead to a nice, free public municipal WC, deeply surrounded by city buildings, otherwise not marked. I wondered: does lack of clear marking help that other guy by the beach, for times when there are more tourists and he chooses to open his cash cow?
   Anyway, I then walked back calmly to the beach, where Luda took that third picture, and many others. We did have some time, but also had to run hard up the long system of stairs (a little shorter this time, coming up the right stairs to the church). Giovanni next drove us to the restaurant Costantino overlooking Positano, with a fantastic view (more pictures!), where Chris had a Neapolitan pizza and Luda and I shared “fried fish”. Chris and Luda loved that pizza, and even used the phrase “best pizza in my life”; they let me have a slice, but I prefer lots of others in the US. But the “fried fish” did include a lot of the best tasting calamari I have had anywhere, by a big margin. (Later in Rome and Tuscany, I had cappuchinos which were also much better than anything I had anywhere else, which surprised me, since I have been to pretty good places in the US.)
            Then back into the van, where we saw the sad lengthy efforts of some busses (including the poor official tour bus from our ship) to navigate the one and only road. (In better shape was the regular city bus which some people use to get to Positano.) We even had mobile hot spot wifi for a little while, my only internet connection during the whole cruise, and I whipped off just two brief urgent messages on my Galaxy Tab, which turned out to be extremely handy on this whole trip (less than half the cost of new cell phones!). Next stop Pompei, then return to ship. 

I did promise to say more about the prostate issue and surgery. I already posted some things about that issue on this blog, so I won’t go too deep now.

With any cancer, it is extremely important to catch it before it metastasizes. Because mine was caught early enough (“overall Gleason score 3+3”), everyone agrees that there is less than a 10 percent chance that I will ever have to worry about this cancer again after the operation. How much less than 10%? I don’t feel inclined to agonize over that number. The actuarial stuff predicts an expectation of 20 more years for me, but the percentage of uncertainty will grow with time so long as I live. I worry more about the survival of humanity as a whole and of our “spiritual” component, for which there is at least some chance of long-term survival and growth.

I recently discussed this with a guy who used to run the US public health service, and the health programs of DOD. He said: “Sooner or later, we all get prostate cancer, if we live long enough.” Actually, my PSA blood score was only about 4 a year ago, just before we took a trip to India. The discrete jump up to 8 occurred after our return, and I remember a surprising hard day just a couple of weeks after that, and wonder about the connections. But I suppose I should not get too far into that, as it again reminds me of Orson Scott Card’s world. (He has his karma, and I have mine; I have adapted, but still need surgery.)
            Luda tells me that John Kerry already had exactly the same kind of surgery (RP), years ago, and it’s clear that it is not incapacitating!!! And she has found other examples.
            Per McCallum’s great book on prostate cancer for regular folks... I also expect the unpleasant side effects of the surgery to be temporary, with probability more than 90%. But we will see. Soon enough. 

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