My Adventures Touring Europe in 1982 (17) Naples and Sorrento
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Naples and Sorrento
Friday, July 16
This morning, we were free to do as we pleased. Some of the group wanted to visit the Blue Grotto; I joined them. After Lakis dropped us off on the Island of Capri, we sailed in several tiny boats across a small bay. The weather was blazing hot, reminiscent of Southern California. However, unlike Southern California, the water was very warm, clear, and a totally unreal blue color.
The entrance to the grotto was so small, the boats had to pass through one at a time. Once in, the dark blue light glowed surrealistically all over the cave. It was as if it were lit from underneath the water.
“Caesar used to go swimming in this grotto,” our local tour guide explained. “He had his own private tunnel leading down to here, from his castle.”
Wow! He certainly led a great life of luxury, didn’t he? I thought to myself. Too bad he was such a cruel leader!
After the tour, we hung out at the beach. Wearing my shorts and t-shirt, I waded in the water up to my chest. Since the ocean had hardly any waves, I could do this. The water was so clear, I could look down and see my feet! In Southern California, the water is cold, gray and murky. However, the sand there is very fine. Here, the sand was so coarse, it hurt my bare feet to walk on it, but it had fabulous water! I wonder if there are any places that have the best of both.
Then I strolled along the street, letting my clothes dry off. I got loads of crude come-ons from the men.
“Italiano?” (Do you speak Italian?)”
I shook my head.
I shook my head again.”
“Want to go to bed with me?”
I shook my head and walked off.
After awhile, I decided not to admit I spoke English. After one guy went through a bunch of languages, I said, “Deutch”, which stopped him cold.
What was really weird is that whenever I set foot on the sand, which was right next to the sidewalk, the harassment stopped. Lots of women were laying there, sunbathing topless! They were in full sight of anyone on the street, and no one so much as gave them a glance. So walking on the beach in my shorts and t-shift wasn’t an issue, but being on the street dressed that way made me immodest!
A local girl approached me. She couldn’t speak English, but she showed me her towel and pointed to the sand; it was an invitation for me to lay on her towel until I dried out. Thanking her in English, I accepted (I couldn’t speak a word of Italian). While I lay there, she sat next to me, and we attempted some semblance of a conversation. I wish I could have let her know how wonderful I thought that was of her!
The time came for our tour group to meet at the bus to go to go to visit the wood factory in Sorrento. So I said good-bye to her as best I could, and headed off.
“How you doin’?”
I turned around; the greeting came from the first black person I’d seen since leaving Amsterdam.
“I’m fine,” I answered. I was probably looking at him in a similar way northern Europeans looked at me; it had been 3 weeks.
“Where you from?”
“I’m from California. What about you?”
“I’m from California too. LA area. I’m here with the military.”
“I’m taking a 40 day European tour.”
“How long have you been here in Europe?”
“About 3 weeks.”
“See any other black folks while here?”
“Only in Amsterdam, at the beginning of the tour. Nearly everywhere, people have been posing with me and taking my picture. There aren’t many blacks in Europe; we’re a novelty here. Has that happened to you?”
“Yeah, all the time. I just tell them to buzz off.”
“Uh – I don’t think that’s necessary.”
“Anyway, since you ain’t seen no blacks for an eternity, I’ll bet you’re hard up for some lovin’,” he said.
This had to be the worst come-on yet! “No I’m not,” I answered shortly.
“Aw, c’mon, yes you are,” he drawled, reaching for me.
I backed away. “Whoremongers here are a dime a dozen! If I’m that hard-up, I’ll take one of them!” I snapped, walking off.
He actually followed me for two blocks! Finally I turned around, and using a few swear words, threatened to make a scene if he didn’t get lost. Sputtering, he raised his hands in surrender. “All right, all right!” He finally left.
True, this was much tamer than what I was used to in Oakland, but it was the first incident of racism I’d encountered here in Europe. And it came from a black man, from the Los Angeles area! To think my former roommate Sydney accused me of being prejudiced against blacks because I wanted to tour the continent – what would she make of this???
My tour group boarded the bus, and we headed for the wood factory in Sorrento. The tour guide there explained how inlaid wood art was created, and we got to explore the various types of artwork and wooden sculptures there. Several beautiful music boxes were on display; I was sure I couldn’t afford one, until I happened to look at the price tags. There was one with the town of Sorrento on it, lined with red velvet, which played, “Somewhere My Love”; it cost 15000 Liras, about $12 US! So it was definitely affordable after all! I bought it, knowing I would treasure it always.
This evening, while we were eating dinner, the waiter handed me a daisy, pointed to a good-looking Italian guy behind me, and told me it was from him. “He wants you to meet him outside in the garden after dinner,” he told me.
“Ooh, you lucky girl!” several women in the tour group told me.
I met the guy in the garden. He couldn’t speak English, but he did speak French. We exchanged names; his was Alphonso. After conversing awhile, he asked if I would go with him to another town nearby. While I know crime rates are lower in Europe than in the US, I didn’t feel it was a good idea for me to go off to a place I knew nothing about with a stranger, so I declined, telling him I had to stay with the group. I thought that would be perfectly understandable; after all, what was wrong with lingering in the garden and talking by moonlight? But he became very insistent, which made me suspicious. I started to walk back inside.
“If you’re scared, you can bring a friend along if you want,” he said.
“OK, I’ll ask,” I told him.
I asked Johannes. “I can’t,” he said. “But don’t worry; the hotel knows this guy, so he’s perfectly safe.”
Still I felt uncomfortable, since this guy was so pushy. So I asked around some more, and discovered Eve and Margo wanted to go to Sorrento’s town square and see some fireworks there. They agreed to come along with us.
I told Alphonso I wanted to view the local fireworks along with the girls. He said we could drop them off, then go to the next town alone together. I was really getting suspicious by then, and refused, threatening to stay at the hotel.
We went to see the fireworks. I had no idea what they were for, and I didn’t get a chance to ask, since Alphonso kept rambling on and on about how much nicer the other town was. After they were through, we all drifted into a local disco, but he refused to dance! Instead, he offered me a drink, which I declined. He bought one anyway; I refused to drink it.
Finally, I complained of a headache and said let’s go back. We left, and he started taking me down a quiet street. I asked where we were going, and he said he was taking me to another garden. At that point, I lost my temper. Forgetting to speak French, I screamed at him in English that I was going back to the hotel right now.
He gave me a blank look. “Je ne comprends pas,” he said
‘’Je vais rentrer à l'hôtel dès maintenant!’’ I stormed off.
He followed me back to the hotel. Once there, he asked for my address, and I gave him a false one. He also asked for my phone number, and I told him I didn’t have a phone.
Welcome, Yoleen, to the birthplace of Sophia Loren, one of the most beautiful women in the world! Now you can see why, in the tender bloom of her youth, she married a man twice her age!
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© 2013 Yoleen Lucas