Everyone – dive into the pool!








Hmmm, trunks or no trunks?!

It is summer and it is hot.

And the heat reminds me of a day trip we took to Paestum, Italy.

Paestum is south of Naples…actually south of Salerno in the Campania region of Italy—close to where the “laces of the boot start to meet the top of the foot.”

Traveling there from Amalfi was a bit of an adventure. We started off in a boat to Salerno, a walk from the piers to the train station, and then took the train south.

Stepping off the train at the depot for the ancient site of Paestum was a little like stepping into the shot of a “spaghetti western.” The dilapidated depot with its salmon-colored stucco chipping off was empty and locked. The overgrown weeds made it feel as if the train left you in a no man’s land.

There was no traffic on the road that ran in front of the depot and as I looked for signs of traffic—of life beyond the tracks—I could envision Clint Eastwood stepping into view down the road’s horizon. The image of his poncho-draped body rippling in the rising heat from the pavement would be underscored with the famous theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly“duh, duh, duh, duh, duuuh…wah, wah, waaaah.” If it hadn’t been for the fact that a couple of other tourists had stepped off the train with us, I would have believed that we had gotten off in completely the wrong place.

There was a long road that intersected with “Clint’s road” and while Richard, our friend Chris, and I stopped to get our bearings, the other 3 tourists headed down the intersecting road.

“Well, I guess we should just follow them,” I said, and, like lemmings, we followed the leaders down the middle of the road, which was bordered by tall Italian cypress, and divided two fields that had been freshly plowed under.

As our leaders marched ahead, obviously keen on being the first to arrive at whatever lay at the road’s end, we slowed our pace—mostly due to the heat and the breeze, which provided as much relief as a hairdryer in a sauna. Occasionally, a Smart car would appear from nowhere and whizz past us, giving us hope that we were indeed walking toward someplace inhabited with life or, given the fact that it was a Smart car, maybe a family of clowns would spill out of its tiny interior at the road’s end.

Finally we arrived at the ancient site of Paestum, which dates back to the 7th century BC, to discover, right before our eyes, the ruins of the ancient Greek Temple to Hera. Stupefacente! –Amazing! Most archeological sites that I have seen are holes in the ground only displaying unearthed building foundations—nothing of any structural significance.

But here, rising out of the field was a temple…THE Temple of Hera. Massive columns, lined in repeating rows, supported the roof pediments. Wow! For everyone who “must see” Pompeii with all of its history, and international marketing, I would suggest that you visit Paestum and really have your socks blown off. Though you can no longer walk inside the temples…yes there are actually four temples (Poseidon, Athena, and two for Hera)…you can certainly get close enough to appreciate their overpowering size.

Forget Clint Eastwood, the long road, and the heat. Here was something worth traversing the planet to see. Granted there are other sites just as impressive in Italy, but on that day, given that our approach to Paestum had been less than glamorous, the sights here were incredible.

There is a museum at Paestum, which houses many of the site’s unearthed treasures. Large slabs of ancient tomb walls show scenes of daily life and one of the most famous is “the Tomb of the Diver.” It is a simple fresco painting showing a man diving from a tower—his image painted mid-dive… simple, ancient, and beautiful. Other fresco paintings depicted scenes that one usually expects to find—dining scenes, musicians playing lutes, warriors and triumphs of war. Still, pretty incredible for being in a field.

We spent hours walking around the site, touring the museum, and enjoying this well-preserved piece of Greece in Italy. We hiked back down the long road toward the depot, expecting there to never be a returning train. In a strange way I had hoped that we, too, might have been caught in this timeless place—maybe even seeing Clint walk off into the sunset. But alas, our train arrived on schedule, and though we missed the boat from Salerno back to Amalfi, the bus ride back proved to be the most harrowing experience of the day. Give me gladiators, lions, Hell—the entire Greek army, but please don’t make me take the bus along the Amalfi coast!

The temples were Good, the heat was Bad, and the bus ride was definitely Ugly~

“Duh, duh, duh, duh, duuuh…wah, wah, waaaah!”

A presto,

Mark

Photos:

1. The Tomb of the Diver

2. The diver up close

3. Temple of Hera

4. Tempe of Athena

5. Column outside Temple of Athena

6. To show you the scale of the Temple of Hera compared to Richard, who is reading a sign.

7. The Temple of Hera as viewed from the road.

8. A part of daily Grecian life 2,500 years ago.

About the Author

Mark LeslieMark Leslie, seen cooking on NBC’s "The Today Show" and Hallmark Channel's "Home & Family," loves to cook for anyone with an appetite, vacations in Italy every year, and lives to eat his way through every plate of pasta and cone of gelato placed before him. His first book, “Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family,” tells of his life in Italy while cooking with an Italian grandmother. He shares his food experiences on his blog at www.beyondthepasta.com and has taught cooking classes in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, and across Alabama. While judging for high school culinary events, he was chosen by the US Department of Education to judge for their "National Education Startup Challenge." Mark can be regularly seen cooking on NBC-affiliate, WSFA-TV 12's "Alabama Live! each Friday, bringing easy, locally sourced recipes to central Alabama. His iTunes app “Beyond the Pasta” features helpful videos and more of Nonna’s family-style recipes that she shared with him, plus, upon its release, it was named “New & Noteworthy” by Apple. DaVinci Wines chose Mark as their "2012 Storyteller" in Language Arts—where they sent him to Vinci, Italy, to write about wine, food and life. Mark, his home and book have been featured in such national publications and blogs as House Beautiful, Paula Deen, Food Republic, The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy, Field & Stream, and The Daily Meal. A Chicago-area native and “Yankee” by birth, Mark has lived in Alabama for over 24 years, and celebrates the fact that he started life eating farina, progressed to grits, and finally arrived at polenta. Buonissimo!View all posts by Mark Leslie →

"Beyond the Pasta" is owned and operated by Mark Leslie. Unless otherwise specified all content, writing, recipes and photography is original and held in copyright through the Library of Congress. It may not be used without the express written consent of Mark Leslie.