Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Roman Imperial Navy: Misenum

(Pictures: Tunnel leading to Capo Miseno, the military zone and building inside it, the view of Naples from the vista point, and the Miseno mountain.)

Non affoga colui che cade in acqua -- ma affoga chi male incappa.
(Who falls in water doesn't drown -- but who falls badly will.)

Nook of Naples: Capo Miseno or Misenum (in Latin) is a crater dating back to between 35,000 and 10,500 years. A tough place to find in spite of all the road signs, if you want to try some adventurous exploring drive up the narrow and steep road even after the signs disappear. Eventually, you’ll arrive at the peak of the mountain where a one-lane tunnel spills out into a beautiful vista point overlooking the Gulf of Pozzuoli. Mount Vesuvius and the city of Naples glimmer through the haze.

The largest Roman naval base was first established here in 27 B.C. during emperor Augustus' rule. On one side of the vista, the mountain of Miseno has a walking trail that leads to a Roman tower once used as a military outlook. On the other side, a gate bars access to a fortified military area. How appropriate that two thousand years later, the Italians still use Misenum as a strategic military complex.

When Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., Pliny the Elder was in charge of the naval fleet and went by ship from here toward the destruction, probably to help rescue people, but he died instead. His nephew, Pliny the Younger, was a resident of Misenum at the time and wrote an account of the eruption as he watched from this very mountain.

The name Misenum comes from Misenus, a character in Virgil's Aeneid who drowned off the coast nearby after a trumpet competition with the sea-god Triton.

Getting There: Near impossible to find, getting to the vista point of Miseno takes patience and the will to be an explorer through windy narrow streets. I didn't get an address or even street names, rather I drove from Bacoli up, up, up a hill where signs appeared and then vanished. Perhaps this link may help some to get you there: Ulixes.

Book Recommendation: The Ancient Shore: Dispatches from Naples by Shirley Hazzard and Francis Steegmuller is a fun read that describes the authors' personal experiences in Naples.

La Cucina Napoletana: The magazine La Cucina Italiana, the premier food and cooking magazine of Italy since 1929 has a feature on Naples in its April 2009 edition. The pictures are dazzling and the food descriptions make the mouth water. I'm adding a paraphrased sneak peak of the very famous:

Ragu Alla Napoletana

1 1/2 pounds boneless chuck roast
1 piece lardo, cut into 1/3 inch pieces
1 can whole tomatoes in juice, passed through a food mill with juice
1/4 cup tomato paste concentrate
2 ounces lard
3 fresh basil leaves
Medium coarse sea salt
3/4 cup dry red wine
1 large onion, finely chopped

Make slits in beef and stud with pieces of lardo. In a saucepan, combine pureed tomato, tomato paste and 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat and cover to keep warm. Melt lard in a heavy pot. Add beef, basil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 cup water. Bring water to cool and cook, covered, until water has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add wine, increase heat to high and cook, stirring frequently, until wine has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce and onion. Reduce heat to lowest setting and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is flavorful and beef is tender, about 3 hours.

Buon Appetito!

No comments: