Last year, during a trip to Italy with my family, we spent a few days at a bed-and-breakfast on the side of Mt Vesuvius, up-mountain from the coastal town of Herculaneum. When we first arrived in our tiny rental car, entering through a large motorized swinging gate after being buzzed in, an elderly Italian woman who spoke no English greeted us. She lived onsite, on the upper floor of their impressive tri-level square house, with its acre of land and an impressive garden. The middle and lower floor (where we stayed) were dedicated to lodgers. The house was a gigantic white box with a square white roof, black railings, and a circular turret facing the west that offered commanding views of Mt Vesuvius, Herculaneum, Naples, and the Bay of Naples.
On our first night there, I entreated the woman who owned the house to allow me to take some photos from the roof. She spoke almost no English, and my Italian was limited to around 20 words, exactly zero of which had anything to do with photography, but I waved my camera and pointed and bastardized some Spanish words until I got my point across. She stopped her gardening, wiped her hands on her housecoat, and led me up a creaky wooden staircase on the interior of the house. At the time, I didn’t realize this would require going through her third floor—I assumed the roof could be reached via an exterior tightly-wound circular staircase. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
As we got closer to the top of the stairs, I could hear a baritone voice belting out something in Italian. We walked through her front door and she shuffled ahead quickly, attempting to close the gaping bathroom door before I got an eyeful of her husband (or lover?), who was doing his best Pavarotti impression in the shower. Regret filled me to the bursting point. I did my best “Oh hey, what’s that on the ceiling?” impression, and she quickly waved me through the kitchen and out onto a balcony overlooking the garden, where I found the circular staircase leading to the roof.
So the next day, during an approaching storm, I was more than reluctant to ask her if I could go back up on her roof. Instead, outside of the gate of their property and a few hundred feet down a gravelly street was a large, unfinished concrete structure—three floors! All I had to do was jump across a ditch, avoid various construction supplies laying around, and climb its skeleton structure to the second floor, which was conveniently sheltered from both rain and lightning (I thought, anyway).
Watching the storm roll in over the bay around sunset was surreal. I spent over an hour on my concrete perch, watching the day turn to twilight with the glow of orange-yellow city lights flickering to life, and finally to night. So much seemed to be happening: The sun setting, with its residual glow, cruise ships entering and leaving the bay, and an endless stream of car traffic. Lightning crashed around me the entire time. Eventually I left and ran to get my wife and kids, despite it being past their bedtime. The show was too good to miss.