Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Useless Math

Sorrento, Italy – May 2, 2007

It’s 3 AM. I’ve been standing on the balcony, in the rain, looking at the lights of Naples over the Bay. I listen to the waves crash. We are in a small hotel on the coast about two miles down a steep winding road. You have to drag your suitcases the last 100 yards because there is no road to the hotel. I got up at 1:30 AM. I’ve been unable to sleep, thinking about the number of times you must clink glasses in a toast as you add more people. With two people, you make one clink; with three there are three clinks and with four people six clinks are needed.

You can see the malignant black tower of Vesuvius in the background over the city of 3,000,000. The last eruption was in 1944.

Eventually it works out:
N(N-1)/2 = Clinks, where N is the number of people.
So if you have 1,000 people drinking you must clink 499,500 times.

It doesn’t stop there. I work out how many candles you need for Chanukah ceremonies and how many times “goodnight” must be said as you add people to a bedroom. I start to work out the number 6 billion people in the same bedroom and get up at 1:30 AM in disgust. My mind hasn’t misbehaved this way in a long time. Goodnight Johnboy. Goodnight Sarah.

So now I’m standing in the bathroom with the laptop on a windowsill, plugged into an AC converter, trying not to disturb Mrs. Phred. I don’t worry much about disturbed sleep patterns while traveling. Eventually the body always regains equilibrium. I do worry a little when I begin to make up random math problems and worry at them like a meth-crazed rat in a maze.

The weather has been pleasant, mixed rain and sun. We eat well, of course. Several antipastos, a liter or two of vino bianco, a pasta dish, a meat or fish dish, dessert, coffee, grappa, a lemon alcohol drink...the quality and variety is amazing.

Two days ago we went into the City of Sorrento and took a ferry to the Isle of Capri. We took the chair lift to the top of the island for a view of the surrounding cliffs and azure seas. Yesterday we drove along the rugged Amalfi coast and walked in the hillside city of Positano. Small farmers cultivate lemons and grapes everywhere in terraced small plots. The roads and alleys are insanely twisted and narrow. I think about knocking down the ancient buildings and walls and putting in some four-lanes…but it would be wrong

Today we will drive south to sleep in Tropea and stop along the way to see the ruins of ancient Paestrum, then move on to Sicily.

I wonder how many people in history have looked out over the Bay of Naples at 3 AM in May in the rain?

Here are a few pictures of Sorrento.

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