Communion Of Dreams

Italy, 2012: Revelations.

Thursday morning (July 19) I spent time catching up on notes about the trip so far. At least that was the excuse I used to hide a while, spending time alone. Oh, the group was great, and everyone continued to be very easy to get along with and welcoming. But I had been spending much more time with people than I was used to, and my “extrovert batteries” were worn out. Furthermore, the rough & tumble of Naples just left me mildly depressed and feeling entirely unenthusiastic for the day’s outing.

Which, of course, set the stage for something completely remarkable to happen …

* * * * * * *

Following the morning workshop, then lunch, we loaded into the bus and headed for Baiae.

First, up to the top of Baia Castle, to take in the sights and to see a collection of sculptural items at the Archaeological Museum of the Campi Flegrei (Phlegrean Fields).

Baia Castle is your fairly typical 15th century European castle. But it offers some great views of the Bay of Naples:



One small note: you may recall having heard that the Roman Emperor Caligula once commanded that a pontoon bridge be built spanning the Gulf of Baiae, supposedly so that he could ride a horse across it and fulfill some prophecy. Well, that evidently actually happened, and said bridge crossed that middle image – going from the shore below the castle across to the port area on the left side of that picture, a distance of more than 3 miles.

The upper portion of the museum is a collection of Greek-inspired sculptural and architectural elements. But it was downstairs that I experienced something of an epiphany.

* * * * * * *

An apology to those who are just reading these travelogues for a bit of info about this portion of Italy. Because I’m going to talk about my fiction writing for a moment. If you haven’t read my current novel and have no interest in it or the prequel I am currently working on, feel free to skip this section.

This will also contain possible “spoilers” for both novels, as well as a bit of a reveal of the smoke & mirrors behind writing a novel. You’ve been warned.

As those who have read Communion of Dreams know, there are a number of scenes which pertain to one character’s dream-visions. Which, it turns out, are drawn from the dream-visions of another character in the book.

Those scenes are choc-a-block full of imagery which references Campbell’s monomyth ideas. Having them play out, be transferred, from one character to another within a dream-vision was a little bit of meta-synecdoche on my part, and was obviously meant to reference both the title of the book as well as what happens in the course of the story.

OK, that’s easy enough. Now, the prequel I have been thinking about and working on (by fits and starts) for the last several years is titled St. Cybi’s Well, and the time of the novel is today (though on a slightly different timeline/reality than our own). And the main character for that book is one of the characters mentioned just above. He is, in fact, the character from whom the dream-visions are drawn. That has been my plan all along.

What has also been my plan, but which I hadn’t quite been able to sort out how to accomplish, was that in St. Cybi’s Well much of the story will revolve around *how* this character came to have those dream-visions in the first place. This is further complicated by the fact that I don’t necessarily want the character to realize the full import of what he experiences within the context of the story – the reader should be able to draw out conclusions which the character wouldn’t, especially if the reader had already read Communion of Dreams.

OK, got all that? So, here’s what I experienced at Baia Castle: the revelation that the classical sculptures of Greek and Roman mythology could themselves be the conduit for the dream-visions. I got this by walking through the collection – not just walking through it, but by seeing the juxtaposition of different sculptures within the somewhat under-lit and under-stated layout of the museum.

See, like in most of the museums we had visited, the climate control there was non-existent. And whether in order to keep down temps a bit, or just to save money on electricity, the only lighting throughout the space was from windows along one side of the building. And the layout of the building was a series of almost cave-like ‘bunkers’ – rooms which were kinda long & narrow with a relatively low ceiling, and done up in neutral grey tones.

It was perfect. And in a moment my mind made the leap to imagery for St. Cybi’s Well. Because, like many of the different ‘holy wells’ in Wales, it dates back to the middle of the 6th century – not that long after the fall of Rome. And, in fact, the spread of Christianity to the Celtic lands was part of the cultural transference which took place. It’d be easy to tweak the history just a bit to include ‘lost’ sculpture & myth.

I felt in that moment the same way I feel now: like laughing maniacally.

* * * * * * *

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled travelogue.

The sculptural collection at Baia Castle was pretty remarkable in several regards. Here are a few of the more striking images:

Stick your favorite deity in the slot…


Prometheus. Not Ridley Scott’s version. The original.


Marble cinerary urn.


Bone box.


Marcus Aurelius

* * * * * * *

Our next stop was the huge Roman bath/resort complex at Baiae.

Prior to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, this had been one of the premier places for the rich and powerful to gather and relax. Because of the hydro-thermal springs, Roman engineers were able to construct an elaborate complex which offered naturally hot mineral waters. Avoiding the need to run furnaces meant that the whole thing was cleaner and could be scaled *way*up from what was typical. As a result, at the height of the complex it was some 6 stories high along the hillside, and spanned 3 or 4 modern city blocks. Here are some images to give a sense of the size and luxuriousness of the complex:

Along the entrance.


Further along.


Floor mosaic. The floors are covered with a layer of dirt/dust – splashing water on the surface gives a sense of how it would have looked originally.


Another portion of the floor mosaic.


Another floor mosaic.


A sense of the size of the complex.



Note the dome in the middle distance – just one of several in the complex, used as one of the sauna rooms.

* * * * * * *

Following our visit to the Roman baths, we ventured to see how more modern Italians enjoy the seaside: we went to the beach.

Now, beaches in Italy are different than most of the beaches I’ve been to here in the U.S. Not that I’ve spent much time at beaches in the U.S. in the last twenty years.

Anyway, modern Italian beaches are highly commoditized. You pay for entrance. You pay for a reserved parcel of beach, which comes with an umbrella. You pay for a chair or chaise lounge. It is less like going to a beach than it is like going to Disneyland.

You can see this from a pic I took from Baia Castle, looking down:

Beach complex.

And here’s what it looks like from ground level (at a different beach):

Welcome to Disneyland.


Doesn’t that look fun?

But what the hell. A few hours at the beach was something a lot of people enjoy, and the bulk of the group was happy with the arrangement. Most of them donned swimming suits and even got a bit wet.

Me? No thanks. I burst into flame when exposed to direct sun. And I’m not exactly in what you might call “beach condition”. I was perfectly happy to park at the bar with a couple other people and enjoy some cold beer.

Besides, I wanted to mull over the revelation I’d had earlier. Such moments are rare, and not to be wasted.

Jim Downey

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