Volcanoes

Until I went to Naples I had never been anywhere near live Volcanoes. It was very exciting to experience volcanic landscapes; to listen to the bubbling mud at Solfatara and to hear water steaming out of the hot ground at 150 and 160*C temperatures. I made lots of recordings of the steam at Solfatara but it wasn’t possible to get close enough to the bubbling mud to record the detail of that sound.

I nearly burnt my hand recording the sounds and trying to photograph the impossibly yellow and orange encrusted rocks. Years of sulphur-rich steam hissing out of the ground at this point have covered the cracks nearby in vividly coloured crystalline deposits.

The bubbling mud at Solfatara sounds like thick, overheated molten chocolate and the whole site is very intimate; you are physically walking in the crater itself and can feel hot points in the earth underneath you.

Vesuvius wasn’t as exciting as Solfatara in one respect; you couldn’t get really close to the action and there was far less immediately obvious volcanic activity. There was no bubbling mud or steamholes in the ground that you could hear or burn your hand on, for example. But what Vesuvius doesn’t provide in volcanic close-ups is made up for by its vastness, history and presence. To get to the mountain itself requires a train journey from Naples, then a nauseatingly lurchy bus-ride along tiny, steep, crowded roads to a car-park 1km from the summit. The climb up to the rim runs along a dusty white pathway which zigs and zags its way up the steep sides of Mount Vesuvius. The views are totally spectacular.

Walking around the rim you can sort of peer in at the sombre, sloping interior of the crater.

Small birds fly in and out of their nests, the sun beats down relentlessly and hoardes of tourists shuffle distractedly along beside you. It all feels bizarrely peaceful and mellow considering the latent force allegedly under your feet. But wherever you look at the outlying lands, large tracts of cooled lava from previous erruptions lie in solid grey lines.

In spite of the fact that Vesuvius could potentially errupt at any point, many people continue to live on it, taking advantage of the incredibly fertile, lava-enriched soil that covers its sides.

I found myself photographing the crater endlessly, wondering if I could recreate the layered textures of the landscape in yarn somehow. I especially enjoyed this very brittle-looking craggy section of rocks.

Any ideas for a stitch-pattern, folks? I already found the amazing lava flow sock patterns by Sockbug and Pink Lemon Twist, and there are some very exciting versions of the Cat Bhordi Woven Ridge Sock out there which evoke the same sense of textural difference and layering. I am quite in love with this pair… I think one of the most interesting garments out there at the moment in terms of evoking the seascape is Sea Tangles in this summer’s Knitty, but I haven’t found a similar translation of form/idea in the zone of volcano knits. I guess I will have to work on that.

But craving a faster and more immediate medium (than yarn) for recreating the qualities of volcanoes, I chose this weekend to use cake.

I went back over my sound-recordings and photographs and thought about how best to replicate the qualities of a Volcano in cake-form. Silly, yes, but ohsomuchfun.

I decided to copy a recipe by The Ram involving honeycomb as this involves heating sugar, honey and glucose syrup to 150* – the temperature of the steam at Solfatara – and the end result is golden, also like the stones at Solfatara.

The explosive reaction of bicarbonate of soda with superheated sugar is also suitably volcanic for this endeavour and made a fabulously syrupy, fuzzy noise, but it all happened too fast for me to record.

The only way, naturally, to replicate the qualities of the craggy landscapes, was through the creation of a similarly brown and crumbly chocolate cake mix.

To translate the effects of the lava it was necessary to melt much chocolate and to pour it, in lava-like rivers, over the ‘Volcano’ with its ‘rocky’ sides and little crater. Of course, a candle was finally necessary to convey the fiery sense of heat and explosion present in volcanic landscapes.

I think that in comparison to the original places my cake is a rather measly representation but it has been appreciated by all the hungry males in the house this weekend and I did enjoy some of it myself, although I could have manually plastered it to the outside of my body for a similar (though messier) effect in terms of the cake’s effect on my silhouette.

Tomorrow normal, calorie-aware eating behaviours will resume. In the meantime, I better find somewhere nearer than Vesuvius for walking off all that sugar and chocolate.

You can hear the hissing steam at Solfatara just below, or download the sounds I recorded as mp3s.

5 Responses to Volcanoes

  1. Lara says:

    The cake looks fabulous – I very much like the colour of the honeycomb. Bet it was lush. I’m sure if it was smoothered on skin it could have amazing properties! My secret crush on The Ram is currently torn – he has just been cleared by Ofcom for the puffin eating footage. I am strangely upset by the idea of eating Puffins….

  2. Caro says:

    the cake looks totally amazing, deliciously sweet and explosive!
    xxxx

  3. Penny says:

    Fascinating discussion: I’ve been near/on volcanos in three different countries, and I have never noticed the sounds. I like the patterns of the landscape, the mix of colours, the feeling of heat, even the smell. But never the sounds.

  4. Pingback: Sound Diaries » Blog Archive » surfaces.fermenting.image.sourdough.sounds.hot clay steaming.

  5. Gillian Darley says:

    Lovely website….I am actually looking for Heston Blumenthal’s Roman Vesuvian cake, but I am so pleased to fall upon yours. I am doing a wee book on Vesuvius – a kind of cultural history – so will point people towards your page. I also just blogged on Vesuvius/Berlusconi after a short stay in Naples this December. It’s on the London Review of Books blog. You might enjoy it?

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