Thursday, August 6, 2015

Monday: Pompeii!!

A few more observations on travel before heading off to Pompeii:

1)  Bless whoever it was that invented wheelie bags.  Like many people now, we travel mostly with carry-on baggage.  But airports are so huge, and you always get off Plane A at the opposite end of the terminal from where you get on Plane B, and you have to lug your bags along.  Wheelie bags are a wonderful invention.

2)  We don't travel much.  I remember the days when you'd go up to a counter, and a person with a professional looking smile would check your documents and then hand you a professional looking boarding pass.  For this trip, I just printed them out at home.  Somehow it just doesn't seem as official--I kept expecting it to be handed back to me with "are you kidding?  Go get a real one."

But with wheelie bags and home-printed documents we got to Naples.  After our zombie-like wanderings of Sunday, we crashed like two bricks, and woke up ready to go on Monday.   First things first:  we *had* to see Pompeii.

Got an education just driving there.  Apparently, ladies of, um, "negotiable affection" advertise their status by sitting on plastic buckets (right along the side of the road).  If they're really classy, they'll be sitting in a chair, with the plastic bucket beside them.  Note to self:  be careful when and where I ever use a bucket for a seat.

Somehow, Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius seem like a place out of myth and legend--rather like Middle Earth or Narnia or Hogwarts.  I wasn't expecting to just be riding down the highway and there's Mt. Vesuvius, just sitting there like an ordinary mountain.  And Pompeii should be a mystical land--but Dane declined to go with us, shrugging with an "I've already been there four times."  Pompeii the AD 79 Ruins are just part of the town--there is still just a regular town there (sort of like there's a real city around the French Quarter in New Orleans).

I was expecting it to be touristy--and it was.  Long lines to get in, endless rows of stalls selling plastic souvenirs, men in centurion costumes to be posed with.   I did have much angst wondering whether to get a souvenir that *really* said "Pompeii--happy to see you" but either good taste finally won out--or I was just too embarrassed to pick one up (and Bob wouldn't do it for me).  Picture here is small on purpose--click to enlarge at your own risk.

But none of this could distract from the fact that if you look the other direction from all this you would be seeing Roman walls that were built over 2,000 years ago.  And then to realize they were preserved by a catastrophic destruction.I didn't realize how huge Pompeii is.(I think that tiny arm in the picture belongs to our great-nephew Zeke)  In it's day, it was about 170 acres.  A lot of the ruins have been since destroyed, but it's still impossible to see it all in one day.  We tried.  We wandered around for 5 hours. 
But there's a limit to how much your brain can absorb, especially when it's in the high 90's.  Fortunately, they had water stations where you could refill your bottles.

In the hours of walking, we tried to get a feel of how this area would have been when it was alive.  It is a normal tendency to think of Pompeii strictly as that one day in August AD 79 when the volcano blew and covered everything in ash and lava.  But it had been a thriving town for 160 years.  There were baths, and gymnasiums, and the ampitheatre.  Homes and families and stores.  Art and beauty. Frescoes and mosaic floors. With Mt. Vesuvius always visible, but just another mountain.

Yes, the bodies were there, made by pouring plaster into the molds made by the ash covering the people who died.  I found that I couldn't take pictures.  Two thousand years, and it was still too soon.  I think it was the immediacy of it--they were captured in a moment of terror and agony.  I wanted their lives, not their deaths.

And they were also a practical people.  The sidewalks were raised on either side of the street so that during rainy weather you could still keep dry (and not risk stepping in what all those cart horses left behind).  At the street corners there were steps to get across--with gaps in between so that the carts could drive over them.  There must have been many carts over the years--stone is hard, but the streets had grooves worn in them by the wheels.

In a small way, it's still a living town.  To us, it is a snapshot of a moment of history, a glimpse of a long-past civilization.  To a street dog on a hot day, it's a cool place to take a nap.

And Rome too had their "ladies of negotiable affections."  The advertising on their house was not as subtle as sitting on a bucket.

The walls of the house were decorated with frescoes advertising their services

We could only go downstairs, where the less expensive girls would ply their trade.  I really hope they had a mat of some sort!

After many hours of wandering, we finally had to admit that we had lost our battle with the heat.  Fortunately, Italy is famous for its lemons (some as large as a cantaloupe!)   Some glasses of lemonade were most welcome.


Tuesday:  We See Dead People!

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