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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pompeii September 28, 2006

"Same Old Shit as Rome."

Now, I have to say, I didn't say that, some OLD American White Man said that on coming out of the forum in Pompeii --  a theatre structure that predates Christ and was already two hundred years old when Pompeii was destroyed in 79 AD.  It has perfect acoustics, a stage, a back stage, lighting and the remains of the volarium, which were invented in Pompeii.  They were the intricate fabric shades that could be drawn across the entire huge structure if there was too much rain or sun, operated only by ropes and pulleys. 
I have been feeling badly because I have not written since the night before we left Naples.  Brad and I were up, writing a very detailed and we thought hysterical account of our day in the markets of Napoli when the plug on the computer in the hotel lobby fell out of the wall and disconnected us.  We booted back up but were required to put in a password for the network.
We brought this to the attention of the night conseirge who shrugged and said, well, we are closed now.  The lights were on, the bellhops were bustling in and out with luggage and we had just put in another 10 euros for two hours of time.  We explained to him that if we didn't get back on we were going to lose our money and the draft of our travel letter.  Maybe he had been looking over our shoulder when we were writing about the lack of customer service in the hotel, because he was not moved to help us at all.  We are closed, he simply said, and turned his back to watch the Italian version of Dancing with the Stars --which has no stars and very little dancing.
I will try to recap what we did in Naples before arriving here in Salerno. 
We woke up late again, and missed another chance to see Pompeii from Naples.  We spent the day exploring the city by foot. One street vendor sold potted plants, and a patron loaded three five foot palms on to the floor boards of his moped and took off with his head stuck through the foliage.  After about four hours, we were hopelessly lost and hot, sticky, foul tempered and full of sugary Italian pastries. C and I were having some man woman moments that threatened to escalate into something embarrassing when I noticed a taxi stand and gave the name of the hotel to the driver.  We climbed in and careened, skidded, hopped, dodged and swore our way back to the hotel.  We traveled by car -- in the space of less than two miles -- over four sidewalks, partially in the front door of a store, past an accident which we didnt even witness but our driver felt he had to comment on loudly and with hand gestures,  and up a flight of stairs.  It was worth every euro and we tipped the driver too much in appreciation.
Because the night before we had a misunderstanding about a dinner dish called pasta with tiny spiny lobsters,  for lunch we had Burger King. It was excellent.  We also had canolli which were out of this world.
Satisfied, we went off to sleep and the next morning found our way to the Railway Station and hopped the train for Salerno.
At our hotel The Cavalieri, just past the most terrifying cliffs on the Amalfi coast, we met the most pleasant woman in all of Italy, Simone!  She smiled, asked how our trip was, and showed us to a tiled, cool and clean room with a view of a private courtyard, also tiled with gardens.  The cliffs and hills are draped with grapes and lemons and flowering, fragrant vines.  Tile mosaics are everywhere.  Ancient pediments and capitals poke out of greenery in the gardens of the humblest homes.  All around, I think I am seeing out of my sister Lesley's eyes --this city is her palate!  If I could I would send her here for a year to paint.  Ochre, tourqouise, beige, white, yellow..... sparkling!
Amalfi is all about the water and sun and the cliffs. 
Pompeii USED to be at the seashore -- it was a seaside town until one afternoon in August 79, Mt. Vesuvius erupted and spilled several million tons of rock onto what was the coastline.  Centuries of sediment have added miles to this and now the modern city of Pompeii is located two kilometers inland.
If you come to Pompeii, wear shoes in which you can walk on uneven roadways -- otherwise you will spend your valuable time here looking out for your feet instead of the wonders that surround you.  And get a guide!  They can tell you all the mythology and assumptions that the anthropologists have turned into fact about how people lived in this city.  It is huge --once 25,000 people lived here!  The forum drops away about forty feet and has tiered seating for hundreds.  There are houses with stairs and floors and frescos where the color is still fresh.  The artwork on the walls look like they were painted fifty years ago.  Intricate mosaics are still in the foyers of the homes you are allowed to walk through.  I could not help but compare this wrecked town to the other wrecked town I visited in February --New Orleans.  I wondered if, when you washed the crumbling walls of those houses clean, if you put everyone's scattered belongings in glass cases, if you replanted the gardens but left the windows without glass, how similar these two places would look. 
Tomorrow we go back to Rome and then the day after, we shoehorn ourselves back on the TAP Portugal flight to Newark.  I hope the Camry is still there --C and I can't remember locking it.  

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