Nov 08 2007

Vesuvius Abides

Published by at 9:51 am under Italy,Naples & the South

We woke Tuesday morning to find that Brittany’s cold had abated a little, so we decided to make the most of the day. And as my feet can now attest to, a very full day it was.

Vesuvius looms over the CircumvesuvianaAfter a breakfast of chocolate croissants (tasty!) and plum cakes (you’d rather not know) we caught an early morning ride on the Circumvesuviana. Brittany finally pointed out to me what everyone realizes but me: Circumvesuviana means “around Vesuvius,” because this is exactly where the train goes. And when you find yourself, full of plum cake, on a train that circles Mt. Vesuvius, there’s one stop that sort of stands out on the wall map: Pompeii.

One of the tamer scenes from the Pompeii brothelThe first thing I’ll say about Pompeii is that it’s BIG. When Vesuvius buried the city in 79AD, it preserved the whole thing. And from the looks of it, Pompeii was a bustling place. We walked right inside all sorts of buildings that look almost exactly as they must have when still in use, from bakeries to bathhouses to brothels. And yes, the brothel was the most giggle-inducing part of the site for all tourist groups present. A lot of this has to do with the fact that above each preserved cement bed is a fresco, depicting in vivid detail the particular “specialty” of the lady to whom it belonged. Have you ever seen the picture menu that McDonald’s hands out to illiterate diners? Meet its great-grandfather. I’m lovin’ it! Almost as much as the elderly Korean woman who was snapping giggly photos next to me.

At some point during the day, Brittany pointed at one of the smaller mountains in the shadow of Vesuvius, and I followed her finger to see that this mountain was puffing smoke. Let me help you imagine why this was slightly disturbing for me.

Question: Mt. Vesuvius is starting to puff smoke. Where in the world DON’T you want to be?

A: Safe in bed back home.
B: Anywhere but Italy.

As I pondered the scene before my eyes, I realized that I’d never again be able to criticize someone for not learning lessons from history. Only one thing kept me from fear-induced insanity: the knowledge that in case of eruption, I held one distinct advantage over the rest of the terrified mob. You see, I’ve managed to Escape From PompeiiTM several times at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, so I’m one of the few tourists who knows that somewhere around here is a log flume waiting to deliver me to splash-down safety. Smugly, I also reminded myself that I know exactly where to sit in the log to avoid getting drenched and having to endure wet underwear for the rest of the afternoon. What was I talking about?

Victim of Vesuvius, frozen in timeWell, as you can guess, Mt. Vesuvius didn’t blow its top after all.* But if one ever needs a grim reminder of its wrath, the casts of human bodies at Pompeii are more than sufficient. When the good citizens of Pompeii were suddenly engulfed, a number of their bodies left permanent impressions in the volcanic ash. These impressions were used to create plaster casts of the victims, which do a disturbingly accurate job of representing the poses (and facial expressions) that they adopted in their final moments. For me, seeing these casts was the most emotional aspect of the visit.

Gelato in NaplesSince Pompeii required us to not only get up at a decent hour, but also to trek around for several hours, we decided to reward ourselves with desserts in Naples. We tried sfogliatella, the city’s most beloved treat. Sfogliatella is a flaky pastry filled with sweet cheese, orange rind, and candied fruits, and we purchased ours from the very restaurant where it was invented. If my description of sfogliatella sounds tasty to you, then you’ll probably love it. It didn’t to me, and I didn’t. I did love my pistachio gelato, but it was mostly eaten by Brittany, despite her claims at the counter that she was “too full” for gelato. But who’s bitter?

Naples DuomoBefore returning to the Circumvesuviana, we slipped into the Naples duomo a half-hour before closing time. Here we found ourselves in for quite a surprise. The duomo has lots of art, relics, historical importance, etc. etc. But what it ALSO had on Tuesday night was a crazy man who had somehow managed to scale a wall inside the central chapel. When we arrived, he was clinging to some decorations near the 30-foot ceiling. And screaming. The polizia were gathered around on the floor below, but didn’t really know what to do with the fellow. Anytime they started to talk to him, he just screamed louder. Meanwhile, I was merrily snapping photos of the affair, much to the apparent consternation/humiliation of Brittany.

Right about the time I finally became convinced that he did indeed plan to jump to his death, the wall-climber slowly started to make his way down. When he reached bottom, he was promptly arrested, and the duomo promptly became boring. It was closing time anyway, so we gathered ourselves to head back to the hostel. But when we exited through the front door, we were suddenly blinded by the flashbulbs of the paparazzi! And I’m talking drunken Lindsay Lohan style. I guess they hoped we were the jumper coming through the door, so I imagine that two fully-sober, underwear-wearing Americans came as something of a disappointment. As we pushed our way through the throng, it quickly became apparent that the paparazzi were on the scene to cover some sort of demonstration that had popped up outside while we were gawking at Spiderman. Or, while I was gawking. Brittany doesn’t seem to gawk well with her head down and in her hands.

The crowd outside the duomo was singing loudly, and the apparent leaders were holding a banner of Che Guevara. I tried to ask someone what was going on, but the only answer I received was: “Manifesto!” So there you have it. Anyway, I filmed some of the enthusiastic singing, which turned out better than my blurry photos of the web-slinger. (video to be uploaded soon…) I knew the tunes, but not the words, which made it difficult to join the jubilee. Plus, we were exhausted. As far as I know, the crowd is still out there singing into the night. As for me, I haven’t forgotten what I saw at Vesuvius, so I’m just going to hide under the covers for a while.


NEXT: Hostel Shower (a haiku) »



3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Vesuvius Abides”

  1. Adamon 08 Nov 2007 at 2:00 pm

    “Manifesto!”… perhaps the Italians are just exuberant Unabomber fans?

    The McDonald’s brothel menu gives new meaning to the phrase “super size me”.

  2. Uncle Ginoon 11 Nov 2007 at 12:17 pm

    Hey, fugeddabaddit, sfogliatelli are the finest Italian pastries known to mankind. I love the sweet creamy ricotta cheese mixed with fruit. Delicioso!

    How ya doin.

  3. Darcieon 12 Nov 2007 at 7:37 pm

    I have to say, this post had me rolling on the floor! I could just picture the whole thing from the brothel to the log flume to Spiderman!!! LOL!

    Side note – Ryan has taken to talking about Ben & Brrrrrrrr(rolled r’s)ittany. :) He loves the pics.

    Love you!

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