Monday, August 27, 2007


There's a famous mosaic at the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii, depicting chained dog and warning CAVE CANEM - Beware of the Dog. No need to cave canem in Pompeii these days, as all the curs I beheld were Connoisseurs of The Snooze, guarding only the insides of their eyelids. Hounds were sacked out left and right in whatever shady spot was available, including one smack in the middle of a public bath (beyond the guard ropes!), and two in separate rooms at the "lupanare" - the brothel.

Prostitutes were referred to as "lupa", female wolves. The lupanare is tucked onto a side street, and I spent at least one hot, dusty hour searching specifically for it. When I arrived at Pompeii at 10:00am, the info office had mysteriously already run out of maps. I had actually completely given up, was about to leave, and returned to take a picture of one of the nifty raised stone cross-walks (handy for street flooding), when voilà, I came across the brothel.

You can spend hours getting lost in the street of Pompeii. It's still being excavated, and large sections are not available to the public. Which leaves plenty else to see and wonder at, including the famous casts taken of victims buried in ash, whose bodies have long since decomposed, leaving a person-shaped hollow. I remember reading about Pompeii in a National Geographic article when I was a kid - or rather, looking at the pictures of bodies - and at the time it seemed like another world. I never thought then that I would be standing here looking at them now. But it is another world, and truly bizarre to contemplate how an entire town was flash-fried-frozen in time. Thinking about Vesuvius blowing its top, I hope it was quick for most of the citizens, but the expression on some of the faces indicates that it wasn't an easy death.

I head back to Sorrento mid-day. It's a fairly small town, but being right on the coast, also a main vacation destination. It's known for lemons and marquetry. I guess the lemons grow there naturally, but the origins of marquetry are a mystery to me. I may have been able to find it out at the Marquetry Museum, but no one was home when I stumbled across it. I settled for a picture of the outside.

Old cities with lots of narrow streets are always good for strolling. Especially when you come across weird things, like this painting over a door:

I saw this scene depicted elsewhere in a museum, so I'm guessing it's relating some fable, but I don't know which. Enlighten me, if you do.

When I'm on the road, I'm normally a cheap eater. I don't care for sitting in restaurants by myself, and generally find them too extravagent for someone who my simple, non-gourmet tastes. But occasionally I'll partake, and since I ate almost nothing on the slog from Allerona to Sorrento the day before, I treat myself. I took a picture, since this is actually the first time I've eaten out on this trip.

In Sorrento, I'm staying at the Nube d'Argento campground. I dragged my tent over from the States to camp at the wedding, but never actually used it, having instead grabbed a free bed in one of the farmhouses. All the Italian guests were too busy partying at 2:00 in the morning to show me where to pitch it, and I wouldn't have been able to handle it then anyway. I think Nube d'Argento means Silver Cloud, which can hardly describe the ground my tent is on. More like the Pompeii prostitutes' beds, it's all rocky. But it's hot and humid, and I feel sweaty even after having taken a cold shower, so I can use both layers of my sleeping bag as a mattress. It's not making a whole lot of difference.

The next morning I pack it all up, and take the Circumvesuviana commuter train to Naples. Naples is an old, gritty, working port city, and doesn't seem to have time for glitzing things up for tourists. The trashy streets, zooming traffic, and oppressive air that's threatening rain remind me of Boston for a moment when I step out of the metro. I'm going to the Naples Archeological museum, which is suffering from either from a lack of funds, lack of someone who gives a crap about presentation, or both. After strolling right in the middle of the ruins of Pompeii, this museum leaves me disappointed and thinking, "Was that all?" Several of the original bronzes and mosaics from Pompeii are displayed here, merely placed on dingy white walls with time-ravaged information cards scotch-taped to plastic stands. Marbles and statues litter the ground floor, and actually may be of interest to those who are interested in restoration, since several have undergone this process, and there are informational posters by the subjects in question. It just seems...sparse. For obvious reasons, the most fascinating display is the Secret Room, presenting a collection of erotic art. Groups need to make reservations, children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult, but single sightseers can just stroll in. And gawk. Porn? Some, but not all of it. I think the ancients were just far less prudish than modern society about depictions of genitalia and sex. In addition, many of these objects and painting are talismans for abundance and wealth.

Heading out of the museum into the oppressive air, I spend the rest of the afternoon walking through the town. I stop in at the Central Post Office to get stamps, but they don't have any; just a metering machine. What kind of post office doesn't have stamps? At least one in Naples doesn't.

Naples does have sfogliatella, which is an oil-drenched crispy pastry filled with sweet ricotta cheese. Of course I need to try one, and pop into a cafe for a pick-me-up. Coffee in Italy is served in tiny cups, with massive sugar packets twice the size found in the United States. Maybe they are using intense sweetness to make up for lack of caffeine content. I've reduced my daily coffee intake by about 80% here, and only use half of the great big sugar packets. Quality, not quantity matters, although I do miss swilling mugs of coffee. I always take my cafe snacks at the bar, since it's cheaper than sitting at a table, plus I get to watch the baristas working the industrial espresso machines, and wielding stacks of saucers and cups.

I came through Naples on my way to Sorrento, and noticed that there is graffiti everywhere here; great big graffiti covering yards of wall space. Here are some pictures, taken mostly through the door, or on the platform of the Circumvesuviana commuter train, plus a cigarette disposal container with what I think is a classy logo.

There's one thing I'm bummed about missing in Naples because I showed up too late - one of the banks has a Caravaggio, and the public is free to view it. They were already closed when I bounced up to the door, but the guard seemed to know exactly why I was there. Indicating his watch, he told me they'll be open tomorrow. It'll have to wait, since I won't be here. It's time to go to the train station for an overnight train to the Cinque Terre.

There's a pack of dogs roaming the Naples train station. No snoozing here!


camilla said...

God damn I'm envious. Where next? Go to Paris, I have some great tips! Oh, and if it's art or Victoriana you're craving, NZ is a miss. Can show you a few Wakas though. x Camilla

Gregorio Sciarpino said...

These are, after all, the Dog Days of Summer...

One of the first times I was in Europe with mio fratello é un'altro amico, we were the source of great amusement to a local man who couldn't believe these Americans who came to Europe without a tent. He'd look over at us every now and then, snicker and shake his head, and mutter "without a tent."

I remember the experience of hearing about Pompeii as a kid, too... now, I think it's climbed up a little bit on the list of places I want to see.

Latcho drom, m'mslle.

Heidi said...

Now sweetie, there's just no need to cut your caffeine intake by 80%. A good Italian cappuccino has a good dose of caffeine in it. Do it like the Italians do and stop in at the bar at least 3 of 4 times a day. And for goodness sake, don't get cheap on yourself or feel guilty when you have to order 2 cappuccinos in the morning. Everyone does it. My modus operandi in Italy was to have a coffee every time I was in a different neighborhood. Mmmmmm...

monkeyassault said...

What a cool image! The sleeping dog behind the guardropes with a shaft of sunlight cutting through it, best photo ever!

jami said...

I'm just catching up..geese you're moving fast!! graffiti was invented in Italy..maybe even in rome...hence the italianesence of the word...
I've got to hurry're like weeks ahead of me..