Naples is the Italian way of slurring the Greek word Neopolis, meaning New Town. Hence Neopolitan ice cream was invented in Naples but not called Napply. Too bad.
The Bay of Naples is justly famous, dotted with islands and ringed by hills. We ate breakfast with a girl who went to high school in Fullerton, though not where our sons went. Small world. Or maybe mad world, depending on which song you want stuck in your head.
We piled on our tour bus, heading for Pompeii, with a tour guide named Vito who encouraged us to call him "Carleone." I was not entirely at ease with this, but he made no other threats and only lost us once or twice. This unease deepened a bit when he told us that Italian police always ride in pairs—one to read and one to write.
The drive through the city and out is not appealing, but the region is known for oranges, lemons, apricots, figs, grapes and peaches. In other words, like California. The rich volcanic soil and well-drained hillsides make living here worth the risk of being annihilated by earthquake and eruption. Like California.
We were on the bus with our British buds Adrian and Anne, and recommenced our discussion of the American language. Adrian said that the word “queue” meaning to stand in line came from British sailors holding the pigtail of the man in front of him. I told him that the term is “stand in line.” I did not mention that in NYC, they stand “on line.”
The ruins of Pompeii are everything we thought they’d be and more. Even though we had been to Roman ruins all over the Med, none were stopped and frozen in time on one August morning like Pompeii was. They think 18-20,000 people perished because they thought it was “one more ‘quake” in AD 79. Like California.
The streets are still there, paved, with excellent drainage, lined with the closed-in façades of houses and apartment complexes; with shop counters set up for selling everything, but especially prepared food, since few houses had kitchens at all; with public buildings of government, entertainment and recreation. Signs abound, both spontaneous graffiti and permanent signage indicating where porters could be hired [no wheeled traffic in the forum] and where the prostitutes were [many]
We toured the House of the Faun, knowing that all the art was in the museum in Naples. Copies had been placed around town to get the feel of the place, yet to protect the originals. So we spent out time concentrating on the architecture, with me taking notes from the lips of Vito, and Ron taking photographs. The great houses, like this one, were lavish, heavily decorated and divided into public and private spheres. The pater-familias, the head of the household, had whole sets of rooms for conducting politics, business and civilized arm-twisting. The entryway was a gate-like structure, lined with mosaics, frescoes and busts of the ancestors. This led to an open-air courtyard with a pool, surrounded by highly decorated rooms, but without much furniture. Curtains of fine textiles separated the private quarters where the women held sway. They also had an open-air room, completely within the structure of the house, with the roof angled in so that the rain water collected in a pool. Live eels kept this clean of algae and mosquitoes
Little is known of the upper stories of the buildings, but columns and rubble make it clear that there were at least 2, maybe more, with apartments stacked up on mansions and shops set into the walls. Great houses were truly enormous by today’s standards, since extended families and slaves all lived as part of the household. Apartments were tiny by today’s standards and these folks spent as much time as possible out-of-doors at the sports arenas, theaters and streets
We wandered around some on our own and met with the bus in the modern plaza, where you can buy
We had a miserable time going to Vito’s cousin Vinny store**, which made and sold cameos. First, the roads were under construction and we had to do numerous U-turns. We all trudged in to use the restroom and glance about, then waiting on the bus for 1 lady to look at every piece. When she finally returned to the bus, she said, “Well, I tried to buy something…” as if we had wanted her to spend 3 more hours. We were quite cross because this cut into our time seeing the treasures at the Naples Museum.
All of the real treasures of Herculaneum and Pompeii are in the Naples Museum. The sites have copies. So if you do not visit the Museum, you have seen NOTHING! Sparsely attended, the museum is set up for close inspection of the artifacts. These include, literally, hundreds of frescoes, scores of marble statuary and dozens of fine bronzes, with the marble eyes intact. For my California friends, these items are well copied at the Getty Villa, though the original bronzes of the “Dancing Maidens” are life-size in the original. The Getty Villa is a replica of the “House of the Papyri” just outside one of the gates of Pompeii; we were sad that we didn’t get to go there. The other amazing thing on display is the famous “Alexander mosaic” which depicts the young conqueror, “with disheveled hair, born of the race of wroth” defeating Darius II at the Battle of Issus. [this quote comes from “In the Footsteps of Alexander” by Michael Wood, an excellent documentary available for purchase or on Netflix. I googled the quote to no avail and I am too lazy to really dig down to find it. If you quibble, YOU look it up and get back to me.
The mosaic—back to my narrative—is supposed to be done from a painting contemporaneous with Alexander, but I rather doubt this. Nonetheless, it is supposed to be a true likeness of him, despite the fact that his eyes would be golf-ball sized in a real face. [Big eyes was a sign of divinity in the ancient Near East—but I digress.]
Also in the Museum is a room that used to be open only to invited male guests, called the “Secret Cabinet.” **If you are at all prissy, read no more of this paragraph. ** In it were placed the phallus statuary, phallus lamps, phallus bronzes, phallus ceramics, etc., etc. ad naseum. The phallus was considered protection against the evil eye and so was depicted everywhere, including baby rattles and teething corals. I much prefer the beautiful blue glass “eyes” available all over the Eastern Med, now known as the “Eye of God."
Pleasantly exhausted walked through Naples, noting that it is a very inward-turning city. The houses, great and small, are very closed, with tall, wide gates leading inward, should you be welcome. You are not. We saw this in Genova and Torino, but were impressed with the idea in Naples even more. We found a small taverna serving Coke Lite and fresh baked rolls and refreshed ourselves.
Back on the ship, we had our last evening meal and steamed to Civitavecchia overnight.
We and our luggage were bussed to the airport in Rome, where we were quite early for our flight. There is about 1/3 of the seating needed in the Rome airport and we were not the only senior citizens sitting on the cold marble floor. The areas where there should be seating is filled with expensive designer boutique. When they announced our flight was delayed, the airline gave us all a voucher for a sandwich shop—Ron’s voucher included a drink, mine did not. At this point we were cross, but we had found an empty pair of seats. Ron went off and bought cokes and limoncelli and we proceeded to make ourselves happy the chemical way until our flight boarded and we came home.
*CTC = cheap tourist crap
** = Cousin Vinny Store is a shopping experience that results from a deal between the tour guide and a specialty store. The upside is that they have restrooms. We’ve gone to glass making, pottery painting, cameo carving, marble chipping, lemoncelli swilling etc etc. We like the lemoncelli.