Sunday, May 31, 2015

Day 11 - Pompeian Circumstance

A new record for me today, with over 835 photos taken at Pompeii and environs! Got out of my plain little room on the noisy boulevard around 8:30 am, stashed my bag at the train station, and went in to the Scavi (Ruins) of the town of Pompeii on a beautiful morning with clear skies and moderate temps, although I did shed my jacket before too long, unlike the day before at Stabia, where I kept it on all day. As I walked in I could hear the chants of the politically inclined out in the street, as they last minute campaigned for their champion down to the wire.

Juice stall with Sorrento lemons just outside the Pompeii gates

When I first came here with my family in 2007, there were very few things that were closed- essentially the Casa Vettii was the only one, and certainly no streets. The next time i was here was two years ago, and I felt extremely frustrated and hindered by the number of closures around town.  It was the same thing this time, with numerous streets and buildings inaccessible, but at least I knew what was coming. They have actually opened up a few more of them since the last time I was here, and everything looks like they're doing some good work. There's still a LOT of areas that are inaccessible, but at least they're doing something to preserve what's there. 

"Menu" of erotic options at the Suburban Baths. 

I decided to beeline for the Villa of the Mysteries before the big tour groups could get there, though I did stop off first at the Suburban Baths, which is right next to the entry ramp. They call them "suburban" because they were below the town walls, not out in the 'burbs. They feature some rather notorious sexual position murals that are thought to be a menu of possibilities for customers. "I'd like a number 7 please, with a little #4 for dessert." There's also a large cascading fountain and bath in the back that must have been quite something. After that I hiked over to the Villa, which is also outside the walls on the northwest side of town, and I was pleased to see that the crowd there was slim- just some French school kids in a bunch, and a few other people. I immediately went to the oecus- a big ocean-view social room- that has the famous mural of the mysterious rite for which the villa is named. I had plenty of time and space to attempt to get some good shots of it in the low light they keep it in for protection. Took twenty-five, only to then realize that my camera dial was set to "soft focus" accidentally! Urrrrghh! Why do they even include a setting like that? I was having a bit of camera envy for the big SLR rigs that some people had brought, since they let in so much more light than my pocket Nikon, but I love how portable mine is, and it actually takes pretty good photos and has a vey long zoom lens, so I'll stick with it.

Border detail from the Villa of the Mysteries. Precision work!

Slowly wandered through the rest of the house after that, marveling at the incredibly fine work in several of the rooms. Impossibly delicate decorations in so many different styles; the variety of pattern and structure has really struck me on this trip. Even simple patterns have variations in them that keep the eye coming back, and structural elements are subtly changed from one panel to another, so that what looks like a regular repeat is actually a whole compendium of forms placed in serial format, meaning that eye has more to see over time. The effect might sometimes look like stencil, but it is a very different feeling with much more satisfying visual pleasure. They must have had scores of painters for places like this, because no matter how good you are, and how long you've been doing it, work like that takes a lot of time! Some things about the painting are becoming apparent to me on this trip- technical details about fresco that I won't bore you with, though they're very interesting to me. After the house I became an informal tour guide to a couple of Americans I met there, guiding them to the Forum baths and a couple other painted spots with commentary. They both said I should hire out as a guide, which I've heard more than once here, but I need to save it for blogging. 

Picture of Narcissus from the House of the Ara Maxima, one of the ones that was closed last time. He is depicted in a pinake- an antique type of folding frame- sort of a picture in picture

Broke away from them by going at my usual snail-like photography pace and found a few of the spots that were closed last time I was here - that was fun - but I was pretty shocked at how many large chunks of the town are still totally inaccessible. Snacked on some peanuts ("arachidi" in Italian -we call them "arachnids") and the cherries I bought from the farm stand in Stabia, then made my way towards the exit, pausing to contemplate that I don't know when I'll be back, maybe not until I know they've reopened significant areas. 

The Stabian Baths are amazing. The tourists, not so much!

On my way to Herculaneum, my next stop, I was accompanied on the train by a boisterous bunch of high school age kids who yelling, slapping, grabbing, fighting, and generally creating mayhem in a way that only Italian kids can do, especially the ones from Naples area. Absolute chaos, but harmless. Got off in Herculaneum and casually strolled down the main drag towards the hotel, glad to have visited here once before to get the general layout. I made the one turn on the route, and noticed how much funkier the neighborhood gets as soon as you get away from the center. Not scary, but definitely rougher looking. Found the rather anonymous looking place, rang the bell, and waited several minutes before a woman answered and told me to come in and up to the first floor, which is what we call the second floor. She greeted me warmly and brought me in, but after a few minutes it appeared that they hadn't received any kind of notice from the online reservation company, She told me they were totally sold out, it being the big national holiday time, but her husband came down and said they had a rental apartment across the street that I could stay in. He walked me over and I looked at it, then we went back to the hotel part because there isn't any wi-fi at the apartment and I wanted to check emails and Facebook. They said I could hang out on the terrace there as long as I wanted, and it was very nice, with a great view of Capri and the Bay. I sat there quite a while, met an young English couple that had just arrived and were visiting the area for the first time, drank my soda water and watched the sun go down. I was going to go out and get something at a market, but it got late so I just skipped it. Maybe I'll lose a few pounds on the trip, which I could use.
View of the coast near Sorrento, from the terrace of the hotel I was supposed to have a room in.

1 comment:

  1. Each trip adds another piece to the puzzle in pompeii. In time, maybe the majority will be open for viewing. Thanks for letting me hitchhike with you.