Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Up Vesuvius

Because I am an alternative and fascinating non-conformist, I skipped out Rome on my Trenitalia odyssey from north to south in the country, instead opting to spend my last three days in Italy around Naples.

This wasn't anything to do with the city itself, which I didn't even visit - famed as the home of the Mafia and excellent pizza - but for the nearby living legends (well, dead and dormant at least) of Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius, just a short trip from my surprisingly excellent hostel.

I've never walked up an active volcano before, only dead ones like Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, and while Vesuvius doesn't have the lava pools and scattered ash of something like Etna, it was still pretty fantastic to peer into the crater and consider the inevitability of its next devastating and long overdue eruption. Even if the tour guide had to ruin things by saying we'd all know at least four days in advance and would not be dying today.

Still, that's four days in Italian Time, which is a unique and finely honed form of chronometry, so I still had hope that the gaping maw could explode in my face at any time and preserve me in a delighted ashen pose for future generations of Americans to take photos of their friends striking hilarious poses next to. It's thoughts like these that keep me going.

Down Pompeii

The dead stuff was one of the highlights of Pompeii, but the whole thing was pretty incredible, even though by skipping on an audio guide we missed some of the best bits, like the brothel. I was already annoyed at missing the discounted entry for under-25s by three weeks, so wasn't going to give these vultures more money to profit from the ancient dead.

The entry price was clearly worth it though (11 euro for Pompeii and a total of 17 for Vesuvius, including the bus and entry to the national park), especially when compared to National Trust or Historic Scotland sites in the UK that charge £7 to give you a slightly closer look at some ruins than you could already see from outside the short wall.

The relaxed attitude of the operators to this historical marvel was pretty impressive, as you really can just wander wherever you feel like, excepting some areas that are still being excavated or need to be arranged in advance. There was also a commendable lack of graffiti (especially for Naples, which is the most graffitod place I've ever seen), though as we headed to the exit I did see one of the nearly-dead dogs that wander around the site do a shit into one of the grooves left behind by the wheels of a 2,000 year old Roman chariot. No one seemed to mind. Italy is chilled.

It was poignant to see the silhouette of Vesuvius looming over the top of the dead city at sunset, acting as a sobering lesson across the ages. A lesson that the Italians clearly failed to heed, as becomes obvious when you reach the edge of the site and see the brand new apartments on the other side of the fence practically goading the volcano into daring to invalidate their insurance.

I think these Nu Pompeiians have the right attitude though. We all have to go some time, and what better way than choking to death from noxious sulphur while you struggle to sculpt your figure into an amusing pose and hope the archaeologists won't fuck it up when they desecrate your grave?

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