“It is disturbing sight, to encounter these bodies tormented with suffering, anguish and fear, and petrified by suffocation in their appalling postures…” -Marcel Brion
When I was in the 9th grade, I had to take an Earth Science class just like all of the other 9th graders in my school. My teacher was a crazy guy named Mr. Schultz who had a tendency to be very animated when explaining things like earthquakes, tidal waves, tornadoes & volcanoes. One day, when we arrived for class, Mr. Schultz was all dressed up like a Roman soldier. We all laughed because it was weird.
Actually, it was pretty fun. I never forgot it. Partly because I have a soft spot for wackiness. And because that was the day I learned about Pompeii. Standing in front of the class in helmet, armor & swordbelt, Mr. Schultz showed us slide after slide of a city forever frozen in time. He explained with excitement how Mount Vesuvius erupted, how the ash & pumice buried the city… how it was forgotten & then uncovered. I was excited, too. This was some fascinating shit.
I told myself then & there that I would go. I would go to Italy & see this place.
It took some time. I’ve been out of the 9th grade for… well, for a while.
The road from Rome to Sorrento is a bit long & to tell the truth, not all that scenic. Much of it is spent passing through Naples, which our handy guidebook described as “decidedly seedy.” Exact quote. I shit you not. With good reason. Naples isn’t even a little bit nice. We planned to see Pompeii & Herculanum, which are both located in Naples, but we decided to stay for a couple of nights in Sorrento, then take a day trip by train to the archeological sites in Naples.
The train ride took about 30 minutes & when we arrived at the Pompeii site, there wasn’t much of a line, so we got to the ticket window in just a couple of minutes, only to be turned away for not having cash because trying to get anyone to accept a credit card anywhere around Naples is almost impossible. So, we went to the ATM at the entrance, got the cash, then found ourselves in line behind dozens of people who apparently materialized out of fucking nowhere. This gave us the fun opportunity to fend off people trying to sell guided tours & American tourists wanting to know where we’re from.
A half hour later, we had our tickets, a couple of those super-cool audio guides & were on our way inside. The aggravation from just a few minutes ago began to ebb away as we entered the ruins of the city.
It turned out that the audio guides were the way to go. Guided tours tend to rush you through things & having no guide at all would really diminish the experience, as you’d be missing out on all kinds of interesting explanations & information about various buildings & sculptures.
I spent the entire day, running amok like a loon, snapping photos, pointing at this statue, or those temple ruins. I folded & unfolded my map, kept my audio guide pressed up against my ear as I cursed & gave the stinkeye to all the lazy fucking tourists who climbed on the fragile ruins, or sat on them with no regard to anything except for their own fat asses.
We visited the famous brothel of Pompeii, which is actually quite small. There are few beds & while they are separated by walls, they’re still very close together. I probably had more space & privacy when I was an office peon working in a cubicle farm. However, some of the wall frescoes are somewhat intact, so you can still catch a glimpse of some sexy fun time porn pictures while ambling through Pompeii with the rest of the slack-jawed bovine tourists.
Many people believe that Sodom & Gomorrah was actually Pompeii. Whatever. Why not.
It was early afternoon when we realized that our feet were killing us, we had forgotten to bring snacks & our stomachs had started wrapping themselves around our spines. Oh, yeah… & we still wanted to see Herculanum, which was 30 minutes away by train & would be closing at 7pm. So, we began our quest for food. While there is a modern fast food place right in the middle of the ancient city, we didn’t eat there because… well, because I was annoyed that it was even there, it was crowded to the point that the building looked as though it was vomiting human bodies from its every orifice & it was an Autogrill, which in reality, is not food, but grease-soaked offal on a bun.
So, we exited the city & found a juice bar that served fresh paninis. The juice was made from the lemons that can be seen all over Sorrento & at that moment, was the best goddamn panini & juice I’d ever tasted.
We were right by the train station, so we went over to wait for the train into Naples with some other American tourists. One of them was from Colorado, so I was happy to chat with one of my people, as that hardly ever happens to me anymore. Before long, we were in Naples, looking down at the city of Herculanum.
I would argue that Herculanum has been preserved better than Pompeii. It’s smaller, but it’s a lot more colorful & some things survived here that didn’t survive Pompeii. Like wood. We actually saw wood still intact in some places. The paintings & mosaics were truly unlike anything we saw in Pompeii. Unfortunately, not quite as sexy, but still very, very cool.
We stayed as long as we could. The sun was setting & most of the tourists had gone, so we almost had the city all to ourselves. It was nice, until we found ourselves waiting at the train station in Naples which was, exactly as the guidebook promised, “decidedly seedy.” We succeeded at not getting mugged or stabbed & a little over an hour later, we were back in Sorrento, celebrating with some very non-Italian Guinness with fish & chips from an English pub.
Olivier & I clinked our pint glasses as a little cat mewed & scurried past us toward the back of the restaurant. I told him about Mr. Schultz, his wacky Roman costume & slideshow of Pompeii.
“I knew when he was all worked up & showing us those slides that I would go see it eventually,” I said.
“And now you’ve seen it.”
“Yeah. It took a while, but I’ve seen it.”
“Another mission accomplished.”
“Nah… I still have the rest of my bucket list. It’s still a big list.”
“Maybe because you keep adding things to it,” he said.