I think I’ve mentioned before that it rains at least once whenever and wherever I’m on vacation. Always. Without fail. A personal vacation forecast would show at least one day with 100% chance of rain. And so it did. A bad day for it too because it rained in Pompeii during the day trip there (A day when, according to weather experts, chance of rain was 10%!). Well, to be fair, it wasn’t exactly raining by the time we finished lunch and started our tour, but it was all wet, gloomy and foggy. Oh, the annoying fog! We could not see Mt. Vesuvius in the distance, catching only a hazy glimpse of it once the sun forced some of its warm beams through the clouds. Thanks goodness for that. On the bright side, I hope that since it has now rained already on the trip, the next week of the trip will be untarnished by dark, dampening clouds. (Edit: Weather forecast tells me this is not true.)
When I think of Pompeii and how it was buried and how the people died of ash suffocation and exposure to high heat a shiver goes down my spine. Everything was so perfectly preserved and helped give so much information on the Romans and their way of life back then that it’s almost like Pompeii was buried to this end, as if the story of that ancient world was meant to be told and this was the only way it could be. I don’t blame you if you think this is a silly thought. To me, this is what the bigger picture looks like and, although interesting, it isn’t pretty. We also saw the plaster casts of people who were buried, with even the looks of agony on their faces preserved.
The 2000-year old streets were unevenly paved with slabs of lava from Vesuvius. I heard one of the ladies on the tour remark, “It’s so difficult to walk on these! Why would they make them this way?!” Well, they had sidewalks. The streets were for carts and carriages. Also for pedestrians were raised stepping stones at their crossings, so that they wouldn’t get their feet wet when the streets were washed down in order to clean them. There was enough space between them to allow wheels of their vehicles through.
I must admit that, although I was enchanted by the ruins, I was not able to enjoy it to the fullest because a. our tour group was too damn large, b. the local tour guide could have been more enthusiastic (I learned more about the city from the books I’m reading!), and c. it was cold and wet and I had worn the wrong shoes i.e. my slim blue Converse All Stars because I thought they’d be more comfortable to walk in than ballet flats or the new boots (which are suede and hence shouldn’t be worn in rain anyway.) but, my God, my feet were freezing! What does this mean? Pompeii must be visited again in better weather. Another reason to return to Italy–if one was needed.
Oh! I haggled there, first time I’ve done this in Italy! I was buying some magnets as souvenirs. (You should see how carefully I have to open and close my fridge door.) I picked up 4 and the guy started counting, “Five euro, ten euro, fifteen euro…” I stopped him.
“Wait, wait, wait. Five euros for each?!”
“Yes,” says the swindler.
“I don’t want any, grazie.”
Then another man steps in and, to help him out, says to the con-man, “No, no, but group discount. She buy four. Discount.” So the first guy says, “Ok, I give you 4 for 15.”
“Uh, no. I got 5 for 10 euros in Firenze.”
Why does everyone repeat after me? “Yes, not paying fifteen euros for 4. No.” I shake my head and start backing away.
“Ok,” he concedes. “4 for 10 euro. Si?”
“Si,” says I and hand him a 10-euro bill as he packs them up.
The other guy says, “You are beautiful so we give you discount. Where you from?”
“Grazie,” I say as I take the bag and wonder why people here are so generous with their compliments. It’s so…awkward and uncomfortable. Earlier, when we stopped at a coral factory where I bought some coral jewellery and a beautiful cameo brooch, the man helping me kept rounding everything down. E.g. 58 (after a 25% discount) euros became 50! As the lady, our guide told me, “He says he is giving you more discount because he thinks you are beautiful.” Wow. It makes me wonder what kinda stuff you would be able to get away with here on account of having above average looks.
(Before anyone tells me I’ve still been duped at the souvenir stand: I request you to please let me have this. Grazie.)
Edit: I forgot to mention that one of the things the guide did tell us was that Titus was an emperor famous for inventing (…I suppose) the public lavatory, because the slaves would…collect, ugh, the urine to use it as bleach for washing clothes since they supposedly did not have soap at the time. (They had a saying that, translated, meant, “Money has no smell.”) When I heard this I was suddenly reminded of the time when, a few years ago, I wore white capris which had mustard and ketchup stains near end of the leg (How they got there is a whole other story.) to a beach. I had washed these many times with bleach and everything and the stains would not budge. After that visit to a corner of Lake Michigan the stains, much to my girlish delight, the stains magically vanished! Whenever I thought about it, their mysterious disappearance puzzled me. I finally know the reason, and may I just say…yuck?