Sunday, May 29, 2011

History is Sexy

...or full of sex we could say. While every generation likes to think it invented sex and drugs history tells a different story (or the same one depending on how you look at it), the writer of Ecclesiastes had it right when he said "There is nothing new under the sun."

If you know very little about the ancient city caught in a disastrous moment of history, the one thing you are probably going to be familiar with in Pompeii are some of the references to sex found there. The guide knew this and made it the highlight of  the tour saving it for the end. The brothel is one of the most interesting attractions.

This was a port city bringing people from all over the known world to buy whatever she was selling. One of the things the city was offering up was sex. Lest you get lost in your search for the pleasure house there were clever markers in the street pointing the way.

Once inside you needn't know the language to make your wishes known. Pictures over the different rooms depicted it all in fairly graphic detail, the richly colored paint is preserved and the images are still visible much to the delight of the adults on the tour. Oddly, the students seemed bored, but then they've grown up with cable and the internet. Of course as you can imagine it takes a lot, quite a lot to shock a suitcase. We do after all spend at inordinate amount of time in hotel rooms.

A couple of days later in Delphi, Greece ( a sleepy little town without even ONE stoplight) Madame Owner and her daughter were shopping in a little mom and pop store that looked like The Oracle was probably a regular customer. A foreign mustiness hung in the air.  Many items on the shelves were covered with dust and the woman behind the counter was the epitome of the frumpy 1950s European grandmother. Her grandchildren were running around the store and when MO was checking out she noticed a rack of playing cards next to the counter depicting different sex acts. In the states it would have been classified as porn. MO and her daughter looked first at each other, then at the grandmother, then at the children. As soon as they got out of the store they erupted in astounded chit chat about how in America that grandmother would have been mortified by those cards in the presence of her grandchildren.  In the other shops up and down the street they saw similar items, pictures and statues, that looked extremely out of place in a public setting to Americans, except perhaps in the French Quarter.

Part of the reason for that is that they would have been out of place in public settings to the ancient Greeks also. Thomas Cahill explains in his book, Sailing the Wine Dark Sea: "Almost all direct references to sex in Greek art are brutish, comic, or intended for private use..."

After describing a couple of household items depicting sex acts he writes: " ...but neither belonged in a public space where only ideal dignity should reign."

Huh. To this suitcase it sounds kind of like what we could say about bachelorette party decor and risque gag gifts on birthdays. 

So the Greeks are misrepresenting things a tad by pandering to the tourist in a way that coaxes embarrassed giggles, but they are proving an enduring truth; the more things change the more they stay the same.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Disco Ferry

Madame Owner and her daughter were very happy to see that in and around the Mediterranean, the word "ferry" represents something very different than what Americans think of when they hear the word. As MO's daughter put it, "It's a baby cruise ship!" That description is a fairly good one. The only difference was the presence of rough looking truck drivers who were saving hundreds of miles of driving by traveling across the Adriatic/Ionian Seas with their vehicles. Chaos reigned once again as cabin keys were dispersed and luggage hauled (rather clumsily, I might add) down narrow passageways. I waited outside the stateroom while MO checked it out. I was nearly run over by an extremely large plastic sided suitcase named Helga.

While I recovered, MO headed to the restaurant with some fellow travelers for her first ouzo.

If you like licorice, you'll love it. MO thought it was tolerable but wouldn't be looking for it when she returned home. Still...when in Rome or Athens or someplace in between...

Dr. Fashion and the ladies, waiting for the disco to open
 Later that evening after dinner, the countdown to the opening of the disco began. Those truck drivers had taken up residence there to watch a soccer game, but as soon as the DJ set up and cranked up the music, they collected themselves and departed post haste.

So MO and her friends hit the dance floor and stayed there...for 3 and a half hours. The DJ had one batch of American music that he played repeatedly. Some European teenagers took up the rest of the floor. The boys took their shirts off. No one knew why.

They danced...

and danced...

Eventually the European teens left the dance floor and on the way out the door bowed down to MO and her companions. 

MO laughed and danced on.  Finally, she and one female student and a group of male students and their professor were the last people on the floor when the DJ motioned MO over to his booth.

"Could you and your friends please stop dancing. I have to go to bed."

MO burst out laughing.

"What time is it?"



She informed her friends

She and the girl left the floor, at which point the men claimed "Last Men Standing" status and had a comical little celebration. Had MO realized it was a competition, she'd have thought of some trick to get the men off the floor first, like telling them it was a Greek tradition or something. 

The DJ turned off the music. The lights came on.

MO spotted her daughter who had sat down ages before.

"You could have left."

"Mom, I wasn't going to leave you here alone."

They headed to their stateroom and got ready for bed. Now MO realized for the first time how tired she was. She collapsed into bed and tried to turn off the light. She couldn't find the switch for the reading light over her bed. MO's spawn showed her where hers was. MO still couldn't find the one for her light. After wasting 20 minutes or so, she pulled down the top bunk, propped me up in front of the light to block it out and climbed up to go to bed.

The next morning Greece was within sight and after a breakfast that included 5 different kinds of bread, MO and MS went up on the deck to check out the view.

Beautiful Greece, land of gods and heroes.

What a welcoming sight!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Night in the Sorrento Women's Correctional Facility

View from the hotel lobby
Immediately upon finishing the tour of Pompeii, Madame Owner's group loaded up the bus and headed for the Amalfi Coast and the lovely little town of Sorrento. MO would rate the drive from Naples to Sorrento as the most beautiful scenery she's ever seen. Rocky cliffs meet the Mediterranean Sea and picturesque little towns climb hillsides in the twilight. It was magical. If there was anyplace she could have stayed for a month that would have been it.

Now the drive to the tiny coastal town, while lovely is fraught with tight squeezes for a large motor coach and the driver, Gulio, must have had nerves of steel.  After the hair raising drive up Vesuvius, and the winding coastal road to Sorrento, the real test of his abilities came upon entering the little town and trying to maneuver the massive vehicle through the antiquated streets in an effort to get his passengers as close to the hotel, which sat at the bottom of a cliff, as possible. Of course what would happen on the narrowest of streets when the goal of parking and unloading his passengers was just within reach? Of course he would meet another driver of an equally over sized transport. They stopped...inched forward, backed up, as if dancing. Gulio was determined to lead. After several tense moments (and opening his window so as to share some fiery words with the other driver) the buses scraped past each other. Cheers and applause erupted! As the other bus eased past the driver and passengers on it looked dejected. They'd lost the motor coach showdown and they were taking it pretty hard.

 The bus was parked and I was unloaded, then began the long trek down a hill, through a tunnel, and into the hotel. Our little band of travelers was impressed. The hotel looked like something from a James Bond movie. It was literally dug into the side of a cliff. The room assignments were handed out and MO's room was to have four women in it. FOUR. WOMEN. Did you get that? Mo her daughter and one other woman from their local group entered the room and looked around. Massive bathroom! Good thing. A room of equal size with a bed system MO was sure she'd seen once in a prison movie...not so good.

There was a knock at the door. The mystery fourth roomie arrived and it was a student from another group. They opened the door and introduced themselves (it was still early in the trip). When the young woman said her name MO remembered that they'd seen the same name in some graffiti inside the tunnel they walked through.

The bus is at the top, you can see why he couldn't navigate this section.

"I saw your name inside the tunnel. We'll be taking you up there later on to take your picture in front of it." MO said.

The new arrival got a worried look on her face, "I'll be right back."

View from their balcony.
The women opened the door leading outside and stepped onto a tiny balcony at the same time the young men in the room next door, (and their professor who was apparently going room to room to see who had the best set up)were doing the same thing. There was some giddy discussion of the interesting hotel and view. The women invited them to come over later for a party in the bathroom since it was the size of a small dance hall. Well, that's an offer you don't hear every day.

There was a knock at the door. They opened it to find one of the female professors standing there with a bottle of wine. "Hi, I'm your new room mate, my student thought she'd rather be with her classmates so I'm taking her place."

MO scared that poor girl off, at least that's the story I got from her suitcase the next day in the cargo hold.

After some small talk and bed selection, they headed to dinner. MO ended up between the new room mate, and her own group leader,  both professors of art history. She leaned forward and then back so they could talk around her. She offered to move, but they wouldn't hear of it, then one of them asked a question that MO could tell was going to get a lengthy passionate answer. Without a word MO and her group leader picked up their plates and switched places. The rest of the table erupted in laughter but the teachers were far too engrossed in their lively discussion to notice.

Now four women and one bathroom is nothing too amusing. Four women and four towels is just downright sad, especially when there is no bathmat to be found. Clearly the appropriate number of towels for this room would have been at least a dozen! The good doctor brought a bottle of wine with her when she showed up--did I mention that?

They needed it.

What they did not need was an early morning wake up call. Travel plans had been changed however and due to trouble in Egypt the ferry to take them from Italy to Greece was now one leaving from Ancona instead of Brindisi, which meant a  very long bus ride, north across the Appenines and a ferry crossing that would take twice as long. So after a lovely breakfast overlooking the sea it was time to trek back up the hill through the tunnel (where MO did indeed take a picture of that student) and onto the bus. To read MO's account of that trip and the story behind this picture click here.

At some point between sharing a communal towel that someone had gone to get at the desk, and looking at that steel framed bed system MO named their room The Sorrento Women's Correctional Facility. While she joked about the cramped accommodations, the hotel and the setting were so lovely she would gladly have stayed forever... with or without clean towels.

And that hotel room for just two people would have been quite comfortable!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Eating Pizza in Naples and Imbibing History in Pompeii

Madame Owner and her daughter had stood atop Vesuvius and looked on one side down into the crater of the volcano and then to the other side for a view of Naples and the bay to take your breath. After hiking back down and boarding the bus for the twisting-turning descent they realized how hungry they were.What to eat in the city where modern pizza (a rough version has been eaten by peasants for centuries) was invented? You guessed it. MO was excited, they were eating pizza in Naples! Their lunch, besides an entire, rather large pizza for each person, included salad, wine, and gelato. Raffaele Esposito of Naples is given credit for the pizza that we are all familiar with. He owned a restaurant and in 1889 where he made what he called "pizza" in honor of visit of the Italian King Umberto I and Queen Margherita. If you order pizza in Italy you will get the traditional Margherita, topped with mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil. The colors are said to reflect the colors of the Italian flag. 

Next up: Pompeii. Pompeii was rich and bustling, lying in the shadow of Vesuvius. In the background of the picture above you can see the volcano as it looks today, as if it were two mountains. In its pre-eruption days it would have appeared to the residents of this city as one very large mound.  When looking at this photo and filling in what it would have taken to make a mountain you can get a mind boggling idea of what amount of rock and ash would have rained down for days capturing the city and freezing it in time forever.

 This archeological site is very large, one could easily spend hours and hours walking the ruins, imagining lives of the ancient residents and their sudden violent deaths. This site is another place where you will do a bit of walking over fairly rugged and uneven terrain, though the only really steep part is right at the entrance.

Have you seen my sunglasses?
Speaking of the entrance, I must tell you a story about my scatterbrained owner here. While everyone else was putting on their headsets so as to hear the guide, and getting their first glimpses of this archeological wonder--what was my genius owner doing?

Digging frantically in her purse and checking all her pockets. Her daughter gave her an annoyed look.

"What are you looking for?"

"My sunglasses, I think I must've left them at the restaurant."

Her daughter stared at her in stunned silence. "Mom, are you being serious right now?"

My brilliant owner put her hand on top of her head to see if they were there. Nope...then she realized.
She was WEARING them.


"Mom, try and pay attention."

It's easy to let your imagination carry you back in time as you stand on the ancient stones and look through archways and columns, especially if you are there in late afternoon as MO's group was. The early spring sun and history cast long shadows.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...