On our third day in Naples, Kay and I took a trip to Pompeii, an ancient Roman town near the base of the still active volcano, Mt. Vesuvius. In Pompeii our tour guide was a young woman with a calm voice and a thick accent. She led a large group around the ruins and each tourist could easily break from the group and find it again later if he or she wanted to check something out that wasn’t exactly on the path. I often broke away to look at the ruins and artifacts for myself because I had trouble hearing our guide, and because I wanted to fill up my water bottle in the fountains. Our tour guide commented that it was the hottest day in Pompeii she’d ever experienced.
Pompeii is probably most famous for being destroyed in AD 79 when an eruption from the friendly little neighborhood volcano spewed a hellish rain of molten rock and pumice for six hours upon thousands of victims, releasing the thermal energy of one hundred thousand Hiroshima bombings. Thanks to the initial rediscovery of the buried ruins in the 1700‘s, now visitors can look at the crouching plaster people, the victims of that nightmarish hellstorm in museums in Pompeii and Naples.
Somehow, though, Pompeii is not equally famous for being obsessed with penises, because they are everywhere. Seriously, ding dongs, dangles, and wieners are carved into and painted on a shocking number of surfaces. It’s like a bored and sexually confused 5th grader’s school notebook over there. The walls of Pompeii’s buildings may have invented the dick pic. There is so much erotic art in Pompeii that for years many of the prudes who excavated the ruins tried to hide the general pubic from the general public. This includes a famous wall painting of Priapus, a god of fertility, among other things, who has an absurdly large and permanent erection, which I imagine couldn’t be fun for anyone.
The lupanares, or brothels, also sported a lot of erotic art. Brothels and bath houses were kind of a big deal in Pompeii, so much so that if you wanted to make your way to one but were maybe unfamiliar with the area, all you had to do was follow the penises carved into the streets. Phalluses doubled as arrows and street signs in Pompeii. Our tour was led through one of the brothels and I saw some of the preserved art, which apparently functioned not only as just a creative expression of some artist’s sexuality, but was also a menu. Like, a “to reenact this picture costs this much” sort of thing.
After leaving Weinerville, but before riding up to the base of Mt. Vesuvius, part of our tour package included eating lunch at a nice restaurant. To enter the restaurant my fellow tourists and I walked down a wide boulevard-type walkway, overgrown with vines, ripe with grapes, over our heads. The place was air conditioned. What a sweet, sweet invention. I think I’d forgotten that cold air could be manufactured and harnessed for the comfort of man.
The meal everyone automatically received was plain pizza. I’m not one to complain about food, because food in generally is pretty great. But my tastebuds were keeping score, and this was the least of the pizzas I’d had yet. It couldn’t have helped that it was plain-flavored. Some people might call this “cheese pizza,” but let’s be honest: it’s “plain.” All pizza already has cheese on it–it isn’t “cheese” flavored. Plain pizza is like eating a bread sandwich, like calling an untouched canvas a finished piece of art. Going to a pizza place and ordering a pizza with no toppings–the things that give each pizza a different flavor, texture, personality, and purpose–is like drinking a non-alcoholic beer, or like visiting Amsterdam for its dog parks.
Anyway, I ate the entire pizza I was given. I drank my lemon soda and chatted with the adorable Irish couple who sat across from Kay and I. We discussed travel and beer.
The hike up Vesuvius is set up so that the start is only a mile away from the peak. Our van sped up to the “base,” swerving up the narrow, winding road, regularly honking around each rocky blind spot to warn anyone who may be simultaneously driving down the volcano. I started to sleep but each hairpin curve or prolonged honk would rip me from slumber. My napping probably did more harm than good anyway, because I was pretty tired even at the beginning of the steep hike. I accepted a walking stick offered to me by someone working at Vesuvius, and digging my toes into the mountain’s dust I pushed myself up the path, closer and closer to the hot sun.
Kay, filled with adrenaline, passed me pretty quickly. I often stopped to soak in the surrounding view, and also to rest my tightening leg muscles. For someone who bikes all the time at home, my legs were sure crapping out when it came to walking uphill. I met Kay at the peak and we took an absurd amount of photos.
Vesuvius is still active, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at it. This is silly, but for some reason I was expecting to see lava in the crater, but there was only dirt and rock to be seen. Supposedly steam rises from the crater’s deepest point, but it is impossible to see from the cone-top walkway. Still, though, I hiked up a murderous volcano–that has to be one of the manlier things I’ve done, right? And it was already so hot, I certainly didn’t need to be standing nearby any lava. Besides, things in Naples were only going to get hotter, as Kay and I passed a large dumpster completely enveloped in flames across the street from our hostel that evening.