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Looking around Do you know that kids show 'Go outside' with the woman and her collie in the biplane? I took her message very much to heart.

Surviving Naples, Part 2: Eruptions

ITALY | Monday, 13 July 2015 | Views [178]

I wish I could say this was a bad first impression of Naples, but it was a pretty accurate one. Everywhere looked like that neighbourhood. Dirty, dingy, terrifying. The only part of Naples that is clean is the metro- the central stops are decorated with art installations, it’s really worth a look if you’re into urban art. We became aware of this when we went out for dinner that night and took a metro to Dante. The city is pretty run down. At the time I think there was a sanitation department strike, which explained the huge piles of garbage everywhere. The locals, much more terrifying than the chatty street sellers, sit on the pavement, watching you intently like vultures. It’s unnerving at first, but I think it’s their intense version of people watching. Mopeds zoom past, mobs of them, driven by teenagers definitely not old enough to have a license or big burly men with women on the back holding cigarettes. We walked, looking for somewhere to eat. My friend has this idea that the perfect restaurant happens upon you. She’s always looking for authentic and assumed authentic means good. But all the pizzerias we passed were closed. It was a Sunday and I doubt Neapolitans eat out on Sunday evenings, and there were no tourists here. On the side of the road I saw a cross, an actual headstone, “Luigi (it had a picture of a young man with dark hair and a sweet smile), 16 anni, la vittima inocenza di violenza criminale nella…” I didn’t read on. At this I told my friend we should stop walking, we’d just been going for at least 30 minutes, because we were not going to find any nice restaurants here.

She didn’t take this well. Our friendship, which had been dangling on a knife edge for the last month had finally collapsed. She unleashed a fury of words at me and told me to find out where we were then. I asked a man passing by where the metro was, he sighed, it was a walk from here. He gave me the directions and I thanked him. My friend trudged ahead angrily, despite not understanding the directions he had given us. I tried to talk to her but she told me to go fuck myself, I was surprised how little it bothered me, in fact I was kind of relieved that we didn’t have to pretend to be friends anymore. I heard a clacking noise and looked down to see my the soul of my sandal had started to detatch. It slapped against the pavement as I walked. I overtook her to try and guide us in the right direction but I turned a corner into a side street, as the man had told me- the third street on the right-, I turned back to check she was there and she wasn’t. I was surrounded by a hoard of teenagers on mopeds just sitting or zooming around in circles for fun. I ran back to the main road and saw her stomping off ahead. I shouted to her, loud enough that she definitely heard me, as all the teenagers stopped to watch me. I give up and decide to just head to the metro. I looked at the teenagers for solidarity, they didn't seem so terrifying anymore.

At Materdei I waited for her, because the ticket machine only accepted change and I knew she didn’t have any. I waited fifteen minutes until she finally arrived. The sole of my shoe was hanging on by a thread. I tried to keep talking to her, being as civil as I could but she ignored me. When we got back to the centre by the train station I asked if she wanted to get dinner at any of the twenty restaurants on the square but she said no, she’d rather starve. I didn’t feel hungry anymore either so I followed her back to the hotel. I sat in the hallway for a long time, trying to reach the wifi without having to go downstairs and then I just went to smoke. There was a big window at the end of hall that led on to a small roof. It was disgustingly dirty. There was evidence that it was used by someone as a smoking spot though, probably the people who worked here. There were drains and bits of rubbish up there. It overlooked on the back of some apartments, in the square formation that they build houses in Italy. The patio doors of the apartments were open because of the heat. I could hear the TV in the house opposite, blaring some local soap opera. I could hear the sound of cars, horns, sirens, every now and then from the traffic. Some muffled shouting and a few loud bangs here and there. Just a continuous murmur of noise. I sat for a while and smoked several cigarettes. But I wasn’t sad. I was maybe a little tired, a little hungry, but not sad, not afraid, not anything. I stumped out my last cigarette and went to bed.

The next morning I was free to do whatever I wanted without having to wait for my friend. It was actually quite liberating. I wanted to get out of the city. I thought about where to go. I had wanted to visit Capri and Amalfi but we wasted a day getting lost and being angry. I also wanted to go to Pompeii but a friend of mine recommended Herculaneum instead. It was closer and smaller and easier to navigate that Pompeii. I went to the train station and bought a ticket to Sorrento, because I still hadn’t made up my mind where I wanted to go and the circumversuvian line stopped at each place. The platform was full of tourists even at 10am. I was eating an extremely chocolately pastry for breakfast and the chocolate exploded everywhere, so badly I had to ask a Canadian couple next to me if I had chocolate all over my face. Then the tiny ancient little train pulled into the station and everyone on the platform crammed themselves in like sardines. The train door was hanging by its hinges and banged around as the train chuntered on. You couldn’t move, you could barely breath in the heat. There was a map of the line. 6 stops to Ercolano, 16 to Pompeii. I couldn’t do this for 16 stops. The train went around the city, stopping at each tiny graffiti covered station. I pushed through the sweaty bodies and got off at Ercolano. A fair few people got off too but not too many. Ercolano was a fully functioning town and whilst I wouldn’t call it thriving it was at least living. I walked down the main road toward the site, stopping lazily for a coffee and a cigarette on the way. The entrance to the roman town is marked by an arch at the end of the main road directly from the train station. At the ticket office there were only a few people in front of me. 3 boys, about 20 or so stood a little way in front. I had seen them get off the train and they made me laugh then but now seeing them up close trying to buy tickets was hilarious. They were all carrying a handful of scholarly books. One was wearing a pair of white linen shorts, a pink shirt buttoned almost to the top and a wide brimmed boating hat with a ribbon, as if he’d just stepped out of an Evelyn Waugh novel. Another, also in a fedora and a brown linen jacket. The last, back as straight as a ruler, was dressed head to toe in a green/brown tweed suit, with a blue handkerchief poking out of his breast pocket and a pair of brown brogues. A tweed suit. In the 35 degree heat of southern Italy. I couldn’t not say something. I bought my ticket walked straight up to them and said “Seriously, these outfits? You couldn’t look more English if you tried!” Linen shorts giggled nervously. Tweed suit, looked aghast, stood up even straighter and politely informed me, in Queens English, that he would have me know, he was actually Scottish. I laughed out loud. I’ve lived in Edinburgh long enough to be aware of this kind of Scot. They studied Classics at St Andrews, of course. He jokingly checked his pockets for his Tory ‘Better Together’ rosette. I kindly informed him, my bright red top suddenly symbolic, that I could not converse with Tories and wished him a good day. When we entered the small, surprisingly well intact, Roman village we kept bumping into each other. After 20 minutes or so I got the impression that they wanted to speak to me again, but in truly awkward British manner didn’t know how. I would have gone up to them again, if just to tease them some more, if it hadn’t been for the tragedy that was about to befall me.

The ground at Herculaneum is not particularly flat. It’s either uneven cobbles or tiny sharp gravel. It takes a certain concentration not to fall over. But I was distracted, too busy gazing at the ruins of empty rooms, still decorated with mosaics, that I tripped and fell down forcefully. I looked around, no one was there, no one had seen me, thank god. I scrambled to my feet and tried to brush the thick grey dust off my knees, but I had several grazes that were stinging and bleeding. I poured some water on them to wash them clean but that just turned the dust to clay paste. I quickly hobbled back across the metal bridge that leads into the village, since it’s dug into the earth a little and surrounded by a deep gorge full of weeds, towards the toilets. I cleaned myself up and returned triumphant, hoping to meet up with the three stooges again. I walked back down, and passing the ruin of villa with a pretty mosaic floor, I stopped to take a picture. I reached into my pocket for my phone but it wasn’t there. I never put things in my pockets, but being here I felt safe for the first time in several days and as an act of liberation I put my phone carelessly in the pocket of my shorts. I checked my bag instead. I emptied it on the floor. How many times had I ‘lost’ my phone to find it at the bottom of my bag? But this time it definitely wasn’t there. I went back to where I had fallen over, but there was nothing there but a puddle of damp dust where I’d washed my knees. I frantically retraced my steps back to the toilet, my eyes glued to the ground like a bloodhound. I stopped at the bridge and looked down into the weedy gorge. What if it had tumbled down into the tangled mess? It will be on the toilet floor, I reassured myself. But it wasn’t. I went to the gift shop to ask if someone had handed in a phone. They sent me to the office around the corner. “A camera?” they asked. “No, a phone. A phone!” I tried to mime phone. What was I doing? Speak Italian idiot! “Un Cellulare!” I cried. “Ah! Un cellulare! No, non cellulare.” The woman took me back to the shop to ask, and to the kiosk where you buy audio guides but no one had seen a phone. She asked me where I’d last seen it. My Italian vocab didn’t stretch to ‘fall over’ or ‘fell out of my pocket’. I pointed to my knees and I think she got the picture. The woman in the gift shop asked if I had another number they could call if they found it, the number of a friend? I cursed Kate, she should be here with me. “No, sono sola, qua sola” I said. They gave me the offices number and told me to ask for Magdalena at 6pm- I still have the blue post-it note with it written on. So even if they found it, I’d have to come back tomorrow. I thanked them and headed back to the site, unsure what to do.

I had hardly seen anything of Herculaneum yet so I wasn’t about to leave yet, plus what if they found my phone? Or I did? I tried to sigh it away. What use was my phone anyway? Since me and my friend had fallen out it was my only lifeline to stop my loneliness. I chatted to my friend, who reassured me and kept me company from afar, and my mum who always comforts in times of trouble even when she doesn’t know it. But true, my phone was only any good when I had wifi and there are plenty of internet cafes around. I could talk to them somehow. But all my pictures! Gone! Well, it’s not like I actually took that many. I relied on my friend and her camera. I wandered around looking half interested at all the ruins and frescoes and mosaics. That was the kind of thing I would have taken photos of…Then suddenly it occurred to me, how would I contact my dad to tell me when I landed at the airport and where I was? Well I could message him online and figure something out. I trudged with annoyance, only half engaged with the uniquely preserved Roman ruins around me. I looked up at Mount Versuvius, looming so closely on the horizon, the old town almost blending in with the new. Then panic again. My bank details were saved into my phone! But they didn’t have my password so it was still pretty safe. I trend to fend off every worry with practicality but it wouldn’t do, it weighed me down and I sank into despair. I prayed to Maria to let me find it, but gave up half way through knowing it was pointless and feeling guilty for asking for something so stupid. I trudged on but eventually gave up completely and sat down in an old courtyard behind the villa of the guy in charge of the town. There was a statue of him in the centre, half crumbled away, that I decided to sketch, just to distract myself. After two hours I was finished (I’m a slow sketcher). I looked at Mount Versuvius again. This town, being closer was not hit by a suffocating cloud of ash like Pompeii. Herculaneum was completely engulfed by rivers of lava. The town used to be right on the edge, by the sea, but now another kilometre of land or so, made completely of lava, stretched out beyond it. The villas still contained charred bits of wood and other organic material, twisted by the heat of the lava, but immediately fossilised. It was thought originally that the town had been evacuated but in the last few decades they found skeletons near the seashore, which indicated the people had effectively been boiled to death in temperatures of over 500 degrees. Vesuvius still has this ominous, foreboding look, like it’s just waiting to erupt again. I thought about my phone. How could I care about something so trivial? I decided to let it go, it was already nearing 3pm. I’d been here long enough and could no longer avoid the inevitable.

One last trip to the gift shop, the woman shook her head at me without me having to ask. I shrugged and brought some postcards anyway. I made my way back to the entrance. Hopelessly, more out of habit than genuine interest I asked a random man at the information desk if they’d seen a phone, just waiting for the reply of “no, sorry”. “Ah yes! A phone?” he replied cheerfully. My heart leapt. A few agonising minutes later a woman in a tiny room told me Magdalena had it. Sweet Magdalena! I literally ran back up the hill to Magdalena’s office, or at least tried to put it was very steep and I almost passed out. A woman, not Magdalena, handed me my phone. I almost hugged me. I thanked her too profusely and then ran into the gift shop and waved my phone in the air. The woman was a bit bemused but smiled at me politely and said she was happy for me. I was so elated. It was a miracle. I should have been so relieved but I was. It was still just a stupid phone. But somehow it symbolised so much more. It symbolised that the universe wasn’t as bleak as I had imagined, that my luck wasn’t so rotten. It was like an awakening. I walked about everywhere smiling like a fool. I nearly skipped back to the entrance. I scratched the office cat on the head in celebration. He didn’t even flinch. With a new lease of life I bounced out of the site and realised I was extremely hungry and decided to stop for a very belated lunch.

Tags: dante, friendship, herculaneum, loss, naples, versuvius

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