Ah, Napoli-It’s not you, it’s me

This weekend was supposed to be spent in Naples, the first day devoted to the Archaeological Museum, and wandering around Naples, which I did. Then Sunday was going to be spent doing Pompeii and Herculaneum; instead, I’m back “home” in Rome at 1:30 in the afternoon, writing this. (Which is also somewhat strange; I actually thought ‘I want to go home’, but meant here, not Washington)

So, why’s that, you may wonder?

The answer is a little complicated, but before I go into it, let me sum up my thoughts about Naples.

When I arrived at the train station, the scene was not that much different than the one at Termini, but because of my unfamiliarity with the layout, I took a cab to the Hotel Palazzo Decumani, recommended by Flaminia Chapman, sister of my guide Giulia.

This morning, I walked back to the station, but again, this is only because I had a better idea of the layout.

Naples is….busy. And it’s got a grimy feel to it that made me acutely aware of my environment, even more than normal. The streets, at least to the old center of the city, are much, much narrower, and were simply jammed with people. And along with the people came some new variations on the street hustlers. Whereas here in Rome, there are laser pointers (sort of fading out), the little blobs that make a noise when you throw them against the ground and they resume their original shape (also fading), and the hottest accessory, and one that I have to say is pure genius, the selfie taker, none of those were visible in Naples.

Instead there were guys selling lighters right outside the station, and today I saw a variation of the three card monte games, the shell game, being played on the large plaza next to the station. But perhaps the most unusual were the guys walking around with the parakeets in boxes. I was curious, but not curious enough to get sucked into it.

Then, there is the area with all the figurines, dolls, caricatures, etc., shop after shop after shop, which the tourists were gathered around in varying degrees. But I was here to see me some ancient stuff, so once I dumped my gear at the hotel (which is VERY nice), I headed off.

The museum was stunning, if only for those mosaics and frescoes taken from Pompeii. but the Farnese collection was stellar as well. I’ll be posting a more complete set of pictures now that I’m back with full-bore Wifi and my laptop, which I left behind.

Once I did that, I wandered about, and came across San Lorenzo Maggiore, and the underground museum of the ancient city market. It was also very interesting, but I think that was also based on my low expectations. Still, it was interesting to see the stalls, and the stone counters with niches carved underneath that I suppose is where they stored some of their inventory. It’s also interesting to see the size; naturally, the bakery was the largest, while there was a laundry as well along the main street.

By that time, I decided to head back to the hotel, regroup and get ready for the next day. While I didn’t find any English channels on the Sky TV box used by the hotel, I got to see X Factor Italy, which was a…treat in itself. And in all seriousness, being able to watch the qualifying for today’s F1 race was nice as well.

So about 7:30 I bounce down the stairs, go to the desk to ask for recommendations for dinner. I’m not sure if the clerk was upset at being torn from her phone call and got her subtle revenge, or if she was being sincere when she scribbled down two names, one “big” (Sorbillo’s) and one “small” di Matteo, then sent me out like a lamb to the slaughter. These were both pizza places because, well, you know why. It’s Naples.

I admit to culpability here; I should have done a bit of research on my own so that I would have had some warning for what I was about to face. Because I was somehow hurled back in time to my hometown of Houston on a Saturday night, trying to find a place to eat in one of the hot areas of the city. I had thought the streets were crowded before; they were PACKED now, and as I quickly discovered, most of those people who seemed to be just loitering about were doing so in front of a restaurant. But it wasn’t until I got to Sorbillo’s, where the crowd ballooned to not only fill the street but extend almost a half-block in both directions, that I realized I was in serious trouble. And like all crowds in Italy, it was a loud, boisterous bunch who seemed perfectly content to stand outside sweating as they waited for a table to open up.

So I went down the road to the “small” place, di Mattei’s. And, I suppose it WAS smaller, because the crowd was only about a quarter of the block.

I began coming to the realization that dinner might not be in the cards if I was unwilling to stand around trying to keep my pockets from getting cleaned out, which I wasn’t, and was heading back when I came across a place that only had about a half-dozen people outside. And then it seemed as if luck might be with me, because I was only a single, and got in at just a little after 8:00.

I finished eating my dinner at 9:30, and as anyone who knows me will attest, I am not a slow eater, very much still attuned to the “chow down and get out” school of eating, so my best guess was that I got my pizza (which I must say was really good) at about 9:00. I was actually finished by 9:15, but the next 15 minutes was spent figuring out that the only I could get out of there was to just walk up to the cashier and pay.

When I woke up this morning, things were just…off. I can’t explain it, but this is a feeling I’ve only gotten a few times in my life. And every single time, I ignored that feeling, always to my detriment. And that is because of what I call “the voice”.

It’s the voice that, when I was on a skiing vacation with my then-teenage daughter to Vail, we had finished for the day. Rather SHE had finished for the day, and I wanted to do one last run. And of course, I wanted to do a black slope, sort of as a last hurrah. And the truth is I made it all the way down to the last pitch, where I stopped and looked down. And I thought, “This is way above my head. I can just cut across through his little patch of trees and get to that blue slope I’ve done before.”

Then “the voice” piped up. “Oh, really?” it sneered. “You mean, you’re going to go down that nice, safe blue slope, get in your Trooper in the morning, and drive all the way back to Texas, knowing that this SLOPE KICKED YOUR ASS? How are you going to feel about that?”

My next conscious memory is of being on my back headfirst, hurtling down a slope underneath the lift, trying to navigate with the one pole I had left, after my left ski caught in some ice (or something) and shred my ACL. I finally managed to come to a stop, where a concerned skier used the trees to make his way down to me to ask me if I was all right. My answer was, “No, I’m pretty sure I’m not all right.”

Until the ski patrol showed up with their toboggan, and there was NO WAY I was getting in that thing. So, instead I scooted down on my butt, until I got to the level spot, then came limping up to where my daughter was seated, waiting for me. And her first words were, “That was you who I saw wipe out, wasn’t it?”

“Maybe.” I imagine I sounded a little defensive.

But the best part was that I had to drive my standard shift Trooper home in the winter, because she was too young to drive.

The other major time was even worse, in just about every conceivable way. I was on my way to a bicycle race outside Houston, and I had woken that morning feeling…off. But I drove the 60 miles out of town at 5:00 in the morning, into the dark and threatening sky. Then I saw lightning, and I distinctly remember taking the exit to go to the race, but stopping in a McDonald’s parking lot, and thinking, “There are other races, and it’s nasty out there.”

The voice showed up, “You’re going to get up this early, drive all this way, then turn around and not even TRY to race? You’re in the best shape you’ve been in at this point of the season (I had won or placed every race I had done that year, although it was early in the season), and you’re going to let that course KICK YOUR ASS while you go home and crawl back in your soft, warm bed?”

Just a couple of hours later I was hit from behind by a pickup truck driver who admitted to driving 65 mph when he hit me. It broke my back in two places, my ankle, ripped the tendons out of my right elbow, and all sorts of other odds and ends, like biting off the tip of my tongue. I was in the ICU for a few days, and in the hospital for 3 weeks. Granted, I went on to race again; actually six weeks later, albeit wearing a big back brace and a soft cast on my ankle, but I was never the same after that as far as racing. For some reason, I tended to tense up when I heard a car coming.

This morning, I was determined to put last night behind me, and had every intention of doing the second part of my trip, which was Pompeii and Herculaneum. In fact, I was so set on doing this, I didn’t stay up last night (or just get up REALLY early) to watch my beloved USC Trojans play Arizona.

But walking to the station, where I was going to catch the Circumvesuvio line that takes one to the site, something was…off.

This time, actually for the first time ever, I listened to my gut.

Now, I’m not saying that Vesuvius is going to erupt (although I’m keeping an eye on the news, you know, just in case), or something like that. Maybe I would have just taken a misstep, and broken the OTHER ankle, or maybe nothing at all would happen.

All I know is that, although it’s taken 55 years, maybe I’m starting to grow up a little bit. Of course, it helps knowing that I can just hop the train from Termini, be there in 70 minutes, and do it in a day.

I just won’t go back into Naples itself.


Oh, and you want to know the worst part? That ski vacation happened AFTER I got hit by the truck. So, yeah, I’m a slow learner.

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