Thursday, November 08, 2012

Getting Ruined in Pompei

No, I didn’t forget the additional ‘i’ in Pompei. Only the ancient city of Pompeii sports the double ‘i’. Although, given my first impression of today’s Pompei, it’s easy to confuse the two. Pompei is not modern. Not modern as in industrial chic. Perhaps post-modern, as in a city in visible socioeconomic decline. ‘I’ kid you not.

Modern Pompei is a suburb of Naples, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It could use a little buff-up. Naples, for all its notoriety, is a major cultural center, known for its treasures, two millenia worth of power and influence, and, unfortunately, the Camorra. Pompei, on the other hand, is known for a disaster that happened over 2,000 years ago. From the looks of things, they’re still waiting for the Italian version of FEMA to show up.

Okay, the problem is that Pompei lacks the rustic charm often associated with Italian cities and towns. It is dirty, over-developed, and cramped. The ruins are one giant tourist trap. In fact, I think the insalata caprese I had today was slated for some ancient Roman’s lunch, and excavated just for me.

First impressions aside, I’ve dreamed of visiting the ruins of Pompeii since I was a little girl, and nothing will stop me. Not the young Gypsy woman with prerequisite gold teeth who cleverly positions herself to collect change from theautostrada automatic toll payment station. Not the donkey cart that careens down the street alongside my car. Not even an experience at my B + B culled directly from a Hitchcock movie.

An airbnb find, I choose ‘Giuseppe and Lorena’s B + B’ because the pictures look good and Giuseppe’s last name, Benessere, translates from the Italian to ‘well-being’ in English. Gotta be a good omen, right?

Wrong. Mr. Wellbeing meets me at the gate of his guest house in the online photos, and promptly escorts me and my bags down a littered, sidewalk-less street. We pass over grassy train tracks, past a little booth hung with beaded curtains where the train man resides. Finally, we enter the green-painted gate of another villa. My Sixth Sense is screaming. Or perhaps it’s a Bruce Willis thing. Perhaps my sense of well-being is screaming for John McClane from Die Hard to show up to protect me. “Yippie Ki Yay, Mr. Wellbeing!”

Leaves blow eerily across the yard, a cat somewhere screeches. Giuseppe places the key in the first of three locks between me and what will be my bed for the next two nights. My bedroom is just this way, he says. Through a kitchen with a sheet covered-settee set smack in the center. Through a table-less dining room stacked with a collection of 1960′s Italian cowboy comic books where the dishes ought to be. Through a posh little sitting room where God knows what happened beneath a giant portrait of a pre-Vatican II Pope.

The decor is stylish. If it was 1969, I was in a caftan, and Mick Jagger was due for dinner. Yellow-gold enamel fixtures practically blind me. Right on cue, a train whistle blows as a train speeds past. The windows rattle, the lights blink on and off. Handing me a large ring of keys, Giuseppe reminds me that dinner is at 6:30.

I’m wondering if Grace Kelly, James Stewart or Cary Grant will be there. I’ll look out the Rear Window and let you know.