The haunting

I don't think there is a word in the English language to describe how worn out Mom & I felt when we returned to the tour bus.  Like before, the bus curved around hairpin turns and missed hitting cars/walls by centimeters as we coasted down Mt. Vesuvius en route to Pompeii.  Added to the minor heat stroke, physical fatigue and overall exhaustion, Mom closed her eyes to fight the queasiness.  On the other hand, I was convinced I was going to die on these narrow roads with only a short stone barrier that kept the bus from plunging to its death over the mountainside.  I even asked my mom (who continued to keep her eyes closed) "don't you want to see how we're going to die?"  The sweaty Asian guy across the aisle chuckled.
We stopped for lunch in Napoli -- the birthplace of pizza.  Ironically, it was the nastiest pizza I've ever eaten!  It tasted like cardboard, with bland tomato sauce and minimal cheese.

We arrived at the outskirts of Pompeii and met our tour guide, Vincenzo (pronounced "vinn-chen-zoe").  He was an older, tan Italian guy in apple green pants who was comical.  In true Italian fashion, throughout the tour he remarked "bella, bella, bella" a.k.a. beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

Outside the city's main gate of Porta Marina, Vincenzo showed us ancient stone compartments that housed creamated bodies.  The group's first view of Pompeii was the entrance to the Grande Palestra -- the men's athletic field.  Looking at the colored stone I saw layers upon layers of solidified ash.  As I stepped into the [now] open courtyard I could not believe that the entire scene used to be buried under around 4.5 meters a.k.a. 15 feet of ash.  I was shocked to learn that from 79 until the mid-1800s the entire arena was undiscovered, hiding under Neapolitans' feet. 
Vincenzo, Mom, the group & I continued to the anfiteatro a.k.a. ampitheatre -- the oldest Roman kind in existence.  However, this corner of the city was just a teaser to the vastness of Pompeii.  We emerged onto the streets and I was shocked to see the simple grid design stretch to the horizon in every direction.  Seamlessly lined along every road were two-story buildings although not a single roof survived.  As Vincenzo told us, the majority of housing was on the second story.  Basically, the owner of the shop lived atop his trade.  Most of the stores were bakeries or blacksmiths... or brothels!  Yes, back in the day Pompeii was somewhat of a remade Sodom & Gomorrah.  Members of my group went one-by-one (people were much smaller & skinnier in 40-70 A.D.) into the hallways of the Lupanere a.k.a. brothel.  After exploring the building I'm not sure I would have frequented the shop.  Of the five rooms on the ground level, none had doors and the "bed" was a cold, large slab of stone.  However, each room contained some kinky frescoes of people in unique positions (reminiscent of the Kama Sutra).
Back outdoors, the midday sun beat down on the group.  Whenever we paused at a site, each person sought the scarce shade -- even if it was across the street (see picture below).  Pompeii's elite had direct water that collected outside their house in an impluvium a.k.a. rain tank. They also could afford balneae a.k.a. a small, private bathhouse. The other 95% of the city's citizens used thermae a.k.a. large, communal bathhouses without shame.
The group stepped inside the Terme Stabiane a.k.a. bath complex, first into the apodyterium a.k.a. changing room.  Second, we crossed into the cavernous tepidarium a.k.a. warm room which had the similar effect as a modern-day sauna.  Pompeii's tepidarium had a semicircular vaulted ceiling and the original artwork still intact.  Mom & I stared at the dirty mosaic floor made of white, mustard and red tiles.  Being in the dimly lit room with its cool, musty air enhanced the surreality.  My new Adidas's were standing on the same tiles that bare feet once stood on around the time of Christ.
Last, we moved into the caldarium a.k.a. hot room with the large stone bathtub sunk into the floor.  Again, I could not fathom that archaeologists -- millimeter by millimeter -- unearthed and cleaned out this vast complex.
Outside, if Vincenzo did not discuss the gigantic, smooth boulders spread throughout the streets, I am sure someone in the group would have inquired.  Until then, neither Mom nor I noticed that all of the city was on an incline.  Similar to the Romans' concept of aqueducts, this was their solution to the public waste problem.  All of Pompeii's sewage flowed downstream and away from the city, and I cringed as I imagined the stench baking in the Italian heat.  The boulders were stepping stones so people could stay somewhat clean while crossing the road.  Interestingly, they were positioned with gaps for the length of a standard chariot axle.
Literally up the street we approached the unobstructed foro a.k.a. forum.  Just north of the forum at Tempio di Giove a.k.a. Temple of Jupiter was where Pompeii ttransformed from surreal to haunting for me.  Here hundreds of amphorae -- and some other common household objects like basins' -- casts were displayed.  The miraculous thing about the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius is that it did not bury Pompeii and Herculaneum in lava.  When it literally blew its top (~1500 feet) the towns nearby were buried in Pumice lapilli a.k.a. burning stones.  Eventually the Pumice hardened but the heat from the pyroclastic flow had incinerated the vases, fountains and...bodies that were buried leaving behind hollow molds.  When archaeologists finally figured this phenomena out, they filled the molds, then excavated around them to create the compendium of objects in Tempio di Giove.  I make out the detail of each body's position as they took their final breaths: a male hid his face from the ash on the floor of his house and a woman was huddled in the corner of her room.  There was even a cast of a dog who had been tied up when the eruption occurred.
As the group's afternoon in Pompeii winded down & we made our way back to the meeting area, there was one distinct commonality that I couldn't help but notice: Mt. Vesuvius.  At any point in the city the volcano was always the prominent figure on the horizon or that lingered in the background of every snapshot I took.  Throughout history it erupted every 35 years... until now.  No matter where I walked around the once-buried city, Mt. Vesuvius was a stark reminder that each step was a precarious one.  Similar to climbing the volcano, I was a little freaked out at the thought that it could awaken at any moment.
The bus ride through back to Roma was a quiet one as everyone was whooped from the day's activities and heat.  As we passed through Lazio's countryside our guide drew our attention to the abbey of St. Benedict perched on the edge of a towering mountain.  I found it relaxing to watch the sun set on the myriad of olive groves and fields.  Mom & I disembarked the bus and dragged ourselves to a restaurant nearby the Royal Marcella Hotel.  Although the service was terrible I ate a juicy pork cutlet wrapped in bacon with spinach pie. 21 June 2011 -- the vernal solstice --  physically felt like the longest day of the year to Mom & me.  In retrospect, it was also my favorite day of our entire three weeks in Europe.