Tuesday, July 29, 2008
(Note: To read captions, click the little caption icon in the lower left-hand corner of the slideshow screen.)
She spoke of the sirens from Homer's "The Iliad," as the bus departed the cruise ship port, and looking back, it was foreshadowing. Odysseus tied himself to the mast of the ship to prevent being lured to the shores by their call, and they were so distraught they couldn't enchant him they killed themselves. The head siren, Parthenope, lent her name to the city that would become Naples.
Sabina was our Parthenope but we did not possess the will and strength of Odysseus. In fact, we willingly swam to the shore as she cast her spell, telling the stories in such a way that they weren't a script, but part of a song - the kind of song you sing when you're alone, or with close friends and family, with smokey lyrics and whispered inflection.
From Naples we ventured south to Sabina's hometown of Sorrento, her stories weaving together as the landscape shifted from port city to suburb to agricultural areas, all in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. Sabina had recommended we visit Sorrento first, to avoid the heat and lines that would surely occupy a morning at Pompeii.
As we made our way into Sorrento, Sabina revealed she was a 9th generation member of her family's house. The Italian culture wasn't just described, it was modeled by her as she pointed out a few uncles along the way and warmly uttered a "Salve ciao" to an elderly gentleman leaving a shop. While my perception of a traditional Italian had been a more robust, caricature sort, Sabina depicted a very graceful, soft, yet passionate version which I found to be the norm here.
She recommended restaurants and places to see as we walked around the city, agreeing to meet us at the bus at 3:55 - a very specific time - and left us to explore. We took her recommendation of a cafe known for its pizza where I ate the most delectable mozzarella cheese I've ever consumed by way of a caprese salad. (Sidebar: I probably had at least 8 caprese salads during my stay in the Mediterranean. They are like manna!)
We visited a specialty shop that produced limoncello, the Italian digestive native to this region, before venturing up to Pompeii.
Because we had booked via a private travel agent, our group was only 19 strong, which lent itself to closeness and familiarity early-on. Large tours typically booked by a cruise ship can contain upward of 100 people, and when we passed some of them in town wearing their orange numbers, I couldn't help but feel decadent and privileged.
We arrived at Pompeii around 5 p.m. and it was still quite hot, but nothing compared to what it would've been at noon. There was a softness in the breeze - the promise of evening and a decreasing temperature I find so familiar living, day-to-day, in a hot and humid environment - and almost a whisper of voices atop the umbrella pines.
Sabina's knowledge of all things Italian is a requirement of her job as an official tour guide. Her ability to tell a story is a gift, and as we toured Pompeii and marveled at the brilliance of its engineering and design, I kept envisioning how it must've been and seeing the faces of people I'd never seen, speaking a language I don't comprehend, but realizing they were just people living within their reality. It's an odd experience, to look through a window of time, or to get outside your own reality and immerse yourself in a different culture.
As we rode the bus back to the cruise ship I felt small and unimportant, but at the same time very content. It was the best tour I've ever had the pleasure to experience and I'm thankful to share Jon's pictures with you, hoping some of it will translate.