Monday, October 11, 2010

Cararra, Pompeii, and sketchy trains.

I just easily had the best weekend I’ve had since I’ve been here. Friday, Bonnie Koestner’s Professional Artist in Renaissance Florence class went to Carrara to see the marble quarries and studios. Super cool, if I must say so myself. Wasn’t that an eloquent statement? I thought so too. ;)

I’m not allowed to disclose much information about what they were working on in the studio, but I can say that it was, again, super cool. I took an Art and Feminism class my sophomore year at Monmouth, and I remember talking a little bit about Louise Bourgeois. Bourgeois passed away recently, but some of her artwork is still being worked on in the marble studios at Carrara, and yours truly got to see it. I take an interest in gender studies in general, so I found Bourgeois’ focus on sex and sex roles quite fascinating. She designed a sculpture of a house, with female anatomy on the back, commenting on the traditional idea of a domestic sphere. The idea is simple, but it says a lot and makes you think. Artwork like this, that makes a statement and forces you to reflect, is my favorite kind, even though I don’t have much of a trained eye when it comes to art.

We then got to see where the marble actually comes from. It involved driving down a tiny narrow tunnel into the side of a mountain, which opened up into a network of large cube-shaped rooms cut out of the marble. The entire mountain is solid marble, and they cut it out in blocks and sell it to artists.
Then came the hike. Let me tell you, those mountains are GORGEOUS! It felt like we were in Lord of the Rings, actually. People kept asking where Frodo and Sam were. Haha.

We hiked up the side of one of the mountains, circled the peak, and then went down through the meadows on the other side, which could have easily passed for the place where they shot the opening scene to The Sound of Music. The day was just full of movie references, I guess.

And then came Saturday. Saturday was easily, EASILY the highlight of my entire abroad experience so far. I don’t know how I can emphasize my excitement over Pompeii enough. I’ll just say that my high school Latin textbook follows a family that actually lived in Pompeii, and ever since using that textbook, it has been my goal to go to Pompeii and try to find their house. So, this journey to find the home of Caecilius and his family was a sort of pilgrimage for me.

My friend Jenna and I left for Naples at 8am Saturday morning, and our train arrived there by 11:30. From there, we caught another train to Pompeii, and had some delicious pizza when we arrived. Then, it was time… dun dun DUN!
I had a general idea of where Caecilius’ house was located, thanks to the map in the textbook that I happen to have at home. I’d previously asked my mom to look it up and give me a general location. So, with a new map of the actual ruin, we set off in that direction.

On the way, we stopped to pose for pictures in the ruins, often acting out scenes from the textbook and general phrases we had learned. In the front room of one ruined house, there was a block of rock that I sat down in front of, pretending it was my “mensa”, and proceeded to act out the scene “Caecilius in scriptorium scribit.” (Caecilius is writing in the study). Jenna reinacted “Metella in atrio sedet” at another location (Metella is sitting in the atrium), and when we found what appeared to be a kitchen in one house, I couldn’t resist posing for “Grumio in culina coquit” (Grumio is cooking in the kitchen.) And the grand finale: “Caecilius est morto in horto” (Caecilius is dead in the garden). Yes, we did modify the phrase a bit… the correct word is “mortuus,” but “morto” rhymes. So there!  In the story, Caecilius met his end when Vesuvius erupted, and he got trapped under a fallen column in his big fancy garden.

Anyway, after posing for all of these pictures, making friends with the stray dogs that hang out in the ruins, and speaking a strange mixture of English, Italian, and Latin, we finally reached Stabia Street, where the “Domus Caecilius Iucundus” is located. And YES, IT IS THERE!!!!

However, there was a locked gate on the front door, which almost killed the whole mood. Jenna had to take pictures of me posing in attempts to climb over the gate. But you can still see into Metella’s atrium, Caecilius’ scriptorium, the horto in the back, and you can catch glimpses of the triclinio where Quintus would supposedly “vinum bibit” (drink wine).

Pompeii closed at 5, and we were forced to tear ourselves away and go in search of some dinner. We ate ravioli at a little outdoor restaurant on the way to the train station, and then headed back to Naples.

Now here is where I put in another word of advice: Female students thinking of coming to Europe: DO NOT TAKE THE TRAIN AT NIGHT.
Jenna and I had arrived to Naples on a Eurostar train, one that only stops at major cities and is a quicker way to travel. It is also more expensive, so on the way back we decided to just take the regional train and save some money. It meant a longer ride, but it was quite a bit cheaper. However, there were men on the train who kept talking to us and trying to sell us stuff, and we kept moving to different compartments in order to avoid them. Finally, we were joined in our compartment by four other travelers, two men and two women, who said they were traveling to Bologna. They seemed harmless, but also turned out to be a bit… shall we say… affectionate? Towards each other, I mean. It was obvious that the two couples wanted us out so they could, well, express their affections more expressively. So when I got up to go to the bathroom and made Jenna come with me for fear of being accosted by the annoyingly creepy men who stared at me like a piece of meat, one of the women got up also, and closed the compartment door behind us, saying “Ciao, bye bye”, in a sense kicking us out permanently. Hope they had fun, I guess.

We finally just sat in the hallway on the extra seats that fold out from the wall. We arrived in Florence at around 2am, and it just so happened that the train we were on didn’t stop at Santa Maria Novella station downtown, but instead stopped at Campo di Marte, which happens to be two blocks away from where I’m staying. So I hurried home, made sure Jenna got a cab, and FINALLY went to bed. I’m a morning person, not a night person, so I was exhausted and cranky and glad to be acquainted with my bed once again.

I’m not taking that train at night ever again. However, finding Caecilius's house still made everything worth it. :)

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