Did you know that Naples was the birthplace of Pizza? Of course you did. Everyone knows that, don't they? But did you know that the birthplace of pizza in Naples was a place called da Michele? Of course you didn't! Who would know that! Well, neither did we, but we found out once we got into town. And it was excellent pizza, if not a lot different from what you would expect. It was great though, and it reminded me of the St. Viateur bagel factory back in Montreal. At the bagel factory, you can only get two kinds of bagels: sesame or poppy seed. Well, at da Michele, you can only get two kinds of pizza. The incredibly delicious margharita or the marinara. The marinara has no cheese but is delicious nonethless. To accompany the gastronomic specialities you may have the beer or the coke (OK, there's also a Fanta for the orange pop crowd), and that's it for the selections. A model of pizzeria efficiency - and the pizza ain't half bad either. I only wish they would have put a little more of those fantastic whole basil leaves on mine - would have made it even better.
Naples is grungy. Naples is dirty. Naples is noisy. Naples is Bucharest with Italian speakers. Naples is guilty Catholics taking on petty crimes, and then heading to the most beautiful of cathedrals on a daily basis to repent. Naples is Vespa. Naples is more Vespas around the corner from the first Vespa. But Naples is unique. Even if it does feel like a constant, if not safer version of Vancouver's downtown eastside, it has a special rhythm that makes you feel on your toes but relaxed Italian style all at the same time. Our hostel was down an alley I would never have walked down at night if we had arrived at that time. We would have been at the Hilton if we were faced with that. But it turns out a nice couple we met on the plane shared a cab with us into town and helped us get to our place. It was really great, but man, what passes for normal here is really seedy. Lot's of good backpackers behind the grungy doors though, and everything felt fine in the end.
Our main reason for coming here (other than the pizza which was a bonus) was to go to Pompeii, the legendary city that was buried by Vesuvius in 79 AD. The site is very large, and the ruins are in great shape owing to the automatic preservation that the ash and pyroclastic flow created during the eruption. However, you sort of expect to see frozen bodies everywhere because of all the stories you have heard, but it's just not the case. Any of the bodies have long since decayed, and the way they were able to make the body shapes was to fill the cavities left behind by the rotting corpses with plaster. In this way, "figurines" of humans were made. These are all now in the museum back in Naples, and there's not much other than the ruins at the site. Yet, like Ephesus in Turkey (although not as grand), you can get a very good idea of what Roman life was like at the time with the various houses, shops, theatres, and even a large stadium. Worth the entry fee I think - just to confirm all of those high school social studies classes that were about the place. What I didn't know is that there was a huge earthquake only a few years before the eruption, so the place was already in pieces. The train ride out on the Circumvesuviana line was also nice. Try saying that word three times in a row while rubbing your head in a circle...
The other thing that is interesting about Naples (and perhaps this is true for Italy as a whole - we'll see) is that there are entire shops devoted to the paraphernalia of Christ. You can get Christ wall hangings, Christ soup spoons, Christ backpacks, Christ hammers, Christ shoe laces, Christ sheet and pillow case sets, Christ nut crackers, the list goes on and on and on. And then there's another store just like it right next door! There must be a lot of buyers! Indeed, the girl we shared the train cabin with today to Rome told us that she had never met anyone in her entire life that was not Roman Catholic. We are indeed in the heart of the matter so to speak, so we should not be too surprised. It made me think of a cool name for a store. Owen and I used to sit around coming up with cool names for stores. He had a real winner in a corner grocery he wanted to call "Smokes, Cokes, and Bicycle Spokes" - that has really good cadence I thought. Well how about a store for cedar shakes (you know, the ones for your roof) called "For Christ's Shakes!" Not bad eh? Well, if you like puns I guess... That's copyright now by the way, so don't go getting any ideas - especially if you live in Abbottsford. If it doesn't work out, I can always use it for a 50's diner and add hamburgers to the product line...
Speaking of food, I'm starved, and I'm going to go get a slice of pizza down the road. Tomorrow, we begin tackling the grand daddy of all historical cities - Roma. I'm pretty sure the pizza slices come in the shape of a cross...