Scene 7
The Bay of Napoli

Ancient Rome, The Italian Renaissance, And Postmodern Love

by Frederick Noble

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The meals at Hotel Aequa continued to underwhelm. However, they were free with the price of the program, and worth about that much, maybe a little more for nutritional value. Breakfast every day consisted of coffee and bread. The bread was OK, though tiring as it was basically the leftover bread from dinner the night before. The coffee was superb but it didn’t have the kick required to make me coherent for the 8:00 AM tour busses.

A quick word about our tour guides. Larry is the head of the program. Heavyset, balding, pale and short, the living embodiment of the irritating little worm you’d love to strangle but must, instead, treat with utmost patience and tolerance because he’s the one you need to get your driver’s license or car title or marriage license or other important action that is required for living on the planet and he knows it as he sits smugly behind the counter while the line stretches out the door and everyone fumes. Every time he opens his mouth something illogical, insane, stupid, or at best deeply irritating comes out. Eventually I realized anything he said was pretty much exactly the opposite of reality and anytime I use the term "a Larry" I mean it's something someone says that is a blatant lie. For example, Larry said "Pack light, nothing but essentials. You may have to carry your luggage up to a mile", yet two weeks into the trip there is a formal inauguration ceremony at which you are not supposed to wear jeans, shorts or tennis shoes. When last I “packed light” I did not consider a suit and tie an "essential." On the other hand, it gave me an excuse to avoid the damned ceremony, which sounded like something I couldn't help but heckle.
The head Italiano guide is Auralia, a heavy-set older woman who looks like she could have been a warden in a prison for the criminally insane, and openly enjoyed it. She earned the nickname we gave her, Attila, with every barked command as she hustled us in and out of places that should have been a leisurely stroll. With her in charge there is no hope of enjoying anything. There’s barely enough time to see it, much less absorb it and get an understanding for it, before you’re herded back onto the bus for another long, dull ride.
This dynamic duo of slave drivers work tirelessly to make the trip tiring, frustrating, and dull. In addition they are both firm bureaucrats. Fortunately there are only two of them so they can't refer you to someone else ad infinitum until you're so fed up that you give in. However, they make up for this with an astounding array of memos, forms and utterly senseless paperwork, as well as long waiting lines without purpose.
If you wanted to make sure something does not get done, simply ask them to do it.
So when we leapt aboard the 8:00 AM bus to Paestum, some random ruin, a few minutes early, despite aching feet and the usual morning zombie state, Attila is barking at us to hurry and Larry is spouting some nonsense about what we’ve got to take with us and I’m not up for that kind of crap first thing in the morning. Someone asked a professor how long the bus ride is. "Two, two and a half hours."
Ten minutes later, Heather and I are soaking our sore feet in the bay while the busses carted off the students who didn’t have the brains to slip back off the bus, pretending they’d forgotten something.

For 8000 lire an hour you can rent a paddleboat and poke around the bay of Napoli (Naples). It’s not cheap but it’s worth it. It was a perfect day for it, just hot enough to want to get in the water, just breezy enough to be tolerable in the sun.

"We watched the ocean and the sky together,
Under the roof of blue Italian weather."

Percy Bysshe Shelley, from Letter to Maria Gisborne

Charming little boats would pass by from time to time, the waves lapping against the plastic sides of our tiny craft. The water was a transparent pool of liquid neon light. The gray cliffs lined the edges with pretty little Mediterranean buildings of stucco and tile dotting the hillsides.
Heaven.
Except for the fact that my nerves were a mess, my hormones pumping out of control looking at Heather in her bathing suit. Even the passing boats slowed down to get a look at her.
Our conversation stalled and we sat, her laying back and relaxing, me burning with desire as surely as my pale skin burned in the blazing sun.
“Would it upset you if I took off my top?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, flatly.
“Oh, come on.”
“No.”
“Would it be that bad?” she asked.
As usual, she surprised me at how little she understood her affect on me.
“Yes,” I said, growing frustrated even with the conversation.

bay of Naples

You might be thinking to yourself, “You idiot, she wants to show off for you!” or some other such nonsense but I can tell you for a fact she wasn’t trying to induce any reaction in me and had no clue as to what she was doing.
At least I hope so.

“Look, sit at the front and I’ll sit at the back turned the other way and we’ll be fine, I just want to get rid of some tan lines, she said.
I grudgingly gave in.
I sat looking the other way, warning her of boats that would pass close enough for a good look. She’d cover up until they passed, I’d smile sarcastically at their confusion and wonder what they were thinking about us. They’d cruise on and I’d be back to a smoldering sulk, Heather would get back to burning her bare breasts.
I tried to relax. I did OK, distracting myself with the amazing view until Heather stood up, walked past me and leapt into the water. She slithered around in the water for a few minutes, bubbling up and gasping in delight, eyes and mouth wide and smiling. I could feel the plastic boat heating up under my burning skin.

She came back to the boat and climbed up out of the water like a slippery sea snake, her tanned skin shining, the water dripping from her nipples, running down her soft stomach.

I felt the plastic boat deck melting underneath me.
OK, maybe she did have an idea of what she was doing to me...

"First you will come to the Sirens, who bewitch every one who comes near them. If any man draws near in his innocence and listens to their voice, he never sees home again, never again will wife and little children run to greet him with joy; but the Sirens bewitch him with their melodious song."
From The Odyssey by Homer, translated by W.H.D. Rouse

There’s an old Harold Arlen song Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea you may be familiar with, covered by one artist or another. My favorite is the Cab Calloway version. It fits so well here you'd think I wrote it myself just for this scene:
I don't want you
But I hate to lose you
You've got me in between
The devil and the deep blue sea
I forgive you
'Cause I can't forget you
You've got me in between
The devil and the deep blue sea
I ought to cross you off my list
But when you come a-knocking at my door
Fate seems to give my heart a twist
And I come running back for more
I should hate you
But I guess I love you
You've got me in between
The devil and the deep blue sea

Or to quote Heather’s favorite musician, Tom Waits, “She had me harder than Chinese algebra.”

We spent the rest of the day running errands that the all-day tours had prevented (money exchange, post office, etc.) and eating gelato.
After two bottles of wine Heather and I were actually able to discuss our differences and define the impasse at which we’d arrived.
It sucked.
So I sulked, resolved on one hand to enjoy the trip regardless and be her friend if I could, resolved on the other hand to make damn sure she new what I wanted and set up the situation so that she would be hard pressed to resist.

"It was the curse of mankind that these incongruous fagots were thus bound together that in the agonised womb of consciousness, these polar twins should be continuously struggling."
Robert Louis Stevenson, from The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde

When the cattle returned from Paestum, exhausted by the journey, they gave a mixed review but the pottery professor's comment was most memorable, "It was an OK thing not to have seen."

One of the professors had gone to Herculanium instead of Pompeii. Stepping off the bus, he ran into a horde of police and bystanders. He asked someone what was up and the local put two fingers to his head and went "pop pop." He later bought a paper and discovered that the local Mafioso had been blown away "Chicago style" - shot in the face while at the barber. I found it odd that an Italian paper would use the term "Chicago Style."
The bottom half of the paper described the smoke that had begun to seep from Vesuvius for the first time in 50 years.
I was happy to be leaving the area in the morning. There was only so much smoldering I could handle.
But before we go, here’s a quick travel tip. The professor highly recommended visiting Herculaneum, and others have since agreed. They’ve left the majority of the frescoes and sculptures in place instead of hauling them off to the museum so at Herculaneum there’s actually something to see and it’s even in context with its surroundings. So if you’re in the neighborhood, skip Pompeii and see Herculaneum just around the bend instead.

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