I've been before, of course--as a classicist, how could I not? After four visits to Rome I still haven't managed to go to all the things on my top-ten A-list. I doubt I'll manage them this time, either: we're only in Rome for a day, this time, not long enough to hit Hadrian's villa, and as for the Via Appia Antica, one really has to do that on a Sunday, when it's closed to traffic.
The impetus for this visit is my 83-year-old mother, who has lost none of her wanderlust with age. In a casual chat she lamented the fact that she had never seen Florence or the Bay of Naples, and it didn't seem to me that there was any reason for her to put up with that situation.
I've been to Florence three times. I remember the first occasion most vividly: I drove there with my fiance--as he was then--on a holiday from Paris, where we were living at the time. I left the car parked in a row with other cars, and returned awash with the glories of the Renaissance to find that the whole row of motors had been towed away. (The police were very understanding of our foreign stupidity, and let us off the parking fine, though we still had to pay the tow charge.)
The Renaissance is not really my period, though Florence is hard to resist. I'll feel more at home, though, in the Bay of Naples. I've been to Pompeii and Herculaneum before, too--twice--but I can't imagine getting tired of them. On my first visit I was too excited even to take pictures, and grinned so hard that at the end of the day my whole face ached. I was calmer second time around, but no less enchanted.
We wandered through the ruins marvelling
at frescoed ceilings, bowls of painted fruit,
medusa-headed fountains and mosaic floors--
then settled in a garden where we ate
salami sandwiches on benches in the shade.
Beyond us stood the bath-house where they found
the huddled bones of the all the city's dead.
Vesuvius rose above us, hazed with blue.
In the garden, pomegranates grew.
The men and women who resided here
like us, and like Demeter's daughter, knew that fruit:
the tree that loves the water, loves the sun;
the biting sweetness of its seed upon the tongue
and taste that binds to death when dark has come.