• James Eric Fristad

Mayor of River City, Iowa

Whch is a truly arcane title, right? To explain: Paul Ford played the blowhard mayor in The Music Man, husband of Hermione Gingold who, in her best midwest Greek outfit, was about to dance gracefully as shown on vases found in ancient "Pom-pee-eye." Yes.

It was a quick but exhilarating trip there from Rome---both adjectives for the same reason: we rode the Frecciarossa (Red Arrow), one of Italy's fast and silent trainsets, to Naples. I had never traveled at 185 mph before, on land. Whew. And yet how curious, there were none of the common speed-cues, other than seeing things pass by really fast. But no other sensations. Noise, vibration, all had gone missing.

From Napoli Centrale (main rail station) the 12 of us climbed onto a mini-bus for the short drive to the actual archaeological site. We milled around outside the gate until the previous group was sufficiently inside, then trudged along in the pleasant company of our young guide for the day.

We'd been there before, about 15 years earlier, employing foolish economy to avoid paying for a tour. There were signs and labels everwhere, right? And a wall is a wall is a wall. Hmm, nice mosaic there. Dumb. Many of the labels had been removed or maybe misplaced, or taken as souvenirs, who knows. The best part of that trip had been onboard the Circum-Vesuviana train where a begging kid had suddenly put his crutches aside (as we rolled to a stop back in Naples, the trip complete) and began using the rail car's grab-rails for monkey-bars. Bright eyed kid, happy with his day's take, playing. I still smile at the image.

But returning to the now visit. I grew to understand our tour guide's version of English pronunciation (at its very worst it was clearer than the homey but slurred utterances of the British Airways flight attendants ... but that's another tale for another time). Many acres of ruins have been unearthed since last I visited this place, and the breadth and depth of knowledge has increased accordingly. The wooden parts of the houses had incinerated in the Vesuvius firestorm, of course; but there are enough traces still that it is known, for instance, that slaves lived upstairs in tiny apartments. Days could be hot there, and it was nice for the wealthy to have an insulating layer between themselves and the hot sun. That the "attic-oven" was occupied by wilting humans, was unfortunate. And there were two sets of public baths here, divided between the sexes. Certainly it wasn't modesty. Men, it was accepted, had business affairs to discuss which the fairer sex surely would not understand and likely would impede. Interesting little such tidbits of daily Roman life peppered our guide's talks.

From the ruins we were driven to a nominal farm for gustatory goodies (fancier words than what it deserved, truth be told). It was less a farm, as advertised, than a slick tasting room for a prosperous local vineyard. The wine was quite good, if unintelligible to barbarians such as ourselves. Servings were ample. I record that particular detail to maybe explain how our dozen normally reserved co-tourists quickly became good friends. Joking, laughing, teasing. Fun stuff but not mysterious. I for one was glad none of this bunch was steering the bus back to the Rome-bound train. After the libations there was a meal served, sort of. Little dish of some sort of large pasta with tomato sauce, and a smaller-yet compote/dessert thing. But no matter---the wine had been really good.

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