A proper full-on excursion today, where we had to navigate our way through the intricacies of a foreign transport system and headed for Herculaneum. We had been told to get bus tickets from the bar near the hotel, but it was shut at 8.15am when we were looking to leave. My wife wanted to ask people where else might sell them, but I knew there was a ticket machine at the next bus stop along and hurried up the road. We just had enough change to purchase two single tickets and the bus was late anyway, so the panic was over. But the bus was so packed that we couldn't even get down to the machine to validate the tickets and no one checked them so we would have got away with travelling for free anyway (seeing as I am in a thieving mood at the moment it seems).
I had to stand the whole way, as did many other passengers, but what I could see of the Amalfi coast on the 50 minute ride looked pretty spectacular.
We couldn't work out the machines at the train station however and joined a longish queue, aware that our train was supposed to leave any minute. I managed to ask for the tickets in Italian and they were in my hand with about a minute to go til boarding. We rushed for the train, went to the wrong platform, ran back downstairs and then up to the right platform and got on with seconds to spare. I couldn't see where to validate our tickets on the train, but the conductor told us that we should have done it on the platform. He let us off though and was very jolly.
We got off at Porta Ercalano, which in hindsight may have been the wrong stop as it turned out we were some way away from the ruins. There were no signposts telling us which way to go. Although I had done well with buying the tickets I was too scared to talk to any proper Italians so my wife did the duties, getting initial directions and then some extra ones when it seemed we'd been walking for half an hour. The inhabitants didn't seem to know what Herculaneum was, which seemed odd. It's not as big a deal as Pompeii in tourist terms, but they must surely have noticed it. Eventually when we were about to turn back we came to the attraction. But it had been interesting to see the non-touristy part of an Italian town. I liked the fact that there were loads of cartoon cocks graffitied on the walls. Herculaneum hasn't come far in the last 2000 years.
I was very excited to finally visit these excavations, having been a long time fan of Pompeii (I've been there twice and will go again this holiday) and being told by many that Herculaneum is smaller, but in many ways more impressive. And with the British Museum exhibition and Mary Beard's TV shows so fresh in our minds I was really looking forward to seeing the sights in person. It begins with the vaults by the beach where citizens vainly sheltered from the volcano and instead got turned into skellingtons. I wondered why bread and fruit had been carbonised and people had not. I wished I had asked Mary Beard that. Perhaps they were. But not in these caverns. But access was limited and we could only see the bones (I am presuming they are replicas) from a distance. Alas it turned out that much of the city was off limits, including some of the more notable parts such as the baths above the (former) beach and the House of the Papyri. There was still plenty to see, but it was a little frustrating to have access limited. Yet it was understandable - it must be Hellishly difficult to keep the site in a state of preservation in the terrific heat we were experiencing and some stuff was shut for excavations, which is important and exciting.
And yes, in terms of detail, the stuff we saw was rather lovely and fascinating. I particularly liked the Roman equivalent of an iron (or a pressing machine at least) and the female changing rooms of a smaller set of baths were exquisite - the marble benches looked like they might have been placed there a decade ago and the mosaics were top notch and included a tiny phallus (the Romans were obsessed with cock - I pity them their childishness).
And we were pretty exhausted after walking round the main site, so maybe it was good that we weren't allowed down to the House of the Papyrus. I believe Mary Beard speculated that it might contain a library of all sorts of ancient works. I hope they find some in the excavations.
After lunch we walked back to the train station we'd arrived at (just in case), but the train was delayed and much slower than the one that had brought us here. Though on the journey I looked out of the window at one point to see a white haired man being enthusiastically fellated by a brown haired lady. They were standing at the side of the tracks, out of sight of people in the town they were in, but in full view of all the trains going past. I was impressed as it was 3.30ish and not just broad daylight, but also powerfully hot. Most old men would be having a siesta, but this guy had a better idea. And he was a gentleman enough to have his back to the tracks. He might be an exhibitionist, but he was not a show off about it. I found the whole thing amusing, but also, for some reason rather charming and life-affirming. In most ways it was neither - it was a sleazy encounter that I suspect money had changed hands for and it was happening in public. But the literal and figurative lack of a fuck was somewhat marvellous. These people were seizing the day (and that's not all one of them was seizing) and even though the man had lived for over half a century (probably a decade or so more) he was still up for the pleasures of life. Does anything symbolise Italy more than an old man getting an al fresco blowie in a railway siding and damn the consequences. They should put it on their flag.
Weirdly I had been pretty deflated by the similarly sleazy old men with young women at Gatwick Airport, enjoying the buffet before sloping off to their room. But maybe if they had been at in a darkened corner and it had been as flagrant and brazen as what the tableau I had witnessed I wouldn't have minded.
I was mainly just impressed that they could be bothered with it in this heat.
I think it's unlikely I will enjoy anything on this holiday as much as seeing an old man getting a blowie on a railway siding. I think it might be my highlight of the year. I can't really explain why, but it filled me with hope and a love of life when it should have left me cold and empty and wishing for death. Is it wrong that I might have enjoyed seeing an old man getting a blow job more than actually getting a blow job myself? But my enjoyment was spiritual rather than physical or even pervy (though it is a bit of a shock to see public oral sex going on). After having been amongst so much death I suppose there was something symbolic about it. They were living their life as if a volcano was about to go off - and let's face it that would make a brilliant plaster casted void for future archaeologists to find.
It made up for the journey being a bit tortuous and then having a slightly prolonged bus journey home (because I assumed we'd be picked up where we were dropped off and didn't want to ask anyone to check). The bus was much emptier on the way back and we got to enjoy the sights properly. But as I saw no gerontophile loving I found the sun setting over the Amalfi coast a bit disappointing.
All this reminds me that the kindle version of Talking Cock is now available. You should also find it on other e-book stores. It might be the perfect medium to enjoy the book as you can read it on the bus without anyone thinking you're a pervert when they see the cover. I don't make any money from the e book versions though (as I never made back my advance - but you'll be helping the publisher recoup some of what they lost on the book in 2003) so would much prefer you to buy the actual book from gofasterstripe (only £5 if you buy it with the Talking Cock DVD). But I know many of you prefer digital books (I do too), so the option is there.