Naples, take 2

Strong from the knowledge that Naples is not somewhere I want to drive ever again in my whole entire life, we decide to try to reach it by public transport – there is a bus leaving Agerola straight to Naples! Unfortunately, said bus leaves at midday, so we just *have* to spend some time having a giant breakfast with local sausages and scrambled eggs, it’s such a sacrifice.

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The bus goes OK, although a lady at the bus stop who stopped us to coo over Zaza (totally routine by now) segues straight into “do you want to buy some socks / some lighters / some cotton pants off me?” – nope.

We’re thinking of visiting the archaeological museum which we missed when we came last, but first… maybe we should try to sample one of those famous pizzas? We make our way to Gino Surbillo’s, who’s been awarded “the world’s best Neapolitan pizza” several times and has been on Materchef, apparently. Anyway, there’s a crazy crowd in front of the restaurant, and I am sent to put my name down for a table. We wait, we wait, people come and go in and out of the restaurant – they are so popular that you put your name down on a list at the entrance, and as tables become free, they call your name on a speaker in the street so you can come in! When my name is finally called, it feels like a proper victory and we whoop in joy as we enter! Inside, we’re directed upstairs by slightly harassed-looking staff and we sit down at a table, where a grumpy waiter with perfectly threaded eyebrows takes our order.

Because this is Naples, the birthplace of the pizza, and we keep seeing signs saying that pizza should be simple and not covered in fancy ingredients, we all go for quite simple pizzas. When they arrive they look great, and it has to be said, they are proper delicious. The dough is especially tasty, made with organic special flour which sounds a bit too hipsterish to be true to the essence of pizza, but is very pleasant to eat nonetheless (who am I kidding, I bloody love hipster food). Threaded eyebrow man turns out to be much friendlier, and offers to hold Eliza while Hev cuts her pizza into bite-size pieces; he gestures that he’s got two babies at home, too.

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Full of the best Neapolitan pizza in the world (I am going to say something totally unforgivable, I prefer the pizza I’ve had in Rome for example, as I find the Naples variety too soggy and I like a crispy dough, there I said it), we head for the museum. In the entrance, sits a really impressive and huge horse head by Donatello, and all around the walls, the original statues recovered from around the theatres in Herculanum – some of them are really striking, in black stone, the folds of their clothes rendered in a fabulously fluid manner (for something made of stone!!). After glancing at the Farnese collection, a huge collection of Greek and Roman statues collected from Rome by cardinal Farnese in the 16th century (I’m just reading he then became pope, don’t you know), we head upstairs for what we’ve really come to see: the items recovered from Pompeii and Herculanum.

By far the things that stay in my mind the most are the mosaics; I was expecting the kind of slightly clunky-looking, “pixelated”-looking mosaics we’re used to seeing – but what we see instead are thing so exquisitely detailed, so fine, that they proper blow my mind. Skin is rendered in tiny specks of stone of dozens of different shades to mimic the play of light and shadows on the faces; realistic fishes and other animals pop up from the walls; even the movement of some horses’ muscles in battle are highlighted, and all in bits of stone! Amazing. I can’t stop exclaiming about it to Heather (and Eliza, but she doesn’t care).

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Next we see a room called the “secret cabinet”… and surprise surprise it’s the busiest bit of the museum because it contains… you’ve guessed it… erotic paintings and various penis-themed items. There are dicks everywhere, frankly it’s a little annoying how much importance cultures keep giving the penis. Penis is great, it gives you luck, it gives you prosperity, it gives you power, yada yada yada, get over your organ, men. So we look at some more of the brothel paintings from Pompeii, lots of terracotta people with oversize members, and many many representations of penises being thrust towards women in unsolicited manner (I’m looking at you, Zeus, and you, satyrs, and you other rapey types). There are little bronze hanging objects strung with bells, which represent winged penises, men riding penises, and even a dude having a fight with his own dick which has somehow turned into a wolf (ouch). Slightly overdosing on the male attribute, we make our way out of the secret cabinet. The secret element comes from the fact that this collection was locked away at various points in time due to being obscene (oooooh), then redisplayed, then hidden again, etc etc.

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Finally, we arrive at one of the parts I’ve most been looking forward, the frescoes which have been removed from the walls and floors of the buried cities to protect them from the elements and from looters. What I’m not expecting is that the paintings outside their context don’t move me nearly as much as the ones we’ve seen in situ in Pompeii; there are some beautiful things, yes, but some look almost tacky, and on a museum wall they just don’t have the same effect. There are also many objects retrieved at the site, including really impressive glassware and bronze dishes. A contemporary artist has a bunch of works displayed within the Pompeii exhibition, and it doesn’t really fit – it’s all dark clowns and smeary faces, it sort of jars with the ancient stuff.

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Approaching museum fatigue, we decide to call it a day and start the long way back to our bus stop – it’s a bunch of metro stops away, and it feels like we’re walking miles beneath Naples to link metro stations; we finally find our bus where we slump into seats gratefully… unfortunately there is a very loud man who’s having a screamed conversation on the phone to what sounds like his elderly uncle. Zaza keeps being woken up from her slumber and that does not agree with her – she’s grizzly all the way back to our place in Agerola despite some valiant effort from the lady in front to make her smile.

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the steps to the museum have a really cool painting of Donatello’s horse which you have to view from exactly the right angle

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Naples – it’s tiring!

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