So, last weekend I went to Naples with Richard. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite the trip I’d dreamt of – there was no sipping coffee in piazzas or strolling along the Lungomare at sunset with Capri and Vesuvius in the distance – because it absolutely poured for three days. I mean, really, really pissed it down, as though Jupiter was angry or something. Still – it was interesting to finally visit Pompeii. I’ve read so much about it, researching Ovid, and use some of its graffiti as an epigraph in my new version of Heroides:
Marcus loves Spendusa.
Serena hates Isidore
Sarra, you’re not acting very nicely, leaving me all alone
Restitutus has deceived many girls many times
I have f many girls here
I came here, I f , I went home
Let him who loves, prosper. Let him who loves not, perish. And let him who forbids love to others perish twice over.
Graffiti from Pompeii, trans. Jo-Ann Shelton
Pompeii itself was even bigger and stranger than I’d hoped. To step back in time – to actually be able to stroll around an ancient Roman town, nosing in their gardens and temples and kitchens – was totally absorbing even though the streets had turned to rivers. I loved the House of the Tragic Poet, with its Beware of the Dog sign; the ampitheatre where gladiators fought; the baths; the tiny bunks in the brothel; shop-fronts; the urine pots which they soaked their laundry. And then going to the shelter of the Naples museum and seeing all the mosaics and filthy paintings and weird, flying-penis charms they hung off doors.
The weather meant we spent a lot of time eating and drinking too: fresh, deep green olives, warm buttery sfogliatella, bruschetta, truffle-cheese, grappa, buffalo mozzarellas that glugged out milky juice like severed arteries when you cut them, octopus, spaghetti alle vongole, pizza at Da Michele (Supposedly the best in the world – Julia Roberts eats there in Eat, Pray Love. They serve only margheritas or marinaras: surprisingly thick bases and lots of rich tomato sauce. Very juicy.) I drank loads of Campari: both negronis (my favourite cocktail) and those little ready mixed bottles you can keep in your handbag and crack open every time you’re sheltering from a storm.
I came back stinking of damp and with welts on my feet from them sloshing round in my inappropriate footwear. Not to mention the Campari headache. So not the most relaxing weekend, but I’m all fired up about Ovid and Ancient Rome again, ready to put together a show for the festivals this summer. (By the way, I really recommend Mary Beard’s Meet the Romans on the BBC at the moment. It’s full of brilliant details. And so nice to see a normal, smart, cool fifty-something woman on TV.)