That Time We Visited Naples

I wonder if my husband would ever agree to go back.

Krista Marson
Taking Off
Published in
13 min readAug 12, 2023

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View from our Naples hotel room, photo by author.

It’s a good thing my husband doesn’t know any Italian because that way he had no idea what the guy holding a massive fish tank was yelling at him. I don’t know any Italian either, but I was pretty sure the angry guy holding an unwieldy fish tank was pissed that Ryan was standing in his way. It was pretty obvious that the guy wasn’t yelling pleasantries at him as he tried to garner his attention and urged him to move away from the squirrels. Alas, it was all to no avail, because Ryan remained completely oblivious to the fact that someone was ready to drop a large fish tank on his head until I intervened and got him to move away from the exotic pets.

“Did you know they sold squirrels in Italy for pets?” Ryan asked me. “I also saw some chipmunks for sale, too!”

“Did you not know the pet store guy was right about to crush your brains with a fish tank?” I replied right back to him. “How in the world did you not know he was there?”

The guy carrying the super enormous heavy fish tank made his way down the tight aisle, all the while grumbling something I was very sure wasn’t particularly nice directly at us.

“Oh,” he said.

We both stood there for a bit until the guy was out of sight. It was evident we ruined that man’s evening, and it was going to be a while before his expletives would completely cease.

“So, are we buying a chipmunk?” I asked Ryan. “I heard they sold those here.”

“I think we better leave,” Ryan said, and scouted for the best route to slink out of the Naples pet shop.

There ended up being something about Naples and Ryan that had the makings for a highly watchable TV show. I would have called the program, “Follow Ryan Around Naples and See What Happens.” It was almost as if the entire city was a huge personification of the character known as Borat, specifically when he ran around the streets of New York attempting to hug random people but ended up traumatizing them instead. All of Naples was Ryan’s Borat no matter where he went. He couldn’t even go into a coffee shop without nearly walking out without any hair on his head. Seriously. Men literally came at him with scissors. This is a story I have to share.

Ryan has super long hair, photo by author

So, we walked into a coffee shop and ordered a couple of espressos and sat down at the counter to enjoy our drinks. We were minding our own business when complete strangers snuck up on Ryan and started to touch his hair. Granted, his hair is an attention grabber, as it is long and luxurious, but it is rare for people to start stroking his head as if he were a cat. The petting startled him, and his immediate reaction was to fight. He turned around and saw four sizable Italian dudes with their hands up as if they were under arrest.

“We just wanna toucha your hair,” they explained. “Your hair, itsa, so nice.”

Ryan was completely creeped out as he is never a fan of people touching his hair. It took him forever to grow his hair out as long as it is, and he constantly has to either defend or justify it. Men with long locks is an uncommon occurrence but sometimes Ryan forgets just how much of an anomaly he is. His only recourse was to excuse himself to the bathroom in order to politely get away from them.

While he was in the bathroom, I watched the men go behind the counter and reemerge with a pair of scissors. I got the impression they wanted to scare Ryan in “pretending” they were going to cut his hair. Or maybe they were really going to lop off his ponytail, I didn’t know, as this was Naples after all. Regardless, I had to intervene and encourage them to please put the scissors down because what they were doing was really messed up and making me nervous.

“No, no, we justa playing,” they said.

“I don’t care. Not funny. Please put the scissors down,” I asked nicely.

Ryan exited the bathroom and witnessed a commotion taking place.

“What’s going on?” he inquired.

Someone had the scissors behind their back and did a “ta-da!” reveal in front of Ryan.

“Oh, shit,” Ryan said and bolted for the door.

The group of guys jogged after him but stayed right at the threshold of the cafe. I slapped down some money and got the heck out of there.

I found Ryan standing on the curb clear across the street.

“Do you think all of Naples is like this?” Ryan asked me.

“For you,” I said, “Ya, probably.”

We arrived Naples less than 12 hours ago, and due to Ryan Naples karma, we so far endured a maniac taxi driver who drove on the highway as if it was a Formula One racetrack, a hotel that had all the appearances of being abandoned located in a neighborhood Ryan was convinced I was going to get raped in, a guy ready to drop a massive fish tank on his head, and a group of men more than ready to play barber shop with his hair. Taking all that into account, I didn’t believe that Naples was making a good first impression on him.

“I think it’s time to save you from yourself,” I said to him. “Are you ready to go into the museum?”

“I think I am,” he said, “Maybe?”

We stayed the night in Naples in a seedy area of town against our better judgment only because I wanted us to be near the Naples National Archaeological Museum. Most of the major artifacts discovered in Pompeii have found their final resting place within the confines of a building that apparently lacked proper ventilation. I don’t know how else to surmise why a building that housed delicate objects of art was perfectly okay with displaying the artifacts in rooms where every window was propped wide open. I couldn’t help but think that this museum was defeating its own purpose of protecting the artwork from the elements when the objects were hung on walls in direct sunlight and unprotected from exhaust fumes.

picture this fresco displayed right near an open window, photo by author.

“Ryan, why did you bring your Naples in here?” I asked him.

“Huh?” he asked. “How do you mean?”

“When was the last time you have been in a museum that had every window open? Never, right?” I inquired.

Ryan looked around him.

“Oh. I see, he said. “So, do you still want to move to Naples?”

“I never said I wanted to move to Naples. It was that villa in Pompeii I said I wanted to live in. There’s a major difference,” I clarified.

I admit that my dream home needs some remodeling, photo by author

“That famous Alexander Mosaic is supposed to be here someplace,” I announced. “I’ve always wanted to see that in person.”

What makes Ryan and I click is we both understand art. It is not to everyone I could say such a phrase and be understood as to what I was referring to. He knew what the Alexander Mosaic was as he spent several years studying art in college, and he was just as much looking forward to seeing the artwork in person as I was.

The Alexander Mosaic, wikimedia commons

The large Alexander Mosaic currently hangs on a wall, but it originally served as a floor. I can’t imagine anyone stepping on such a masterpiece, but, then again, I wasn’t around in AD 75, so I have no idea how the original owners of the artwork perceived it. The owners must have regarded the work to be something valuable because they must have paid a lot of money to commission such a meticulously rendered design. It is speculated that the mosaic was a direct copy of a well-known painting, and lucky for posterity, the mosaic survived because no ancient Greek painting actually has.

It is curious that the most damaged part of the mosaic is the portion where Alexander the Great’s army was positioned. Most of his mosaic army has been wiped out by the flow of Vesuvius, but inexplicably, the tesserae version of Alexander remains as the sole figure looming in a section where everything else around him has gotten erased. Some historical figures demand awe and there must have been a reason why he had the connotation “Great” attached to his name. Youth and ambition could not possibly have been fuel enough to explain him, as there had to be something more. It had to be that same whatever it was that made even Vesuvius respect him.

Of all the historical figures I would like to meet, if I had to actually narrow it down to one, I’d pick him. How old was he when he died? Something like 32? Imagine if he had lived longer, like, a lot longer. How different would the world have been? Would he have made it to China? What would have made him stop there? Would he have gone north to Siberia? Sail the Bering Strait? Discover America? I know, I’m going off on wild speculation, but thoughts about Alexander’s possibilities takes my brain there. He went where no one else even thought of going to before and he didn’t travel as a tourist, but as a conqueror. In a world that was rife with unknowns, he strikes me as not having been afraid. He must not have known fear, or if he had encountered fear, he probably conquered that too. His personality intrigues me and I would be curious to observe him simply walk. I just want to see how he held himself. Something tells me that he didn’t slouch his shoulders. Was his hair really thick and wavy, or are the sculptures that we have of him simply idealized versions of how he wanted to be seen? I want to know who he was as a real, living, breathing human being. I’d be content to simply lay my eyes on him, even at a distance. I want to know how it felt to be pulled by his aura as opposed to how it must have felt to be on the pointy end of his spear. He was a complex figure and I’m curious to know what made him tick. I want to know what made him so different from all other men. Okay, I admit it. I have a thing for Alexander.

Eyes of a Classical statue, photo by author

That being said, I also have a thing for the entire ancient world as well. I can’t help but be fascinated by the classical past. The people of ancient Greece and Rome seemed to have known different things than we do. Rather, it was their unique approach to life that makes it seem to me that they were aware of different things. They saw the world in a distinct way and functioned in what I can only describe as having been in some sort of a parallel universe. Far as I know, they might all still be out there somewhere in the ether making sacrifices to Jupiter and consulting the Oracle at Delphi. It’s possible that our two worlds collided at one point in the distant past and the classical world got knocked out of orbit and we supplanted them. To me, it almost feels as if we are living on top of them. They are here but not here. I see who they were and what kind of lives they lived when I gaze into one of the three-dimensional frescoes that they left behind, but whenever I turn around to look for them, they are never there. They are gone. We are not the inheritors of their legacy. We may think that we are, but we are not. Their world belonged to them, and we didn’t want it when it was our turn to go to the public baths, our turn to debate in the forum, or our turn to go to the public games. We had to kill the classical world in order to inherit the earth and if it wasn’t for the gravediggers, no semblance of the past would ever have come to light.

I say such things because I believe that had the classical world been allowed to continue at the clip that it was going, technology would have looked different today. It’s possible that our need for fossil fuels might have been circumnavigated if inquisitive minds were allowed to tinker with inventions for longer than they were allowed to do. The barbarians snuffed out innovation and blew out the future as if it were a candle. We will never know how many brilliant minds the world missed out on due to a lack of places for such minds to grow.

I rather lament the one thing the world kept happens to be the same thing that the world thought it got rid of. Paganism still exists although hypocrites believe that it does not. Christians still worship Zeus although they do not call him that. Actually, who they are really worshiping is the Egyptian god, Amun, as it was the Egyptians who are most credited with inventing religion. Amun became Zeus, Zeus became Jupiter, Jupiter became Yahweh, and Yahweh became God. None of this is any sort of a secret, but the thing is that no one really cares. It is merely an inconvenient truth that male lambs were sacrificed by the Romans in dedication to Jupiter the same way that Jesus is referred to being the lamb of God as a sacrifice for humankind. We didn’t inherit the ancient world; we just kept their religion. I think that the world would be better off if we would not worry about deities at all and focused on taking better care of ourselves. It’s unfortunate that we can’t see what we are doing to each other because we are always too busy looking at something else. It’s okay to need God, but no one needs God as an excuse for religion. If mankind is so insistent on having places of worship, I think that it would behoove us to elevate humanism to the status of religion and make churches to that. Imagine if one was allowed to enter the humanism temple only after a worshiper assured the congregation that an entire poor city in Africa was provided access to safe drinking water thanks to their compassion. What turns me off about most religions is just how self-serving they all are. At least in the ancient world, when animals were sacrificed, everyone got to eat. Zeus only demanded the smell of meat; the actual beef went to the people.

A day in the Classical world, photo by author

One of the best ways to get into the mind of a classical head is to stand where they once stood. My favorite classical vantage point is from a villa in Herculaneum I want to live in. On my Herculaneum map, the property was labeled as, “The House of the Relief of Telephus” and it was described as one of the largest houses in the excavated area, but that wasn’t the reason why I found the house appealing. What I liked about the villa was the view that it must have had. A portion of the building rose above the city in the form of a three-story tower, and it was from there that the ancient world was observed. Indeed, this was a house that was built for luxury, but it was also a house that was built for the human spirit. Sometimes man craves a place where he can escape himself and this tower provided a location for that journey. The view from there allowed man to look beyond his own confines by throwing his gaze far out to sea and beyond the horizon. All possibilities existed from that vantage point, even the possibility of an end to the real-life fairy tale. Vesuvius could have been seen from that perch. It is likely that people stood on that balcony and watched their future erupt, seeing only darkness when the fire of Vesuvius was reflected in the pupils of their eyes.

Vesuvius looms, photo by author

I think it’s almost easier to relate to the people of the classical era than it is to relate to those that lived during the medieval age, even though those that lived during the classical era are further removed from us. I think it has something to do with how the ancient Greeks and Romans lived in their cities which makes them more relatable to me. There was almost nothing foreign about walking the streets of ancient Pompeii. My feet seemed to know exactly where to go and all I had to do was just follow my steps. If the buildings all got new roofs, the entire city could be inhabited again and continue exactly where it left off. I’d volunteer to be Pompeii’s first new resident and I’d open a cafe in one of the corner shops.

The intersection where I would open my cafe, photo by author

Conveniently, I wouldn’t even have to change anything about the shop, as I could simply reuse the jars that were already embedded in the counters, so remodeling would cost nothing. I would, however, have to insist on having electricity, but I’d go solar for that. This is definitely a life I could see for myself. I sure hope that Ryan wouldn’t mind that I’d occasionally have to send him to Naples for supplies, though. On that account, he might veto this whole idea, as I rather conjured all this up without consulting him.

My newest travel memoir Time Traveled is available as e-book or paperback! Buy it either at Amazon or at most major retailers.

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