Travel Thursday: Pain and Pleasure in Paestum

Where would you find Greek ruins more ancient than those in Athens?
Sure, why not?
On the southwest coast of the boot was Paestum, discovered by accident in the eighteenth century, dug up and repaired by many generations of archaeologists, and now studied by me. I’d given myself a month to work my way through them, but that deadline had come and gone, and I was still here, though for other reasons. The place was just so interesting, more from a historical than architectural viewpoint, that I couldn’t make myself leave. The town had been inhabited for seven hundred years–rare in itself for an ancient place to last so long–before falling in the last days of the ancient Roman Empire. Now that it was uncovered and at least partially restored, the sun-bleached limestone could be seen for miles on the flat coastal plain. . . although it certainly looked more beautiful without scaffolding. Yet even then the Temple of Hera was incredibly glorious in that condition; it hardly seemed possible it looked any more beautiful when built in the sixth century BC. Next to it the Temple of Neptune was big and powerful, missing only the roof, but with thirty-six Doric columns still standing.
As great as it was to visit at any hour, easily the best was the late afternoon, from the shore, where the setting sun turned the stone to gold. I shot and shot and shot through the well-named golden hour, but since the sunset was in the other direction, I made my way back toward town so I could get the ruins in front of the light show, and also so I didn’t have to make my way back in the dark. The last thing I needed was for Blanca to come looking for me and make fun of me for getting lost. . .
Blanca claimed to be a doctor of physical therapy, though she had no diplomas hanging in her office. On the other hand, everyone in Italy who graduated from college was called dottore, or in her case dottoressa, so maybe that wasn’t as big a deal as I’d originally thought. Her practice, if indeed it was called that, was in her home, a block from the beach in the tiny town that had sprung up beside the ruins, approximately fifty miles south of Naples, and even though that road didn’t go through the big resort areas like Sorrento and Positano, let alone the island of Capri, they were still close enough for her to get a lot of business from that direction. All the big hotels sent her referrals, mostly for their own workers but once in a while a high-tipping rich tourist as well. In addition to that she ran a small but well-regarded internet site catering to non-porny sex questions; I’d noticed she was more apt to answer the physical ones rather than mental or emotional, but other than a smile I didn’t comment. It helped, of course, that she knew five languages, the obvious ones being Italian–naturally–and its siblings Spanish and Portuguese. English and German rounded out her linguistic skills, though when I’d wondered about Arabic and Swedish she’d simply made a face.
“Didja have fun playing in the dirt?” she drawled now as she heard but didn’t see me come in, since she was busy on the computer.
Noticing she’d gotten into the habit of talking to me in Italian–she’d said she wanted to practice her English, but apparently she thought I could do better with hers–I sighed, “Not really.” A week into this relationship I’d given up on explaining to her that I wasn’t doing any digging. “What’s really shocking is I haven’t found any sign of the World War 2 landings, either on the beach or the town. From all I heard about heaving fighting against the Germans–”
“Sixty years of people gathering souvenirs, or selling them,” she yawned, finally getting up and turning around to hug and kiss me like only she could.
“Fun day at the office?” I grinned when I could.
She slapped my shoulder and turned away, heading for the kitchen. “Not at all. Two customers didn’t hit on me. I must be losing it.”
Sincerely doubting that, I asked, “Were you wearing that potato sack the whole time?”
“It’s a caftan!”
“Most people don’t have my eye,” I mused, moving in to hug her from behind. “Otherwise they’d see that you can make even that fugly thing look hot.”
Turning in my arms very gracefully, she went all little-girl, batting her eyes. “Really?” came the softest whisper ever.
“Didja hear the big news today?”
“Nope.” Yawn. “I was either thinking of the job or you, no room for anything else in my brain.”
“You may need more RAM, then,” she mock-growled, adding a smack to the back of my head, only to miss and get me on the side. The ouchie reminded me of my earlier archaeological misadventures.
And of course she noticed. “What happened to your pinky?”
“Not sure. Somewhere along the way it got cut.”
“Did you have it looked at?”
Shrug. “Cleaned it as best I could, but remember I’m allergic to alcohol–”
“That’s right! I’ll need to find something else to clean it with. Come along.”
“Yes, dear.”
She was still laughing as she looked through the medicine cabinet, but that didn’t stop her noble quest. A few minutes later I was cleansed–or at least my pinky was–and bandaged, leaving me to flounder as to something to say, as she claimed she didn’t like being thanked.
“At the site I’m exploring,” I suddenly drawled, “there’s a swimming pool where the ancients did underwater laps.”
“Wow! Don’t cramp up halfway.”
Chortle. “Expected that, considering your line of work.”
Gasp. “Am I getting predictable?”
She grinned as she realized she was good enough with American idioms to not need the rest of that.



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