Travel Thursday: Pain and Pleasure in Paestum, part 2

After a quick breakfast–I barely refrained from her suggestion that I eat it off her; it was cereal, after all–I was off to the site, this time with a promise that she’d come see me after lunch. I told her I’d spend the morning looking for a temple of love, just as she’d asked, and that seemed to make her happy, at least for now.
So I walked out and headed south toward the site, skipping the seaside, since it was late enough in the morning to have its fill of tourists. On the other hand, a nice ocean breeze would hit the spot, since it was a hot muggy day, the kind that made you want to shoot yourself in the head. . . just to get some air in.
Today I planned to concentrate on the art, the painted tombs, since that would be the easiest clue as to a temple of love or such. To my chagrin, I didn’t know much about them, and hadn’t studied at all on the Lucanian period, the time of all but one of the aforementioned painted tombs. And this wasn’t the place to study them, having no books and not about to sit in this mugginess while reading a laptop with a satellite link.
There was a long, sandy beach nearby, though, with hopefully that possible cool breeze coming from the ocean. . . nah, couldn’t risk the laptop on the sand.
Finally I decided to concentrate on the one Greek mural, which a water girl like Blanca was sure to appreciate. It was called the Tomb of the Diver, and despite the small hike in this paella-like weather, I figured it would be worth the trip. Of course it wouldn’t be with the others, I groused as I walked, and it had to be in a necropolis, an ancient cemetery the likes I always hated to go into. On the other hand, at least I wasn’t going at night! Then I wondered if the ancient Greeks knew about vampires. . . and shuddered in the humidity.
Still, I knew better, just kidding with my always silly and overactive imagination. According to the latest theory, the tomb was actually the sanc¬tuary of Hera, at the mouth of the river Sele. I wasn’t quite so sure yet, because Hera’s house was an ancient myth that a lot of people wanted to be true, especially since the legend also had it as being founded by Jason and the Argonauts, the original wrong-way drivers. . . or was that Odysseus’ crew? Ancient dates always confused me. . .
But, whatever, I sighed. Archaeologists were just as notorious as everyone else for being pigheaded. . . excluding myself, of course, but then I wasn’t a full-blown archaeologist either.
And when I got there I realized I’d blown it, though immediately blaming the weather for my lack of concentration: the frescos were no longer on site! Instead they were at the local National Museum, which I really should have known, or at least realized the possibility. Shaking my head at my stupidity, but covering up by taking photos of the small structure, I thought my body might have overheated beyond repair from this morning’s activities.
Somehow I had to find a way to blame this on her. . .
Or I could simply take her to the museum to look at the murals, put the pressure on her to come up with something worthwhile, especially since she was likely to take a dim view at the futuristic interior of that building.
Heading off at a slow slog back to the main site, I used the wide angle to take some shots of the entire region, though stopping each time, not trusting the landscape without my eyes. It was hard to figure now, but from what I’d read of this place, after the usual deforestation for ship building, had become a marshland, as always bringing malaria along for the ride. Not that I would prefer marsh, of course, but I simply couldn’t picture how different the place had to be to make it worth building such an important ancient city.
Stopping on a hill to overlook the area–and take a better photo–I studied the walls, looking prehistoric around the site, except where the whole place was cut by that damned highway. Once again I wondered if I could get permission to go into even one of the towers, just for some photos if nothing else. Problem was, most of the site was on private land, which pissed off the archaeologist in me, but the rest of me knew better than to worry about it and walked on, though still in an abstract mood, trying to picture how the place must have looked in its great days. It was hard to believe these were the only remaining Greek temples north of Sicily, and then it was only the malaria-bearing mosquitoes that kept people from destroying these too. On the other hand, it was just as astounding to imagine that, due to the place being so utterly uninhabitable so that staying overnight with the biting bugs meant certain death, a thick forest grew around the buildings and hid them like Mayan temples in the Yucatan jungle, all the way to the eighteenth century, and weren’t seen again till the crew building that damned road stumbled across them. . .
Another pause for a look, and photo. In a way it seemed amazing: a huge, seemingly empty area, with just a few buildings in the distance, and some very tiny-looking excavation pits on the end closest to the beach. There were the remains of the amphitheater, but I really couldn’t tell it had been such. Everything else was underneath the ground, but damn how beautiful it must have been. . .
Finally I decided it was too much to spend my life on and was done with it. . . which was made a lot easier when I headed back to Blanca’s place and found lunch ready.
“I’ve been out there plenty of times,” she la-de-da’ed as I approached, “but always hunting flowers, hardly noticing the ruins. Thank you for broadening my horizons.”
“Anything for you, dear,” I replied in the same tone of voice, which made her laugh. “Now return the favor and tell me about the famous roses.”
Pleased, she murmured, “I’m very impressed when you ask me for advice or such.”
I kissed her on the forehead.
Sighing with pleasure, she launched into her story. “The famous Paestum rose has been celebrated as far back as the poet Virgil. . . you remember him, right?”
“Not personally, but I’ve read his stuff. Want a critique?”
“Not now, dear, keep it historical rather than literary. In front of the Neptune temple–I’m sure you know which one that is–there’s supposed to be clumps of flowering roses, sketched and painted and mentioned by your favorite German, Goethe. . .” She waited for a reaction, looked disappointed when she didn’t get it. “One guy named Seume came down on foot from Lipsia for them, only to find them all torn out by visitors.”
“The German author who walked for nine months to Sicily?”
Sigh. “Is it sad that you no longer surprise me?”
“It’s sad you couldn’t make that sound more convincing.”

;o)

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