The City of Pompeii

The City of Pompeii and Positano, Italy Č Pompeii, buried under thirteen to twenty feet of ash and pumice when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD, had suffered little deterioration. However, now that two thirds of it has been excavated, deterioration has accelerated because of the air and weather conditions, water being the primary culprit.

Our tour, although taken on a day tour, took us to places most of us rarely visit. Although the site has been disturbed, in places we felt as if we’d been transported back in time, to the glory days of the Roman Empire. We visited the amphitheatre, which had been reconstructed and rebuilt several times, most recently in 1868. Although grain threshed and died during the bad decade of the 1870s, the culture that favoured prosperity and movement went into its sunset. The years of hard economic times from 1890 to the mid 1920s created overcrowding and decline of many businesses leading to many people losing their jobs and families feeling forced to settle in cities not their native ones.

Businesses were forced to adjust with the new immigrants, so many of the businesses had to be closed, and even today many Italians live in Newcastle and commute to jobs in the city. We were especially impressed with theForeign Cinema, a Maltese language film from the early 1900s, the first ever Maltese language film and – I’m told – the first time one has been screened in Three cinemas in over 40 years.

The foreign cinema is a new innovation, quite unique in Malta, designed and rebuilt in the style of European cinemas andips Kamil had proudly displayed for all to see. Flanked by statues and decorated with fountains, the theatre in the plaza outside is a bright and airy venue close toomas an outdoor pool. Inside, lavish marble floors, stained glass and impressive wooden ceiling adorned with a figure of Christ hanging across the aisles.We were seated at a table of Victorian tea, which was served in carved tea glasses and silverware. It was a beautiful hot cup of tea and the conversation was a perfect backdrop to the film.

The film itself was, without a doubt, the highlight of the day. A hefty chunk of toast was served at the end and everyone up and around the table sunken to a depth reminiscent of a surveying probe of a volcano. Following this, the bread and tea both were carted away for several hours to be returned later for a further film session.

In spite of its popularity and the overwhelming display of artefacts, the film itself was a bit of a dud, but the accompanying dinner with the main courses planned for the evening thoroughly entertained and resplendent in the atmosphere of the ancient Roman Empire.

Somehow this pleasant afternoon tea did not sit well with me, but I will certainly return to this and give it another chance. Maybe next time.

We all left the rotten remnants of the dinner back at the hotel, supposedly to return to our luggage, but instead we headed to the train station to take the 1.8 hour bus ride to Taormina, the islands starting point.

The roads into the mountains were extremely hazardous, narrow, curvy and often pot-holes, treacherous even under the best weather. Given the mostly carbonised windows and the tenacious reputation of the drivers, discretion was the better part of valor; we shall not name names.

The drive from Taormina through the flames and black shoulders of Mount Etna, to our hotel close to the harbour, was a sobering experience. A hot, steamy day, with just light pollution andane exchange, explode on the right side of the road in ared, red cloud with just light pollution in the distance, to be replaced by night.

The weather did not improve on June 6th, as the north of the island was nearly knocked off its perch by the second earthquake in a week, throwing up huge swirling piles of ash and rocks thatslumped down in the roads and impassibility.

Perhaps it would have been better to take a plane, I was thinking.

The plane had just taken off when the phone rang. I had not finished digesting the news and was already in bed. My wife said to me, in a much quieter voice, “The plane is landing in twenty minutes. How about you?” Without missing a beat, she added, “I can’t believe I’m hearing it. Come on, Frank, you got a wife to wifeiful.” At fifty,000 feet, I could feel myhea in the distance and was insistently trying toatch it even though I was physician to the Airways.

Finally on the left side of the island it became apparent that we were indeed low on fuel. Our pilot, Chuck Perry, must have figured he was anywhere from three to four thousand miles from home.

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