Tuesday, March 20, 2007

NAM & Herculaneum

Bondi gets an early morning walk as I'm visiting the National Archeological Museum (NAM). It's Monday morning, so the city is alive with its regular business. Passing a court complex, there are dozens, if not hundreds of motorbikes parked outside. If this was Australia, this would probably mean that the Banditos and Comancheros are on trial; here it probably just means that the full bench is convening. Naples doesn't just have window-cleaners: a man is going door-to-door with a feather duster, to clean shop shelves and counters. Dancing around horrendous attempts to park near the hospital, which is like Fiat's version of a monster-truck rally, I wonder if there is a hospital wing to deal with people run over in its car park. On the return to PrimoPiano, we're beckoned into a ladies clothing store, where a young man on staff wants to record a 5 minute video of Bondi using his mobile phone.

Mounting the steps of the museum, I turned back to the street to watch the weekday traffic. A cop is in the fray, his gesturing hands not so much directing as giving absolution for ignored right of way, traffic lights, another pulverised nun from the Sisters of Eternally Clicking Dentures.

The museum itself is austere, most likely due to lack of funds, but it is awash with children learning from the items taken from the sites at Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the Egyptian collection. The statuary here is impressive, mostly gigantic white figures and smaller black busts with eyes painted in to give an eerily realistic effect.I'm probably most taken in by the frescos and some of the early glassware. I visited the museum's "Secret Cabinet", a room showcasing the "obscene objects" - sculptures, frescos etc - taken from Roman sites. It was reopened in recent years after a history of closure (the door was simply walled up in 1851) and restricted access (permit from a diplomat required).

The museum bookstore was completely out of English language editions of its guides and other reference volumes (but with ample German, French, Japanese ...), unless you purchased an expensive, heavy volume that is impractical for lugging around the building. Displays are mostly monolingual, so interpretation for those who can't read Italian is left to purely visual impressions. At the Herculaneum excavation site that afternoon, which was also out of the most popular English language material (except ironically for one copy of the NAM guide), apparently because the publishers were out of stock. A lady on staff said it was a real problem for them since it's not just Anglophones looking for it, but speakers of other tongues who rely on English references.

The official website for Pompeii and Herculaneum, which is so awful to navigate, and so light on material that it doesn't even rate highly on web searches, didn't explicitly say whether dogs were allowed. I had read that they are overrun with strays, but the link for site "visiting rules" from the English language section of the site is to an Italian text file. (Rant: (1) if you're going to have a multingual site, make sure that each language section is complete; (2) don't link to text files and PDFs: make all the information available as regular HTML so that the entire site has a consistent navigation and search experience.)

The Italian rules seemed to indicate that animals were not allowed, so I called Herculaneum site to confirm. "Dogs? No problem." I was learning to double-check everything here; each time I've been directed from a ticket office to a train or ferry platform, the advice has been wrong, or the location has been changed without announcement or advisory on electronic noticeboards.

At the NAM, I bought a Campagnia ArteCard which is a combined 3day travel pass and museum/site entry card. Taking the CircumVesuvio trainline, it's less than 10 stops out to Ercolano Scavi "Herculaneum Excavation", watching each stop very carefully as the station names were rarely posted in a location visible from the carriage.

Ercolano itself is a bit of a shock, even after a few days seeing the poverty in central Naples. You walk down through 3-4 blocks of pretty low-rent area to the much graffitied site entrance.

The Herculaneum site is impressive, but many sections are closed off the public. From the state of the facilities I'd say that the dig is drastically underfunded, perhaps understandable when you see how little money goes toward the housing for the living residents of the area, some of whom literally look over the site from their bedroom windows. The photo thumbnails above are all I have to show at present unless my camera's memory card can be unscrambled. The prior link shows something of the state of the site, although I think my own pictures of the frescos (if recoverable) will show more of how richly decorated some of these villas were.

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