Disturbances ancient and modern

Unlike Vesuvius, the Italian train workers are nice enough to give notice when they are planning to erupt. Today’s train strike – which we learned about when we arrived at the station this morning – had an actual schedule. From 6AM to 1:30PM, no service. Therefore, our plans to climb Mt. Vesuvius were thrown into chaos, for when service did resume, it was announced that the strike would begin again at 5PM. We had just enough time to travel to Ercolano and see the ruins of Herculaneum before the last train of the day.

It was actually possible to do this in the time we had available. This site is much smaller than Pompeii, but better preserved. Reasons include a major mud slide before the ash and gases arrived, which preserved many things lost at Pompeii, such as wooden and other organic-based objects such as roofs, beds, doors, food and even some 300 skeletons.

Only 25% of the original city has been uncovered, and it is easy to see that the rest lies right under the modern town.

Herculaneum was a wealthier town than Pompeii, based on the amount of colored marble used, and other architectural details. The frescoes we saw were in much better condition than Pompeii’s, and were incredibly striking.

There were some lovely tiles in among the ruins. But most impressive was seeing almost intact second floors – and in some places, the carbonized wood that supported them. There is even a preserved wooden staircase.

The wine list outside the bar, the cafe once filled with bubbling pots, the piazza and streets, and the (plaster casts of) skeletons of those trying to escape by water all make Herculaneum feel full of laughter and tears, cries and whispers – and rumblings from that mountain I’m almost glad we couldn’t climb.

Don’s Food Corner

While yesterday’s elegant restaurant was not Mama’s kitchen, today’s definitely was.  In fact, as we entered the owner greeted us with those very words:”This is Mama’s kitchen.”   Considering the clientele of local older men (wearing clothing that looked like they hadn’t been redesigned since the mid-1940s), we knew we were somewhat off the tourist trail.  The lunch menu was limited to six first course choices and six second course choices.

I started with a slice of gatto’ di patate — a Neapolitan potato pie specialty.  It turned out to be somewhat flavorless despite the heavy sprinkling of pecorino.  Jo, doing her duty of taste comparison, had the lasagna. The sauce was heavier than other versions we have tried, as were the pasta sheets.  Still, a welcome and robust starter.

For our second course, Jo, again working her way through possible variations of a similar dish, chose scaloppini al limone. We could tell that the lemon used was authentically fresh because the kitchen included several lemon seeds in the otherwise luscious sauce  The meat was tender; it was accompanied by pan-roasted potatoes.  I tried the braciola al sugo — rolled sliced beef braised in a gravy.  The meat was fork-tender and the gravy was hearty.  My dish was also accompanied by the pan-roasted potatoes.

All in all, it seemed like the most unassuming “local” restaurant we’ve been to so far, right down to the chipped china.  The price matched the off-the-beaten track ambiance.  Two courses each, a bottle of sparkling water, a carafe of wine:  $25, including the tip.

We’ll be searching out more places like this.

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