Pompeii: The Movie

Pompeii was an interesting movie. I can see why the critics trashed it; the acting was not spectacular and there was way too much overblown drama and not much more than a sappy, derivative plot. That said: I lived in Naples for around 18 months, right under the shadow of Vesuvio. I spent many hours wandering the byways of both Pompeii and Herculaneum, trying to imagine what life was like there, and what the catastrophe must have been like. Seeing those ash-cast sculptures that used to be real, live people in the museum is terribly haunting; the CG representation of the eruption and its (possible) effects on the city was chilling in the extreme, because however it looked, it would have been terrifying.

Pompeii - December 1970 - 14

 Ash cast of a victim.

Pompeii - December 1970 - 10

 Pompeii – Temple plaza

Jun 1971 - Herculanium - Vesuvius.jpg

 Herculaneum and Vesuvius in the background. Herculaneum was buried more deeply and by hotter ash than Pompeii, hence has a different feel about it. Much has been learned since I was there in the 70s – at the time, it was thought that Herculaneum was buried by hot mud flows rather than ashfall, but this appears not to be the case.

Pompeii - Snow 1

A very rare day of snow in a Pompeiian courtyard. 1970


The ruins of Pompeii with suburbs of modern-day Naples between it and Vesuvius. It is to be noted that if the mountain ever decides to get its rocks off again, the result could be more catastrophic than the eruption of 79 AD.

In the plus column: Jared Harris, with whom I fell in love as David Robert Jones and Moriarty; he’s always a pleasure to watch. I thought the development of the relationship between Milo and Atticus was one of the more satisfying parts of the film; I’d give it 4 stars out of 10 overall.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Commerce on the streets of Naples

“The alleys are a self-sufficient microcosm.”

My previous posting of the umbrella repairman reminded me that there are countless other ways that people made a living in Naples, many of them without license or government sanction. Whatever you could do, you could probably find a market for your services.

These photos depict Naples in the 60s. Unless otherwise noted, quoted text and images are from “La Città Parla – Napoli” (1969, Casa Editrice A. Morano di Napoli)

Mattress Maker


Knife Grinder.jpgj

Knife Grinder

Bra Seller

Bra vendor



The “scaccia-malocchio'” (or “guastafatture”) drops by various retailers to practice a ritual with his censer in order to ward off the evil eye. He is sometimes paid for his interventions.

Lighter Repair

Repairing cigarette lighters

Scrivano pubblico

Scrivano pubblico – the public scribe. Many Neapolitans remain functionally illiterate, and these people serve a valuable function.


Selling home-made kazoos.

Water Seller 2


Water Seller



“The ‘pizza oggi ad otto’ (pizza today to eight) is eaten today and paid for in eight days. The wandering pizza vendor is also the bill collector. In eight days you can eat another pizza, which you will pay for sixteen days later. The vendor requires no written invoices – he trusts you… or rather, he trusts that you will be hungry again in eight days.”


Cigarette black market in the alleys – all tobacco and salt trade is regulated by the government. “American Cigarettes” are manufactured from recycled cigarette butts.


Wandering paladins singing historical ballads.

Candy Seller

Candy Vendor


“Impaglia-seggie” – re-caning chairs

Shoe market

Used Shoe Market

“For those who know that elegance begins (not ends) with shoes, buying used shoes for an entire lifetime can be an all-consuming frustration. This is why the sun of the wildest ambition is sometimes seen reflecting brightly from the shiny toes of a pair of patent-leather shoes… brand new ones.”



Graziella was born in 1864. She is seen here 100 years later, selling taralli in Santa Lucia.
Image from The Italians, Face of a Nation by John Phillips.

Naples - da Zio Vincenzo o Piscatore


Back-alley trattoria – “Uncle Vincent the Fisherman.” Photo ©1970 by Old Wolf Enterprises

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Naples, 1900


A photo of Naples in 1900, showing one of the countless “vicoli” (alleys) where hundreds of thousands of people live, work, and play.



Aside from modern cars, scooters, and mopeds, very little has changed. It is in these alleys that one finds the “bassi” or ground-floor apartments which are ubiquitous and characteristic of Naples life.

See Naples and Die. If appreciating a rich and colorful culture is of interest, you could do worse than putting Napoli on your itinerary.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

La Pizza

From “La Città Parla – Napoli” (1969, Casa Editrice A. Morano di Napoli)



La pizza è un pasto da poveri, una focaccia con olio e pomodoro. In tempi di benessere economico ogni trattore aggiunge il suo “segreto,” uno o più ingredienti. Ma il vero segreto sta nel modo di mangiare la pizza: ricco o povero, ogni napoletano avverte dinazi una pizza fragrante il morso della fame ancestrale, cronica della città. Il segreto e tutto lì.

Pizza is a poor man’s food, a crust with oil and tomato. When times are good, every chef adds his own “secret,” one or more ingredients. But the real secret is found in how the pizza is eaten: rich or poor, every Neapolitan with a fragrant pizza before him fends off the ancestral, chronic hunger of the city. That’s where the secret lies.

Eating Pizza


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