The daily diary of a wandering restaurateur In Italy
July 19 - Pompeii/Rome

We debated long and hard about whether to stay another night in Sorrento or press on to Rome as originally planned. In the end, we decided to get on with the trip. The first stop was Pompeii (which was actually the reason we chose to visit Sorrento in the first place. It was close to Pompeii and much quieter than Naples.)

I don't know what I was expecting with Pompeii, but it certainly was something smaller (and less crowded!) than what we found. The place was huge! Pompeii was a booming trading city when it was stopped in its tracks by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79AD. The city was buried under 30 feet of hot mud and volcanic ash, leaving archaeologists was a near perfectly preserved look at Roman life two centuries ago.

The place just goes on and on, with roughly cobbled streets rutted by chariot tracks. Tour groups were everywhere (never one of my favorite parts of seeing must-see sights) and it was hot and dusty. I am not sure why, but I was surprised to see that the hospitality industry was thriving. There were fast food stands, bars, restaurants, taverns and inns throughout the city -- really rather reassuring in the long run, I suppose -- although it was not really clear exactly how they operated.

Three hours was about all we could take of the heat, so we caught the train into Naples, changed to a train to Rome and hit the big city. I will have more of a take on Rome after a few days, but about all the energy we had left was to check into the hotel and find a place to eat. We ended up at Ristorante Da Giovanni, an unpretentious spot that has been serving the neighborhood for over 50 years. The meal was really quite nice and inexpensive.

What I noticed was that "Mama" was in the kitchen but came out frequently to talk with the guests and make sure everything was alright. A man I presumed to be her son also made some appearances, but seemed more interested in being seen than in enhancing his guests' experience. The restaurant was something that she "was," but it was something that he "did." The difference is subtle but important. It will be interesting to see what happens to the place after she is gone.

The hospitality outlets of Pompeii

A tourist's eye view of Pompeii

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