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By Pete Moore On November 21st, 2020

“The almost perfectly preserved remains of two men have been unearthed in an extraordinary discovery in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii.

The bodies of what are thought to be a wealthy man and his slave, believed to have died as they were fleeing the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79, were found during excavations at a villa in the outskirts of the city, Pompeii archaeological park officials said yesterday.”

For all the archeological activity over the years they are still making new and fascinating discoveries. I need to get back there. I spent a few weeks in and around Naples, Pompeii and Herculaneum, which was nowhere near long enough of course, but this simple news piece has triggered something. It’s the smell I miss, right now. Italy, like all countries, has a smell. I don’t mean the smell of two-stroke fumes after a Vespa has loudly clattered by, although that is distinctive and – only in Italy – strangely charming. I mean the flora and fauna, the buildings, the general environment. Every time I step off a plane the smell is different. Anyone who’s been to France should know. France has a distinctive odour. Have you noticed? I hope so, otherwise I’ve just come across as mental.


  1. I spent much of two years in Naples.

    The distinct sulfur smell from Vesuvius is remembered.

  2. The only country I felt had a particular smell was Holland, or Amsterdam to be precise, and no I don’t mean Hash or the the smells from the red light district !

    Everywhere seemed to have a smell that seemed like I can only describe as warmed up mayonnaise. I smelt it everywhere, all the time , even while nodding off in bed in my hotel. I still sense it now and I haven’t been to Amsterdam for about 15 years.

  3. I mean the flora and fauna, the buildings, the general environment.

    The smell I remember most about Italy is the smell of olive oil. And the other cooking smells in the little trattorias. The heat in summer enhances all scents and Italy can be a very warm place in July, even the lakes in the north.

  4. I’ve never been to Italy. One of these days.

  5. //I’ve never been to Italy. One of these days.//

    Keeping the good wine till last, so to speak.
    Practically every step in every town or city, in N. Italy especially, brings something that stops you in wonder. But above all it’s the people that are the most amazing creatures I’ve ever come across: they are gentle and considerate, open and helpful and hospitable to a fault, they have the grace that comes from centuries of being surrounded by beauty in nature and artefacts – in a word the most civilised people in their dealings with each other.

    Of course there are a few ugly spots too. Try Monfalcone, which I find myself in far too often, though people say they aren’t real Italians there. The towns in some places in the south are also a real mess.

    Pete, have you ever read Tim Parks, and Englishman who writes almost exclusively about Italy and Italians? Very well written and with a very distinctive view. Interesting to see how it compares with another Englishman who spent some time there.

  6. By the way, the figure on the left must be destroyed after all these millennia, as he apparently owned the poor slave on the right.

  7. Cobbles and the smell of two-stroke Vespa fumes is genuinely evocative, but then I lived in the middle of Rome. Get outside of that and Italy has a smell which is warm, sweet and dusty. I think the dustiness comes from so many buildings being so old. France smells like a dairy to me, and I’m not being pejorative. It just has an edible smell to me.

    I’ve never been to Italy. One of these days.

    Linger for as long as you can, Frank. There’s a lot to appreciate.

  8. Noel –

    I discovered Tim Parks from an Italian girlfriend, after I’d moved back from Rome to London. I loved to sit in Rome and people-watch. Italians always feel that they are on stage and put on a show. Being in character is instictive. Reading Tim Parks made me feel vindicated in that opinion.

    You’re right in your description of Italians. I found the warmest and most charming people. Also a people as mad as anything, but in such a loveable way.

  9. Well said, Pete.

    Italy is a marvel. I’ve been a number of times, including Pompeii. It is just wonderful on every level – history, architecture, food, coffee, women, climate.

  10. I have been to Spain twice and Italy three times. A Friend of mine became fixated with Spain and while I liked it, Italy did it for me more. While I sensed a strong proud culture in Spain, I felt the Italians seemed more relaxed about their rich history and culture. I could image living there but everyone says that about an enjoyable holiday experience. Plus, I could eat any type of pasta every day until the cows come home !

  11. I’ve just looked up Tim Parks – he has loads of books – any recommendations for one to start with?

  12. Wow, imagine being unlucky enough to have died from the effects of a volcano eruption, but to have died while having a boner is truly tragic…

    What, too soon?

  13. //Tim Parks – he has loads of books – any recommendations for one to start with?//

    I started with Europa, which is loosely a novel, without much of a plot. It’s basically about why a common Europe is impossible, written long before Brexit became an issue.

    The Italian Neighbours, very fun observations of Italian life and very well written.

    Teach Us to Sit Still is a cynic’s view of auto-suggestion and self healing, and the cynic Parks comes out a believer.

    I haven’t read any of his real novels. Though I was at a TP reading of one in Trieste once, and got him to sign my copy of Europa afterwards. He’s more the academic type than I’d imagined, a bit shy and cautious, but a very nice guy.

  14. Everyone is equal in life.
    But most people can’t see it that way.

  15. I’ve been to Italy nine times, the first time when I was nineteen and took a ferry from Corfu to Bari and instantly fell in love with her and her people. I’ve been in every major Italian city from Trento to Palermo and Italy & Italians are truly, truly marvellous.

    Practically every step in every town or city, in N. Italy especially, brings something that stops you in wonder

    Absolutely Noel. I remember being in Florence for the first time and was dumbstruck by its sheer physical beauty and sense of history and culture. I was walking in Florence old town with an Italian friend and she pointed to a non-descript old apartment building,

    – ‘Do you see that window on the right on the second floor?’

    – ‘Yeah’

    – ‘That’s where Da Vinci finished the Mona Lisa’

    I really was struck dumb.

    Frank, rectify the crime of never being to Italy as soon as possible. If you don’t you’ll never forgive yourself.

  16. Noel,

    “The Italian Neighbours, very fun observations of Italian life and very well written.”

    Thanks for the tip – I’ve bought that book now and started reading it. Enjoying it so far.


    “Frank, rectify the crime of never being to Italy as soon as possible. If you don’t you’ll never forgive yourself.”

    I know … it’s not that I don’t want to go, just anytime I think of it I find myself paralysed by the choice of where to start.

    When Covid all started to kick off and they were showing photos of amazing Italian places empty of tourists it did cross my mind briefly “well, we’re probably all going to get this in the end – may as well get it early while the hospital beds are still going. So why not get it in some massively discounted 5* Italian hotel while the crowds of tourists are gone?”. But thankfully didn’t as that idea had a few flaws.

  17. There’s a big north / south divide but a hidden gem is Trieste on the Italian / Slovene border and it’s a great place to start.

  18. I have been to Trieste, sadly only for a couple of hours on a guided tour, but its beautiful and I would love to explore it fully.

  19. I know Trieste very well. Half my wife’s family is there and we visit every year. (I was in SLO this week but getting into Italy this time was too tough with this C thing, even though I had a negative test result to wave in their faces.)
    It isn’t really an Italian town. It was built by the Austrians and a lot of the centre has a real Habsburg look to it. It also had a large Hungarian and Jewish population (and 3 Irish: James Joyce and his wife and brother), but the biggest population of all, larger than even the Italian, was Slovene. At the end of WWII it should rightly have gone to the new Yugoslavia, as it had a majority Yugo population and is geographically part of Slovenia – you have to follow a long road, albeit with great scenery, along a narrow strip of territory in order to reach the enclave from Italy. But the Italians have a great knack of getting their way, even after losing a world war, and Triest was awarded to bella Italia.

  20. There’s a big north / south divide ..

    Different nations, really. Italian is a very different language between north and south. The official Italian, that of government and the one you learn in language classes, is Florentine.

    Northerners say “Africa comincia a Roma”. Romans say “Africa comincia a Napoli”. Everyone looks down on those south of them.

  21. Paul,

    “There’s a big north / south divide but a hidden gem is Trieste on the Italian / Slovene border and it’s a great place to start.”

    Cheers. That sounds right up my alley. It sounds like Vienna-on-sea and I love Vienna though have only been a few times.

  22. Trieste was the first Italian town I was ever in. It is a real hidden gem.

  23. // find myself paralysed by the choice of where to start.//

    If you really want to see what Italy is, then there’s no doubt that the best place to start is Rome. It’s neither north nor south (tho more of the latter probably), it has plenty of the beauty and plenty of the squalor, you see the graceful side of the Italians but also the criminal, the hospitality and the impatience (there’s a great restaurant where the waiters are famously rude to their visitors; there’s usually a queue to get in), it’s among the most modern and also the most ancient of Italian cities, there’s plenty of ugliness and it’s full of art, you see the hardness of modern city life (our hotel was a dump squeezed between transvestite hangouts) but also the serenity of the Vatican.
    To coin a phrase, for exploring Italy, all roads start in Rome.

  24. Noel<
    True story
    so I was in Rome wayyy back, and was barefoot at the time, so hopped over the scaffolding and sneaked into the coliseum , hadn't come all that way to not be admitted /
    was sitting high up on the steps reflecting on the amount of terror and bloodshed that place was known for , lions, Christians, gladiators and the rest of the gore
    well up i gets to head back into the city and whoops i cuts my foot on some glass
    a bottle had been smashed i missed it
    Outside heading north i was bleeding bad, and stopped at all the fountains along the way to stop the bleeding, it did stop eventually .. and i got back to my room
    next day Brindiski and Athens .. heatwave .. night mare
    i still have the scar of on foot it was that deep
    yeah been to Rome 🙂

  25. I, like Frank, have never been to Italy. A mutual friend/acquaintance of mine and Paul’s owns (and lives in) a holiday apartment in Abruzzo(?). I had planned for myself and herself to go over for a week, but then all this Covid stuff started up. Maybe next year.

  26. seimi, i just got to the islands of greece now, athens – pireaus – hop on ferry
    that’s all i want – love the food, its chilled, like the swimming and so forth , hire a motorbike
    explore some shit, – the islands are terrific, rhodes, patmos
    once i decided to go to israel from patmos, boat to rhodes,
    then to cyprus, then to haifi , thence to Jerusalem by coach
    in and out in a week , mental place israel , not chilled at all ..
    full of tourists , plastic colored christs for sale..everywhere, and turmoil – nah .. went back to the islands 😉

  27. //True story
    so I was in Rome wayyy back,//

    When I was there it was shortly after I’d read the biography of Hugh O’Neill by Sean O’Faoilan and so I decided to go see the Earl’s grave, which is in the church San Pietro Montorio. San Pietro is high up on the Janiculum, one of the seven hills and on the opposite, western, bank of the Tiber. I was quite knackered when I got to it and pissed off to find the place was closed.

    But the church is part of a monastery and when you walk around it, you can look over the low walls at certain points. Behind the wall were beautiful gardens, being tended by a single monk. He noticed me looking and gestured that I should clear off, but I stood my ground. He came over to give me a piece of his holy mind, but when I told him I was disappointed as I had come to see the grave and was Irish, everything changed. “Ah, Irlandese.. si, si – Hugo”.
    He told me to go to the end of the wall where there was a gate, and then he led me in and through the gardens and through various buildings and into the church, where I found myself beside the marble gravestone in the centre of the church: HUGONIS PRINCIPIS ONELLI. One of the O’Donnells is buried beside him.

    The monk had disappeared, leaving me there alone in the closed church. The church nad monastery seemed to be empty and I could have easily stroked any number of the gold artefacts and chalices lying around.

    But of course nothing compared to the honour of being wounded in the Colosseum.

    Interesting stories about Greece and Israel. Motorbike is a great way to see a country. I once hired a bike in Catania and rode all round Sicily.

  28. Fascinating Noel you like your quests too 🧐
    Have given up with the Brit thing when I go abroad it’s Irish all the way .
    Brits are associated with arrogant fuck faces
    Too many have ruined it for the majority .. the reputation won’t recover esp after brexit .

    If it was safe to I’d have loved to go to India on an Enfield over land
    Too many head choppers en route .

    London to Hong Kong by train 🚂 – ahh one day
    Lots of vodka and plenty of chess , read a novel

  29. So I was in Rome wayyy back, and was barefoot at the time, so hopped over the scaffolding and sneaked into the coliseum

    Barefoot in central Rome?? Jesus! I’m not even going to ask.

  30. Probably the result of a hurried escape out of a window from a bedroom he shouldn’t have been in 🙂

  31. Sadly, I’ve never been to Italy, but I’d really love to Go.
    My fiance and I were planning a trip to Venice, which was somewhere we both really wanted to visit. The closest I ever got was The Swiss-Italian border while snowboarding in the Alps.

  32. lol paul yeah i was bonkers then, toned it down since

    I wear boots ..lol ( cos my tendons get sore otherwise )
    colm sectioned in Italy , yeah that would not be fun at all ..

    another amazing thing
    was holed up in athens during a heatwave, staying at hotel joy
    the place to be –
    this jewish guy was smoking downstairs in the lobby that deals with trips to the islands
    gets tickets etc, we had a massive row as he told me not to smoke whilst smoking
    anyway we made up and he suggested with my interest in bible stuff i go to patmos
    I did and but for him and that row would never have made it
    been back 4 times too .. its a great lil island , lots to do and nice beaches
    not too many tourists, mostly german .. so allan would love it 😉

    DaveA save the venice for when you have a spare 10k, go on the oriient express , a cool £3k each .. london venice, absolute luxury , grand piano on board, 7 course meals etc etc ..v she has to be worth it 🙂

  33. Kurt, your travels are impressive, but would be even more so if you’d walked barefoot through Jerusalem, or at least rode into it on a donkey.

    Your trips remind me of the legendary Joe Dolan of Sweeney’s Men in the great Christy Moore song, who followed a similar route.


    Anyone remember who was the Irish guy who once walked all the way to Jerusalem to play handball against the Wailing Wall?

    Actually our experiences have many parallels. Apart from the motorbike thing, Rome is also the only city where I once walked a long distance without 2 shoes (just one) :-), and I also went from Athens to Pireaus and then on to the Greek islands.

  34. My fiance and I were planning a trip to Venice, which was somewhere we both really wanted to visit.

    Pretty sad that you never got to visit, Dave. It’s a pretty spectacular place too.

    Was holed up in Athens during a heatwave

    I caught sun stroke in Athens. A horrible experience.

  35. lol cheers Noel, gotta do things when ya are young, plently of time to get old
    now that would be a bit too pious to walk barefoot to Jerusalem, hats off to him though

    I did part of the camino , have yet to do the beginning,
    st.jean piere du pont to estalle
    if i make it past paul in pamplona , he might have me planing a few doors or sumthing 😉
    phantom you can cycle the whole way, many do , the spanish and italians do it that way
    you’d love that i bet ..

    now here’s a true colm just fer colm

    so am in athens, ouch paul , not the place to burn up
    no money
    at hotel joy , place for hippies and odds n sods
    I donned a wrap around my head m, put on make up
    looked like Aleister Crowley I think and read tarot cards for 100 drachmas to survive
    till i got funds through .. I was quite good at it , just used the major arcana
    and had a great pack of cards – madame sosostris famous clairvoyant noel

    then pireaus and out as earlier

    great song Noel , I’ll play it for my folks later am here moving them in

  36. If i make it past paul in pamplona , he might have me planing a few doors or sumthing 😉

    Dunno about planing doors but if you were up to getting a few rounds it would be my pleasure.

    So am in Athens, ouch paul, not the place to burn up

    Not nice at all, skin burned in blazing heat wearing as many clothes as I can and still freezing until a kindly Greek lady saw me shivering, (in June), and asked me did I get sunburned. When I told her I had she told me I had sunstroke, advised me to drink a few large Metaxa 7s into me to raise my body temperature and advised my then girlfriend to apply natural yoghurt to the affected parts of my body, (stoppit, Colm), sleep on it and shower. Which I did and was absolutely right as rain the next day.

  37. Come on Kurt, you missed out a bit. You were rolled in natural yoghurt, dipped in Greek honey and they you and the girlfriend had a very ‘tasty’ evening 😀

  38. Kurt?

    Okay Harri, what have you done with Colm?

  39. Motorbike is a great way to see a country.

    I rode across Cyprus once, west to east, from Paphos to Protaras to be at my cousin’s wedding the next day. It was summer, so I covered my head with a baseball cap worn backwards (I know, but it was the only way I could cover my head without it flapping.)

    You know what the back of a baseball cap looks like, with a gap between the strap and the cloth. I rode like that into the Sun. And the next day, at the wedding, I has a bright red circle right in the middle of my forehead.

  40. Oops Paul my mistake. I should have realised that comment wasn’t from Kurt. The sentences were complete and flowed together logically 😀

  41. well i think petems baseball cap circle wins this one hands down
    funny as fuck , at a wedding too .. you musta looked like a right bell-end ..literally 😉

  42. Travel brings up mad situations.

    I was on a beer tour of Bavaria about 10 years ago. We got to Nuremberg, wandered around and chose a nice beerhall for an early tipple. It was empty apart from two blokes. They had northern accents and were talking about a Therapy? gig in the Ulster Hall in 95. “Weird”, I thought. That’s the first ever gig I went to. Then I had another look. Turns out one of the blokes was one of my best school buddies – who I went to the gig with back in 95 and hadn’t seen in years.

    Numerous catch-up beverages ensued.