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January 2013, vol 8, no 4

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Garry Eaton

Ancient Way

Stone phalli carved into the cobbles point the way to this building, our longest wait so far, to view the erotic frescoes in a two-story stone building identified as a Roman brothel. These days, only one of the symbolic three entrances to the Lupanare is open.

Though it has started to rain, and a downpour threatens, we huddle with the others under a few umbrellas, determined to wait it out. I look up the long line ahead and wonder. Was the place this popular in ancient days?

On a day before the mountain exploded, the only thing rolling down the slopes from Vesuvius is a summer rain. It sprinkles the roofs and courtyards, raising smells of manure dust and crushed spices, and refilling the cisterns. It helps the women and slaves wash the street refuse down to the gutters, where iron-shod carts heavily laden have worn deep ruts in solid stone.

A soldier, a young mason, and a herder in from the hills have lined up under an eave near where we are now, joking, oblivious, waiting their turns. Various others have gathered as well: a woman in a veil, a multiple amputee, a dwarf. After all, the Lupanare panders to every sort, every taste and every desire.

Unfortunately, the use of lighting is restricted to preserve the antiquities, and when we get inside it's rather dark.

stone shelves for beds
a flash of lightning shows
a lizard on a wall