Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Ruins of Pompeii

In Napoli, where love is king,
When boy meets girl here's what they say—
When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie
That's amore!
We had hoped to sample a big pizza pie in Naples, the fifth port of call on our Mediterranean cruise, but there just wasn't time. We had to see The Ruins of Pompeii. Here's the description from the brochure:
From the pier, it’s a 45-minute ride by motor coach to the remarkable ruins of Pompeii, perfectly preserved since the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in AD 79. On a guided walking tour you will learn about the excavation techniques that have uncovered this city remarkably intact and what the residents were doing at the time of the eruption. You'll gain an insight into the lives of the ancient Romans as you discover baths, theatres, temples, markets and the huge forum.
Not surprisingly, a lot of people on the ship wanted to see Pompeii, and multiple buses were required. Susan and Kevin were assigned to a different tour than ours. Our guide's name was Massimo. As we set out, he pointed out Mount Vesuvius and explained that it was dormant, but not extinct. He said that it probably would not erupt today, but if by chance it did, we were welcome to join him in running a brisk half-marathon back to the ship.

Mark Twain visited Pompeii in 1867. (You can read his account here.) Little has changed since he was there—including what he refers to as "the only building in Pompeii which no woman is now allowed to enter." Women are allowed to enter it today, of course, and it is one of the most popular attractions in Pompeii. Susan and Kevin's group saw it. Our group didn't, but Massimo told us about it: the sailors who frequented it, the "friendly girls" who worked there, and the naughty illustrations that still adorn its walls.

What we did see was what was left of the baths, a typical house, the temple of Apollo, and several bakeries and restaurants. Massimo kept us moving. Whenever another tour was about to overtake us, he would exclaim, "Andiamo! We are being invaded again!" and off we'd go.


And then we came to the bodies.

At the show that evening, Garrison jokingly boasted that he did not go to Pompeii. He accused those of us who did (including his wife) of having a ghoulish interest in dead bodies. I suppose there may be something to that. When our group came to the glass cases holding the bodies (actually plaster casts of bodies, but here and there you could see a bone peeking through), we were all drawn to them like moths to a flame. What was fascinating, horrifying, and heartbreaking about them was that, from their poses, you could see the surprise and terror in which they died.

Victims of Vesuvius

But to me the most interesting thing about Pompeii is not seeing how the people died; it's seeing how they lived: their houses, temples, businesses, streets, and elaborate plumbing and drainage system. Their engineering was remarkably sophisticated. Unfortunately, Massimo told us, their lives were shortened by the toxic lead they used for just about everything; it can be found in the paint, the mortar between the stones, and, most unfortunately, the plumbing. This was probably their second biggest mistake. (Their biggest mistake, of course, was building their city beneath a volcano.)

Vesuvius and the Ruins of Pompeii

That night, the captain announced that we would be passing by an active volcano—Stromboli—and if we got up early, we might see an eruption. We set our alarms, and at five a.m. we stumbled out of bed, threw on some clothes, and made our way up to the bow of the ship. Ahead of us we could barely see the outline of a mountain against the dark sky, with a dim orange glow at its peak. We all stared at it for several minutes. I believe everyone was thinking of Mount Vesuvius and its victims. I know I was.

That morning we squeezed past Sicily through the Strait of Messina, rounded the toe of Italy's boot, and headed north toward the Adriatic Sea. This was our "at sea" day, and I planned to spend most of it sipping mimosas (for the vitamin C) and napping. I had returned from Pompeii with a hacking cough, and now I had developed a runny nose. Clearly, I had picked up a virus, but it was only a cough and sniffles. It could be a lot worse, right?

As it turned out, it was.

No comments:

Post a Comment