Thursday, December 27, 2007
Another Year in Pompeii
My niece and I went to Pompeii over the Christmas weekend. How best to celebrate the winter solstice, the made-up birthday of Jesus, and shopping mania...than by visiting a city killed by an erupting volcano?
I had seen it in pictures and it seemed like a small place....some houses, some public buildings, that's it. But this really is a city. A city with no people, no life, left in ruins. It almost reminded me of New York City in I am Legend that I recently watched.
The walls are standing. In some places I walked past the entrance, around where large vats were sunk into the ground that once held soup, food, and drinks...ancient restaurants. I went into stores that once must have been redolent with the scent of spices and the rustle of silk. Into lavish homes with elegant pillars, immense reception rooms, internal gardens and beautiful fountains.
Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. What once was a proud city, with streets, a department of weights and measures, a temple dedicated to Jupiter, public squares and government buildings is now a desolate, abandoned shell still squarely in the sights of the killer that decimated it.
When will Vesuvius strike again. It looks large against the bright blue Italian sky, wreathed in mists and clouds that wind around its cratered peak. And yet we know it rumbles still. Still you can peer around its edge and smell the sulphur, see the bellows of smoke.
It's alive. An ancient, natural force that when pitted against man's hubris of claiming its land came up the victor.
So I wander through Pompeii, outside the normal tourist season, occasional raindrops sprinkling my skin, and in those empty streets I see the fate of my own transitory existence.
Here today! Gone tomorrow! In a flash! The tormented faces of the plaster casts of its ancient victims scream at me, frozen with fear, but yet so animated that I could reach out and touch them.
This was a home once, where children played. And there, a furtive couple kisses away from gazing eyes. There was commerce and life and everything must have seemed forever. Just as it does for us.
But Pompeii makes me stop. And look. And observe. And know...really know...this, all this around me is pure illusion. What is reality? It is the look on the stone face of someone who has seen death and destruction...but who in some semblance lives on, observing this new life that has sprung up around him. And he laughs as the sun dips low over the horizon.
Another year in Pompeii. Another blip in time.
Happy New Year All!