Whenever I heard about Pompeii, growing up, I thought of it as some fantastical place that did not really exist. Kind of like unicorns. So when I heard that Pompeii was a short train ride away from where I am currently living, I knew for sure I had to go.
My son and I arrived there mid day and, for the next several hours my brain was suspended above my head, not sure what to do with itself.
There were actually three distinct phases to my mind melt.
The first one was that we were walking in the middle of an empty 2000 year old city. I don't care how much time I have spent in Europe and walked among ancient buildings, this was a jolt. Street after street, house after house, stores, piazza, swimming pools... This is not one beautiful isolated building, this is a city. Where 11,000 people lived and did their every day thing. Which you can feel. You can feel the steps on the worn out stones of the streets, you can feel the crowds gathered in the giant piazza, you can feel people coming in and out of their homes. As the sun set and the whole place turned golden, I could almost see Roman kids playing around the corner, sandals on their feet, on their way home. So yes. That. That alone was enough to re-arrange my insides and slather me with a thick layer of both awe and a strange sense of belonging.
Next, there is the fact that until not too long ago, Pompeii was buried under 13 to 20 ft of volcanic ash and pumice. For over 1,500 years, all this beauty, marble counters, frescoes, bread ovens and yes, people, were invisible. Something about that seems just as sacred as the fact that it been a lively community. There was a quietness in thinking about it, a sense of inner hush that made me want to use my library voice.
Finally, just as I tried to make room in my head for the two above points, there is the whole excavation business to take in. It started in 1748, and it is still in the process. Recently, the excavation has been scaled down, in order to concentrate the limited resources available to restore and maintain the buildings which have already been exposed. And my god, what a job that is! HOW, HOW did these buildings get extracted from the ash and the pumice? With paintings still bright, and pottery intact, and mosaics, and doors, and ... I am telling you: it was almost too much to hold.
And then, there's Mount Vesuvius, still active and a constant presence in the not-so-far background. It's there, it's looking down as we're looking up, no way to avoid it. And also no way to ignore the fact that had it not, on that terrible 79AD August day, showed its fierce and merciless power, there would be no way for us today to walk these streets and catch a glimpse of these kids going home in their sandals.
Humans and our humanness amaze me and some days all I can say is thank you, without even trying to understand why.