Promises, Promises: Pompeii
As you can see I am a creature of the moment, no attention span at all when it comes to what I want to write. If I don't write it in the moment, the odds are I will lose interest and never do so. But I promised you Pompeii and since I really do have to spend this week writing my syllabus and figuring out what to teach those dunderheads, I figure all that I've blogged this last week will give you all something to chew on.
My mother decided that the best way to get to Pompeii, since we had been warned about Naples, was simply to hire a car. We would drive out there, spend some time, and then come back to Rome for dinner at Nino's (recommended in the Eyewitness Guide for its Tuscan fare-I particularly enjoyed the artichokes, which I generally don't like, and the white beans in olive oil-the wine glasses do leave something to be desired, but it's worth it in the end). So our driver came to pick us up, and we headed out to Pompeii.

I've always wanted to go to Pompeii, but it's strange. I never really thought about it until I was on my way there. Suddenly I began to ponder what I was really doing. About three days after September Eleventh I ran into a friend from college by the six train. We stood there chatting about what we were doing as if the sky hadn't crashed in our heads two days before. As we stood there a family walked up to us; they were clearly tourists (maps, sneakers, loaded with packages from places like the Hard Rock). The mother, who had a deep southern accent (I'm thinking rural Mississippi), asked us if we knew the way to ground zero. She had three young boys with her. My friend explained that the four or five train in theory could take them down to ground zero, but the army wouldn't let them get that close to the area. They wouldn't be able to see anything. She left and although my friend and I never said anything, we were both revolted. It was the first experience I had with tragedy tourism. It was disgusting enough she wanted to go there herself while they were still trying to figure out if there were any survivors, but to bring her young sons was just incomprehensible.

On that trip to Pompeii I began to wonder about that tourism. I was going to a place that was famous for being destroyed in a freak volcanic erruption. Three thousand people died at Pompeii alone. Was I really any better than that Southern tourist? Sure I was coming 2000 years afterwards and not three days, but is that really a virtue? Does the passage of time some how change the fact that I wanted to see a city famed for its destruction and its inability to recover? I remembered a line from Stand By Me (because at some point I ceased being a person and simply became an amalgam of lines from movies, plays, and stand up comedians) "We're going to see a dead body. Maybe it shouldn't be a party." It would be ok for me to go Pompeii, I just had to have reverence for what I was seeing and not treat it like Disneyworld.

We finally reached Pompeii. There is nothing there except the ruins, a hotel, a small snack stand, and three or four vendors of chintzy souvenirs. They actually sell little Vesuvius snowglobes. I would have bought one if instead of white snow, there had been red and orange bits mixed with glitter to represent fire. I mean, if you are going to be in bad taste go all the way.

We contracted a licensed guide and went up to the ruins. We would have about two hours or so. Barely enough time since the city itself is about two miles. Our guide could do what I could not, identify what the ruins were (remember I deal with the written word which doesn't really help when you are looking at columns), but his knowledge of mythology left a great deal to be desired, which was fine since I excell in that area and could supply to my mother what was missing. He took us to the baths, the theaters, the place where the gladiators trained. He took us to the Forum. He showed us the rich quarter.

What I didn't know until after I left was that Pompeii is known for its erotic frescoes. One of the building is suspected of being a bordello and supplied its clients with a visual menu of delights on sale. A dead city with a reputation for porn-what could be a more accurate symbol for me? Unfortunately our guide was apparently too embarassed to show a mother and daughter the frescoes, and so I didn't know until after we left. (There were books available on the erotic frescoes at Pompeii on sale at the museum bookstore. I didn't get one, but start thinking ahead for christmas.)

It was at this point I began to wonder about my mother's education, an issue which would continue through the trip. The guide showed us some glass, and my mother was shocked "They had glass?" "Mom, we saw glass from 350 BC yesterday at Castel Sant Angelo. If they had in 350 BC (and they had it before then) it only makes sense it would still be around in 79 AD." The guide pointed to the lead pipe which pumped water through the rich part of town. "They had running water?" "Mom, the Romans were famous for this kind of thing. You know, the aqueducts?"

Still the technical achievements of the Romans are impressive. Walking from room to room in the baths one can still feel the temperature change. 2000 years later the baths still work as they were intended (or would completely if they were used). My super can't get my AC to work for more than two years. The drain on my shower only works for a few days at best. During the Roman Empire was the last time the British had any decent plumbing at all. They still can't handle giving you a drink that is anything more than tepid, and water pressure in the shower is right out. (I'm sorry blogmonkey but you know its true.) I tell you we could use a few more Romans right about now.

And as we went through I was impressed about how little things have changed in 200o years. They had porn. They had a welfare system. They had rich politicians who made empty promises to the poor. They had cheap and sleazy entertainment (gladiators) to keep the poor happy, while the rich monopoloized political power. They had graffiti. They had good and bad parts of town. Mario Vargas Llosa was correct about the universality of human experience. Sure there is a lot of difference in technological achievement between the Romans and say NYC, but in terms of what actually goes on, I think, given a wardrobe change and a crash ESL course, the average Roman citizen would be able to blend pretty easily. Sooner than you think he would be talking about American Idol while organizing his iPod. And should this ever occur, please send him to my apartment to work on the plumbing.

But I was wandering through the streets of Pompeii, getting dust on my feet, I thought about all those years that I thought of Pompeii as a symbol of my life. This thriving entity suddenly destroyed by random tragedy never to recover. I thought about all the people in my life who think of themselves as broken, as ruined. The Amazon's boyfriend The Puerto Rican Redneck (it's what he calls himself, I swear), Mu ( a former model whose fiance died in a car accident), my dear Bakerina (when she is having one of her I should just quit blogging days), even my own mother, the list goes on and on-people who when you look at what they have accomplished with awe say to you "Oh this is nothing. You should have seen me when." People who date their heyday back to 1979 or 83 or 99 or whatever year they happened to have been hit. And I thought what utter bullshit it all was. Sure Pompeii didn't fully recover, but its still there. The baths still work. The frescoes are still on the walls. The freaking plumping system is intact. Is it as impressive as it was 2000 years ago? Probably not. But it's still fucking impressive and it's important to remember that. It's still awfully amazing. It's still powerful. And it's still here.

And it also has the best fresh orange juice in the world. And that has to count for something.

My mother kept wanting to take my picture, knowing that to being Pompeii was a lifelong dream, but like my first trip to Paris, I didn't want to waste time posing in front of buildings. I wanted all my time to be about being there and seeing as much as possible. But I also didn't want any "And here is Bunni smiling and standing next to the ruins of civilization" pictures. I bought some postcards before I left from one of the vendors and we began on our long trip back.

As I said before, my mother has willed narcolepsy. In the car ride back, she was sitting in full lotus position seeming to look out the window. My mother is a very restless person. I was occupied with writing in my journal, reading Paul Auster's Leviathan, and looking out the window. But Mom was too quiet and finally I began twisting my head so I could see her face. She had fallen asleep in full lotus position and remained that way until we got back to Rome.

We had dinner early so we could go to train station the next morning because we were heading to meet her friends Franco and Sharon at Arma di Taggio.
Coming Soon: The Levels of Hell that Dante Forgot

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