Lessons From Pompeii

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As I mentioned, Darcy’s pursuit of pleasure on our trip was learning more about the history of Italy. History is everywhere there, unavoidable: the trappings of the Etruscans, the Roman empire, the Papacy, even the Egyptians pepper the capital and cities large and small throughout the country.

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Neither of us had been to Pompeii before, but we were intrigued by the archeological site, which is living history set apart from modern civilization, a step back in time and the largest source of what we know now about how Romans lived. We hired an excellent guide, Guiseppe Galano, who spends most days in the doomed area, loving it more each day, he said. His knowledge astounded me. He could have spent 10 hours at least teaching us about the city.

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The biggest question I had about Pompeii was why was recovery not attempted by the Romans. Why had they abandoned it? Giuseppe explained that Pompeii was a like a cursed place to them, a warning, a punishment. One theory was that some Romans believed the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius was a response to the Roman subjugation of Israel by Nero and the subsequent destruction of the main Jewish temple in Jerusalem nine years before.

Mt. Vesuvius is less than 1/2 of its former, pre-eruption size, but it still looms threateningly over the ruins of the city it already claimed.

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So, how did citizens live in this city? Very well, it seems. (Provided you weren’t a slave.) Many of the facilities had running water. Commerce was pursued and money mattered quite a bit, but the baths were luxurious and open to the public, a main method for people to show their wealth was to feed and help the poorest, exercise was encouraged, the arts were elevated (especially theater) and most of all, the city planners were masterful. Everything, from the smallest details like pieces of white marble (called cats eyes) placed throughout the streets to brighten the road at night, was designed to make living pleasant, balanced and enjoyable.

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Touring Pompeii made me think about the frenetic pace of American life, and now that I’m back in my “routine” of work, work, work and the overwhelming expectations of me (and everyone else), I’m sort of annoyed. The traffic, the exhaustion, the overweening ambition that surrounds us, the fast culture and the stress on being the perfect mother: none of it is much fun, is it? (Sorry to sound like a jerk: I know I have it much easier than most and I’m thrilled and lucky to be a parent, as always.) On a trip like this one, where everything is enjoyable, it reminds me that I don’t LIKE having to find the joy in the everyday. I LIKED learning, eating, walking, napping and living life well every day.

I do look forward to taking the twins on a trip to Europe soon. I think they will be ready to learn, eat and travel soon, and I anticipate that being a wonderful time.

Do you enjoy life often or is it difficult to find the joy in everyday living for you?

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10 Comments

Filed under Discovering joy

10 responses to “Lessons From Pompeii

  1. Esperanza

    I’m having a really hard time finding the joy in the day to day. I hate my work. My daughter is a maniac who abuses me. My house is always a wreck. I try to remind myself that especially now there are SO MANY people who would do just about anything to have a job, a daughter, a house. I know in my brain how lucky I am, but in my heart I just feel the weight of all the days stacked in front of me like dominoes, slowly falling without me having any say. I don’t know how to find happiness in the day to day when you hate your work, but people tell me that no one likes their job so I don’t know what the answer is. I certainly don’t have it.

  2. I am jealous — I have been fascinated by Pompeii ever since I was a kid. I saw the movie & one of our schoolbooks had a story about a boy & his dog whose bodies were found hundreds of years later.

    I don’t enjoy life as much as I used to, but I still find joy in small moments on most days. Dh has been having a rough time finding the joy in life these past few years… working, commuting through growing gridlock, etc. — it’s all wearing him down (& so, by extension, me). I am hoping we’ll be able to relax & enjoy our lives a bit more once we retire, hopefully in a few years.

  3. I enjoy life. Even when going through some hardships – like divorce – for the most part I was able to stop and smell the flowers, so to speak.

    A few years back I did a “100 days of positive” exercise where each day for 100 days I blogged about something good that happened in that day. It wasn’t always easy. I distinctly remember that one day all I had to say was “well… today ended – and that’s great!”

    But overall that was an awesome exercise which I intend to repeat. Because a lot of truly amazing things happened during that 100-day period: I got engaged, I got promoted, I had an awesome vacation… And I do believe these things happened, in part, due to my attitude. Training your eye on seeing the positive helps: you actually start seeking positives even where there is seemingly none. And your mood improves. And your attitude.

    Yes, I should repeat that exercise 🙂

  4. I enjoy life. I have always believed that happiness is a choice we make every single day. The choice is not always an easy one and there are days when life throws crap at is that we wish we could just pull up the covers and disappear. But when we crawl out of the misery, again, happiness is a choice. I find moments, even on those terrible days, that I can slow down and enjoy. I love my career, I am in love with my husband and, after a decade of struggling with infertility and multiple losses (and even then I found joy in life) and I am falling for my little man deeper and deeper every day. Yeah, life is good.

    On another note, Pompeii sounds amazing and, as always, you look fabulous.

  5. I’m in a happy stage, enjoying daily life.

    How far from Rome is Pompeii — a day trip? I had no idea it was so majestic and forward, though I guess the closer to Rome the more opulent things were. Interesting reason for abandoning the site after the eruption.

    Thanks for taking us with you on the tour!

  6. That picture of Pompeii w/ Vesuvius in the background is stunning! I want to enjoy life, but I feel like too many of my days, especially the work days, are spent just getting by and enduring. I think that’s why I feel so guilty and sad every night b/c I don’t want to feel like my son’s childhood and our lives are joyless. It’s hard. I don’t know if I need an attitude adjustment, dose of reality or schedule change.

  7. It’s so nice to hear positive things coming from Italy. Here talk is always of the “spread”, Berlusconi, etc. Perhaps you unknowingly ran into my parents – or G’s. I’m glad you had a wonderful trip and I know that the return to daily life after a vacation is tough. Forza e coraggio bella!

  8. I read this post soon after you wrote and have been meaning to get back here and comment. I visited Pompeii as a day trip from Rome (to answer Lori’s question), in May 1996, after the semester that I lived and studied in London. I too found it fascinating and sad. I remember seeing the casts of people who died trying to protect themselves as the lava from the volcano rushed at them. I also remember when we visited being told that the volcano was due to erupt again any day, did your tour guide mention anything about that (considering when I heard that it was 16 years ago)? So that kinda freaked me out while we were there. Thank you for sharing your pics and about your experience. Makes me very nostalgic.

  9. P.S. To answer your question, I tend to be a pretty joyful person and thus find life enjoyable most of the time. But I do have my dark moments, when I see everything through the opposite of rose colored glasses (whatever that would be).

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