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.
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.
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.
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.
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?