I don’t have many regrets in my life and I’m not one to pine over or dwell on missed opportunities, but… if I have one, it’s that I never visited Italy, or more specifically Pompeii, with my mother. My mom was a Latin teacher. She took classrooms of high school and middle school kids to Italy. She’d show them Ancient Rome, the canals of Venice, the Ponte Vecchio in Florence and she’d bring them to Pompeii. My mother studied classical literature. We had more copies of the Iliad and the Odyssey kicking around than your average family. She knew probably everything about Greek and Roman mythology. And she loved Pompeii.
When we were kids, we visited England. I remember visiting Roman baths in Bath and driving miles out of our way to see Hadrian’s Wall. But despite her father being a direct immigrant from England and her passion for visiting the country of his birth, her heart was in Italia. I think, other than England and Cape Cod it’s the place she visited most often in her life.
Today, we visited Pompeii. While it wasn’t my mom, we went with an archaeologist as a tour guide and a group of about a dozen other (mostly American) tourists. He taught us how to recognize a storefront. Showed us how to differentiate a middle class home from a domus (upper class home). He showed us the temples of Jupiter and Venus.
He described the scenes of commerce on the Via Marina and Via Dell’Abbondanza. Showed us how we could recognize a bakery or find the brothels and their menus of service (like we found in the Archaeology Museum of Naples’ secret rooms a couple of weeks ago) by following the pointing phalluses up the road.
We visited the amphitheater, one of the Termas (bath) and the theaters. He showed us the cast of a sleeping woman buried in the ash and explained how archeologists poured plaster into the cavities left by their disintegrated bodies to recreate the positions they were in on the dark day in AD 79 when the city of Pompeii was covered with an average of 5-7 meters of ash.
Inside the baths
He explained the sidewalk system and crosswalks, set above the streets so when rain water flowed one could keep their feet dry. He showed us both original paint and mosaics and replicas whose originals reside in that same archaeology museum just a few kilometers away where you can find the aforementioned Pompeii porn and explained why many Pompeii homes had a mosaic of a bear or a wolf at the doorway to ward off the evil spirits.
Amphitheater above, Domus examples below
While it wasn’t my mom, she would have been proud. Proud of his knowledge and wit. Proud of how he brought the city to life. Proud of how all twelve or so of us were rapt with attention and hanging on every word and sticking close around every corner. And proud that I finally made it here, to Pompeii, a place she loved so much.