Tempted to Tarry.
The mountain rumbles.
You can feel it. Beneath your feet. In your chest. As you extend the awning over your courtyard.
A change. There is something cataclysmic under the surface.
Should you move? Take cover? Go to higher ground? Maybe you should visit a distant relative, whether the journey bodes pleasant or not?
The mountain coughs. Spews smoke.
Your children are playing in the street, some sort of ball with changing rules and shouts of laughter. Pull them from the game?
Business is being conducted. The magistrate’s marble hangs importantly over the lintel. Surely, if the village required shelter, he would sound the call?
A few tiles fall from a roof across the corsia. Shoddy workmanship? No, for the earth moves.
There is a moment, that paralyzing space that comprises fractions of seconds, where you realize that choices are few. What to take? What to leave? To whom do you call?
Pompeii in Ashes.
I have always had a fascination with the visceral story of Pompeii. That fleeting moment where decisions are made to leave, to flee, to stay, to ride it out, captures me. My breath is suspended. What would I have done? What would I do?
I am a terrible material creature. I like my things. I collect. My children know that there are separate collections of holiday decorations, china and dishes, art, and ephemera. By its very definition, ephemera is not meant to last. Why hold on?
Families, time immemorial, have saved the remainders of clans, tribes. We dig for reminders. We crave connection. We want to know that we have and do belong. We wish to leave, for posterity, that which we could not take with us.
Your treasure buried.
Today, I saw the buried treasure of the city of Pompeii. Certainly, there were surviving urns from trade vessels. Marbles and cement, statues, busts, lamps, urns. Wine casks. Pieces of floor and of frieze. Signs, like the one chiseled by a mother to her son upon his death. And amazingly fragile glass. How, precious flask, did you survive twenty-eight feet of ash?
And gold jewelry, the adornment of adults and of children. Was it not so hot that a child’s bracelet would melt? Or was it meant, historically, to be left behind?
I ask myself, what would I take, were I on the run, fleeing for my life? Today’s Syrian refugee experience requires the same question and response. And what, if I knew that my household life would be embalmed for all time, would I wish to be buried?
Thanks to the Kelsey Museum, at the University of Michigan, for its free exhibit.
Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis Near Pompeii
February 19–May 15, 2016