Sunday, January 08, 2006

Numero Quattro

Two people who have meant much to me celebrated their birthdays this weekend. Lord H on Saturday, and the former Delightful on Sunday.

Hm, Capricorns...

For you London readers, does anyone know anyone who needs a room in far SW? There's one going in H's house.


Oh yes, still coughing. It's good exercise. All the muscles on my back are sore.
I went out on Friday and when the tickle catches you in the train, there's just no stopping it. Icelandic Opals with chloroform in them didn't even help. So I decided I would stay home this weekend and battle it out in my room and eat most of the food in my freezer.

However, it meant I caught all the calls from people who wanted to talk, even after I told them in a wobbly voice that I shouldn't, so I made good use of my mute button to save their eardrums, and said as little as possible, thus not saving mine :)

To stay occupied, I laundered and vacuumed everything in sight, and my room is now sparkling and smells like springtime!


Ready for day 4? I know some of you were holding your breath for this one!

Saturday 24th, Christmas Eve - POMPEII

This was the day of the warmest afternoon sunshine on the entire trip. Our guide Christine led us up the black-paved road into Pompeii. Mount Vesuvius was visible from every part of town, a constant reminder of the tragedy that befell that once-prosperous town.

We were told that before 79 AD, Vesuvius had two peaks and was double its present height! So the ancient inhabitants of the region were treated to an even more menacing view than we are.

The Forum
In what used to be the grain storage sheds, we saw a few of the figures preserved from disintegration when the archaeologists injected the crumbling ash cases with plaster. One lay flat on its back. Another lay on its stomach, one arm shielding its forehead, the other covering its eyes and face. Such a scene forced most of us to imagine ourselves perishing like that in pain and terror, suffocating on hot gas.

Surrounding the figures were countless clay pots, amphorae, and other surviving fragments of daily Roman life. Unfortunately, until the archaeologists excavated Pompeii in the 18th century, burrowing looters stripped it of anything worthwhile.

I read years ago in National Geographic of rooms that are preserved as they were abandoned two millennia ago, with entire meals laid out on tables, down to the wooden bowls of olives and loaves of bread, everything preserved by the fine coating of ash that settled - and hardened - after the deadly superheated gases had killed every living thing. Perhaps they have been moved to the museum or can be seen in Herculaneum which is smaller and possibly better-preserved as a result.

Bakery and Streets
We saw a bakery with its millstones made of volcanic rock. I suspect ancient bread was very gritty. Anway, the millstones were powered by mules - the fully-harnessed skeleton of one had been found here.

Many Romans did not eat lunch at home, so there were fast food bars (thermopolia - a nice Greek word) everywhere. Marble counters with sunken jars for cold foods, holes with lids for hot pots and contained heating sources underneath. Ingenious.

All the streets in Pompeii are paved with heavy blocks of igneous rock, and crossing each street at regular intervals are raised blocks, keeping the Pompeiian feet out of the mud and mire of the street. The wagons had formed ruts in the stone, and this is the reason wheel spacing became standardised - they also passed neatly between the crossing blocks.

Forum Baths

The usual, but this is the first bath I have been to with preserved walls mosaic floors and even vaulting! I remember the caldarium most of all. The bath took up quarter of the room - there was a vent beside it which let in hot air from the hypocaust underneath. On the other end of the room in what we could compare to an apse, was a giant marble urn-like fountain the bathers could splash about at if they got too hot. It was colder than ice and along the rim were copper-topped lead letters set flush with the surface stating the name of the man who had donated the money for the fountain, and to vote for him in the next election.

A bit like sponsored pews of the 19th century or park benches today, only a bit more ruthless as a political ad.

Looking up, the vault was ingenious. There were windows which might have been covered with adjustable vents, for light or temperature control. The colour preservation on the raised ceiling friezes was amazing. Very Wedgwood. You have to see:


House of the Faun

An unusually large house even for upper class Pompeii, modelled after aristocratic mansions of Rome. The doorstep was mosaiced with the letters HAVE - (I had no idea the letter H existed in Latin, did you Rebecca?) - but it means the same as Ave (hail, or greetings)

Here we found the well-known giant mosaic of Alexander defeating Darius. My favourite part is the horse's bottom in front of Darius's chariot. Personally I think it's a deliberate insult to show a mooning horse before the Persian king!
Alexander is as glorious as ever, with his curly hair and large eyes.

The House of the Tragic Poet

Here we saw the famous Cave Canem mosaic. Scholars dispute its meaning as not being "Beware of the Dog" but rather more something like, "Don't step on our small dog" because well-to-do Roman households valued their pampered lap dogs.

The House of the Small Fountain

Smaller, and thanks to the roof being intact, the wall frescoes are preserved, whereas the Faun house is just large open spaces.

I do wish that more of Pompeii were like this:

It gives me a better sense of the life that once existed there, though I do understand that if rooms were set up and roped off, fewer tourists would be accommodated and we would not see things as close up as we do now.

Now we can touch the walls, the bricks, even the frescoes; walk on the mosaics and look up at the ceilings.

The House of the Vetii (vetii are wealthy freedmen), where the walls are covered in the most vivid Pompeiian red and black frescoes. We did not go in to see them, but through bars could see this:

Priapus, a god of fertility, weighing his willy. Poor chap, having to lug that thing around every day. ;)

This is a proper fresco, but we all know Pompeii is notorious for its lewd graffiti (didn't see any), the phallic symbols used as good luck charms, and the ones used as a trademark above brothel doors.

We only spent an hour in Pompeii. It covers an area of 7 or 8 acres with more being uncovered daily. I would spend at least two days there, personally. To my disappointment, we did not see the Villa of the Mysteries, which for years has been one thing I have wanted to see. Here frescoes with Greek and Egyptian influence depict unusual marriage rituals.
Or the Garden of the Fugitives where so many of the plaster bodies are laid out.
And so much else!

I could not talk about something like Pompeii without proper illustrations, could I?
I hope you all enjoyed it, and if you want to see more pics or if these ones have disappeared as they did in my last few posts, go to my gallery:
Neapolitan Christmas 2005


MattJ said...

What the hell is he weighing it for? lol!

wheres the pics of you anyway? there are like 3! lol!

Looks like you had a good time there olivia, definitely want to go to Italy even more now

Olivia said...

Matt - you could see the pics?
I can't!

Jia Li said...

I see them, very nice

M. said...

I don't see the pictures either, but I see them on the album.

Fascinating read about Pompeii! Very cool in that things were preserved because they were buried but also morbid in that people were buried, too...


Rebecca said...

Yay, Pompeii is cool.
But next time you must also see Herculaneum. It's much smaller but incredibly well preserved!

Great photos by the way!

Olivia said...

Yes, Mers - poor souls couldn't get out in time.

Rebecca - I think it's Herculaneum I read about in the National Geo magazine because the pictures were exquisite. Possibly the looters didn't discover it.

I am glad SOME of you can see the pics. Sorry about this, I have no idea what's going on with Blogger.

posh_totty said...

I couldn't see the pics in your blog either but has a look in the gallery. Looks so great! I definitely want to go to Pompeii again and this time also see Herculaneum. I remember the Vettis House and our guide told us that it was also known as the house of the two bachelors? Or maybe I got that wrong? It would of course stick in my mind cause of Priapus weighing his phallus. Golly! Hahaha. But I think the other rather explicit paintings were in a brothel. Good fun- even though the presence of my friend Michelangelo's (yes that really is his name) dad naturally put a rein on any too obvious merriment.

Olivia said...

Posh (aka Rox) - thanks for taking the time to look at the gallery :)

We didn't go to the brothels. It would have been fun as we had some cheeky members on our tour.

You have a friend called Michelangelo?
*moment of speechlessness*
Does he have a nickname?

Rox (or p_t) said...

Yeah his nick name is Micky. He is actually half Italian (from Naples) and half French but he lives in London. Plus he is absolutely devastatingly beautiful. But as with so many really beautiful men... ah well. ;o)

Olivia said...

Rox - you just didn't want me to call you Posh :P
Oh he sounds like a beautiful mix!

This was before your time, but Rebecca will remember when I went out with the Fig, which I nicknamed him because he was half Greek, half Italian, and was born in France. He was sooo cute, looked just my type but it didn't work out. What's new.

Rox said...

Well Micky is a total darling and very loving, sensitive and intelligent and in all ways adorable. He has the loveliest greenish-grayish-blueish eyes too. But girls are just not his type. Alas!
So youre type is darkish and Mediteranean? There are so many Greeks and Italians not to mention all sorts of other nationalities in London. Im sure you'll find the perfect one for you eventually.

Olivia said...

I figured he was. Ohhhh my dad has green-grey-blue eyes, they change with his moods and I love them!

Well the Fig had gorgeous blue eyes and was more light olive than I. So basically looked like someone I *ought* to go out with.

Of course, I've been out with a couple of blue-eyed blond-haired Brits. Former-Delightful insisted he was light brown but really his hair was like spun gold in some lights.

So I no longer have a type.
If only former-D had a clone with a different set of requirements.

Rox said...

Who is former delightful? I think I must have missed something there. Is he an ex?

Olivia said...

Oh maybe you missed that too. We went out from June to October - it's one reason I was pretty low when you first started reading my blog.

Anyway, thankfully we're still friends coz he's...well...why'd you think I called him Delightful?