Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ancient Pompeii and God Bless the 21st Century

Rome, Greece, Pompeii, Travel, S.R. Karfelt
S.R. Karfelt/The Glitter Globe

Have you ever looked at the past and thought it'd have been to cool to live then? First glance makes it seem like a simpler time, quieter, and cleaner. You could lounge around eating grapes in your long flowing gown. Reality says, oh, hail no.

Just before going to Rome and Pompeii, I'd spent time in Greece, a country where cats roam freely. They roam the city, climb walls, sit on balconies, cars, and scooters. They get in your hotel room if you don't shut the window. There were cats sleeping, fighting, eating, and making love—gangs of them at that, often on my balcony at night. By the time I left Greece I decided if that was a sampling of cats in the wild, I didn't like cats after all.

Later it occurred to me that Greek cats weren't a sampling of cats in nature. It was a sampling of cats struggling to survive at all costs. THAT is what life was like in Ancient Pompeii. Some people were pampered and loved with their grapes and flowing clothing, but a whole lot of them were struggling to survive and downright feral.

It wasn't pretty.

I'm definitely all about the 21st Century. I'm right where I want to be, and nothing made that clearer than a day spent in the ruins of Ancient Pompeii. And my take has nothing at all to do with the volcanic ending.
  • Streets doubled as sewers
  • Pottery doubled as toiletry
  • People doubled as slaves
  • Slaves doubled as livestock and commodities
  • Livestock doubled as a hookup in a pinch
As I said, it wasn't always pretty.

It was off season when I got to Pompeii, but still crowded. I hired a guide because I wanted to know what I was looking at. In some ways that slowed me down. When I go back, I'll just use a guidebook. The problem with a guided tour was trying to maneuver with fifty other people and a guide through narrow streets and buildings crowded with thousands of souls. We wore headsets to hear the guide via wireless communication, but so was everyone else and no matter what channel our guide used there were other guides using the same one. Our guide's commentary faded in and out mixing with a veritable United Nations of languages. 

Ancient Pompeii is enormous. The entire city was buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79, and it's beautifully preserved and is still being excavated. It's also huge. You walk narrow streets cobbled in lava rock, passing wall to wall buildings built with lava stone, while learning some history of the people who had no idea they were living next to a volcano. Before its cataclysmic eruption there had been many warning earthquakes, but earthquakes were simply a fact of life to the town. Few if any within the city knew what a volcano was.

Ancient Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius in the background
Even after Mount Vesuvius blew, most residents continued to go about their day. The mountain was far off and of no real worry to the unsuspecting residents. It's a heart wrenching tale and made me appreciate the world we live in just that much more. Here in the 21st Century we panic far easier. In fact we freak out over what might happen or what could happen. You know it's true.

When the guide asked if we wanted to see the brothels of Pompeii, we all did. Why is it that travelers always want to see the dirty parts? Many of the most objectionable items—depicting sexual predilections that would horrify today—have been moved and are housed in the Secret Museum at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. Personally I wanted to see everything in Pompeii. I've read about it for years and didn't want to miss the phallic road signs suggestively point the way to the brothels. Even some lava cobblestones are shaped to point you in that direction. And I'll admit there are a couple amusingly shaped gutters (appropriate, yes?).

There was more than I'd bargained for. There's graffiti in an alley offering popular services for a coin, and leaving behind names of the most inexpensive prostitutes. The entryway of brothels have intact murals that were used as menus for travelers who didn't speak the language. One could simply point. Lupanar is Latin for wolf den. Prostitutes were known as a lupa, which brings me back to the feral cats of Greece trying to survive without food or shelter. The Tom cats roam in gangs and the stray females receive a public—uh—trouncing. Ancient Pompeii also seems feral. I imagine prostitutes there earned their reputation as being wolves because they had learned to survive in that world and it made them fierce and base. People do what they have to to survive. Some were like the roving gangs of Tom cats taking and using, some people were beaten into the shadows, and some were lupa—survivors. I'm just glad I wasn't there. No amount of flowing togas or organic grapes could sway me otherwise.

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