Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pompeii Exhibit

It's extremely expensive to get into the Pompeii show, so it was worth taking out a membership, I hope. I suppose the fact that a million, maybe a billion, school children herded through in the three hours I was there on Thursday makes it possible for many who can't afford it to see the show... I wonder what impression they will have from it. Surely they will remember the body casts made from the spaces under the debris. Maybe they will have noticed that a woman's tunic was preserved, that a man had held cloth up to his face, that a chained dog still has a collar and that there were ankle bracelets on a slave or a prisoner.

If you have an audio gismo, there are two different signs indicating the numbers to press. The one for children is a circle, the one for adults is a square and contains more direct information about the many erotic images in frescoes or on the small terracotta lamps. You will learn that there were 300 eateries, for takeout or eat-in for a population of 25,000...and that doctors were considered artisans like potters, though they knew that instruments should be boiled after use and did minor cosmetic surgery as well as amputations.

 Though I've hardly traveled at all, I did go to Pompeii when I was nineteen, taken by the man I was involved with, an older Italian. We were sitting in the tiny apartment he shared in Little Italy one Sunday morning when his father called to tell him that he was going back to visit his mother in Rome. As soon as he hung up, Danny asked if I wanted to go and I said no. Not long after he had tickets for a Holland American Line ship. His father, a manufacturer of guitar strings, had left Rome before the war, leaving his wife, who had married him because he had money and her father, a doctor, was incapable of charging enough to support himself, preferring to treat villagers in a small town in the Abruzzi mountains for free. They had two children, Danielle and Violetta. Danny had slept in his mother's bed after the father left and had become a brown shirt, marched with other young boys for Mussolini, and was not going to let his father go back to Rome without his supervision.

And his father was not going to let Danny bring a young American to that large, dark apartment without pacing the floors at night so that he couldn't get into her bed. They spoke Italian and I only knew a bit of it, and so on. It was hardly a joyous trip, but one of the many scrapes I got myself into...which resulted in a few benefits like being taken to Pompeii which was not the tourist focal point that it is now...and having a care-taker show us one of the frescoes of Priapus for a small fee. If I'd been more educated and under less stress, it's probable that all that I saw would have made a bigger impression and I would have been able to put together a larger world view, but that was not the case.

So, I really did want to see the body casts which were not available way back then, in the late 1950s.

Though I met someone yesterday who thought the exhibit was 'thin' and was enormously bothered by all the hovering mothers and their children, having chosen to go on a Sunday afternoon when everyone would be watching the game, I had a good three hours there and went back the next day...for another hour. The exhibit has timed entry, so hoards of  people come in every ten minutes, but they also disappear quite rapidly, having rushed through the show, so I held my ground and concentrated, it was fine for my purposes.
The people in Herculanium were not buried under many feet of ash, but died from the gases, so there is a replica of the twisted skeletons. On Friday I had enough time to see where this installation comes apart in very large sections which must be boxed up for transport to the next venue.
I would have an extremely hard time if I were told, under pain of death, that  I had to come up with interesting photographs of nature. For a number of months, many years ago, I commuted down to RISD to listen to Roman Vishnaic's lectures on what nature photographs show about the way plants grow, in other words the serious information that photographs taken in the woods can offer, rather than the bits and pieces and graphic stuff that some photographers make, using nature as decoration. This photograph of a birch tree is decoration. I couldn't take either informational images or decorative ones since I'm not comfortable in nature. It would be wonderful to want to take long walks in the woods, but I'd prefer to take them in the city.

This dog was adopted from a no-kill shelter at quite an advanced age and has had three, if I remember correctly, good years and will have a few more. I think it's male, but I don't remember, nor do I remember the name. but the woman who owns the dog, or is owned by the dog, has a farm in Vermont and commutes down here for work so they travel back and forth. She had a horse, but now it has a better home with someone who can ride it more often. She plans to breed Thoroughbreds with Quarter horses for a particular set of folks who ride in special competitions once she isn't commuting so often.

She told a long story about Mamie, the dog the owners of the farm had around, always outside, never a pet. It took some years for that dog to accept being allowed in her house, allowed to sleep inside, and to accept any affection, but she managed to slowly introduce the dog to those pleasures. When the farmer drove by, he shook his head at her foolishness.


  1. i am fascinated by the halting flow of information about your long-ago trip to Italy that i have been able to garner from reading versions over the years. but, i did not know you went to Pompeii on that trip. and i am so sorry that i didnt know about this show in Boston to make time to see it. but, thank you for your reactions, and the photographs.

  2. Interesting interview with the dog owner