Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Pompeii, Monday 31.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 1, 2006


Lisa survived the bus trip from Positano by reading the newspaper and resolutely facing the mountain and not the sea; Tim heroically took the other seat. The bus drivers, however, are the real heroes – they are brilliant, the way they cope with the narrow spaces, skilfully backing up for other buses, and ignoring stupid German tourists asking dumb questions while they’re driving! Then it was the Circumvesuvia again, a rather grubby and slow little train after the comfort and speed of the Intercity trains, but eventually we arrived at Pompeii and found our way to the site.
Having learned Latin at school, we were both familiar with the story of Pompeii and its destruction in 79AD, but visiting it is a more magical, moving experience than we had anticipated. Walking into the site in the bright sunshine was almost uncanny: it was if we could hear the sandals of the soldiers on the paving stones, or the swish of a slave girl’s skirts as she made her way to market. It’s a bit like being at Borobodur, and trying to imagine it lying undiscovered for centuries; it just seems so impossible.
Thoughtful about the transience of life, we walked through the Forum and the markets, found those tragic casts of victims immortalised in their agony forever, the bakery (which of course appealed to Tim!) and the House of the Faun.
Some of the frescoes and artefacts have been removed to the Naples museum for safe keeping (and who, seeing the graffiti here could argue about it?) but there are still many beautiful frescoes in situ.
 Tim was most intrigued by the paving stones. (I just tried not to rick my ankle on them). From ruts worn by chariots into the stones, archaeologists have been able to calculate a standard axle length to allow chariots and wagons to pass over the stones. Tim’s grandfather, Eric Harding, who wrote a book about the history of Australian railways, Uniform Railway Gauge in the 1950s, measured these chariot wheel tracks in Pompeii too, and he found that they were 4’8 1/2″ – which became the standard railway gauge in Britain, Europe, Canada and the US. For some bizarre reason, Bolshies in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland elected to build different gauged railway lines, an expensive problem, still to be resolved today…
So much to see, and only a day to do it, so of course there was much that we did not have time for, but it was a most memorable day.

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