Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ashes, Ashes

Today I left work because the wildfires in our area have polluted the air with smoke and ash. The air is pretty much stuck and hanging in the office, and I couldn't handle it. After four hours of headaches and dizziness, I called it quits and headed home for some cleaner air.

This suffocating air and ash made me think about ancient Pompeii. The thick blanket of smoke smothering Southern California is tinting the world outside of my window an eerie orange color. That, along with the ash covering my car, reminded me of the last days of Pompeii as it was showered in ash and cinders as Mount Vesuvius spewed death upon the city.

On the 24th of August in the year AD 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted and hailed white-hot stones upon the thriving city. Next came the ash, which blinded everyone and choked their mouths and lungs. Some people took cover in the corners of their villas or shops; others tried to flee toward the nearby sea. Few got that far.

The Last Day of Pompeii, Karl Pavlovich Briullov; 1833.

The ash pounded the city and soon buried the rooftops of buildings. Terror was extinguished in death. And just like that, Pompeii disappeared from the world for 1500 years.

Pompeii wasn’t discovered again until the mid-18th Century, and what a discovery it was! The showers of wet ashes and cinders that accompanied the eruption basically sealed the town, preserving many shops, public structures, theaters, baths, private villas, mosaics, wall paintings, as well as artifacts like utensils and tools, coins, and even surgical instruments.

These are cast moldings of victims from Pompeii, frozen in their final agony. Once the ash and debris covered the bodies, it hardened. After the body eventually decayed and left an empty space, excavators realized they could fill the empty space with plaster and create a mold of the deceased.

Pompeii gives us amazing insight about domestic Roman life (the Romans took over the city in the 80’s BC). One of my favorite works of art, the famous Alexander Mosaic, was discovered in Pompeii in 1831. It is one of the most famous portraits of Alexander the Great even though much of it has been destroyed. You can still see his famous wavy hair! The mosaic was made of over one and a half million tiny tiles and shows Alexander attacking King Darius and the Persians.

Close-up of my man, Alexander, from the famous mosaic.

Pompeii today.

I have been anticipating my future visit to this curious place for a long time. Until then, I’m just looking forward to some blue skies, extinguished fires, and clean air in SoCal…


Riley said...

This is a great entry. I totally read the whole thing. I'm glad you don't listen to my advice and write short little blogs. It's not you. Keep up the neverending blogs.

Lisa Marie said...

Aw thanks Ri. That means a lot!!

Michal said...

Lisa Birle-- you are a WRITER. Stop Blogging, start writing a novellette!

I love you :).

O, and funny thing is: the painting shows that people see the fire coming, but it came in their sleep... doesn't make the painting less beautiful.

I miss you. There are many museums here and I've made one museum-freak-girlfriend that is going to take me to all of them... but it will never get close to a Lisa Birle experience. Ever.