Tarmac ribbons criss-crossing the landscape, dusty back roads twisting between the cool shadows of ancient pines, and less traveled pathways connecting present to past, all I wander, seeking, seeing, with my keyboard and camera capturing scenes and stories to share with you.

Now in its seventh year, this venue has become an important part of my life, a place where I can express my thoughts and feelings about the things I see and do, hoping the process brings me a bit closer to friends and family who enjoy sharing my sometimes chaotic and often nonlinear observations and ideas. A journal, I suppose, but one with which I find pleasure in thinking others are alongside me on my journey.

Comments, thoughts, or just a friendly chat, use the response box below or email me at patrickgroleau@gmail.com.

November 1, 2019

ITALY: RUN AWAY, RUN AWAY

... this morning i left the ship and i took a little wanderabout along the streets of city that has been frozen in time for almost 2,000 years ... i wore two picture taking hats, one for myself and the other for you ... i hope you enjoy ...

... first, of course, we had to visit the obligatory "leave your money here" tourist spot ... at least this one wasn't a "trap," but was instead a generations-old family business that produces some of the finest cameos in the world ...
    

... the beautiful art is produced by hand using tools passed down from parent to child and to child again ...
    

... as the guide talked of the history of the craft the craftsperson seemed oblivious to the clicking shutters and chattering tourists ...
    

... back on the bus, another twenty-minutes enjoying the almost-bumper-car italian traffic, and then we arrived at our goal, the ancient city of herculaneum ...


... from the moment we entered i decided to concentrate on seeing and experiencing and enjoying, and i did not pay much attention to the guide ... because of this, and the fact that the ship's satellite internet isn't all that fast, i'm going wing it and write this journal from memory ... questions, or you'd like more information, well, you're halfway there—all you need do is type "herculaneum" in a web search ...

... the city is much smaller than i thought, but a few acres ... about 25% of it has been under excavation since the 1700s, the remainder is deep beneath the modern streets and buildings ... there are a few tunnels exploring these subterranean regions, but they are not accessible to the public ...

... unlike pompeii, which was buried in ash in the 79 ad eruption of mt. vesuvius, herculaneum was inundated beneath a 70+ foot deep flood of superheated mud which has since solidified to solid rock ... thus, the city now sits below the level of the modern metropolis ...
    

... there are three parallel uphill boulevards, others are still buried ...
    

... its structure carbonized by the 400°f pyroclastic flow, i guessed "apples" but it turns out the press was for drying wet laundry ...
    

... while the tremendous force of the blast wave and mud flow destroyed some things, much of this small town populated by relatively well-to-do romans was instantly preserved ...
    

... this mural survived the eruption and was encased in stone for 2,000 years ... so fresh looking, i can only image how glorious it was before the disaster ...
    

... it's amazing how some things are preserved so well ...
    

... i peeked as i passed by this little boy, then asked ... he was reading pliny the younger's account of the eruption—in the original latin ...
    

... our visit coincided with the italian emergency forces, both professional and volunteer, as well as the army and police, conducting an "emergency evacuation drill" ... rather tardy, i thought, but since the volcano is still active and towers over a now vast metropolitan area containing almost a million people, i suppose it makes sense to practice ...
    

... the guide walked us through the city as if we were visiting prior to the disaster ... "here, would you like some wine ... try it, it's nice and cool" ...
    

... by today's standards, the proximity of the streets and rooms makes this a rather intimate setting ... i wondered if that's how those who lived here felt ...
    

... in some places, protected by glass, there are remarkably preserved sections of the original wall decoration ... in a word, they are "compelling" ... i, too, could not resist touching the past ...
    

... i watched my fellow wanderers, wondering of those who had lived here so long ago ...
    

... while almost all of those in my group headed back to the bus, i decided, being young and spry, that instead of spending twenty-minutes in the gift shop i'd try to sprint down to the now-uncovered ancient waterfront ...


... being a seaport, the downhill border of herculaneum was once defined by the edge of the mediterrean ... the eruption that buried the city also extended the shoreline almost a kilometer, and what were once loading docks and warehouses are now almost seventy-feet beneath the surface ... a long, steep tunnel leads to this ancient waterfront ...
    

... there, i found the residents of herculaneum ... for many years it was thought that the people who lived in the city had managed to escape, but in 1981 archeologists came upon the remains of dozens and dozens of skeletons in the warehouses the once faced the sea ...
    

... it is thought that these people took refuge in these strong structures, perhaps awaiting rescue by ships, or, equally likely, simply awaiting their deaths ...
    

... ground shaking, air become increasing noxious and unbreathable, they huddled together ... they understood volcanoes and lava flows, but probably had no idea of the pyroclastic blast wave and fluid stone tsunami that was to seal them away forever ... did they die mercifully, painlessly slipping into unconsciousness before suffocating, or were their deaths moments of brief intense agony, lungs searing in the fiery acidic breath of the volcano ... of this we may never know ...
    

... but, in herculaneum, i found the people i wanted to meet ... they drank wine, relaxed in comfortable public baths, chatted in the markets as they purchased fresh produce ... they gave offerings to the gods, and for sure gossiped about politicians and emperors who ascribed to divine appointment ... for the most part, they were like you and i, simply people going about their daily lives, ignorant of the powerful subterranean forces upon which they had built their homes ...

... a hotel, or, perhaps, inn, which once looked out upon the sea ... now, its rooms vacant, it serves only to remind us that we are all but travelers, and that we mustn't neglect to pay attention on our journey ...
    


"You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices."

" People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore

“There were some so afraid of death that they prayed for death.”

PLINY THE YOUNGER, 104 CE