Friday, 29 March 2013


If you escaped from the summer heat of Pompeii into the cool, shady, green garden room of the House of the Golden Bracelet, you would find yourself looking out over a terrace with pools and a fountain and stunning views over the sea.
I stood there alone for a few minutes and looked at the birds and the tangle of flowers, a wilderness of viburnum and oleander, arbutus, ivy, lilies, poppies and marigolds. I particularly liked the nightingale perching on a rosebush that has been tied to a bamboo stake.
I imagined the plip-plop of the fountain that wouldn't have jetted into the air because the water pressure from the Emperor Augustus's aqueduct wasn't strong enough.
The Pompeii exhibition at the British Museum is stunning. As you leave, you pass plaster casts of of the family who lived in that beautiful villa - a man, a woman with a small child struggling in her lap, an older child maybe five years old - their bodies contorted from the terrible heat. They were found crouching under a staircase further along the terrace.


You can still see traces of pink rouge in a tiny cosmetics jar and children's drawings on a living-room wall. You wonder about the young girl who fled to the beach, and who had given her the charm bracelet that was her favourite possession in all the world?
You eavesdrop on the bustle of their lives ... hear the jangle of a windchime in a shop doorway, taste the fishy condiments, read the graffiti of lovelorn boys.
And think how frightening it must have been at the end.

7 comments:

Sue said...

I feel like I am right there -Pompeii not the British Museum. Thank you Mary.

Lucille said...

I think this is the sort of commentary that is needed, just one essay at the beginning of an exhibition and then nothing else to distract. Masterly.

mary said...

The exhibition made me long to re-visit Pompeii, Sue. It must be 25 years ago since I was there. And we never did get to Herculaneum.

Thank you, Lucille. If the British Museum would like to give me a job, I'd be there in a flash. If only!
But the exhibition is beautifully designed and I don't think you'll find the labels distracting. The catalogue is very readable, too.

Toffeeapple said...

I think that I should find it all too sad.

Joan Hunter Dunn said...

Oh I really want to see this. As a child I was fascinated by Pompeii & went on a classics school trip there. This feels like the next best thing to going there again.

Cosy Books said...

That little bit of rouge in a pot makes those artifacts, and the people, so very real. Chilling but fascinating. Enjoyed the clips on the website, thanks Mary!

p.s. - Studying this in elementary school provided endless sleepless nights as I thought a volcano would put an end to us all in Canada...HA!

mary said...

It is sobering towards the end, Toffeeapple, but a brilliant exhibition. You'll enjoy it, Joan.

I know what you mean, Darlene. I had to stop myself going into too much detail to children, didn't want to give them nightmares!