Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Day in Pompeii

I began collecting catastrophes quite young.  One of the first in the collection was the destruction of Pompeii in 79.  1900 years after it happened (that MCMLXXIX, what a mouth full)  my Latin project was a no-walls diorama with smoldering Vesuvius in the background, and on the road in forced perspective, Army men I had covered in tape, stick side out, rolled in sand, then spray-painted gray.    Moerere mortui qui sunt in plateis.

Yesterday, on something of a whim, I decided to spend  my day off  touring "A Day in Pompeii" at the Science Museum.

There is no "good time" to visit a Science Museum if you want to avoid buses full of teenagers -- or worse, PRE-teenagers -- but I hoped that Friday afternoon this close to a holiday break might.... oh, who am I kidding.  They filled the room, with their "oh my god, you guys," and their "Dude"s and giggling at statues' penises, but really, they were mostly harmless.  Just loud.  The poor docents tried to get them excited about "being an archeologist for a day," but all they were interested in was the gift shop and getting a Sobe.

So I turned my mind off to them, and concentrated on standing in front of the very things I had become so familiar with from every "amazing true life disaster" stories I had ever gobbled up.

This was not one of them -- though this is often the illustration you'll see when you crack a Pompeii overview. "Cave Canem," the Beware of Dog mosaic, was also not present.  Nor were many of the fresco sections on exhibit of the erotic kind, which is also typical of what was uncovered (har har) in the dig, but not often exhibited.  There were some there, all right, but if it wasn't on the students' worksheet, they weren't going to spend time on it.  One student was overheard imitating their teacher, in a goofy doi-doi voice, "If you're going to get anything out of this, you're going to have to read things."  Boys giggled, "yeh, right."  which I was pleased to hear kids still say.

I have noticed recently, a recurring question of small kids to their adult keepers, which is, "Is this real?"  Maybe we said that too, a little smarter than children of an earlier century who took faerie photos at face value and knew that Santa preferred Coca-Cola to milk.  (I mixed those time periods - don't write letters).  I think that if we asked "Is this real?" we meant, "pinch me I'm dreaming."  In a world where everything can be simulated, and a small child can't read gallery notes in dim lighting, "Is this real"  is an early attempt at critical thinking -- especially when faced with a writhing collection of fused skeletons, some of them smaller than you.

Stand around long enough and you'll learn that adult keepers do not read gallery notes either, as a dozen misunderstandings of what the castings are were passed along to new generations.  But let me add, in their defense, that there was very little science in this science museum exhibit, and most of it was written on the wall in this museum famous for its hands-on exploration of how things work.  A representation of how casts were made, and how they remain preserved would have helped make that more clear. A digital animation of the destruction played in a loop, but without any explanation of how this eruption was different from other eruptions.  Most disappointing to me was the lack of detail on the dig itself -- a project with a 250 year timeline of its own.

But oh well, meet things where they are, not where they are not, and enjoy being in the presence of that which is real, and no longer a picture in a book:  the tethered dog, the loose pig, Man on the Staircase, the Embracing Couple.  Everyday items from antiquity are enough of a wonder, though I tend to think more about how the lot is quilt-wrapped up, inventoried, and shipped around.  How an archeologist decides how a handful of bronze fittings become a reconstructed scale, or how they determined what that mother-of-pearl spoon was used for.  I want footnotes.  Ok, I guess I want hyperlinks.  Is this real?  How do we know?

Time your visit to see the OmniMax "Ring of Fire" film in the same time frame.  I missed it, but hung out in the Theatre of Electricity, which is always entertaining, if not fully informative either.  I could have stayed home and watched this for free.

1 comment:

  1. Pompeii is a massive and sophisticated city. They continue to excavate, but what they've uncovered is astounding. Some day I'll go back.


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