My husband and I had the privilege, yesterday morning, to attend a special press preview breakfast event: viewing the Pompeii exhibition on at the British Museum, on behalf of the British Museum shop, which is quite special, in that it's essentially non-profit: the main purpose of the shop is to raise funds for the Museum.
The exhibition itself has had such an impact on both of us. It was such a different experience from the Bowie show at the V&a, profoundly different, and it's made me realise what talent goes into putting together a show at a major museum. I urge anyone who hasn't already seen it to go, and definitely use the head phones.
You arrive and are basically walking through a large layout of a home in Pompei. One room was the most beautiful atrium like space - a kind of enclave, off the main atrium - and there were three giant frescos: beautiful paintings of birds and flowers. I think that might have been my favourite part. There's a sweet 'fresco tee shirt', which I could see wearing with printed trousers - print on print - a perfect look for spring. It's only £24.
And as you make your way around this house, you're drawn into this world, and realise these people, living in the time of Christ - yet probably, despite being Romans, blithely unaware that Christianity was about to dominate the Roman world. And despite a few technical differences - no indoor plumbing, for example - their lives, their natures, weren't all that different from our own. (And while we think mainly of Pompeii, the coastal city, Herculaneum, was even more devastated - and both cities are represented in the exhibition).
You get drawn in, and then - like watching the Titanic - you're surprised at the visceral shock you feel when it all ends so suddenly.
And yet.. people survived. A lot of people survived. Their descendants are walking amongst us. Possibly unaware that their ancestors survived.
So when I was thinking of how to illustrate my first post - and I do want to show you some of the stunning things they're selling, reproductions of the jewelry and sculptures, home items, from Pompei, as well as other areas of the museum - I thought of a trip I took, with my tribe of Italian friends, to a volcanic island called Ponza. While the Romans think of it as their Hamptons (technically, to me it's more like Fire Island, because you go there by boat), I was shocked to realise it's so close to Pompei and Herculaneum. And to think that the stunning volcanic sculptural elements that make this place such paradise, is the same force of nature that ended this world in the blink of an eye.
And then I thought of the donkey.
A few of us had hiked up and up, on an uninhabited island called Zannone, while the others stayed down on the boat, swimming. I had wished I was swimming - it was hot, and we were hiking so long in the white heat - when we reached the summit. An uninhabited ruin, on an uninhabited island.
And there was this donkey.
Luigi - our friend Guilia's husband, Eleanora's father, who went on to be the head of the EU in the Middle East - showed his diplomatic skills, by befriending the donkey.
Life and Death Pompeii and Herculaneum is on at the British Museum until 29th September. Shown here - besides my photos of Ponza and Zannone - are items from the Museum Shop, like the statue of Hermes, God of Music and Travel - found at Pompeii. Made of hand-patinated bonded bronze, it is available online or of course, at the museum itself.