“Can you imagine the sound it must have made?” I said almost to myself in the garden of the House of the Faun as I caught sight of Vesuvius over what remained of the ruined back walls of the villa.
“Or how frightened they must have been?’ My mother said as she came up beside me. She took my hand in hers and held it. She hadn’t done that for a long time. Not since I was a little boy. Not like that.
August 24, 79 A.D.
It was February 14, 1999, my mother’s birthday. My step-father had brought my mother to Italy on a tour with his old Alma Matter to celebrate her entry into her seventieth year. He had invited me along because since I was a boy I was fascinated with Pompeii and all things Roman. I was so enamored of the civilization that after the rains came to Southern California I would build roman cites in the wet adobe mud. They would bake in the sun until the other kids in the neighborhood found my roman cities and destroyed them. I called those children “the barbarians.”
RECONSTRUCTION OF A POMPEIAN GARDEN ATRIUM
Pompeii is deserted in February; it is the only way to see it. Our group of fifteen on the Cornell University Alumni tour was as it turned out on this chilly afternoon, the only living people in the entire city. As we wandered the remains of the House of the Dancing Faun our Italian guide explained that when the gardens of Pompeii were excavated the archaeologists found remains of the plants that had been living at the time Pompeii died. The remains were analyzed and all the gardens were replanted and look just as they did exactly 1920 years before. Almost the same as they had been that noon day in August when the city was full of people none of whom knew that there was a continent beyond the Pillars of Hercules that would one day be called America or for that matter what a volcano was. The guide explained that there is no word in Latin for volcano and that the Romans had no idea that Vesuvius was one.
THE FIRST OF TWO GARDENS IN THE HOUSE OF THE FAUN
After lunch we had a little free time and I told the guide I wanted to explore on my own. He gave me I had a half an hour before we were to leave and said we could meet up by the gate to the city. In agreement he volunteered to tell my parents where I had gone.
I strolled into the Forum and peeked into a warehouse full of objects found in the excavations. Rows of amphora behind a wrought iron gate, and in the center the plaster cast of a crouching man in the position he had been in at the moment that the pyroclastic flow from the mountain hit him.
Further on the garden courtyard of the temple of Apollo found me at its center. I took in a quick and deep breath of awe as I stood before the one remaining statue of the god. He looked from where I stood as though he was about to set the top of Vesuvius alight like an ancient lamp. The smell of the garden was soft and full of aromatic evergreens, cypress and a few very early plum blossoms. I closed my eyes and I could hear off in the distant voices murmuring on the edge of reality.
“Hello? Do you speak English?” I opened my eyes to see a beautiful young man standing under the statue of Apollo. “Are you lost?”
I smiled and told him no, that I wasn’t lost. I turned to point to the entrance of the temple courtyard.
“I am with my family and a group off…..” I turned back and he was gone. The wind came up from the sea and made a low moan as it pushed against the trees and through the columns of the portico. It was so sudden and strong that I staggered against it. The distant voices grew clearer. They were calling a name, my name.
What had just happened? Everything was suddenly intensified a thousand times, colors, sounds and most of all smells. I was flooded by the smell of, rich resinous fir trees and garlands of roses, jasmine and lilies, violet leaves as purple as the roman sea. I could smell the ancient market filled with oranges, nutmeg and cloves and a bright sharp dark Indian pepper that bit into my senses. There was leather and sandalwood from the humming workshops along the edges of the forum and the musky smells of pack animals entering the city. Above it all swirled the intoxicating heady aroma of temple incense. The perfume of the gods used to carry offerings and prayers to the very gates of Olympus.
THE TEMPLE OF APOLLO, POMPEII
I stepped back and reached out to steady myself against a marble column older than anything I had ever touched before. The voices were more urgent now that called my name seemingly over the centuries; backwards or forwards I could not tell. I walked to the gate leading to the street. Turned for one last look at the statue I shook my head to clear it.
“There you are!” My mother came up and swatted my arm. “Why did you wander off without telling anyone?”
“I did tell the guide.” I mumbled still in a fog.
The others in the group were laughing and my stepfather patted my back. “You gave your mother a scare.”
We walked through the city gates and down to the waiting bus that was to take us to Sorrento. I was seated next to our guide as the bus navigated the corkscrew that is the Amalfi road. He studied me with knitted brow and then smiled. “Something happened to you in Pompeii, didn’t it?”
“What do you mean?” I said.
His look was all knowing and warm. “The city remembers you. It happens sometimes. ”
Not until today when I first sprayed Oscar for Men my Oscar de la Renta did I think again of that moment in Pompeii when time slid away and I just may have met Apollo, the god of the Sun.
POMPEIAN WALL PAINTING
Oscar for men opens beautifully and instantly transported me to the smell of Southern Italy and the gardens of Pompeii. The Top notes of this very masculine perfume are mandarin orange, fir resin, bergamot and pepper; middle notes are nutmeg, lily, lavender, jasmine, violet leaf, cloves and rose; base notes are leather, sandalwood, musk, balsam fir, vanilla and incense. It lasts on my skin for a good ten hours and the projection is immense. This is a spicy, woody incense blast that would do any roman emperor proud. It could fill the Flavian Amphitheater and eradicate any other offending smells of bloodstained gladiators, lions, senators or saucy prostitutes under the arches.
OSCAR FOR MEN FIVE GOLD STARS *****
BBC DRAMA ABOUT THE LAST DAY IN POMPEII