As I sit on the intricately tiled rooftop terrace of our hotel overlooking the Mediterranean in Sorrento, I can’t help but gaze up at the stars … the same stars I look to every night when I let my dog, Lakota out. The steadfast “Big Dipper” is comforting as is the calm waters crowned in the distance by coastal lights from the outskirts of Sorrento, which wraps around this particular part of the sea. I’m also looking up in front of me, at the embellished hotels capping the plush cliffs on the coast. Stone steps pour from one of them, steeply zigzagging to the beach below where we swam a few hours ago.
My mom is next to me, talking in her native language to my cousin, Rodica while my father sits at the foot of my chase lounge chair, sipping at his red wine. The scene takes me back to last night. Rodica had dinner at her place, inviting her sisters, Angela and Christina and their families. I’ve known for some time now that this trip was going to return an element of home back to me, but I didn’t anticipate how my heart would feel the moment my mom started singing the first of many old Romanian folk songs and her nieces followed suit.
Granted, this tends to start toward the end of the evening after one or several glasses of wine and Visinata, a potent Romanian cherry liquor that equates to Italy’s Lemoncello in after-dinner popularity. But nevertheless, it always arrives when we’re with my European relatives and after years of growing up, taking it for granted, I’ve come to realize just how precious a cadence it is. I found myself thinking of my grandfather, now too old to travel this far, seeing a phantom image of him lifting his glass as he sang along. The smile on my face never left, making my jaw sore as a result. I haven’t felt that close to home in a very long time.
This morning, we made a trip to Pompei. I’d visited the last time I was here 7 years ago, but this time around was definitely seen through different eyes. As I walked along the uneven stone roads, seeing the remnants of cart wheel tracks, I imagined 79 A.D. and the city full of people. I found out they were only 5’2” at most due to, unbeknownst to them, ingesting lead through their utensils, stunting their growth. I could see the simplicity of life, the peddlers and the women caring for their children as I passed the wearied remains of their small, barren homes, the roofs destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. I couldn’t even fathom such a tragedy happening as I passed by the home that belonged to a wealthy Roman, murals painting each wall of every room. Then we arrived at the area they display the artifacts; the cooking utensils, clay water jugs and … bodies.
Yes, they have roughly 8 bodies on display of victims whose bodies became encased in stone after the hot lava and mud hardened. Their expressions are still intact. Creepy indeed, but for me – absolutely fascinating. My mind instantly, and perhaps morbidly imagined being there in that moment, how it must have been, an entire city wiped out minutes:
The bodies gave me chills, just as they did 7 years ago, squeezing my heart. And the soft whisper of the common thread on this trip returned. Life is precious, and like the thinnest stem of a wine glass, is the fragile piece that holds it all together, that gives purpose and breathes meaning.
And me personally – I’m done waiting for the lava to hit.
~ C ~