August 24, AD 79: Vesuvius Destroys Pompeii!

The Arch of Tiberius in the ruins of Pompeii (ohoto from the Smithsonian Magazine)

August 24, 79 A.D. – Vesuvius, an active volcano in southern Italy, erupted and destroyed the cities of Pompeii, Stabiae and Herculaneum. Although we think of the destruction of the cities as a sudden, unexpected catastrophe, there was ample time for most residents (18,000 out of 20,000) to escape Pompeii. They could see the volcano erupting for several hours before the ash and lava engulfed the city itself. The 2,000 people who died were the ones who refused to leave, who insisted that they would be safe, that the danger was being exaggerated by others, that the city would escape unscathed. (Aren’t there always people like that, in every natural disaster, who refuse to leave when they have the chance and then endanger others who have to come and rescue them? I remember the folks who refused to leave flood-prone area during Hurricane Sandy.)

Mythology tells us that Hercules, in the performance of his 12 labors, passed through the area and found “a hill which anciently vomited out fire … now called Vesuvius.” It was inhabited by bandits, “the sons of the Earth,” who were giants. With the assistance of the gods, Hercules pacified the region and went on. Because of his exploits in the area, one of the cities took the name “Herculaneum;” tourists can visit its ruins today although they are not as famous as the ruins of Pompeii.

Because the city of Pompeii was totally overwhelmed and buried by ash, it was perfectly preserved until its re-discovery in 1599 and then popularization in 1748. The objects that lay beneath the city have been preserved for more than a millennium because of the long lack of air and moisture. These artefacts provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city during the Pax Romana. During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids in the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allowed archaeologists to see the exact position the person was in when he or she died.

Pompeii has been a tourist destination for over 250 years. I was lucky enough to spend a day there in the autumn of 2014 (or was it 2013?). It was amazing to see such a perfectly preserved city, just waiting to be re-inhabited. I’ll be happy to occupy a villa, if one becomes available!

Escape from Oz!

The Wizard of Oz intends to escape from the Emerald City in the same balloon that brought him from Kansas.

It was on August 17, 1978 that three Americans–Max Anderson, Ben Abruzzo, and Larry Newman, all from Albuquerque, New Mexico–made the first transatlantic balloon trip. Starting from Maine on August 11th, they traveled in Double Eagle II over 3,000 miles in 137 hours, landing about 60 miles west of Paris.

But perhaps the most famous hot air balloon ride of all time was one that only happened in our imaginations, in Hollywood. It was the balloon ride that brought Professor Marvel from Kansas to Oz in a windstorm, a tornado not unlike the one that brought Dorothy herself to Oz later. And it was in that same hot air balloon that Professor Marvel, after having been exposed as the “Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” proposed to take Dorothy with him back to Kansas. Of course, we all know that did NOT work out as planned! Toto saw a beautiful Siamese cat and jumped out of Dorothy’s arms at the last moment. Dorothy scrambled out of the balloon’s basket to get Toto back and the Professor, having already released the balloon’s ballast, was unable to bring the balloon back down to earth to retrieve Dorothy. He sailed off across the Emerald City and back to Kansas. He got there just in time to welcome Dorothy back when she awoke on her own bed–having returned to black-and-white Kansas herself thanks to the aid of Glinda the good Witch of the North (who told Dorothy to simply click her heels together three times as she repeated, “There’s no place like home!”)

Using air and wind to travel was a longtime dream of mankind. It was also one of the most famous accusations against those accused of witchcraft during the great European witch hunts of the 1600-1700s. Flying on broomsticks–like the wicked Witch of the West!–was taken as a sign of the perversity of the accused by the witchcraft judges but people like Professor Marvel (who were able to use air and wind in a “scientific” way even though he himself confessed, “I don’t know how it works!”) were regarded with awe and amazement.

Double standards? For sure! The boundaries between magic and science prove again to be so porous and permeable that one’s person’s science is another person’s magic and vice-versa!

#WerewolfWednesday

“Alexei” and I close-up at the Brooklyn Book Festival (September 2016)

I recently began a new feature on Facebook and Twitter by posting a brief, “fun fact” in honor of #WerewolfWednesday each week.

I got this idea during the International Thriller Writers conference I attended this July in midtown. (Over 700 authors from across North America and Canada were there but luckily I didn’t need to pay for airfare or hotel room; I only needed to ride the subway and buy a few extra lunches at a deli! The conference was a great experience — I learned a lot about writing, characterization, plotting, tension, etc. as well as practical things like what you can or cannot learn from an autopsy, how hostage negotiators work, how blood spatter can be examined, how the FBI forensics lab is organized. I met lots of thriller writers who work not only in supernatural thrillers but in many other subgenres as well. There were also lots of agents there and each agent I spoke with asked for sample pages of Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes–the novel I am currently working on.)

So far, #WerewolfWednesday has shared:

The elite did not believe werewolves existed. Church teaching insisted ALL werewolf claims were frauds.

Werewolf trials began in Switzerland during the 1600s and were finished by the late 1700s, just like witchcraft trials.

In Roman folktales, a man became a wolf after eating a child’s intestines but was restored to human form after 10 years.

Upcoming #WerewolfWednesday features will include werewolf folklore from the Satyricon, as well as from Slavic, French, Italian, and German sources.

If you haven’t “liked” or “followed” my Author Pages on Facebook or Twitter, click on the links above!