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From the Depths

Arches have been called the symbols of strength, openness, thresholds between worlds. I've been thinking about arches for recently, gathering pictures, trying to see what is beyond the brick and mortar, and in my latest series of pictures I'm trying to see from what was once to what is now. I took this picture over ten years ago as I entered the Scavi [excavations] de Ercolana, at once an ancient and thriving village near Naples, at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius (see also my blogs Passage to the Past and My Garret for an Ivory Tower which feature other sights from Ercolana). Much of the original Herculaneum has been excavated and opened to the public while the people of Ercolana walk the streets above. It truly is magnificent. But this picture in particular has been haunting me since I reopened it weeks ago. It shows three of the archways which once faced the sea and contained vaults in which goods and boats were stored. What I learned in preparing for this post is that the remains of three hundred skeletons were found within these vaults during excavation in the 1980s. Perhaps that might explain why I'm drawn back to this image. That, and my awe at the convergence of the past and present at the Ercolana site itself. Aside from that, the image evokes in me a sense of not quite the fantastical, as in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings; and I can visualize dragons emerging through the open archway, as in Game of Thrones; the setting of place where creatures co-exist and both depend on what turns out to be a false sense of security in a chaotic and unpredictable world. This act of imagining a scene, and building the foundation of a narrative from a single picture, and one that has not quite left your mind for a long time, illustrates what Martin Amis meant by "novels come from long-marinated and unregarded anxiety, from silent anxiety . . . ." (From Inside Story: How to Write, p19 (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2020)). Stories often come from the most unlikely places, but it is up to us to recognize when one has planted itself within us and to give it the nurturing it needs. Got to my photos page for more from my study of arches.

Ercolana, Italy, February 2010

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