When I visited Rome to research Sacred Fire I was eager to visit Pompeii, but I had no idea it would be as amazing as it was. Andrew and I petered around looking at temples and senate houses, thinking the center of town was the only thing we would see. Then we walked up a hill and saw Pompeii is an entire city. Houses stretched as far as we could see.
I turned to my husband, wide-eyed. “We’re going to be here a very long time.”
It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The streets are preserved, as well as the surrounding houses, the bases of fountains in crossroads, and murals. Shrines were still there, as were pools and gardens and vineyards. I felt like I went back in time.
A couple was looking through the tiny rooms with nothing but a bed in them. They had confused looks on their faces. “What do you think this place is for?” asked the husband.
Since the house was right behind a theater, the wife said, “Maybe these were dressing rooms.”
I laughed out loud. “These were no dressing rooms,” I said, pointing to a particularly vulgar painting.
They peered at the painting, then pulled their heads back. “Oh,” said the wife.
We spent seven hours in that city. At some point, both my husband and I had to go to the bathroom. We knew there were restrooms at the entrance, but it was on the other side of town.
“Surely they’ll have a portapotti around here somewhere,” I reasoned. “They wouldn’t leave us stranded here with no way to go to the bathroom.”
I forgot we were in Italy, which has no public bathrooms to speak of. Italians must have bladders of steel.
Hours went by and we still couldn’t find a portapotti. Our need to go got worse and worse. Eventually we could hardly stand it anymore and knew we’d have to make a break for it and get to the entrance, but the site was going close soon. We didn’t have time to come back.
“There’s more I want to see!” I told my husband
I could tell the wheels in his head were working. “What are you thinking?” I asked.
“Well, there are a lot of houses here, and there are a lot of empty rooms.”
I gave him a blank stare. “I’m not going to pee in Pompeii.”
“We don’t have much of a choice,” he pointed out.
He was right. I had to go so badly, I was practically dancing. Plus there were wild dogs all over the town, and surely they peed in the rooms too.
We found a small, inconspicuous house and took turns standing guard. As I was crouched down taking care of business, I wondered who used to live in the house. He probably never would have guessed a few thousand years later, a tourist would come and pee in it.
Now whenever I think of Pompeii, I remember that a little part of me is still there.