August 24

79, 472, 512, 685, 787, 968, 1037, 1068, 1078, 1631


History, as I believe I may have said more than once in this collection, is only interesting, let alone significant, when there is a personal dimension. So, aged 6 or 7, I had climbed to the very summit of Mount Vesuvius and stared into its crater, seen the Inferno from the bleachers so to speak, and picked up my illicit lava souvenir (if every tourist took one piece of lava home, the mountain would be flattened completely in less than two million years)... and skipping my youthful way down along the slalom, I slipped, and fell, served me right of course for not listening to my parents telling me to slow down and be careful, but slipped, and fell, and rolled, jagged lava digging into me and scratching me and tearing at my flesh, until I finally reached a dead halt, still alive, if only just, about five feet from where I slipped, and hardly scratched in fact, but that isn't how my psyche remembered it, that isn't how the vertigo I acquired that day remembered it, even if I can laugh about it now.


So Vesuvius became a seminal moment in my young life, and volcanoes (or volcanos, if you prefer; unlike potatoes and tomatoes, let alone Big Toes and Little Toes, which English grammar insists must have that "e")...

Diary, December 16th 2004: "Planning for our Italian holiday found me telling my younger daughter about various previous trips, to Venice in particular, when I was 6 or 7, but also to the south around the same age, staying in Salerno, going to Naples, by hydrofoil to Capri where I remember only the grotto and the house where Gracie Fields lived; and coming back by helicopter because of the rough seas. We went to Pompeii too, and climbed Vesuvius...", which smothered Pompeii today (August 24th) in 79 CE: the younger Pliny witnessed it from Cape Misenum, 15 miles away, while his uncle, Admiral Pliny the Elder, was losing his life trying to rescue the endangered...


Galenus reported that it was still smouldering 93 years later, and 31 years after that, in 203, Dio Cassius heard it erupt again as far away as Padua.


There were two more, in 472 and 512, the first of which Marcellinus Comes described as "causing night during the day and covering all Europe with a fine ash." Cassiodorus described the latter, as part of a plea for tax exemption for those affected by it - so the account may contain elements of hyperbole or subjectivity:

"a burnt ash flies in the sky, and forming ashy clouds it rains with ash droplets also in the provinces beyond the sea... it is possible to see ash rivers flowing like liquid, bringing hot sands... the fields... are ravished by the sudden heat."






685, 787, 968, 1037, 1068, 1078... the dates, or at least the list of dates, is as long as a lava-flow itself... the eruption of 1139 lasted eight days and its ashes covered Salerno, Capua and even Naples... but then... nothing.



Nothing for nearly four hundred years.

1631 made up for it though, the 16th December to be precise (I wish I'd known that when I wrote the diary entry, above).




And always, for me, that lingering memory of climbing to the summit - the Summa Caldera - and looking down into the Gran Coro, half-expecting dragons to accost me or a Dantesque demon to seize me by the throat and drag me down.





As to the piece of lava that I brought home as a souvenir, it sat on my window sill for years, until I left home, and left it there, and my parents moved house, and presumably they too left it there, or threw it away because it looked like junk, because I have never seen it since, except in memory, which anyway has served me better.




Amber pages


William Wilberforce, the man who single-handedly removed the dog-collar from the high priests of slavery, born today in 1759



Henry Maximilian Beerbohm, or simply "Max", English critic and wit, born today in 1872


Jean Rhys, novelist, parturated the waters of the Wild Sargasson Sea, today in 1894


And this in purple, even on an amber page, because royalty always requires purple: Jorge Luis Borges, Argentine poet and author, emerged from the labyrinth of pre-oblivion (and presumably arrived early), today in 1899


While among the events of history:


The Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre of Huguenots in France, described in detail in my novel "A Journey In Time", today in 1572


The female protagonist of that novel, Amelia by name, is somewhat obsessed by her namesake Amelia Earhart, and... but I won't spoil the ending by saying what. In her honour nonetheless, even though there were far greater achievements, and far more tragic dates on which to mark her life (see July 3), Amelia became, today, the first woman to fly non-stop across the USA


And I simply can't resist pointing out, because there are all sorts of things that I want, but which I know I will never be able to obtain, that today, in 1969, "Alice's Restaurant" premiered.




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