Visiting the Romans

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I took my daughter to London to see the Pompeii exhibition at the British Museum yesterday. Fantastic exhibition! There is something about the Roman world that feels achingly familiar despite the 2000 years. From the table in the hall with the “posh” silver on display, to the remains of cosmetics on a woman’s dressing table, or the election slogans painted on the town walls, there is something vibrant, noisy and aspiring about these people. Yes, they had slaves, yes, they found brutal combat entertaining, yes, they had an odd taste in phallic ornaments, but we can still see ourselves in them, staring out of their portraits, reading their business contracts, sitting in their gardens.

And my favourite part of the exhibition was the Roman garden – I loved the idea of courtyard gardens, bringing light, water and the living world right into the centre of the house. The picture above is just part of wonderful light and airy garden murals painted all around one room that overlooked a courtyard, so that it must have seemed like an extension of the garden. It is like stepping into a birdspotter’s manual, with dozens of species of birds (and plants) painted with great skill and accuracy.

I may not be able to remodel my house around a courtyard, but I shall have to make sure my garden gives me as much pleasure. If you learn nothing else from Pompeii, you certainly learn that life is short and to be seized!

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