History from different perspectives

The Good Life

Gemma Good heard a very different account of Pompeii last week and it got her thinking about different versions of history...

Malta's Tigne Point has become my favourite place to walk to. It is just over 7kms round trip from where I live, located on the tip of Sliema overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. It’s beautiful at any time of day, however at night it is magical. The capital city of Valletta, particularly The Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, cast their light across the sea creating a dream-like scene. Sometimes, it is quiet with just the waves making their own music. Other times, a thumping beat and shouting makes its way across the water. Either way, my mind is clear when leaving this place. I jump up on the wall and sit there for as long as I want. Sometimes five minutes, other times, an hour or more.

There are so many views like this in Malta, surreal sunsets and fairy tale towns. I went to see the sunset at Dingli Cliffs, just a 14km drive taking you to the other side of the island. I was in awe of the orange glow the sun left on the sea, burning the water and the surrounding clouds. Looking around, I told myself this was one of those out of this world experiences and I savoured it. I find the exchange experience swings between two extremes. On one side, you have total peace - no real obligations other than a few pass or fail modules and the responsibility of making sure you have enough money to feed yourself and get from A to B. It’s that simple really. Yes, you need to have a bit of money to go out and enjoy yourself but, at a push, that can be done without.

On the other hand, living with a bunch of young people learning who they are and how to behave in the world can be tough. I am included here, who's to say who is right and who is wrong? Each of us were taught differently and now we are clashing and having to make up our own minds. One morning I walked into the kitchen and found my flatmate from Turkey sitting at the table. I went straight for the jar of coffee and to my surprise he asked me for one too, he told me before he doesn’t really drink it, unless it is necessary. I unquestioningly grabbed another mug from the cupboard. I placed a black coffee in front of him and a beige one in front of myself. When the liquid was about half ways down the cup, he started talking.

He told me about his upcoming trip to Italy with his girlfriend, with particular excitement to see the ancient Roman village of Pompeii. On August 24, 79 AD the eruption of Mount Vesuvius wreaked havoc in the town as lava flowed through the streets followed by gaseous clouds. The village and its people were buried beneath a blanket of ash, frozen in time until the 1700s when it was discovered that the area was perfectly preserved. I remember learning that even people’s facial expressions were frozen. Apparently, bakeries were found with loaves of bread still in the ovens, a perfect insight into life just before the natural disaster struck.

This is the story as I learned it. I remember discussing it and feeling amazed that an entire city could be frozen in time by a natural process of the earth. This is the first time I felt fear of mother nature and I still fear her.

As I recounted this in my mind, I listened to my flatmate’s version of the story. Being history, I believed it would be the same as mine. He began talking about unethical people who committed crimes; bad people lived there, he told me. My style is to listen with as little questions as possible. I want people to feel they can tell their stories freely without my input, however I had to question this.

“What are you on about?” I intervened. In his youth, he learned that the eruption of the volcano occurred due to the actions of the people living in the city. Its purpose was to wipe out a population of immoral people. I looked at him in amazement.

“That’s how I learned it,” he laughed.

My mind was blown, I have never heard this narrative, which he had grown up listening to.

Each of us have been taught differently yet here we were exchanging accounts of what we knew to be true, without judgement and a willingness to listen and learn.

This is what I adore about this experience. It forces you to question everything you have been told to date and make up your own mind. Some people were taught different versions of history, others believe if they leave their dishes in the sink for long enough, fairies will come and clean them.

These, I am coming to learn, are the joys of Erasmus.

* Gemma Good is from Killeshandra and a third year journalism student in University of Limerick


Watch your words, they become your actions