It was three in the morning. A slight tremor shook the windows. The doors began to rattle in their frames. The bed seemed to move. Now the windows were banging against the shutters and a strange howling sounded in the air.
I leaped up and ran to the French doors of our room at the Hotel Tramontano in Sorrento, Italy. I knew what was happening. Mt. Vesuvius was erupting, just as it did in 79 AD, when it brought Pompeii and Herculaneum to its knees. What a story!
I threw open the doors and peered through a curtain of mist, across the Bay of Naples to the majestic volcano. Nothing. Not a wisp of smoke nor a glow of lava trails. I was peculiarly disappointed.
My husband stepped outside to join me on the veranda. He had just called the front desk. “Just a strong wind.” Combined with old windows and doors and perhaps my sub-conscious wish to be Pliny the Younger and witness the infamous eruption. Nothing. Bummer.
Earlier this same day we had traveled by train from Naples and my husband had been pickpocketed. Now, of course, Naples is the pickpocket capital of the world. But how could that happen to us? It only happens to others. Well, we lost our credit cards and cash (fortunately, not our passports,) and spent hours on the phone with Visa when we arrived. Nice folks.
Not an auspicious start to a holiday in Italy. Maybe that was it. Instead of a mystery, I’d write a travel book: Misadventures in Italy. Uh uh. Stick to mysteries. How about an artifact newly discovered, buried under layers of excavation in Pompeii. A humerus bone that was only two hundred years old. How could it possibly be buried here along with remains almost 2,000 years old? Whose bone was it? A female, young, small, delicate with a knife wound slicing across the bone? Maybe a swath of fabric is found near the bone. How old could the material be? What about a tool or a bowl or utensil nearby?
Clues. Ahhh. More, more.
And what about Pliny, the Younger and Pliny the Elder? The life and times of Pompeiins, Napolitanos, Herculaneum— uh, ers, ites? People from Herculaneum. What a backdrop for a historical mystery. And forensics can help resolve the bone, fabric, bowl conundrum. (Maybe the forensics expert was pickpocketed on his way to the crime scene?)
Whether I write a mystery about Pompeii or not, the point is, so many of our experiences can be evolved into a full-fledged story with characters, events, descriptions, and rich background. Those incidents in our lives that are memorable are often traumatic when we live through them. Find the humor and spin them into a grand story.
I can laugh at the faux volcanic eruption of Vesuvius now. Trust me, it wasn’t funny at the time.