Tuesday, November 08, 2005


The Latin word lavo, lavare means "to wash." So lavaphobia, logically, would be the fear of washing. Washing oneself, washing the dishes, washing the smudges off the woodwork.... all terrifying. I can relate. But that's actually not the type of lavaphobia I'm thinking of today. I'm thinking more, fear of perishing in a wave of molten rock.

When I was about 6 or 7, I saw a PBS special about Pompeii, the Italian city that disappeared in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. It would not be exaggerating to say that I was paralyzed with fear from watching this. The fact that the odds of being destroyed by a volcano in central Indiana are....well, below zero.... had no mollifying effect on my terror. I was particuarly moved to tears by the plaster cast of the dog writhing in agony; the sight of animals in peril upsets me more than just about anything I can think of. So I went to bed that night (and every night for about two months) petrified that some heretofore unknown midwestern volcano would snuff out everything I knew in an instant. Perfectly reasonable, in my mind.

I haven't had a nightmare about volcanoes in quite some time. But tomorrow, I'm headed up to Chicago for an alumni function at the Art Institute; my goal for the afternoon is to get to the Field Museum's current exhibit: Pompeii: Stories from an Eruption. I'm really looking forward to it; the lavaphobic kid is now a grownup with degrees in history and art history, and Pompeii is a unique snapshot of life at the height of the Roman Empire. And still, somewhere deep down, it's gonna creep me the hell out. I know it.