For this week however, I am continuing with something that I haven’t done in a couple of months. Remember at the end of last year I wrote these two delicious little pieces? Well today I’m doing another one. Here’s my brief:
Lost. Write about a town that has disappeared. It could be a Palestinian village on a hillside in what is now Israel, forcibly evacuated in 1948 and then “erased” from maps and view (though there are vegetable remains of the town). It could be a ghost town in the American west—a silver or gold rush boom town which remains in substantial form but is empty of people. It could be an African town erased by the encroaching Sahara. Or it could be a village sunk under a reservoir formed in 1933 in Massachusetts. Write about it in the present and at the moment of its last human habitation and at its most vibrant, lively apex. (600 words – actually more like 670)
If you leave the great sprawling city of Rome by the southern most gate, along the Appain Way, that great blood vessel along which Pompey crucified Spartacus’ followers, and go for a few miles, you come across a town. Aricia is fairly large, dominated by a market square in the centre. Dotted in a circle around it used to lay little hamlets and farms, whose occupants used to travel to Aricia on market days to sell their goods. On those days the town bustled. Farmers and craftsmen sold everything from food to clothing to little toys for children, competing for the attention of the housewives and artisans who did not need to peddle their wares on market days. Children would run around, weaving between groups of chatting women and stalls piled high with apples or cheese or garments, not caring for the difficult task of making a living. They played games that the adults had no hope of understanding and had long since lost into the deep pit of age. Men laughed and joked and argued about price while women gossiped and haggled.
The vibrancy of those market days is gone now. The farmers and the craftsmen, the women and the artisans, the children are all gone now. Aricia lies deserted. The square in the centre of the town, once the centre of the hubbub of market day, is silent. Nothing but memory remains of Aricia’s former wealth and energy, and even that memory is fading. Aricia is dead.
It was the young who went first. Hearing rumours on the wind of the great wealth and opportunity of Rome. They did not want to work their father’s farms, or take up is craft. They wanted to see the world, to experience the wonders of the greatest city on earth. They wanted to watch a great General ride in Triumph through the city, to see an Emperor, almost godlike in his power and wealth, to see a great festival, with Games in the mighty Coliseum. To see the blood of the Legendary Gladiators spilled out for the sake of entertainment. Steady life in Aricia was nothing compared to the excitement that Rome had to offer. So they left. A few at first, but the trickle steadily grew and word of great successes and the wonders of the capitol of the world eroded doubts and the trickle kept growing.
The market days were not so vibrant any longer. There were fewer farmers and craftsmen and fewer people to buy their goods. There was less energy, less noise. Children too young to go on their own adventures still played, but with almost an entire generation sucked into to the ever growing heart of the empire, Aricia felt hollow. There were too many abandoned houses, too many people fearing for their futures with their sons no longer there to look after them in their old age.
Rome continued to pull all towards it. It tugged at those who had worked on farms all their lives and had never dreamt of anything else until their sons abandoned them and it became harder and harder to make a living with so few people in the town. The old slogged on, unable to comprehend the thought of a new life, trying desperately to make enough to survive.
But eventually all of these either left or died, leaving Aricia barren. Rome had sucked the life out of it, drained the wealth and the people until there was nothing. Now if you travel along the Appain Way and go for a few miles, you come across the remains a town. No-one lives in Aricia. Weeds grow in the paving stones, once well worn with the feet of people, now worn only by memories of a past that is all but forgotten. You can see where the markets used to be, where the men would shout and the women would gossip and the children would run. All now lost in the sprawling morass they call the Greatest City on Earth. Rome.