November found me back in Southern California to visit Alexandra and attend my quarterly class at Pacifica. I always have a couple of days between my weekend with Alexandra and my classes giving me opportunity to search for beauty in an abundant part of the world. On this trip I visited The Getty Villa in Malibu just a few miles up the road from Alexandra’s apartment. Since it was a weekday and off-season, I found the place mostly empty expect for some rambunctious school groups loading back into their buses. Soon the Villa was peaceful and after a lovely pesto and cheese sandwich at the café, I was ready to explore.
The Getty Villa is J. Paul Getty’s first art museum built when he realized that his art collection was much larger than his home. With billions at his disposal, Getty spent his later years collecting some of the finest art work around the world and left a large endowment for their display and care. The Getty Villa houses his classical art from Greece and Rome and the rest of his collection is a few miles away at the Getty Center. But he didn’t want just any old building for this magnificent art, he wanted to recreate Italy itself on his property overlooking the Malibu coast and out onto the endless Pacific. The plan for the new villa was based on an excavation in the 1750’s of Villa Dei Papiri, that had been buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Not only is the new villa the same scale and plan but also includes some materials from the 2000-year-old villa.
After watching the short introductory film, I took a guided tour of the gardens. The docent detailed the four main gardens starting with the fragrant kitchen and herb garden. I was encouraged to take small samples to smell and after placed the samples in my pocket—I had plans for those herbs. The formal water garden had a magnificent view of the ocean way below. There was a sculpture garden with pomegranate trees and a walled garden with acanthus plants and laurel trees. I wandered around the galleries enjoying the detailed Greek urns, perfect sculptures and mosaics. It was hard to believe that this art was so old and yet still had such a current influence in our world. The gods and goddesses portrayed in the art remain part of my everyday life as I study myth and archetypes as part of my classes.
Two days later I again drove past the Getty Villa and up the beautiful Malibu coast to school near Santa Barbara. It is my favorite route to take and the ocean, cliffs and music on the radio together make a beautiful experience. The next day I started to get texts to see if I was alright—were the fires near me? I was far enough from the fires but couldn’t believe the peaceful drive just a few hours before was now an inferno. I took those herbs I gathered just a few days before and walked them to the center of the labyrinth on campus. I had physical gifts from those peaceful gardens to offer prayers for the people suffering from the destruction.
The Getty Villa had to shut down during the fires but remains unharmed and has now reopened. Two thousand years ago the first Villa was destroyed in a sudden rain of fire and ash and now the new Villa had the potential to meet the same fate. How fleeting life can be, peaceful one day and gone the next as we witness every day the natural disasters that happen on our planet. I try to savor every day, not in a fatalistic way, but so that life doesn’t just pass unnoticed until it is too late.