The greatest joy, perhaps (for my archeologist friend and I were discussing the great joys of one's work, and of course I could think of none), was the day she finally knew, really utterly knew, that the ancient "cattle market" of Pompeii was in fact a vineyard.
Experts concluded a century or so ago that the football-field-type open space uncovered in the ruins of that volcanoed city was the town meat market, and they decided this because the first shaft sunk through the volcanic detritus turned up a lot of bones.
"This is the cattle market," the guides would say, as they led tourists about the restored town.
But Wilhelmina Jashemski, like most new experts, held grave suspicions about old ones, and soon began to have inklings against cows and in favor of vines.
Her foreman, in the sweaty drudgery of excavation, did not agree with any of this grapey business.
But like most foremen, once you finally get through the skull, he accepted the mounting evidence as the pattern of root cavities became clearer and at last unarguable.
"Now this is the cattle market," a guide said to tourists, while the crew was out there digging and measuring.
"No it's not," bellowed the foreman, "it's the vineyard."
"And that was my moment of triumph," said Jashemski.
After 25 years or so of work on the site and in libraries and in interviews (amazing what you can learn from old farmers, some of whose ways have not changed jotty or tittley from the days of Cicero) she has been delivered of a really big book, "The Gardens of Pompeii."
Her editor, whose entrance into heaven is assured, kept going through photographs the archeologist had rejected and saying, "We can't leave out this one."
"But we're way past our quota," the author would say.
"Even so," her editor said. "we have to use this wonderful picture. Oh, and this one. And this."
So the book is quite large, lavish and costs $50 and I think her editor should be president. He was not one of those who squeal all day about space and bulk.
The ideal of most publishers is a book that has no pages or words in it. Just a jacket and some blurbs, on the theory that's all anybody will read anyway.
Once Jashemski sent pictures of a Pompeian ceiling painting to a great authority on plants, to see if he could identify some of the flowers shown. All she could recognize was the Madonna lilies.
"Madonna lilies?" cried the expert. "Those are not Madonna lilies."
Just here let me note that any fool could see they are Madonna lilies.
"Madonna lilies have six petals" the expert went on, "and the ones in the painting have only five. I'll send you some lily bulbs and you'll see what they really look like."
Well, the bulbs bloomed and, praise be to God, they flowered with five petals.
One of the things Jashemski wondered about was why the Pompeians never pictured the wild cyclamen that grow around Naples. Never could find the slightest reference to them. But one day she was talking to an old farmer who said there were wonderful little potatoes that saved his life:
He was at death's door in the hospital, and begged for these magical potatoes to be sent for. Modern medicine having failed, the hospital said why not, and sent for the potatoes.
They were shredded into a kind of puree and stuffed in the patient's nose. Needless to say, he recovered almost instantly. He sent Jashemski some of the magic potatoes and they proved to be the wild cyclamen of Naples.
She still doesn't know why these flowers never appear in the wall frescoes, but at least she was glad to know that if you stuff them up your nose they fetch you back from death.
Once in a modern vineyard she was impressed by the spectacular peaches and cherries and plums as well as grapes and asked permission to photograph them.
She had borrowed a magnificent huge copper vessel from the farm woman's kitchen to display the fruit for the picture.
"Not that old thing," cried the woman with evident chagrin. "Here, use this," presenting a ghastly green plastic vessel.
"Oh, don't you think the tray should be sort of old looking," said Jashemski, not wanting to say the plastic pan looked lousy.
"No, no," said the woman, becoming agitated, "not that old copper thing."
And Jashemski was never able to pry the magnificent copper vessel away from her to display the fruit.
Which shows you people have different ideas about things, just as experts do.
I recall an illustration of this from the work of that dandy writer, John Moore, who said that at the town of Bath there is a block of stone inscribed with Latin. Experts were called in to decipher it, and the label reads:
"Roman inscription. Read by Professor Sayce as the record of the cure of a Roman lady by the Bath water, attested by three witnesses; read by Professor Zangermesiter as a curse on a man for stealing a tablecloth.
Ignorant people do not realize there is room for variations in interpreting things.
At the moment, it appears the prevailing view in our nation is to build up our military forces and to scare hell out of the Russians.
But I had a visit one afternoon recently with Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker, physicist and philosopher who is now head of the Max Planck Institute of Starnberg, Germany. (There are numerous subdivisions of the Max Planck Institute, and the one at Starnberg deals more with the quality of life than with bugs and germs and other institute specialties.)
He said saber-rattling is probably the wrong thing. Russia is inherently weak, without much of an economy, or even much of an agriculture. About all they have, he said, is their military machine, which is admittedly impressive, not to say nervous-making to the West.
But if America really starts revving up, he went on, the Russians are quite sure they cannot match American production over any long run. Thus the longer America builds up her forces, the worse the Russian position becomes.
Since their position is now relatively stronger than it will be 10 years from now, Weizsacker said, the Russians may be tempted to snatch whatever advantage they can from their military organization in the 1980s.
Thus, he fears, war is more likely in the '80s than at any time since the end of World War II.
"Well, what do you propose?" I asked.
"People always ask me, because I write about preventing World War III, what I propose. I propose we sit down and think."
I thought of that comment of archy (the only important literary figure of this republic in this century) that he could only do one thing at a time and therefore could hardly be expected to think while busy writing.
This might be the time, in other words, to push for arms control, he (Weizsacker, not archy) said.
Too often, I gathered from him, we fall into dichotomies. John (to give an example) says the Russians are dangerous and we must arm. But Tom says the Russians are not dangerous and we should disarm. The truth may be the Russians are dangerous and we should pursue disarmament.
The mere fact that people argue one of two ways does not mean the truth is necessarily with either one.
And often, he said, there can be a true danger, yet we respond to it with unreasonable fear rather than with analysis and care.
He worries a bit, if I understood him right, that we have the right answers to the wrong questions, so to speak. In the defense of Europe he is suspicious of nuclear installations.
When the Russians moved against Hungary, strategic weapons were hardly the answer. And in the defense of Europe the Europeans hardly suppose America will use atomic might to defend them, and Europe is therefore vulnerable to Russian pressure ("blackmail," as he called it) which he assumes would be selective. If a country cooperated with Russian policy it would be rewarded; if it did not cooperate, it would be threatened.
Nuclear installations, he said, would always be a threat and might make the theater of nuclear operations (as that part of Europe is called) more vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
It would be better, he said, if nuclear strength were kept at sea (nuclear submarines) and if far more reliance were put on weapons that stopped tanks rather than weapons that would destroy Kiev.
The aim, he said, should be to make any Russian adventure in Europe so costly as to be not worth risking.
I gathered he questions the value of nuclear weapons that have no practical value. He has much to say, in such a book as his "The Politics of Peril," about energy, long-term economics, China and so on.
"What you seem to be advising," I said, "is wisdom, even though nobody knows what would be wise."
I left him somewhat gloomy in my mind. But one cheerful thing:
He said he had thought, at the end of World War II, that by now there would have been perhaps two wars between America and Russia. Never before have such superpowers struggled for hegemony without using the instrument of war. We surprised him the first 35 years -- no war of the superpowers.
There is no way, he said, to reconcile the resort to major war with the existence of hydrogen bombs. Maybe, after all, both nations really won't forget it.