Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Weekends in Rome

Its raining today, and we got soaked and had to leave site early, so with my new-found afternoon time, and because I don't particuarly want to get out of bed, I thought I would update you all on some of my weekend adventures in Rome. Because I am so slack.....I am two weekends behind the present. cough. So starting with 2 weekends ago, a week after the Naples trip.....

Saturday was the long awaited trip to Ostia Antica with the  Dr. Beckers - Jeff and Hillary. Ostia is the Roman port city, although by now it is several km from the shoreline due to some awesomely heavy silting. The same silting that preserved the city much better than any silly volcano. If you are ever in the area around Rome, I would recommend Ostia over Pompeii or Herculaneum. Its quieter, cheaper, easier to get to and much better preserved than either of the other sites I would say. Sure it has no preserved charcoal beams or dead bodies, but it provides this amazing view of a city that ran its natural course before disappearing under the silt. Not as dramatic a story as that of Pompeii - city trapped in time - but from a historical and archaeological view, more interesting I think. Going through a city with two proffessional archaeologists who are well versed in urban history and archaeology was awesome. You hit all the highlights, and given there are no signs at Ostia, you knew what you were looking at....and it was amazing. We saw a Mithraeum - a room where the mystery cult of Mithros met, a Fulonica in amazing condition - a laundry, some amazing mosiacs lining the Piazza outside the Theatre, some beautifully preserved insulae (apartments) and shops, where you could take stairs up to the preserved second stories. Many buildings were preserved up to 3-4 stories high. We saw the 'Basilica' of the early Christians, which has been redesignated not a church at all, we saw a synagogue, baths, warehouses, latrines, tombs, temples. Everything you could see in an ancient city we saw there. And the almost complete lack of barriers meant we got to go under the bath floors to where the slaves would have stocked the fires and wander through rooms that would have been blocked from view at Pompeii. One of the coolest bits where the giant Dolia (jars) that we saw. They were partially buried in the ground, because they were strictly for storage and probably never got moved. All I could think of was Ali Baba and the 40 Theives, although not quite the right continent.
After Ostia, I had planned on heading to the beack nearby, but it was already quite late in the day, so we headed into Rome instead to do a little shopping and suchlike and get some dinner. We went to Via del Corso near the Spanish Steps which is famous for its great (affordable) shopping. It was fun to wander through the stores with the famous July sales. The highilght was the Disney Store, which was like being a little kid all over again. I got a sweet Alice tshirt (which I'm wearing right now) and am quite attached to. I mulled over getting this sweet Marvel/Captain America hoodie, and when I cam back the next weekend to get it, having decided it was worth the 30E, it was gone :( I was very sad.

Sunday was a bit of a quiet day. I dragged my butt out of bed just in time for breakfast at 9.50, and resolved to catch the lunchtime train to Rome for some lunch and a little look through some pretty churches . I had originally planned on hitting up quite a few more churches, and maybe a small Museum, but the getting lunch and gelato took quite a bit longer than I had originally planned on. But I did see some beautful churches. The French National Church (real name....umm...not so sure) had 3 beautful Caravaggio's in one of its niches and a lovely Baroque interior with more than a little gold. The contrast between the white marble of the statues and the opulent gold and frescoes was both weird and beautiful. I then went the Dominican church, one of the fwe Gothic churches in Rome, which had the classic blue interior, with some nice Filippino Lippi frescoes. It was cool to be able to recognise parts of Rome that were painted into the background of the frescoes. The Church of the Jesuits was by far the most spectaclar Church I saw that day, and maybe one the nicest I have seen my whole time in Italy. It was massive, and the way the paintings were done so that they went outside of the outline sqaure.....difficult to describe but truly breathtaking in the artistry. Stand by for fb photos. Last stop of the day was a smal church near Termini station, which I only saw breifly, where my attention was taken up by the astounding Ecstasy of St Theresa which was every bit as amazing as Dan Brown described it to be.
I suppose this just sounds like me waxing lyrical about just about everything, but thats really the way I feel most of the time I in Rome in the weekends. Everything just seems to boggle the mind and sometimes I come home at night and I am like...holy shit. I just saw that today. I'm in Rome. In Italy. Working on an ancient city. You can't alwasy think like that or you'd never get anything done, but its good to  remind yourself once in awhile what you are doing and where you are, or everything just becomes so bland. Its the thought I use to drag myself out of bed each morning and motivate myself to leave Frascati in the weekends, when sitting on my ass in my room is joyously tempting. Even if I don't want to go and trek through the Forum, just grabbing my book or Ipod, some gelato and chilling out at one of the Piazza's, staring at the Column of Marcus Aurelias, or a beautiful Bernini fountain is mindblowing enough. It's times like that when I envy the Ostia kids who joined us. Living in Trastevere, just across the Tiber from the Forum area, a tram ride or short walk from the Colosseum or Piazza Navona....living in one of the most fantastic cities in the world. Jelly. I only manage the occassional taste on weekends, I don't know how I could sleep if I was living in Rome. Wow. Just wow.

Enough waffle though. Last weekend has still not been discussed! This was the last official weekend in Rome for the Gabii Project, although I am stealing an extra one after (mwahahaha!), so I thought it would be nice to stay the night in Rome, with one of my Ostia buddies - Amanda - and her flatmates. It was awesome. But I am getting ahead of myself. Saturday I headed to Tivoli to see Hadrians villa and the Villa D'este (home to beatiful Bernini fountains). It made a pretty full-on day trip but there was plenty of time to see everything for sure. Villa D'este was beautful, with some lovely frescoes rooms although the highlight was the gardens with the massive fountains shooting water everywhere and little hidden fountains and pools that had been allowed to grow moss and plants all over them making them perhaps more magical than they were new. The views from the Villa of the countryside were breathtaking and made me fall in love all over again with the Italian landscape. After exploring the Villa, we headed out of town to nearby Hadrians Villa which was a lot bigger than I had envisioned. To think this was one man's holiday home, even an Emperor, is crazy. When compared to some of the most opulent Villas of the Middle Ages/Renaissance, Hadrians Villa is more of a self contained town, with streets and more baths than any single person rightly needs. It was defintely more like one mans personl country town. There was a suprising amount of construction going on in some places, restoration work I expect, while other areas were beautifully deserted. For some reason, the caretakers of the site have a taste for modern art, because you would find weird classically inspired modern art pieces scattered in the randomest of places. They even placed a giant golden head of Antonius in the Canopus, to remind everyone that he drowned in the Nile and th Canopus is supposed to evoke that. It was...weird. Just weird. The three highlights of the Villa were the Maritime Theatre, which is basically a manmade Island with a moat inside a ciruclar wall. The Canopus with the Serapeum was exactly as we had studied it, so I really liked seeing it for real, even with Antonius' head randomly in it. Hadrians Astronomy Tower on the outskirts of the complex, was suprisingly amazing. The views from the highest preserved level of Tivoli and the countryside were awesome. One view of a golden field with a farmhouse stuck in my head as particularly spectacular, and rather Van Gogh-esque. The area was so deserted that we explored all through the tower which was exciting, although the bugs were a little gross and creepy.

After we returned to Rome from Tivoli, it was dinnertime and already getting dark. We met up with more Gabii people who were also staying with the same people and we wandered through Rome to meet them at their flat. By this time it was already pushing 10-11pm, so the night people had started to come out. On Tiber Island they were playing a dubbed version of The Social Network on a giant outdoor screen which was both random and awesome. The Tiber itself was beautiful at night and really gripped the imagination. At the bottom of the large banks, at the level of the water there is a little wharf running alongside the water, and a little nighttime market/bar district has grown up there which is quite possibly the most awesome place to have some wine and admire the scenery. We only got to have a closer look when we came out again later that night with the Ostia peoples, at which point I was getting very tired  and not quite all there. Still, I intend to go back and have a closer look next week when I am (hopefully) much less tired. While some of my mates stayed out till 5am, I was in bed a little earlier, although we did spend some 40min napping on the stoop of the apartment block because the flatmate we were with had forgotten her key and was waiting for another girl to get home and let us all in. So by early, I mean closer to 3.30, although I was sleeping for some of the time prior. Good night all round though. Rome at night is awesome, especially the way they light up all the monuments and fountains to maximum effect.
Sunday was a lazy day, as usual. I got up around 10.30 and got pizza for breakfast (nom nom, good breakfast food) and headed to the giant market of Porta Porthese to browse the antiques. It was much better than the part of the market I had experienced last time, and I fully intend to go explore it further before I come home. There is some truly random shit. After the market closed at 2pm, I wandered through Rome towards the Spanish Steps, taking in this and that and admiring the Piazzas and whatever random things I came across. I went a little roundabout for much of it, as I was trying to do it without my map, probably not the best idea in hindsight. I still got back to Termini in time for the 4pm train, but due to some fire or suchlike catastrophe at another major station, everything was running behind schedule and the station was packed with stranded people. Nothing about platforms turned up on the boards and so me and some other Gabii people I bumped into missed the train by a fraction because we didn't find the platform number till it was too late. I was pissed to say the least, as the next train wasn't for 2 hours. But we headed out of the station, got a drink or two to pass the time, so that wasn't too bad. I got a craving for a cheeseburger, so got one from Maccers, along with possibly the best McFlurry I have ever had. It was....wow. Just amazing. The cheeseburger was alright, not a patch on the NZ ones though. We did get the next train to Frascati which was a relief, so not such a disaster after all.

I think that makes all my weekends up to date! Phew. Quite a milestone. Anyway, home in a week and a half, so I can fill in the gaps in person for those of you who made it all the way through my ridiculously long and infrequent posts. Not looking forward to the pile of school work that is waiting for me, but nothing much to be done I suppose. I miss you all, but I dont especially want to leave Italy and break the magic. Sigh. Guess I can't have everything.
xoxo
Sheira

Monday, 18 July 2011

More exciting Italian adventures - my weekend in the Bay of Naples

Hi all!
This was actually last weekend to be specific, don't ask me the date though, I haave lost all sense of realworld time here. It was the weekend between Week 3 and Week 4 - my 3rd weekend while on the dig. So now that we are all orientated, let us begin.

Day One - Herculaneum, the Museum of Naples and Sorrento Shenanigans
In an effort to save money, I was convinced by Illana (fellow NZer) to get up at the crack of dawn and catch the most absurdly early train down to Naples on Saturday. Wake at 5.30, leave for the station at 6am, train to Rome from Frascati at 6.30, and leave on the IC train to Naples at 7.40. We didn't get a proper seat on the train, but managed to get a foldout seat in the corridor, which made the trip fairly bearable. We got to Naples close to 10am, and headed on the Circumvesuviana to Herculaneum. That train was disgustinly packed and we had to stand, which my sleepy self was unhappy about, but the awesomeness that was Herculaneum totally made up for that. We took it slowly, and were at Herculaneum for close on 4hours, which is a lot I think given the sqm of the site that is available for tourists. The great thing about Herculaneum is how you can explore every room and almost nothing is blocked off. Its also amazingly empty, so you didn't have to wind your way through throngs of tourists. It is, like Pompeii, completely stripped of most of its marble and all of statues, but what was really amazing was the preserved wooden charcoal beams. They had been left in situ, and supports placed in the course of excavation to hold things up. We even saw a set of preserved wooden stairs at one point. As this was our first city to explore, we stopped at every drain pipe and room and debated likely funtions of things and depaired at the people who threw rubbish into the impluvia. We explored an undergound cave which was most exciting. I wish I had the contacts to get into the theatre that is only viewable through tunnels built several hundred years ago.
After Herculaneum we trained back to Naples to look around the Museum for a few hours. We were there till practically closing time, although in honesty, we were quite tired and spent some of this time sitting and admiring random statues that happened to be near the available seating. We saw the Alexander Mosaic and all the famous mosaics and frescoes we learnt about in school. The highlight in all honesty....was the room with the dirty mosaics, which I like to call the penis room. I was expecting some pretty crazy things, but not at all the types of explicitness they had displayed. The anthropomorphised penis.......weird. Don't think I will be able to put many of the pictures on fb, so you'll have to take my word for it when I say it was classical pornography in all its raunchy glory, with animals featuring fairly heavily. You can see why they put a warning up on the door outisde and don't like to let children in. Many of the pieces had been banned in the past.
In the evening, we headed back to Sorrento where we met up with a few of the guys from Gabii and headed out for dinner and drinks. We also met a nice engineering student in our hostel who had been ditched for the night by his mate, so he came along as well. We got dinner and picked up some local wine and limoncello and attempted to head towards the beach. Turns out the sandy beaches I had expected......did not exist. Sorrento has cliffs, sheer crazy cliffs. We did spot a windy path going down towards a sort of pier, so we headed down hoping to find some nice rocks where we could dangle our feet. The path was scary to say the least, uneven and dark. At one point it went into the cliff face itself, which was all ominous and scary. But we made it down and found a tiny little stretch of sand, and decided to go swimming. The water wasn't actually that cold considering how late it was, and we weren't the only people who had the same idea. So we swam and chilled out. Things got ridiculous when we decided to dry off and head back up to the town. We made it to the top of the path no problem but turns out the cafe area we had wandered through to get to the path...controlled it or something. Because a gate blocked us at two points. Big spiked metal gates....which we somehow managed to get over, with a few scrambles and legups. The slliest part was a group of Italians outside the second fence who seemed to take great pleasure in sitting and watching us struggle over. After that the night wound down slowly and we got gelato and sat eating it in a park before trudging back to our hostel absurdly late at night.

Day Two - Pompeii and an eventful trip home
We woke up a bit later the next day, although still too early for my liking. The trip on the train to Pompeii went by in sullen morning silence on my part, but once we got there, my mood brightened considerably. The sheer scale of the city was mindblowing! The preservation difference between the two cities did not appear that obvious to me at the time, although the nature of the eruption meant that there were no preserved wooden beams and significantly fewer multistorey buildings. Pompeii made up for it however, with its endless streets and impressive public buildings. We explored the backroads for a while, which did not excite as much as Herculaneum in that almost every building was blocked off by a rope preventing you from exploring any further than the sidewalk. The few open buildings were definitely exciting, and we took great pleasure in engineering our "Christian Rock Group Cover Art" shots, against random ruined walls with everyone looking pensively into the distance. There were some pretty fun photo ops there as well as a great video of a gladiatorial combat in the Theatre (I know, should have been in the amphitheatre). We went from one side of the city to the other, exploring the amphitheatre and a fulonica as well as different houses and shops along the way. We were running low on time as we raced back across the city to the Villa of Mysteries, doing a quick tour through the House of Faun, with its reconstruction of the Alexander Mosaic and the dancing faun statue. The Villa itself was amazing, with two of the plaster casts of people found during the excavations (very chilling) as well as the original frescoes you all know so well still in situ. One of my mates intercepted a child who was throwing rocks at a fresco (unbelievable!)
After Pompeii we headed back to Naples where we had an hour or so to kill before our train back to Rome. We wandered a few blocks from the station, and I had hoped to find the famous rubbish heaps, but all we found was one overflowing dumpster and a burnt molten vespa. So grabbing a kebab we head back to station only to find out that all trains to Rome have been massively delayed. We ended up leaving Naples an hour late and missed the last train to Frascati. Only option.....take the metro out to the last stop in the middle of nowhere and then run around like headless chickens trying to get our hands on a taxi, which proceeds to stiff us for 10E more than the usual price for such a trip. We got back way later than planned and Monday followed as a haze of tiredness and sore feet.
All in all..... a pretty amazing trip I would say. The transport hitch at the end gave the weekend a bit of a downer ending, but the amazing ruins and the food and swimming and company of good friends made it an awesome two days.
More adventures to follow soon

Sunday, 17 July 2011

End of Week Four - catchup blogging

So, been even more slack than before in my blog posts and have several weekends and weeks of news to catchup on. I will be fairly brief then, but I suppose that means you will be spared my excessive rantings on the purty art or the crazy archaeology. So, starting with my second weekend in Rome.....

The Vatican - was amazing. As if I needed to tell you that. We booked our tickets to the Museum for 11am and were there till closing at 5.30 (absurdly early I must say), and we missed about half the Museum. We had planned to go straight to the Sistine Chapel before the busy post-lunch rush, but turns out you have to go through the entire Museum leading up to the Sistine Chapel. It was just me and a friend of mine (Jacob) and being the Museum whores that we are....we couldn;t just rush through, so we only got to the Sistine Chapel at like 3.30. On the way we saw the Raphael rooms, with the School of Athens and the Constantine rooms.....awesome. We also got sidetracked into the Near Eastern and Egyptian section for a wee while. The Sistine Chapel is truly mindblowing, and quite a bit larger than the term Chapel implies. We sat for close to an hour and just enjoyed the art and discussed the perspective. By then we kept wandering through, looking at awesome maps and statues and things. The Etruscan Museum was closed, which was a bummer. Also we tried to find the Prima Porta only to discover that the Museum was closing.....this was most irritating, but leaves something amazing for next time. We also saw St Peters Basilica which is totally different to all the Basilicas I've seen so far, which is nice. Its good when yet another church can still take your breath away with the artwork and sheer size.

Via Appia and the Frascati market - Sunday morning was the monthly Frascati market, which was full of antiques and lovely jewellery stores. I saw a beautiful Yad for sale, but turns out it was 100E, and a lady bought it while I contemplated liberating this likely looted piece of Judaica. I got a beautiful antique handmirror that needs a little cleaning but I am quite attached too. Then we headed into Rome in the afternoon to see the Catacombs on the Via Appia. The main one that was open was a massive disappointment. The bit you could see was completely reconstructed with hardly any original architecture visible. You also had to take the quided tour, who hurried you through in less than an hour and knew fuck-all about the catacombs or Roman/Christian history. He talked about barabarians invading Rome in 800AD, and when we asked him after which barbarians invaded in the 9th century he said "no, no 800AD, not 9th century" and didn't know which barbarians. We  looked it up later, turns out the Pope invited Charlemagne to invade Rome to kick out the Lombards.....dang those christian barbarians really fuck people up. After that we wandered down the Via Appia, stopping in for a look at some random churches and some interesting looking ruins from afar. We ended up sprinting back to the station in ridiculous record time to catch our train home. We flagged down a bus, sprinted from the bus to the metro, from the metro to the train....it was brutal.

It is way past my bedtime now (11pm)!!! I would have been in bed ages ago if I hadn't had a lovely sleep in and only in finds lab cleaning pottery tomorrow. Catchup blogging will continue on the morrow. Hope everyone has a great first day (or day) at uni! Missing you all

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Week Three is coming to an end :(

Again I have been super slack in updating this little blog of mine. It's not that I don't love you all, but it's hard enough motivating myself to get off my butt in the afternoons, let alone wrestle with the internet to write to you guys. But when I realised how much you had been neglected, I felt a little guilty. So here goes.

Excavation
A lot has changed in the site in the past week or so. I was chugging along in Area C, defining robbing trenches for walls and catching up on documentation and basically jumping from SU to SU as Jamie (area manager) needed me. Some exciting things were starting to come up in the two large cuts in the floor that I mentioned last time. Unforutantely I wasn't working on them, but I was nextdoor demolishing a bit of my wall.
In the circular cut, Evan Goldstick was digging the fill out and came across a small animal hole, maybe 30cm in diameter. These can be fairly common and easy to identify, so he kept digging and an hour or so later, his entire leg went through the bottom of the hole into a giant hole/void under the soil. The hole was so deep, that we poked a longhandled shovel down it and had to hold onto the very tip. The stratigraphy was quite odd, if this was a manmade hole, as it undercut (and therefore should predate) not only the floor, but also part of the adjoining wall. If it was some kind of cistern or grave, why would you build a wall on a huge hole, and why didn't the hole cause the wall to collapse? Could there have been some kind of organic material in the hole that had disinetegrated with time? It was very confusing, and Jamie called over the Field Manager Anna for her opinion and for the official word on what to do. She concluded it was an animal hole (some sort of giant goffer perhaps? this seems quite crazy to me), and excavation proceeded as normal.
In the oval cut next to this one, Nick Bartos was digigng and found heaps of semi-intact amphorae and huge chunks of tufa and basalt, which was rather irritating to excavate as I realised later when I helped him out for a bit. The hole turned out to ridiculously deep and the soil so loose on  the sides, that they stopped excavating for fear of collapse, even though the bottom of the hole had not been reached.
You might think that this was the exciting stuff, but there is so much more to come.
We got news from the directors, that 25 new students were joining us for the rest of the dig. Turns out the dig at Ostia Antica, run by the American Institute for Roman Culture and the University of Bologna had been cancelled, something to do with some monetary demands and permits and things. So Nic Terrenato, the head of the dig, had agreed to take on the students who had come to Italy to participate. I was actually considering going to that dig, funny how these things turn out.
So with all the new people coming, they decided to extend the area of excavation, by pushing our excavation area further south (to find the southern wall of the house) and adding a new Area E to the East of my area, to investigate the structures on the other side of the N-S road. So on Friday and Monday, we had a digger on site pulling back the top soil.
It was about this time that I had my rotoation in the Environmental Lab, which was thrilling as always. We were working on a sampling experiment they had conducted last year to see how efficient their method for artefact collection was (sifting through each shovelfull in the wheelbarrows with a trowel). So we had to go through bags of sifted sediment and after it had been seived in a fine seive, we went through with tweezers and removed all the tiny bits of bone and ceramic and glass. Its tedious to say the least.
Around this time I also had a little time excavating the SU from hell! It was impossible to define, because we could find basically no stratigraphic evidence for the cut of the giant 17th century canal that run next to it, and without being able to define the limits of the SU, we can't excatly document or excavate it properly without cross-contamination. It was hellish. The sun baked the soil so hard you couldn't tell anything, and when we came back to try again when the storm (see below) and moistened it all up....still nothing. Its a work in progress, and I think Jamie just decided to leave it because he doesn't want to have to deal with it right now.
But to get back to my Area. After the digger had removed a whole new section of the house, we go in to start cleaning up the loose dirt and seeing what there was. Unfortuantely, barely an hour into the morning....THUNDERSTORM! Torrential rain and lightening, means we all have to retreat to the little metal trailers for about an hour until the thunderstorm passes over. They were earthed though, otherwise I don't think we would have made it. Apparently last year, a lightening bolt hit and destroyed a tree in the next field, so they tend to pack it in when it gets bad like that. Despite the brevity of the storm, we come out and the entire southern section of our Area is flooded, and the rest of the site was muddy as hell. So the entire excavation team has to sit and wash pottery until some of the excavation areas were dry enough that you can walk on them without taking off half the stratigraphy as you go. Some people went down to our area and started to bail it out, but I don't think it did much good. The last few days have been spent cleaning up the mess left by the digger and subsequent rain, so that we can actually start excavating it properly.
I think that just about brings you all up to date, assuming any of that made sense to you. Its hard to talk about my area, because its all about structural relationships of walls and floors, not at all like the exciting stuff they are finding in the other areas. To give you a taster of what I don't get to play with.....Area D found a HUGE (2m deep) hole in the bedrock with 3 niches in the sides of it containing skeletons. In Area B, they have found several more bodies, including an infant in a terracotta sarcophagus with a thin lead sheet over top, and a woman buried in a triple-covered tomb (cappucini tiles, then thick lead sheets, then more tiles). Jealous much!!!!?????

I had planned to write about my last weekend in Rome...but its past 10pm and I'm tired. So I'll leave that for next time, which hopefully will be tomorrow. But I make no promises.
Miss you all!