Thursday, July 23, 2009

Time to go Home

Oh, the joys of sitting on airplanes!

21 Hours, from hotel to front door, including 15.5 hours on planes.

We changed at JFK, getting thru customs, immigrations, and security in time to walk up to the gate for the next flight, sit down on plane and have them close the door behind us.

Got home to an overgrown lawn, a kitchen counter covered with mail and two cats frantic for attention.

I'll try to add a few more pics this weekend so check back.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tuesday, July 21

Today is a travel day. We take a cab to the train station in Sorrento.
Then a slow local train from Sorrento to Naples - 1:15.
Then a fast direct EuroStar from Naples to Rome - 1.45.
Then a slow direct from Rome to the airport - 0.45.

We are now at the airport Hilton, resting before our flight home tomorrow.
Enjoying AC and inexpensive broadband.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Today we took the ferry to Capri. Lots of transport as usual. Taxi to ferry which was quite late to Capri. Then funicular up to top where the Capri town is. Beautiful views but jam packed with tourists. We wandered a bit, took some pictures and stopped for a light lunch. Then Michael deposited me in one of the 4 outdoor bars in the square and he went off in search of the Villa of Tiberius, where he (Tiberius, not Michael) tortured people and threw them off the cliff if they displeased him. Not a nice guy.

I was pleasantly surprised to look up from my kindle in the shade of the bar to see our friend Libby who was with us in Pompeii and gave us a ride to Sorrento on her way to Positano. Turns our she ran into Michael on her way down from T's villa and he sent her to the cafe. We chatted for a while and watched a wedding go by and then a worker trundling a coffin. The two groups passed in the square!

Ultimately Michael returned and we waited for the funicular and then hot footed it to the dock which turned out to be wrong one to take the ferry home to Sorrento. We had to retrace our steps and walk fast then push and shove our way on to the boat. We arrived back at our hotel about 8 hours after we left exhausted.

Capri is beautiful but too crowded and touristy for my taste!

Michael's walk to the villa of Tiberius.

What started out as an easy walk changed quickly. The slope increased to 12 to 15 degrees! It took about 45 minutes to walk out to the villa, which is on the very eastern tip of the island. I finally made it, a little short of breath.
The view is absolutely stunning. You can see the entire Bay of Naples to the north and the beginning of the Amfali coast to the south. Although it is warm, there is a nice breeze blowing.
Some time after Tiberius became emperor, he visited Capri and never left. I can see why. He probably felt that for the first time in decades he had finally found a place where he could live in peace. It was not to be.
The first thing he needed was someone in Rome to keep an eye on things. He chose the commander of his guard, Sejanus. Tiberius delegated significant authority to Sejanus while he began to indulge his inner demons on Capri.
The story of the rise and fall of Sejanus is one of the most interesting in imperial history. Sejanus ruled almost as a co-equal. Unfortunately, it was not enough and soon he wanted it all. He then embarked a a murderous spree, killing senators, generals, the wealthy and even members of the imperial family. Sejanus did such a good job of isolating Tiberius on Capri that Tibierius had no idea what was going on. Sejanus was months away from being able to strike at Tiberius himself when word finally got thru to Tiberius and Sejanus was overthrown.
Tiberius was so bitter he initiated a blood bath in Rome and thousands died. He then began to look for a successor and chose his young nephew Caligua. In choosing Caligua, he said he planned to "nurse a viper for the bosom of Rome". Into this young man he poured all his hatred, bitterness and paranoia. Living with the emperor on Capri, Caligua was permanently warped and would ultimately, after becoming emperor, succumbed to his own inner demons.
For the last five years of his reign, Tiberius allowed his inner demons to run wild, turning his villa on Capri into a chamber of horrors and debauchery. One of his favorite activities was to have anyone who displeased him thrown of the cliff of the villa, straight down 300 meters to the sea. It is all still visible even today.
Eventually Tiberius died of old age on Capri, having not returned to Rome for 10 years. Upon his death Caligua became emperor.
Tiberius' death was devastating for the island of Capri. Caligua immediately returned to Rome, taking the imperial family and administration with him, never to return. The island was forgotten and all the beautiful imperial buildings left to fall into ruin. It would be centuries before Capri would play any role in the history of Italy.
Sitting up here with the stunning views its hard to believe that it could turn into such a horror, but it did. And poor Tiberius never did find the peace he was seeking.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday in Sorrento

We awake to a beautiful morning, the breeze having died down. We had brunch overlooking the sea. The staff is busy repairing the wooden deck planks of the sun deck, which have taken a good pounding from yesterday’s surf. I have spent the better part of the afternoon working on this and now am going to have a look at some of the pictures I have taken.

On to Sorrento

The next morning, a little worse for wear, (me, at least), we pack and check out. One member of our group is taking a car down the Amalfi coast and we hitch a ride as far as Sorrento. The drive is very pretty as it winds along the coast of the Bay of Naples, looking back to Naples and Vesuvius. After about 40 minutes we arrive at our hotel, which is positively awesome. It sits atop the cliff directly on the Bay. We learn we have been upgraded to a suite with a great view of the Bay and Vesuvius. When we arrive the wind is howling and the sea crashing into the sun deck. However, this is most welcome as it is 15 degrees cooler than in Pompeii and the sea breeze feels wonderful.

We were upgraded to a Suite overlooking the ocean with a large terrace - simply beautiful!

In the evening we venture into town for dinner. Sorrento is a maze of pretty, narrow streets filled with shops and people, both locals and tourists. It’s Saturday night and everyone is out. We go to restaurant suggested by Gary, a fellow vegetarian. It is good and we have a nice meal which ends well, as we do not have to spend 30 minutes trying to figure out how to divide up the bill between 15 people.
Of course, we finish the meal with Limoncello, in honor of Lance! This seems to be the biggest export of Sorrento.

The last day in Pompeii

The weather today will be the same as the others. Our group is getting smaller. Some folks have to return to Rome to catch flights home or trains to other destinations. Some are exhausted and just wish to be tourists. We are now down to the hardcore.

But first things first. One place I really want to see is the Villa of the Mysteries, a villa just outside the city that was the home of the members of the cult of Dionysius (or Bacchus). There are some stunning frescos in this villa and as I have just finished a course in the mystery religions of the Greek and Roman world I want to see these frescos for myself.

Using the site map I go off with one other person to find the villa. After a while the road dead ends directly into a villa. I look at the map, but can not figure out how this has happened. We back track but are unable to find a place where we could have made a wrong turn. As we stand there, a group of women (of course) come by, hauling what looks like architectural gear. I ask for directions and they tell us the villa we were in was the one we were looking for! That will teach me to interpret a tourist map literally. Back to the villa, it takes a good 10 minutes of wandering around to find the frescos but eventually they are found and are as awesome as I had hoped.
We walk back to the site. There we find the grad students have moved in and are beginning to lay out the grid that will be used to map the site. I get to use the survey gear and am beginning to feel like a real archeologist! In addition, the group has begun to dig several large pits that should take us down to the natural stone level the city was first built on.

I am assigned to work on the triclinium. I am to clear off the top and sides to give us a clearer picture of how it was made. In short order I find that the top layer of stones is sitting on at least 6 inches of dirt instead of another layer of stones as it should be. Gary and I discuss this, with me telling him that if I remove that upper layer of stone I am going to end up destroying the whole thing. He says to go forward and so I do, slowly pulling the whole thing apart. And that is where the day ends.

Two members of today’s group have found a small item of interest. This is cool as the items go into plastic bags for examination later. (It turns out that plastic bags are a badge of honor.) “My” marble door frame support is to be left in situ. One item is part of a small vessel. The other is an item for personnel use carved out of bone. It has two holes carved in it. No one is sure what is for.

Every Friday the group as a whole tours the entire site, with each supervisor discussing the weeks work and what has been learned. We join them and our site is included in the tour, with a mention going to “my” marble door frame support. I got a powerful feeling of really being part of this team, even if it was only for a short while.


The entire staff has been staying in a 6 story house. One group is ending their work and leaving tomorrow and a party is being held in their honor. We are invited.

We arrive late in the evening to discover that Gary is revealing a new side of his personality – as a DJ. Much drinking and carrying on continues into the night. Although they are graduate students, they still carry on like undergrads. I guess I would too if I had been working that hard in those conditions for that long.

I wander thru the house to see what their living conditions are like and suddenly find myself face to face with an important part of my past. They live just like I did at the Co-op back at Michigan. Several people to a room on small beds, personal belongings everywhere. I swear I can see my 20 year old self sitting amongst the mess in the room saying “Hi, remember me?” It is something of a shock.

Thursday in Pompeii

This will be our first full day of digging. Will we survive or wilt in the heat? Like yesterday, it is in high 80’s before we even start, going for the mid-90’s before we are done.
While we are waiting to start I go back to look at my marble door support. I find chicken tracks around it that have knocked some dirt back on to it. I go to clear it off, when I notice a second depression in the stone that somehow I had over looked yesterday. (The stone is in full sun this morning, where it was fully shaded yesterday.) I grab TT and go to work on it, finding a perfectly square hole, the same depth of the circle, about 3 inches across. A new find!

We are formed into new teams and moved to different parts of the site than we worked in yesterday. There is disappointment, as we have become somewhat possessive of what we found yesterday. I spend of few minutes with the person who will be working on “my” floor so he knows my thinking.

Mike and I find ourselves on the same team again, assigned to the most difficult section of the whole site. (Are you picking up a pattern here?!?!) Our blessed shade trees have produced many off shoots which have become as dense as grass only with much bigger roots. They have grown over and into what should be the back wall of a room that holds the smaller water feature. Our task – clear them away. We struggle all morning with this growth, work made all the more difficult by the fact that we don’t have the tools we need and the ones we do have are as dull as can be. It is more like tearing at branches than cutting. At one point Mike says, “This isn’t archeology, its gardening!” We both have a grim laugh over that.

By lunch, we have found what could be parts of the expected wall. It is very fragile as the roots have gotten into it. (It turns out that roots are the great evil in destroying remains. They burrow thru the mortar and break up the structure of the features, causing them to fall apart when the now supporting dirt is removed.)

While we are resting, I take a look at how “my” floor is coming. As expected, it runs all the way back to the large wall. In some places a bit of the plaster remains, but for the most part it is just the rough concrete surface. The triclinium is now clearly defined. The large “water feature’s” outside dimensions have been established and work is beginning on the inside to see how deep it will go and to see if we can decide if it is a well or a cistern. (One woman will spend the next day and half on this task, getting down about 3 ½ feet. In it she will find a piece of cut marble about a foot long and a foot tall. It has been shaped to fit with other pieces to make up a fa├žade for something. However, the experts are undecided if this is ancient or something far more recent.)
During the day a film crew from Nat Geo has been onsite, taping interviews with our other site director and some of the dig supervisors. At one point, they stage a scene of folks cleaning little bits of pottery. When I ask Gary what Nat Geo hopes to get out of this particular bit, he says, “Women with large breasts.”
This is a good point to talk about gender in archeology today. When we first walked the site yesterday, meeting the grad students I immediately noticed that at least 75% of them were women. During a break we discuss this and Gary says that enrollment at the undergraduate level in archeology these days is 90% women. However, there is still a serious “glass ceiling” in the upper levels of academia. Gary says part of this is due to the fact that “the old guard is not dying off fast enough”.

Anyway, perhaps some day our site will be in the background of a Nat Geo TV special on Pompeii!
After lunch, we tell Gary that without the proper tools going any further into “the jungle” will due more harm than good. He agrees and assigns us to begin digging deeper into the “room” the walls seem to define. We still have not found one of the walls and it might be deeper than where we have gotten to so far. This is far easier work and we make great progress. After an hour or so TT goes clunk again and I quickly begin to uncover what I assume to be the missing wall. Everyone is happy until after exposing 3 feet of said wall it ends. More disappointment and puzzlement. A good place to stop before we keel over.

Across the site in general we have reached the 79 CE level. Gary says tomorrow we will begin the real purpose of the dig in this area – to remove the 79 CE level and see what we can learn about the area’s development over the centuries prior to 79 CE. What takes a little while to sink in is the fact that in order to do that we have to destroy everything we have worked to bring out to this point. Horrors!!! As this is our last night together as a full group, we organize a thank you dinner for Gary and Elana at the best restaurant in town. This turns out to be great fun.