Saturday, June 30, 2012

My Sassy, Italian Hair Cut

Friday, 7/16/10

 My boyfriend, Don, misses me. We had a nice talk on the phone last night. He actually had a good belly-laugh when I told him about the lack of water I mentioned in my last post. Not because my situation was funny, but because it reminded him of some earlier life experiences of his own when he was a young man in the U.S. Navy.

 I guess these crises always seem lighter in retrospect. The water was out in the entire city of Castellammare di Stabia, not just in our hotel. When I woke up this morning, the water was flowing again, and all was well in the world. At least for me. The neighbors, Ryan and Alan, still have issues with their bathroom, including an ungodly stench and flies buzzing around in the bathroom all night. The source of the insects is uncertain, but possibly from the pipes. Anyway, my friends are not happy, and the hotel has not been able or perhaps willing to put them in another room. If necessary a couple of women in the group who have single rooms will double up and let Alan and Ryan have a better room. Time will tell.

 The hotel eventually resolved the above by moving Ryan and Alan into a more comfortable room. It took about 24 hours but they did it.

 Alan (Pagan is his last name) gave a presentation this morning about the ancient mystery-cult of the god Mithras. It was the best presentation on mystery-cults and Mithraism I have ever seen in my life. How Alan could have given such a great presentation after the lack of sleep he got last night, I don't know, but he was wonderful.

 Now our group has this afternoon and all of tomorrow off. Considering how swollen my feet and ankles were at the end of the day yesterday, I do not think I will do much. I feel I need some rest more than anything else. After the shops open this afternoon, I may go down what our group calls the Death March Hill, or the D.M. The view of the sea at the top of this hill is magnificent, but the march back to the hotel from town after a day of walking around in the hot Italian sun at Capri or Herculaneum or Naples is a little tough. If I go to town I will look for more batteries for my camera and perhaps a haircut if I can get one.

 Tomorrow I may go to the Terme di Stabia for more aqua s. ferrata. My rash is practically gone and I'd like to bottle up some water to carry to Rome. I also need to pack tomorrow. In the meantime I'll either nap this afternoon or do a little research on wax tablets, or maybe both. My eyes are getting heavy as I type this. It is so nice to have a chance to rest. 

My new haircut
...... I decided to go down the DM into town after all. First on my agenda was a haircut. At the suggestion of one of the hotel employees I went to “Massimo Hair Philosophy” and asked for a cut.  Despite my limited English, Meda—I think that's the hairstylist's name-- did a great job. I will post some pictures of the cut: please remember that this was taken after the march up the hill and not fresh out of the salon, where it looked even better. The cut was a splurge for me price-wise, but I felt pampered and had some fun. The cut seems a little Italian and a little sassy somehow, definitely different from what I would get at home. I'll also look better in August when I have to rush back to work than I would if I had gone two months without a cut. After a little shopping for toiletries and camera batteries in town, I headed back up the DM.

My thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities for making this portion of our trip possible. I paid for my own hair cut, though. :)

View from the side

Paradise in Ischia

Thursday, 7/15/10


Well, we all made it to Ischia and back ok. There is only one ferry from Sorrento in the morning, and only one ferry back to Sorrento in the afternoon, and we didn't miss either. I was loathe to leave, though. After checking out the ruins under Sancta Restituta and the display in a nearby museum, Wendy, Leigh, and I went to a nearby Spa. Its unusual name was Negombo. Unfortunately, I didn't trust my camera around the sand and water, so I do not have personal pictures of its striking beauty. A quick search under Google Images will give you some idea, though. I posted a couple here.


What luxury. We enjoyed the beach, which was on a scenic little cove with dark, volcanic sand. The resort was beautifully landscaped with lush plants and scented flowers. There was a large salt-water pool along the ocean. A scenic trail wound up the nearby hill, with different thermal pools offering different experiences. At the Japanese pool you walked on large pebbles, first through hot water and then through icy cold. Further up were warm pools that bubble like a natural hot tub; towers of hot water that splashed down on you from above to give you a back massage; showers and pools in caves, etc., etc. We had a grand time and were reluctant to leave to catch the bus back to the port.

My dream relaxation-vacation would be to stay a few days on Ischia hanging out at a resort like that spa we went to, with maybe some day trips into Sorrento to shop. I'd love to go back.

 On the way to Ischia, I had fallen asleep briefly on the ferry. I dreamed St. Restituta was talking to me in Greek. The Greek letters scrolled across my field of vision, and I understood her as I read them. I felt a moment of enlightenment. Unfortunately, when I woke up I couldn't remember what she'd said or what the enlightened feeling was about.

 When we got back to theVesuvian Institute in Stabia, hot and tired and sweaty, there was no cold water on the second floor. The hot water was scalding, so no showers. There's a possibility of no water at all when the hot water tank runs dry. My neighbors are reporting a foul, sewer-like smell in some of the rooms that are getting no water at all. In fact, the stench is wafting into the room as I type. I have been patient with the noise, scarcity of electrical outlets, and spotty wireless reception in this hotel, but lack of water and the stink has taxed my patience to the limit. I am starting to wish our group could pack up and leave for Rome tomorrow.

My thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities for funding this portion of our trip. 

Exploding Mountains, the Emperor Caligula, and Plane Trees

Wednesday, 7/14/10

A plane tree


Today the group spent the whole day at the Vesuvian Institute. The change of pace was most welcome. Until 1:00 we had presentations and study sessions. Leigh gave a great presentation on the details of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. I hope I remember the terms subduction, pyroclastic flow, and pyroclastic surge.


 From another presentation I learned that Caligula once gave a dinner-party in a Plane Tree. I took some pictures of a local plane tree. It is too small for a dinner-party, but the shape gives you the idea. It might be a shady spot for a party. A platform could be built where the tree widens beneath the crown.

A nice, cool spot for a dinner-party?

 This afternoon I did my PT exercises and took a walk to the Terme di Stabia to see if I could get more aqua s. ferrata. I could get in for free, but the particular spigot I wanted apparently only flows in the morning. Maybe on Saturday I can get some more. The other ladies who have problems with rashes want me to bring some back for them, since they see it is clearing up my rash. I only have a  little it left and will be sad when I run out.

 We met at 7 tonight to go over tomorrow's plans. The group will be going to Ischia, site of the first Greek colony in Italy. The Greeks called it Pithecusae. Some of the ruins are beneath the church of Sancta Restituta, a Roman Catholic saint from North Africa. From Pithecusae another Greek colony, Cumae, was established, where Matthew and I will be staying for my last two weeks in Italy. Our group must get going early tomorrow, meaning out of the hotel by 7:30 am, to catch our boat ride to the island on time. We are warned to be at the correct harbor on Ischia (there are two) at 5 pm or we will miss the last ferry home and have to find a way to spend the night there. After our morning educational tour, we will have some free time to enjoy the beaches, dining, thermal spas, or gardens of Ischia. It sounds like a nice place to get stranded, although I have no intention of doing so.

I would like to thank the National Endowment for the Humanities for funding this portion of our trip, whether I get stranded or no.

Friday, June 29, 2012


Tuesday 7/13/10

View of Oplontis

 Sr. Therese and Sr. Theresa seem to realize they are running the participants ragged. Today we cut back on activities. We spent the morning in Oplontis visiting the villa there, perhaps the villa of Poppaea Sabina, the second wife of the Emperor Nero, or of one of her relatives. It is an example, like Pompeii's Villa of the Mysteries, of a Villa Suburbana. Not a working farmhouse, but a showcase of luxury, located outside of town. This villa was convenient to Pompeii, about 3 Roman miles outside of the more famous town. Its remains are luxurious enough that one could imagine a member of the imperial family owning it. Different parts of the house are decorated with frescoes in different styles, and the slaves' section is decorated with humble black and white stripes. It is easy to tell where the servants and where their masters were expected to hang out. The piscina or swimming pool is huge.  
Famous Frescoes
Slaves' Quarters
The Piscina or Swimming Pool

We have a translation session tonight. We will stay here for more sessions and lectures tomorrow. Thursday we head to the island of Ischia, where we will visit the Greek remains of the settlement beneath the church of St. Restituta. Ischia has nice hot springs and gardens, so we plan to bring our bathing suits for our free time there in the afternoon.

 On a personal note, I managed to get through all of my PT exercises today without any painkillers. It hurt, but I could do them, and got some good bend in the knee. My ankles are still swollen. It seems impossible to avoid salt and sugar in the diet around here; perhaps Rome will be better. I still have a rash on my legs, but it looks better than the rashes on the legs of the other women who mysteriously developed a skin condition around the same time I did. I honestly suspect the improvement is from the aqua s. ferrata I've been applying from the spring at Terme di Stabia. I may decide to go back and get more. I need a haircut and still can't figure out how to get one.

 I also have decided I want to order a pamphlet on graffiti from the American Classical League Teaching Materials and Resource Center to use with my students. Also, if I assign students to research houses, they may want to do it after their favorite television show home-show, like “Cribs”  or “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”. Myths and graffiti could be tied in with the houses as well as architecture and figures from Roman history.

My eternal thanks go to the National Endowment for the Humanities for funding this portion of our trip.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pompeii and Pliny II

Monday 7/12/10

With friends near the entrance to Pompeii

 We went for a second visit to Pompeii today. It was just a few stops away on the train but we were gone for a full day. Two highlights for me were seeing the house of L. Caecilius Iucundus, whose family is featured in the Cambridge Latin Course my classes use, and  seeing the Villa of the Mysteries again. We also saw the house of Julius Publius. That was cute: you needed a special ticket to get in, and there were sound effects and Disney-style ghosts of the residents who came and told the crowd about their final days. Their corpses were found in the house: an old man, supposedly Julius Publius, embracing a pregnant younger woman, perhaps his daughter. Her fetus lived for 7 seconds longer than the mother, and they all suffocated, according to the drama. I got most of the mother's story on video, but, unfortunately, the English version wasn't working, so it's in Italian. For more pictures from this trip, visit this set on Flickr.


At the house of Caecilius Iucundus from our Latin texts, the Cambridge Latin Course
Thermopolium with a lararium at the back of the room

 We had a rather long translation session when we got back, but we read both of Pliny's letters about the eruption, and that was rather fun. Teri also gave a great presentation about the bodies found at Pompeii and Herculaneum. I find I am a rather strong reader of Latin compared to some of the middle school teachers who do not regularly have to read as challenging a text. I guess that makes sense.

 Tomorrow we spend a half day in Oplontis and then either more Herculaneum or rest. I plan to rest. It looks like the pace will be less frantic the rest of the week. My swollen feet and ankles will be happy to slow down. My knee is feeling  better for the exercise, though.

I would like to thank the National Endowment for the Humanities for funding this portion of our trip.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Taking the Waters

Sunday, 7/11/10

The Fountain at the Terme di Stabia


It's hard to believe we've already been here a week. Most of the group decided to travel to the beaches in Sorrrento. Leigh and I walked to the Terme di Stabia, the Baths of Stabia, which turned out to be easy to find, about two or three blocks from where we are staying. The main baths were closed. If we have read the Italian right, the main bath complex offers mud treatments, breathing treatments, various types of soaks and physical therapy.

The complex across the street was open, however, to take the waters. After paying a modest entrance fee, we entered a pleasant little park with shady trees, a moss-grown fountain, and a couple of shops selling spices or trinkets. There was a view of the bay from under the trees and a little museum exhibit and aquarium showcasing local sea-life. The restrooms were clean and well-stocked. 
Cool Shade and Beautiful Gardens at the Terme di Stabia

The highlight was a row of spigots over a trough. The different kinds of mineral waters were labeled with things like “Madonna,” “Stabia,” “Ferrata,” etc. An elderly Italian man explained to us patiently and enthusiastically in Italian that the different waters are good for different things. We mostly understood his pantomime, but we got by. Some of the waters are meant to be drunk, others to smear on the body. His favorite for drinking was the “Madonna,” which tastes much like the bottled mineral water served at the local restaurants. Another man liked a water that he said was good for the stomach, but Leigh tried it and said it tasted awful, sort of salty with a strong sulfur taste, so I skipped that one. 

My favorite was the “S. Ferrata,” a type meant for topical application. Our first guide claimed it is good for the skin. I smeared some on my rash, and it immediately felt soothed, and felt even better as the water evaporated. We had not thought to bring cups or bottles, so we'd had to purchase little cups at the entrance for an extra 10 cents (or the equivalent in Euros). I filled my cup with the “S. Ferrata” and managed to bring some home without spilling it too badly. I have applied more to my rash liberally and frequently. I wish I'd brought a bottle and will definitely bring some to fill if I go back. 

Upon my return I walked into town for lunch and bought a few postage stamps. I was surprised you can buy them on Sunday. I managed to do most of my PT exercises upon return. Now I plan to rest and to finish up my postcards, and maybe even take a little nap. It's well-deserved. 

My thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities for providing funding for this portion of our trip.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Former waterfront area where Vesuvius' victims found

  We took the train to Herculaneum today and saw the place along what used to be its waterfront where the human remains were found in that 1988 National Geographic video, “In the Shadow of Vesuvius.” Group members presented three houses: the House of the Deer, of the Mosaics, and of the Telephos Relief. I rented an audio-guide and did a little more on my own. Then I took the train back by early afternoon after eating lunch. My legs have a rash, my feet and ankles are swollen, my knee hurts, and I was too tired to spend more time at the site. It is time to rest.

The "Telephos Relief:" an ancient doctor at work
 Sort of. I caught up on some of the stretches I have been skipping on my knee for lack of time. I had laundry to wash out by hand and hang from the window. I also have a presentation on Cicero, Ad. Att. 13.52, due Monday, so I took some time to read that. It has words in ancient Greek, and I don't quite understand the context of the letter, so I spent time on Perseus Project trying to figure it out. I made a little progress. Then our group had a discussion and translation session from 6 until 7:30 with a brief break before dinner. Tonight I am uploading my pictures and finishing up typing this while I prop my throbbing feet and knees up on my bed. Tomorrow others in the group are going to travel to the beach. I will not leave Castellammare di Stabia, although I plan to walk around downtown and find lunch here. The place we are staying serves vegetarians cheese for three meals a day, and I fear I am turning into a big fat mouse! Maybe even a constipated one.
My friend, Leigh, is a geologist by training but teaches now

 Leigh, one of our group members, is tentatively planning a  trip to a local bath complex that has supposedly been in operation here since antiquity. If she can find it and it's open, I might go with her to soak my sore feet in a tub there. We'll see.

My eternal thanks go to the National Endowment for the Humanities for making this portion of my trip possible, despite the sore feet. :)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Inferno

Friday, July 9, 2010

 Today our group toured Hell.
Well, OK, I am exaggerating slightly, but not by much. We took a tour of the Phlegraean (or Fiery) Fields, which was the region that the ancient Romans thought was the entrance to the Underworld. Aeneas goes there with the Golden Bough to go to Hell and back in the Aeneid. He does this partly to meet with his father to get further prophecies about the bright future of the Trojans' descendants in Rome, partly because he's as great a hero as Odysseus or Hercules or anyone else who went to Hell and made it back alive. 
Sibyl's assistant: our guide to the Underworld and back!

We stopped at the site near Lake Avernus that Vergil thought was the grotto of the Sibyl, a different site from the last one we attended. Probably these tunnels were hollowed out for military purposes. The same family has taken tourists for tours of this site for generations. Members of the group went down a side passage to dip their hands in an underground river, the “Styx,” according to our guide. Just past there is another spot where the Sibyl allegedly bathed, but our guide was talkative so we didn't have time to see that one. The guide speaks only Italian, but Tom gave us the gist of what he was saying. The entrance of the cave overlooks Lake Avernus. The descent to Hell is easy, says Vergil: it's the way back that is the tough part. Luckily for us, our guide and his dog led us safely back into the light. The dog's name in Italian is Junior but our group nick-named him Cerberus.
My colleague touched the "River Styx" and LIVED!

Other sites visited today included Pozzuoli or ancient Puteoli, well known for its Macellum and its bradyseism or slow earthquakes. The highlight there, besides the ancient latrine at the Macellum, was the amphitheater, the third largest in the Roman world. The carcere, the space under the floor of the arena, is in great shape for viewing, and tourists can still walk on the floor of the arena, which helps us visualize what the floor of the Colosseum must have looked like. We visited Solfatara and walked on the floor of a live volcano, located just past a campground. People come from all over to take in the fumes from the fumaroles for health purposes. A few of our group got adventurous enough to do the same. I took video of the volcanic activity that was visible there. The Romans knew that this area was volcanic whereas they did not apparently know that Vesuvius was. 
Near Mt. Vesuvius; ginestra to the right
Then the bus took the group up Mt. Vesuvius itself. Sadly, I did not hike up to the top this time due to my knee trouble. It is hot and strenuous, with no shade and no places to rest. I have hiked it before or I would have made the attempt. Instead I did some shopping around the tourist entrance area. The shopkeepers seemed to enjoy the business. The economy has slowed down sales, one of them told me. I also got some scenic pictures of the area. The ginestra, a yellow flower, is blooming right now. It is not only beautiful but also sweet-smelling, rather like honeysuckle back home but a little more subtle. 

I very much admired the skills of the bus-driver who took us up and down Vesuvius on narrow, twisty, mountainside roads past other tour buses on a route that I could swear it was impossible for two buses to pass on. The route is full of hairpin turns. I was sitting in the back of the bus so I could prop up my leg, and the effect from the back was rather like one of the better Disney rides. Somehow the drivers do it, although sometimes they need to pull over or even back up to make room for each other. Our driver seemed to get a kick out my admiration for his skills and my genuine gratitude when we got off the bus at the end of this route. He is as skilled in my estimation as a pilot.
When I last visited these sites in 1988 there was no such thing as an inexpensive digital camera. I can't believe what great images I got. I also got video of our guide in the underworld and of Solfatara. I can share my experiences so much better with my students with these new tools. I can't wait to have a chance to do so.
Tomorrow we leave for a full day at Herculaneum. In case it seems to you like our group is traveling at a breakneck pace.... we are! Everyone says it feels like we've seen and studied a month's worth of sites, and we've been here less than a week.

I would like to thank the National Endowment for the Humanities for making possible this portion of my trip.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Stabia and Boscoreale

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A fresco from the Villa San Marco
   Today we went to the Villa Adriana and the Villa San Marco at Stabiae, then we went to Boscoreale to visit a typical Roman villa rustica, or working country farmhouse, and its nearby museum. The Villa San Marco would have been one of the types of seaside villas in the area where Pliny the Elder died trying to rescue victims of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. He was also trying to study the eruption for observation purposes. He reminds me in that respect of an ancient Jacques Cousteau. The restoration work and reproductions there help set the frescoes we saw at the Naples Museum in the context of a house. The garden was large and breathtaking, with a huge piscina (pool or fishpond) and a nymphaeum (decorative fountain) at the back. The plantings in the garden are historically accurate, based on root castings and DNA research done by archaeologists, accurate even down to the size and placement of the plane trees. They really helped give a sense of what the garden looked like as well as provided welcome shade. Plane trees dot the Vesuvian Institute and the surrounding streets as well. Even today they seem to be a popular tree here.
The large piscina or fishpond
The state of the garden interested me, because the specialty of studying the plantings in the Roman gardens was still young during my last visit to these kinds of sites in 1988. At the Villa Adriana we actually observed archaeologists at work on the garden there, working on the bare soil to make root castings of both large and small plants. Much of the work is done by undergraduates at the University of Maryland, many of whom come back in their summers year after year to continue this work. The views of the coastline from this villa must have been magnificent. The ocean would have come right up to about where the apartment buildings line the base of the slope where the villa stands, today. After the eruption, the ocean receded so that it is about a kilometer away from where it used to be.
Plaster casts of the garden at the Villa Adriana
A bronze bust at Boscoreale
Boscoreale is a fine example of a villa rustica, and very different from the luxury and urban villas we have been visiting up to this point. The term rustica now has a more concrete meaning in my mind. I used to think of it as just villa out in the country, but the minute I stepped into this building I felt I was on a working farm. Its layout upon entry almost reminds me of stepping into a friend's stables. The building has been restored well, too, so that you can see even what the roofs would have looked like. The nearby museum is full of the tools and materials related to the kind of work and recreation what would have gone on here, from fishhooks to a small mill for flour to information on textiles and dyes, etc. There was also a special exhibit with some of the castings of victims of the eruption.
A mill to grind grain into flour at Boscoreale

Helle, a mosaic at the Villa San Marco
The highlight of the evening was a plenary session by Roger Macfarlane, a visiting scholar who works on using computer technology to rescue and share the content of ancient scrolls, particularly at the Villa of the Papyri. He showed us a documentary about these efforts called Out of the Ashes. I very much want to see if I can somehow find a copy of this for my students. I took a little video of him of my own, too.
Tomorrow our group plans to go through Hell.

(My thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities for making this portion of my trip possible).

Monday, June 18, 2012

Castellammare di Stabia

A typical hairpin turn in Castellammare di Stabia

Here is the poem I mentioned in my last post:

Castellammare di Stabia

by Mary Lou Burke

Steep streets, too narrow,
gray stone pavers, worn smooth by shoes, and donkeys,
now little cars with banged-up sides and
motor-scooters of all sorts, some shiny and new,
taking hairpin turns with a honk of a horn, so tight
most cars must back up to make it round them.

Laundry hangs off balconies from apartment buildings
that provide sweet shade from the hot Italian sun and
the people are friendly, neighbors chatter with neighbors,
and the owner of the orologeria is not unhappy to see
an American whose cellphone won't tell time here. She
speaks a little broken Italian to be met (sometimes) with
a little broken English and a sale (mi fa uno sconto??)

Good food, friendly greetings, strong hearts,
and fireworks light up the rarely-quiet nights
celebrating a birthday, perhaps a wedding, like
a mini-private Fourth of July; and music and singing
make me smile, not leaving me with an urge to call
for the police, or a new ordinance, but to
join the party.

Naples, Italy

Wednesday, July 7, 2010:

The Farnese Bull


I have so many ideas and reflections I want to share, and not enough time in my day. It is 10  PM here, and I need to complete this entry, do my physical therapy stretches, do some minimal labeling of the pictures from the Naples Museum I am uploading while I type this, and get some sleep. I'm also hoping that my wonderful boyfriend, Don Burke, will give me a call. I decided since my Italian cellphone is supposed to work for free incoming calls and emergency outgoing calls, I'll just hold onto it. Of course, the fact that I have no idea how to make an emergency call in Italy is something that bothers me, but not enough to ask-- I feel too busy!

This morning our group took the train and metro system to the National Archeological Museum at nearby Naples. Members of the group who'd lived in busy and sometimes unsafe metropolitan areas were more comfortable with this whole process than I was. I am from an area of North Carolina that has a public transportation (bus) system, but you call for it 24 to 48 hours in advance to schedule your ride, and it takes you to your destination anywhere in the county. I don't even know if the $4.00 fare is one way or round trip, because I've never used it. Also, Naples is known for having pickpockets and purse cutters and purse and jewelry snatchers who particularly prey upon tourists, so I was nervous about that.

The museum was well worth the trip. I got pictures of marble busts of Roman emperors from the Farnese Gallery, which feels like the seeds of a student project. I saw and photographed the magnificent Farnese Bull. I saw and photographed a slew of frescoes from Pompeii and Herculaneum, mostly focusing on mythology for another potential student project, but I also took pictures of scenes that struck my own interest. Another participant, Susan,, a teacher from Chicago Public Schools, and I found we enjoyed each others' company as we walked through the gallery. She looked at the work from a technical perspective while I was looking at the culture the art reflected. I bought a reproduction Herculanean bracelet and a statuette of a faun for a class project.

  Our group was given directions on how to get home. Susan and I got on a slightly wrong train and went  seven stops out of our way. We realized this when we came to the end of the line and our train shut down. The kindly conductor spoke some broken English, and I some broken Italian, and he managed to get us on the right train to where we could get a connection back to Stabia. There we poked around, got some snacks (gelato for me!) and shopping done, and made our way up to the Villa. I took some video that tried to get some feel for the old-style European feel of the streets on our walk from the downtown area up to our hotel, but I'm not sure how good a job I did. I was going to look at the video tonight and label pictures, but I think I only have time to do my stretches and go to bed. I wish I had an easy way to ask a physical therapist or doctor if I am doing any harm by skipping my full exercise regimen. I hope all the walking up and down stairs is doing me enough good as far as strengthening the leg and knee.

 Oh, our evening discussion session was fantastic. Jessica Tang and Jill Howard gave a great presentation on Roman slavery. There seem to be some frightening parallels between the changes in the economy and farming due to the Roman latifundia system and the government-supported farming system today, as outlined in the documentary Food, Inc. and elsewhere. I have a million more reflections but this is all I can manage for now. Tomorrow we are visiting more villas, going to Boscoreale, and hearing a visiting lecturer on I-wish-I-could-remember-what.

 Postscript: I couldn't sleep and wrote a draft of a little poem about Stabia, the little city where we're staying. But that's fodder for another post.

I would like to thank the National Endowment for the Humanities for making this portion of my studies possible.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Baiae or Baia on the Bay of Naples

Tuesday, July 6, 2010 

View of the Bay from the Baia Museum


Our group visited the ancient luxury resort of Baia on the Bay of Naples today. In its day it was a resort for the exceedingly well connected and wealthy Roman elite. Its reputation was a little shady at times, but the Romans seemed to have loved its pleasures. They practically made the bay a lake both for purposes of making the bay sheltered and secured and to extend the land on which to build their luxury homes. The whole area is extremely volcanic and dotted with natural caves as well as the aqueducts and tunnels that the Romans built. Some of the latter were used by German troops during World War II. Nature's process of slow earthquakes or “bradyseism” causes the floor of the bay to rise and lower, so over time ancient cities have lowered beneath the sea or places under the sea have come up. More information is available at and other sites. 

Tom Hayes told us that one can rent a glass-bottomed boat, and the water is so clear that you can see remains of the ancient city of Puteoli, near modern Pozzuoli, on the floor of the harbor below. Besides the lovely, well preserved statues and inscriptions at the museum, we saw many other sights today: The Acropolis of Cumae and the Cave of the Sibyl with a presentation by participant Anne Glenn, which was excellent. On the way we also saw the Villa of Vedius Pollio, a friend of Rome's first emperor, Augustus. This site has been open to the public for less than two years, so the guides were very eager to show us around. The views and the theaters were spectacular. The guides spoke Italian and no English, but Tom translated for us beautifully. These guides showed us evidence of the German soldiers.
Private Bay for the Homes of the Roman Elite
Vedius is famous for his cruelty. A slave once dropped an expensive goblet while Augustus was visiting for dinner. Vedius ordered him thrown to his pet lampreys (like eels). Augustus stopped him by asking to see the rest of the set of goblets, and then deliberately breaking them all himself. It's a good story. 

We stopped at the Tomb of Vergil or Virgil, a Roman poet who wrote in Latin in the first century B.C. There were Latin inscriptions all over. We had a chance to pay our tributes to the bard.

Another View of the Private Bay

The guides also pointed out an allegedly haunted house, not Roman but fascinating all the same. We had another discussion and translation session focused on Roman houses. Tomorrow we will visit the National Archeological Museum at Naples. There will be a discussion session at 6:30 but very little else planned for the day. I am glad we have been promised a slightly slower pace.

More pictures from this day of our trip are posted on Flickr.
Vedius Pollio's Theater and Odeon
Haunted House on its Own Island

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the National Endowment for the Humanities for making this portion of my trip possible.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pompeii, First Visit 2010

One of the victims of Mt. Vesuvius' eruption in August of 79 A.D.

Monday 7/5/10


For readers who have just found this site, this is a travel-log of a Latin teacher's grant-funded summer study in Italy in 2010. Click here for more info.

Today our group took its first visit to Pompeii. The site is as hot and almost as crowded as I remember. One improvement is the fact that the ancient public water fountains have been fitted with spigots so we can refill our water bottles. Between that and the shade our group leaders tried to steer us toward, this was the most comfortable trip to Pompeii I've ever taken. It's my third or fourth trip over many years.

Ancient water fountain with modern spigot. The worn spot is from ancient pots being lifted up and rested on the lip.
There are two railway stations in Castellamare di Stabia. To get the site, we got to the proper train station and boarded the train  to get off at the third or fourth stop, Pompeii Scavi.
Exploring Pompeii's forum

The tour itself was excellent. Different members of the group had been assigned different houses, and they had done their research and were amazingly well prepared. We saw the House of the Faun, of Menander, of the Small Fountain, of the Ponza, of Sallust, and of the Tragic Poet. We also saw the Odeon, which is the smaller of the two theaters, the temple of Isis, and the Fullery where clothes were washed. Mid-day we met with Steve Ellis of the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. He is an archeologist in charge of a dig that is not open to tourists. He had invited our group to come to the site of his dig where he gave a fantastic presentation of the work his team is doing on the more “middle class” houses in Pompeii. I was excited to get pictures and video of archeologists at work for my students.
Steve Ellis comments on recent excavations

It was also interesting to learn that his team was excavating the drains of these houses, examining the food remains there to get a better idea of the diet of the residents. He said two houses looked the same, but the food remains in one showed that the inhabitants were probably much wealthier due to the wider variety of food and the fact it had been imported. Some was very exotic, like the knee of a giraffe, a unique find in Italy. A National Geographic special is coming out this year. It is a series and Steve's dig is in one part of the series. Its name will be “Rome Unwrapped” and this work will be featured in the Pompeii section.
I think I have walked around Castellamare di Stabia enough now that I can find my way during daylight into town and back. I have some errands to run while the stores are open, but now I need to find my own necessities around our group's schedule. Today on our way back the stores were still closed for the afternoon. They seem to reopen around 5 PM. To give you an idea of the intensity, the earliest we could get back into town was 4:30 PM, when we all desperately wanted a change of clothes and a shower to cool down. After taking care of our personal needs, our group will meet this evening at 6:30 for a discussion and Latin translation session before dinner at 8 PM. Tomorrow we go to visit the temple of Vedius Pollio, to Cuma (ancient Cumae) to visit the acropolis and the “Cave of the Sibyl” and then the site of the ancient remains at Baiae “with its luxurious accommodations for the very wealthy and its unusual baths along with the Museo di Castello di Baia to view artifacts taken from the sea and surrounding area,” according to our handout.
 Tonight's session is in less than 15 minutes and I still want to have a chance to upload pictures to my computer from today and yesterday, as well as the video clips I took. Wish me luck!

I wish to express my gratitude to the National Endowment for the Humanities for making this portion of my trip possible.