Friday, September 22, 2017

My Official Apology to the Minnesota Twins

About six weeks ago I posted a short bit entitled "Minnesota Twins Report: A Season Ending Too Soon".  I felt I had the right of it.

They had just come off a horrible West Coast road trip.  The other teams in their division had gotten red hot.  There are actually graphs that plot the odds of making the post season.  In early August that percentage stood at 4%.  Meaning, sure, its theoretically possible but damned unlikely.

But baseball is a sport where the unlikely is always possible.  And sometimes happens.

The Twins went on a tear, winning 20 games in the month of August and staying strong into September.  Nothing slowed them down.  Their All Star closer traded away?  No problem, other guys stepped up.  Their massive slugger Miguel Sano going on the disabled list, perhaps done for the season?  No problem, other guys stepped up. In fact in one Sano-less game they did something never before seen in major league baseball. They hit a home run in each of the first seven innings of the game on the way to a lopsided pounding of a hapless opponent.

Over the weekend we went over for a family trip to the Twins game.  This is something that has not happened in years.  It was also the first game ever for the Youngest Generation.   



True, he is here more interested in hearing for the 12th time today a spirited reading of "The Big Red Barn".  But he clapped at all the right times and stuck it out for the full nine innings.

For a while there I was not sure that I would.  The Twins pitcher got off to a rocky start, giving up five runs in the first two innings.  One by the shameful route of walking a run in.  The chances of the Twins winning this game were low.  

So of course they went on to score 13 unanswered runs.  I mean...they scored 13 before the Toronto Blue Jays even got another hit.  In baseball there are things that are very unlikely...but I wonder if in fact there is anything that is actually impossible?

As a true fan I of course realize that my team no more expects me to apologize to them than I on so many fitting occasions expected to get an apology from them.

The odds at this time favor their making the post season.  Those who figure such things say it is about 70% likely at the moment (9/18).  But there are still a couple of weeks to play and in baseball, well, the unlikely is not the impossible and the likely never certain. 



Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Selfie with Side Kick

Young children are always fascinated with things bigger than themselves.  Do they instinctively know that they are small but going to get bigger?  I think they do.

For many kids it is dinosaurs.

For some it is The Big Yellow School Bus.

When we saw one parked nearby it was necessary to visit it several times.  Peek in the windows.  Read the words on the side.  And to take a picture in the odd fish eye mirror that the driver uses to keep a safe eye on his or her young charges.



Monday, September 18, 2017

I get a "message" from The Striped Don...

It's been a while since I heard from Don Astrisce. Oh, I'd seen his boys around.  Lolling about on corners.  Sometimes brazenly making off with loot in broad daylight.  But I am an honest man, a property owner who stands up for what is his.  I thought that the Don and I had an understanding.

I was wrong.

The timing was hardly an accident.  The hoods know, oh yes, they know, when my wife is out of town and the watchful eyes are fewer.  They know as well that anything that happens on my exclusive watch reflects badly on me.  Costs me respect where it matters.

So pretty much the first thing she saw when she got home was that Don Astrice had sent a couple of his goons to mess up our fully enclosed back porch.  Plants dug up. Stuff tipped over.  Casual yet directed mayhem.



Oh, it was a message all right.  Just to make sure I understood it a single acorn was left out for me.  "We go where we want to.  We do what we please."


Needless to say I do not take kindly to this sort of thuggery.  I immediately went to the corner of the garage that they usually use to chew their way in.  Sure enough, daylight showing.  I went over to get the chicken wire and tools to seal this off.  And one of the little striped thugs streaked past me.  I don't know which one it was.  "Chip", "Dale" or "Alvin".  


Friday, September 15, 2017

Grandpa's Radio

When I was a young lad I spent a lot of time with my Grandpa.  He was a good guy. He'd been a department store manager and a grocer earlier in life.  By the time I was hanging out at their home for lazy summer weeks on end he was a Lutheran Brotherhood insurance agent.

His hours were flexible, it appears that his main task was just having pleasant conversations with people. There was plenty of time to spend with his little side kick.

Grandpa taught me how to fish, a skill I passed on to my own boys. He was never very strict in the matter of ice cream and other treats, a policy that I have also embraced now that I too am a grandfather.

He was a great fan of the Minnesota Twins.  We'd listen to games on a radio that was already an antique.  The static would snarl and crackle when thunderstorms were brewing somewhere over the long horizon that stretched out into the flat infinity of North Dakota.

Now I have the radio.  And a side kick.  Here we are tuning in the Twins game as I get ready to do a bit of painting and he gets ready for a nap.


- Necessary pronouncements.  

 It's Diet Pepsi, not beer.  We do have Grand Parenting Policies.

The game was very hard to hear.  Lots of static on a day with no thunderstorms. Probably old radio tubes don't last as long as old memories.

I did not finish the painting job that day.  We also have Grand Parenting Priorities.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Orvieto Underground

Orvieto.  It's a place I had wanted to visit on our last Italian trip.  It's up in Tuscany.  It has lots of underground things to see.

Well we included it in our trip this spring.  And I give it mixed reviews.

It is a spectacular location, an old town perched atop a big rock that rises up out of the Tuscan plains.  It looks to be, and was, nearly impossible to capture other than by prolonged siege.

But when we were there it was indeed besieged.  With tourists.


Look Marvin!  It's a CATHEDRAL!
I try to avoid being a "travel snob".  I know that absent visitors and their money many important parts of our cultural heritage would vanish. But still, seeing fancy shops selling high end crap to people strolling around speaking English loudly grated more than a little.

But the Underground stuff was cool.

There is an official tour in which you visit several complexes of caves that have been connected.  That's kind of key here...this is not a network of caves so much as a whole bunch of separate caves.  Chronologically it is a jumble.  This particular chamber was Etruscan - pre Roman - but was later expanded and in continuous use until the 19th century.  Center of the picture is an olive oil press.  Donkeys walked in circles all day to power it.


Here a later chamber has a very early Etruscan well going down into it.  That is illuminated, not daylight.  


And it goes down a very long way.  Drinking water was key to surviving a siege. When the Romans besieged the city it took them two years to capture it. They destroyed everything and nobody lived there again until the Middle Ages.


Another columbarium.  This one is not of the burial type but was for keeping pigeons. These were a pretty good protein supply for upper class households.  Every day they flew out and ate the crops of the local peasantry, then flew back home ready for the dinner table.


We also checked out a little place called "Pozzo della Cava", the Well of the Cave. This is a privately run establishment attached to a little wine shop.  A gnomish older fellow smiled and waved us through, no guide needed.


I actually found this place to be quite interesting.  It had assorted uses including as a medieval pottery.  Of course it has its own really deep Etruscan era well.  


On our way out the friendly little gnome waved my wife over.  He smiled, took her by both hands and backed up a step or two.  This put them onto a glass pane in the floor that looked down a long, long ways.  Grinning he hopped up and down a few times. He clearly did this with every visitor, or at least every female one.  A man enjoying his work.......

Overall I would give Orvieto a pass.  It has things of interest.  The Underground tour as above, a nice walk around the magnificent city walls, some Etruscan tombs. But the tourist hordes spoiled it for me.  Italy is full of marvels that can be enjoyed with less of this nonsense.

And so concludes the chronicle of Italy in Spring of 2017.  A revealing trip if stressful at points.

Monday, September 11, 2017

An impressive marketing effort

It's that time again.  Back to school means an abundance of Thrift Sales, or whatever you call them in your locale.  Garage Sales, Jumble Sales, Trunk Sales, etc.

I saw this sign the other day.  It will make sense to my local readers.  Everyone else can just wonder what might be for sale that would prompt me to saddle up for a two or three day drive to....hmmmm...somewhere near Yuma Arizona.



Friday, September 8, 2017

Santa Cecelia in Trastevere

In many ways Santa Cecelia in Trastevere is a similar site to San Cristogono which we visited on Monday.  For one thing both are "titular" churches of Rome.  This designation is a little slippery.  The term of course means "title" and strictly speaking just means that the church is assigned to one of the Cardinal Priests of Rome. Practically speaking most, but by no means all, of the titular churches were early Christian sites, usually originating in a private home during the years of persecution. They appear on various early lists of parish churches of Rome, most notably one collected in 499 AD.

Trastevere was once the most populous district of Imperial Rome.  Being across the Tiber River (hence the name Trastevere) it went into quite a decline in the Dark Ages. The churches however persisted, and it is the ecclesiastical records that shed much of the Light into that era.  In modern times Trastevere is abuzz with a milling herd of tourists, at least in the area north of Viale Trastevere.  Go a ways south, down where Santa Cecelia lies, and you will leave them behind.



It's a pretty spot.  Unlike San Christogono it still has its own garden like Piazza out front.  The columns are of course ancient, borrowed from an unknown site.  They are a matched set, two from quarries in Aswan Egypt, and two from Turkey.



The entrance to the archaeological excavations was easy to find, and an efficient looking nun was stationed there to accept our small entry fee.

Down below is the usual jumble of features and eras.  Here is a monochrome mosaic floor of Severan vintage.


Pretty much every Italian archaeological site has something like this.  A little barred off room for random things they found on their dig.  I figure all the official museums in Italy are already full up.  These remind me of Old West jail cells.


Here we see several odd holes in the floor.  At one point they were considered to be evidence of a tannery on site but the stonework does not show the corrosion associated with harsh chemicals.  So probably food storage silos.


They don't even look a little like baptismal fonts but people still toss down votive offerings in the form of coins.


Right in the middle of the dim ancient walls you walk into this brilliantly lit room.  It holds the relics of Saint Cecelia.  Maybe.


Sigh.  OK, lets talk about Saint Cecelia.  The Catholic church admits that her story is probably fiction.  You be the judge.

Supposedly she was a noble woman who secretly converted to Christianity and simultaneously took a vow of chastity.  That did not stop her parents from marrying her off to a pagan chap named Valerian.  With some (much needed?) help from her guardian angel the situation was squared with her new husband who agreed to also convert.  Valerian, his brother, and a soldier who converted while guarding them...all got put to death.  As did Cecelia.  Eventually.


First she was locked in the hot room of her own bath house for a few days.  That did not work.  Then they tried to cut off her head but somehow botched the job albeit while injuring her somewhat such that she died three days later.


After initial internment in one of the catacombs her remains - found of course to be incorruptible - were returned to the church that had been built at the site of her house.



Behind the screen are sarcophagi holding the remains of Cecelia and the other players in this bit of saintly drama.  Including her extremely understanding husband Valerian who in my book earned his sainthood at least as much as Cecelia.




Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Oldest Sewer in the World

Recently I signed on to give a few talks on subjects near and dear to me for a local "Learning in Retirement" organization.  I do like to tell stories.

One program I am working up for a future date will be "Archeology of Rome - Skip the darned Coliseum!"  I figure I have enough seldom visited odds and ends to natter on for quite a while.  For instance.....lets visit the Oldest Sewer in the World.

The Cloaca Maxima is usually given this title, although to be frank who knows if some over grown ditch in the middle east somewhere actually deserves it.  It is certainly the most famous ancient sewer.

More properly it should be called a storm drain, although the dumping of human wastes into it was probably constant.  It was originally a creek, down in the valley below the Seven Hills.  Said valley would become the site of the Roman Forum, the absolute heart of the Empire but not until one of the Kings of Rome - supposedly Tarquinius Priscus - channeled the creek circa 616 BC.  In early days it was an open channel but by the age of Augustus it had been covered over.  It was big enough that officials inspecting it could travel by boat.  Standing up.

There are a few places in the Forum proper where drains go down mysteriously, presumably still into the Cloaca Maxima.  There is also an access door but they sure are not putting a sign on that!  As you go down stream towards the Tiber there are a few places where branches of the main sewer still exist as open canals.  One section can be seen near the church of S.Giorgio in Velabrio.  A photo of this and a very detailed discussion of the Cloaca Maxima can be found HERE. 

I'd like to have had a tour of the upper stretches but alas, they are almost never possible.  So I had to settle for a peek at the outlet, the spot where the Cloaca has been pouring into the river Tiber for 25 centuries and counting.

A quick internet search will give you lots of images like this, or more likely just a snap from the Ponte Palatino bridge above.  The outlet of the Cloaca Maxima is just down stream from Tiber Island.



But in my quest for archaeological knowledge I don't let the little things get in my way. Wobbly, unserious fences for instance. Hobo encampments for another.  Here we have the outlet up close.  I understand that this is pretty new....only around 100 BC.


And a peek inside.  It looks remarkably like a brewery cave but I suppose there are only so many ways to build a vaulted structure. There is still a trickle of water going through it.  But the days of the Cloaca Maxima doing serious drainage are over...it has been connected to the modern Roman sewer system.  This is probably a good idea, in ancient and even into modern times flooding of the Forum to a considerable depth happened when heavy rains flooded the Tiber and caused back flow.


"When in Rome" you spend plenty of time looking at inscriptions and trying to puzzle out what was going on.  This should properly be applied to modern graffiti as well.  I had assumed that the denizens of this little encampment were part of the wave of migrants that Italy has been seeing in recent times.  Certainly that would be the demographic of at least the visible community of street merchants, beggars and idle folks in the central city.  But with "taggers" it is hard to tell.  "Aziz" and "Abdoul" could just as easily be bored suburban teenagers.  The snazzy race cars...do they represent the epitome of Western Culture to a bunch of new arrivals scrapping to make a living?


The place certainly looks Lived In although nobody was home at mid day.  This may have been by design, there was a big international summit meeting about to begin and among other anti terrorism measures I could certainly see the Italian police rousting everyone out of places like this.  "Move it along.  No, no time to bring your shorts".


I said that visits to the main parts of the Cloaca Maxima were rare but they do happen, for film crews and such.  Here's a YouTube video for you.  Ancient Sewer diving....ah, I can still dream.




Monday, September 4, 2017

Under San Chrisogono

This week I am departing a little from my "History in a Place" format.  The three sites I will cover were indeed all on the course of one walk but are not strictly speaking particularly close to each other.
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One often overlooked place to hunt down Rome's ancient past is underneath modern day churches.  As we have seen many ancient structures were saved by being converted into churches.  And in other cases churches were intentionally built on top of pagan shrines.  A sort of architectural insult if you will.  And finally in the case of the oldest churches they may in fact have originated in Roman houses back in the days when public profession of the new faith would have been unwise.

San Chrisogono is a very ancient church right along the main street, Viale di Trastevere.  From the outside it is not very impressive. When we ducked in on a Sunday there was a service about to begin. The twin rows of columns are ancient, said to have been scavenged from a now vanished bath complex built in the area by Septiumus Severus.  The floor has ornate mosaics of 13th century date but made from bits and pieces taken from ancient structures.




Although we were prepared to simply pay our respects, perhaps drop a coin in the donation box, a sign directing us towards the archeological remains (I think they called them the Paleo Christian remains) tempted us.  Ducking through a side aisle we were smack in the middle of the altar boys and priest getting ready for show time. But a functionary sitting at a little table waved us through and for a small fee it was down the stairs to the mysterious stuff below.

The church is dedicated to the martyr Saint Chrysogonus.  The first church on the site dates to the early 300's, with frequent rebuilds since then.  It is frankly a very confusing site.  



As best I can tell, this is the apse of the original church, with the open space in the walls being where the bones of the saint were kept.



In a site of this sort any kind of basin provokes controversy.  Baptistery for full body immersion baptisms?  Or just a vat from previous industrial use?


Some stuff found during excavations is just lying around.  The brickwork to the right seems to be modern, some reinforcement of the structure was necessary to support the church above.  Note also the sturdy and very modern ceiling here.


Naturally in a church rebuilt so many times there are more recent things to catch the eye.  This painted fresco shows Saint Benedict healing a leper.  Note the leopard like spots.  Leper and leopard by the way have no common etymology.  The fresco is somewhere between 8th and 10th century AD.


Sixth century AD grave marker for somebody named Victor.  Was this another example of memorials being brought in from outlying catacomb sites?  The prohibition against burials inside the confines of the city would still have been quite strong at that point in history.



A very odd skull and cross bones with huge ears.  Another example of Ferengi First Contact?



Arches and walls, floors and pillars.  There is more of Rome under ground than above it.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Thrift Sale buy that (fortunately?) got away.

Now there's something you don't run across at your average yard sale....a deep fryer.



I hesitated and did not grab it at the first opportunity.  When I came back later it was gone, albeit at a price I probably would have balked at.

Likely for the best.  It seems a bit small for turkeys to begin with, and of course you remember every Thanksgiving seeing photos and videos of what happens when you drop a bird into a cauldron of hot sizzlin' fry grease...



 




Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Lizards and Birds

 A lizard on the rock wall of an ancient tomb.  His tail is gone...did a bird get it?


A wall painting from the 3rd Century AD.  Just a bit later than the tomb but it shows that the birds have been after the lizards for a very long time.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Scandal ! Naming Names.

August traditionally was referred to in the newspaper business as "The Silly Season". It was a time when people were assumed to have more important things to do with their life than to think deep thoughts.  Soak up some rays.  Enjoy a cold beer.  

In our new and enlightened era of course we have 24 hour news seemingly consumed by people who live in basements and thrive on conspiracy nonsense.  The New Silly Season is year round.

I certainly don't claim to know everything that is afoot in the august halls of power. Some bits of sinister truth may well be mixed into the big stew pot of implausible fiction.

And speaking of implausible fiction, several of the names involved are so appropriate that if you made them up in a bit of straight writing they would be dismissed as utter nonsense.  Consider:

1.  Donald Trump.

I have it on the good authority of my UK pals that "Trump" is a euphemism for flatulence.  It is a logical bit of onomatopoeia - a word deriving from its actual sound.

And in a crowded room The Donald would probably not be the kind of guy who would deny it. Instead of blaming a hapless aide he would likely pronounce the results to be "Huge! Best Ever!"




2. John Podesta

For those who have lost track of how this all started, it was when Mr. Podesta, former Obama Chief of Staff, then Hillary Clinton Campaign Chair, embarrassingly had his emails published.  Who did this, how, and why remains unclear.  But you would think a Podesta would be more careful.

The term Podesta goes back to the Italian Middle Ages.  It indicated a high official..sometimes an administrator or a magistrate. The term comes from the Latin potestas meaning "power".  The term was revived in more recent and troubling times. In fascist Italy civic government bodies were eliminated and both executive and legislative power was put in the hands of a Podesta'.  Maybe its just me but the notion of a guy who should have been more or less Don Corleone handing over his email password to what looks like a blatant scam strikes me as highly implausible.  And therefore likely true.




3. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

One casualty of the Podesta email revelations was Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, then Democratic Party Chair.  It sure looked as if she had both thumbs on the scale in favor of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.  Since then she has been embroiled in a new controversy, one that gets little attention.  It involves a shady bunch of IT staffers from Pakistan who appear to have had access to not only her computers but those of numerous other Congressional leaders.  Its unclear if they are opportunistic grifters, actual agents of a foreign power and/or are blackmailing DWS and others.  And Congresswoman W-Schultz "..Knows nussinsg...NUSSING!"

Oh, you can play this game all day, and with equal attention to either political party. I mean, who would have ever imagined a White House communications director named Scaramouch....a name  so very close to Scarmucci, a boastful comic figure from Italian opera!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Tivoli - Brief Practical Tips

Tivoli is a nice day trip out from Rome.  Most people go there for one of two things: Garden d'Este or Hadrian's villa a short distance out of town.

You may have noticed that we did not opt for Hadrian's villa on this trip.  It is under continuous repairs and when we visited many of the good parts were not open. If you have a notion to visit you should investigate this first.  I'd check HERE. Note that the villa is a ways out of town.  You'll end up needing a taxi I think, as the bus system appeared sluggish.

Another place I would have liked to visit was this.



Tempio della Tosse.  It is a Roman structure quite near the Villa d'Este.  Nobody really knows what it was originally, perhaps a tomb or a nymphaeum.  In the Middle Ages it of course became a church.  For reasons that are also obscure, it is a church associated with the relief of any disease that causes you to cough!  Allergies to the plane trees in Italy this time of year would have made me an enthusiastic visitor. Alas, it is on private property.  And the most recent owners do not appear to have done any more with it than any of the others since the day when our old pal Piranesi  sketched it in the mid 1700s.


Another spot that might be worth a visit is the Sanctuary of Hercules Victor.  I was not able to find out much about this place other than that is was buried under a factory site until fairly recently.  Pictures I have seen look to be a mix of old and of new reconstruction.

Tivoli in May did not have a "touristy" feel to it.  There were some restaurants in swell locations - we ate at one that overlooked the temples - but it was mostly a local clientele.  And there is a seldom visited "down town" Tivoli that had a lot of smaller dining establishments that looked appealing.

If you opt for the Parco Villa Gregoriana hike you will naturally want to do it in decent weather.  We had a train to catch and dashed through in something like 90 minutes. It was too quick a pace.  We did not have time for any of the side paths that lead to some spectacular waterfalls.

Villa d'Este is an hour or so in the gardens, spend a bit of time in the villa building also.  It has been battered about and looted a few times, so there are very few furnishings, but the wall paintings are swell and have been nicely restored.

I almost never give lodging advice but our B and B host in Tivoli went above and beyond the call of duty.  He figured we would have trouble finding the rather out of the way location and met us on the way there.  Breakfast was great, up on the rooftop.  The price was reasonable.  If you plan to stay over night in Tivoli I therefore suggest: La Mensa Ponderaria

Tivoli turned out to be one of the favorite stops on our Italian trip.  I recommend it either as a day trip or if you prefer, to stay over night.  The train service is cheap and frequent.  And with a bit of route planning you can skip Termini Station and make your trip via the Roma Tibertina station.  It is new, clean, efficient and seems to be free of larcenous pick pockets.




Thursday, August 24, 2017

Tivoli Hodge Podge

The practice of re-using older stonework for later structures is called spolia from the Latin word for "spoils".  In this context it means spoils in the sense of a spoil heap...left over stuff.  But given how badly Tivoli got bashed about in assorted Gothic and internecine combat it is likely that some of the choicer bits of ancient architectural salvage might have also been "spoils of war".

One of my Romanist pals tipped me off to Instagram and Twitter groups dedicated to "Wall Porn".  No, nothing unsavory, just interesting photos of walls, doorways, windows etc.  You could look it up.


In any case Tivoli was Spolia Central.  Just wandering about you saw old Roman stuff incorporated into buildings everywhere. 
One wonders what the basements look like!

A typical example.  An ancient column.  Built into a wall so rugged and chaotic that it could have been from any era.  A modern pipe keeps it company.


Some re-used columns were clearly set into place to define later doorways.



When I encounter a scene like this I have to stop and spin some theories.  Was there some convenient site nearby, making for easy looting?  Or was there some organized trade in ancient columns.  At Ostia we did see a former temple that in late antiquity appears to have been used to store stacks of columns, so who knows.  Perhaps this builder opted for the bulk discount.


Another ancient fragment juxtaposed with modern pipes.  


This struck me as rather whimsical.  I can't see any practical reason to haul a column up to second story height and mortar it in.


As I said, sometimes I just stop and stare at something until a theory comes to me. If I had done so in this case I believe I would still be there.  How do you manage to have a very modern looking brick doorway filled in with ancient looking stone?  And what is that limestone slab at the bottom, some kind of pet door?  Number 5 keeps its secrets well.



Wednesday, August 23, 2017

First Contact - 16th Century

For your consideration today, one of of those little finds that has the potential to entirely revise our view of history.

As mentioned, Villa d'Este is a marvelous Renaissance palace with breath taking gardens.  It also has some very nice interior decorations and in one painted wall I noticed something.

To appreciate this you must be at least a moderate Star Trek fan.

If so you would certainly know about the Ferengi, an alien race of short, greedy, big eared grifters.  In the Star Trek universe we don't encounter them until the 24th century*.



 Well OK then.  How do you explain this!



* Star Trek fans of an obsessive nature of course know that contact with the Ferengi actually happened near Roswell New Mexico in 1947 (See Deep Space Nine, season four) but was covered up.