Monday, August 31, 2009


August has come to an end and I'm reminded that it has been ten years since I spent a summer in Italy. As an undergrad archaeology major, it was required for me to attend a field school course to complete my program. There were field schools in Toronto and in other nearby locations but, me being me, I chose to go to the world's most famous archaeological city and UNESCO World Heritage Site: Pompeii.

There's no way I could sum up the whole Pompeii summer: there are too many stories to tell even a decade later. There were about 90 people on the project in 1999, students and staff from all over the world. We lived in tents at Camping Spartacus for the whole season where we were fed cappuccino breakfasts, pasta lunches and delectable woodoven pizza dinners. The campground was located directly beside the Circumvesuviana train line. On the first night, when I was dozing in my sleeping bag, the ground started shaking and there was a thunderous rumble: I thought Vesuvius was erupting! It was just a train passing mere metres away from my tent.

We were followed around by stray dogs everywhere. I picked up a decent Italian vocabulary quite quickly. We learned a lot about the physics and the chemistry of volcanic eruptions. As archaeologists, we became tourist attractions in our own right since we were photographed, videoed and interviewed. We also got special behind-the-scenes visits to several archaeological sites in the Naples area. Every morning and afternoon, the group would hike from the lower, modern town of Pompei through the Porta Marina and the forum of the ancient city all the way up to the Porta Ercolano, where the excavation was centred. And every evening, in the free hour or two between work and the dinner bell, I'd explore the ruins. My official archaeologists' permit allowed me to walk around anywhere, so I saw a significant portion of the city that's off limits to regular visitors.

It was my experiences exploring Pompeii and observing visitors that inspired me to pursue graduate studies in archaeological site management instead of specializing the archaeology of any one culture or region. There were so many questions that came to mind on site: how is it possible to care for an entire open-air ancient city like this? How can visitor access and site protection be balanced? How is it possible for visitors to understand such a large, complex archaeological site? What about the large unexcavated sections in the city - can these be exposed and studied even as so much of the rest of Pompeii is crumbling?

The field school, Anglo-American Project in Pompeii is still running (I think...) and it even got a fancy Archaeology Magazine treatment.

That's me, in my trench which was part of the sidewalk on the Via Narcissus (that's the little angled street just east of Via Consolare). It turns out that my square was the spot where people dumped broken pottery. I uncovered stacked-up sherds of the same vessels, where someone had picked up the smashed pieces, cradled them in hand, and then placed them in the alley.

One of the lessons at the Pompeii field school that wasn't at most other field schools: standing monument analysis! Also, I learned how to survey manually, although I've since lost that skill.

My personal best artifact that summer was an ornate copper alloy handle. The beautiful green of the metal stood out from the gray-brown soil.

Lead shot i.e. sling-shot bullets

Excavations around the peristyle garden in the house.

It was an important experience for me to be part of such a large team of like-minded students and academics when I was still getting an idea of what I really wanted to study. I learned how to excavate, classify artifacts and survey monuments but I also got myself some kind of direction for the future.

UPDATE: A more detailed version of this post was published over at 'Writing The Past'.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I'm going!

So, my trip to Bhutan is officially booked.

As long as my personal well being, the political climate in Bangkok and the Cathay Pacific and Drukair flight schedules all align auspiciously, I'll be checking out a country that's really different from everywhere else I've been. Very exciting!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Little India

I heard about the Festival of South Asia this weekend and I was keen to go. I've been to the Little Italy street festival so many times, but never the Little India one. So, I dragged Jack & Marjorie there on Friday night. I expected street food and booths and lots of activity.


However, Little India wasn't busy at all. There was no hint of this on the website but Friday night was only the 'dance showcase' (including a 'So You Think You Can Bollywood Dance?' contest). The street food wouldn't be set up until Saturday afternoon. But we made the most of it by strolling past the sari shops. I wish I could get away with wearing "salwar kameez" (long tunic over loose trousers) without being branded an eccentric WASP. They look so comfy.





Jack & Marjorie are fans of Lahore Tikka House. We went in for dinner because it was the closest thing to the street food I was expecting. Apparently, this restaurant has been under construction for years and in the meantime, there is a temporary set-up. The system is complete chaos - enter via a shack, walk down a plywood hallway, detour right through the kitchen were the naan bread is being torn off a massive heap of dough and tossed into the wood oven, then pass beneath another series of tarps until being seated on plastic chairs in an enormous tented parking lot area. Ordering and paying for food involves lining up away from the dining tent. I had no idea there was anywhere like this in Toronto. The atmosphere was like a big party. There seemed to be a hundred employees dashing between the tables. Perhaps because the kitchen areas are still under construction and washing dishes isn't possible, plastic cutlery and Styrofoam plates and cups where provided, which wasn't an encouraging sign. The good news was that the food was great. This is Pakistani food, not technically Indian, although a lot of the dishes were similar. The difference is that all the meat is Halal and beef is on the menu. Also, the spices seemed richer to me. My favourite dish was the veggie combo sizzler but the lamb gosht was really tender and piquant.

Lahore Tikka House, Gerrard Street

Lahore Tikka House, Gerrard Street

Lahore Tikka House, Gerrard Street

Lahore Tikka House, Gerrard Street

Lahore Tikka House, Gerrard Street

Naan bread and sides

sizzling veggies

Friday night's trip to the east end of town was pretty much it for my weekend. I spent Saturday and Sunday mostly at home in bed reading and knitting because I was feeling sick. Ah, well...

Friday, August 07, 2009

hands and feet

At the beginning of that (godawful) 'Lost In Translation' film, Scarlett Johansson mumbles something about girls who take mundane photos of their feet.

Yes. I am guilty, guilty, guilty of taking rather cliché photos of my feet. When I'm travelling, I look up, down, and all around me and sometimes, I like to remember that I was rooted to that particular spot, even for a few moments. For example:

Colonial Toes
refreshingly cool vintage tiles in my Phnom Penh hotel room...

Parque Josone's green pond
the eerily green pond in a romantic Varadero park...

Sweet Steps
the elaborate staircase at an upper east side NYC candy store...

Shoes: $3, Outback Safari: $500, View: Priceless
resting my exhausted self after climbing in extreme desert heat...

Urban Safari
encountering robust insects on a Hanoi street...

indulgent tourist's snapshot
a moment of Caribbean beach perfection.

I am also quite guilty of the disembodied hand photo, but due to my need to hold the camera with my right hand, these pictures all turn out to be more similar than the foot ones. Still, they appeal to my senses.

I remember the sizzling heat of Uluru's surface,

the rubbery, muscular texture of an Asian elephant's trunk,

the warmth of a sunny weekend,

the freshness of a suburban lotus pond,

the exotic flavour of black sesame soft serve in Kyoto,

the red centre
and the reason for the expression 'The Red Centre".

I rather like my hands and feet photos. If I acknowledge the cliché, it's fine to continue, yes?
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