Monday, September 29, 2014

Real Fake Antiques!

photo by David Emery (see comments below!)
When we visited Ephesus a few years ago, the stallholders had made a fine art of self-deprecatingly hawking their wares. One of their cheerful shouts as tourists passed was "Real Fake Antiques!" or "Genuine Fake Watches!" The good news is you don't have to go to Ephesus to find a brilliant replica Greek and Roman antiques. 

Opposite the British Museum, on the corner of Great Russell Street and Bury Place, is a fabulous shop called It’s All Greek where you can purchase replicas of objects from ancient Greece. Artefacts inspire my writing so I often go to press my nose against the window, admiring the treasures within: busts, statues, helmets, jewellery, figurines and crateloads of pottery. There is even a replica of a kylix – a kind of cup with a very shallow bowl – that featured in my book, The Pirates of Pompeii.

Last Friday I was showing some sixth-form fans around the Roman section of the British Museum when one of them asked if you could actually drink from a kylix. I took them to It’s All Greek to find out. An offer of free mulled wine – sadly not in a kylix – got us chatting to the owner, a Classicist and ex-teacher. Elinor Wynne Lloyd showed us something I had never seen on those occassions I had merely pressed my nose against the window: a room full of treasures downstairs. Whipping out my notebook, I commenced an impromptu interview, asking her questions I thought other History Girls might ask, including what it’s like to drink from a kylix and which historical novels are her favourites. 

downstairs treasure trove at It's All Greek near the British Museum

Me: You used to teach Latin, Greek and Classical Civilisation at Queen's Gate School in London. After that you ran a teaching business called Locus Classicus. What was that?

Elinor: After sixteen years or so in mainstream teaching, I decided it would be fun to teach a greater variety of ages and needs, so I set up Locus Classicus in a dedicated room at home. I taught Latin, Greek and Classical Civilisation to individuals and small groups. One day it could be a twelve–year old who had moved school and needed to catch up with a year's Latin, the next it would be a revision class for a small group of A level Class Civ students…

Elinor Wynne Lloyd in her shop It's All Greek

I also went out and about, teaching in a small specialist London school for children with special needs. They loved Latin, and I used to take in the occasional Greek pot, bronze figurine, owl or oil lamp collected on trips to Greece over the years. Just having these things to handle, draw and talk about made a huge difference to lessons. It meant we could do a bit of work on mythology and Greek and Latin roots in our languages. 

Me: Do you miss anything about teaching?

Elinor: There are many things I miss but perhaps the most lasting memory is of taking trips to Greece. It was an amazing experience for me to see the girls' reactions to the places and works of art that they had studied at school. Gasping in disbelief after climbing the steps on the Acropolis to look up and see the Parthenon for the first time; traipsing up to the stadium in Delphi, eyes on the ground, then to turn round and see that incredible view over the site and the theatre and right down in the distance to the sea; awestruck silence at seeing a full size bronze statue…. Each time, I relived my own reactions on that formative first trip to Greece when I was 12 years old and of the passion that grew from those experiences.


Girls from Queen's Gate form a Q and G in the theatre of Epidauros in 1997

Me: In what ways do you feel you are still a teacher?

Elinor: It’s All Greek is more than just commerce. Next to each artefact nestles a little ‘information card’. If a customer wants to know more, we are thrilled to oblige! My triad of staff at the moment consists of a former pupil, a Classics graduate and a third-year Classics student!

Me: Handling replica artefacts can give insight into what it would have been like to use the original ones. Can you share anything that has particularly struck you?

large bronze tripod
Elinor: Some twenty years ago now, I wandered into a shop in Delphi, where I saw a glorious bronze tripod. At that stage I was teaching about Delphi, Apollo, the Pythia, the oracle, the tripod and the laurel. My modern Greek was rudimentary at best, but the shop owner and I struck up a conversation and together we carried the tripod outside into his little courtyard. The coals were lit, the bay leaves snipped and the ouzo was poured. I remembered then that in the Odyssey, royal storerooms were full of tripods which were exchanged as tokens of hospitality between guest and host. Here was I, in the centre of the world, watching the scented fumes rise towards Parnassus. Twenty years on, by design and coincidence, we stock that tripod at It's All Greek!

Me: Have you ever sipped wine from a kylix? What was it like?

Elinor: A potter I met in Olympia some years back was a maker of functional vases. On one occasion he handed me a shiny black replica kylix with a band of decoration around the rim and a small circle in the tondo, within which was a gorgoneion with protruding tongue. Within moments, the open bottle of Santorini Assyrtiko was being gently poured into the kylix (enough to obscure the gorgoneion) and proffered. I closed my eyes and took a sip: a little one. I knew there was an art to drinking from a kylix, a skill acquired by the Greek upper classes, so I concentrated intently on balancing the cup so as not to tip and dribble. I opened my eyes to a grin of delight from my observer. Dignity had been maintained but, what's more, during that split second, I had been there amidst the chatter and the hilarity and the imminent kottabos... [a dinner-party drinking game played by flicking the dregs of wine in the bottom of one's cup at various targets.]

Greeks playing kottabos, from a replica red-figure rhyton

Me: Do you read historical fiction? If so, can you share some of your favourite books?

Elinor: I remember my parents doing a bit of their own nurturing of my new-found passion for Greece when we returned from that first trip. They made sure that I had Mary Renault's The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea after going to Crete and Santorini for the first time.

Me: Snap! My parents gave me Mary Renault's book The Last of the Wine when I was eighteen! It sparked my interest in Classics and determined the whole course of my life. (I have blogged about it here). We've got to go now, but I have one last question: What is your current favourite piece in the shop?

Elinor: It's so hard to choose! When people ask where is my favourite place in Greece, I suffer from the same problem. If I'm in Delphi, it's Delphi, Olympia, Olympia and so forth. The silent Kerameikos with its rustling turtles is a favourite.

terracotta turtle and other artefacts
At the shop, there is similar fluctuation: the light one morning may strike a Cycladic figurine in such a way as to take my breath away. At dusk, the brooding shadows of a replica bronze helmet makes me stand to attention. A cheeky terracotta turtle – a replica of a child's toy – makes me smile. The cast of characters is alive, each with its own story to tell.

Caroline Lawrence with replica "Eye Kylix" at It's All Greek
Me: Thanks, Elinor! History Girls and other readers of this blog might like to know they can browse and order your treasures online as well as at the shop: It's All Greek

Caroline Lawrence writes history-mystery books for children set in Ancient Rome and the Wild West. Her motivation is the same as Elinor's: to bring history alive! This post was first published at The History Girls blog. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Walking from Stabia to Vico in 2000

In my previous post, I wrote an account of my visit to the Roman villas at Castellammare di Stabia in October 2000, an era before GPS on smartphones or even digital cameras. 

Up at 5.30 and out of our rented villa by 6am, I had packed in a full morning including a visit to some thermal springs, private tours of two Roman villas and breakfast with archaeologists, including wine... and it was not even 10.15! 


Waiting for a train back to Sorrento, I had a sudden thought. One of my reasons for coming to the Bay of Naples was to explore some of the places my book was set. When the volcano erupts at the end of The Secrets of Vesuvius, my young detectrix Flavia Gemina and her friends set off on foot to find refuge around the promontory. Here I am in Stabia. It's still early... Maybe I should try walking round the promontory from here, just to see if it's possible. The following are entries from my writer's notebook of Friday 20 October 2000, with just a few tweaks.



10.25 am - I decide to go for it. I walk away from the station and make a camera store my first stop. I ran out of film in the Villa San Marco and Villa Ariadne. How could I let that happen? I buy lots of film and tell the very nice proprietors that I intend to walk round the cape to Vico Equense. The man and his wife shake their heads slowly. After some discussion they admit that it CAN be done. They reckon it's about 7 kilometres from Stabia to Vico. 


10.45 am - I set off resolutely, passing the now familiar brown beach, the shipyards and the baths. At the marina I see there is another rank of pipes for mineral water. It's doing a lively if free business: Stabians are happily filling up their empty bottles with sulphur-scented or iron-tinged water. 

11.00 am - Now I am leaving town. In the cliff-face on my left are arches. They look Roman. Boat houses? Like the ones at Herculaneum? Suddenly the smell of sulphur gets me at the back of the nose. I hear running water and see water trickling down the cliff-face. 


11.15 am - I've reached the tip of a little promontory. The road is quite busy here and there isn't always a pavement. So at one point I'm walking along the top of a wall, like Clio in The Secrets of Vesuvius

11.20 am - I've discovered some complex. An old hotel or resort? Huge lumps of black volcanic stone and men fishing. There's a decrepit, partially inhabited building. Strange! 


11.30 am - A vast roadside fruit stall. The cliffs behind it rear up as golden and full of caves as honeycomb. It's impossible to convey their sheer size and scale. [Fourteen years later, I'm kicking myself that I didn't get a gelato or bunch of grapes...]


Towers Hotel under construction in 2000
11.35 am - What on earth is THIS!?! Are they building something? Restoring something? What is it? A lighthouse? A weird hotel? A prop in a Fellini film? [Fourteen years later I discover it is the Towers Hotel Stabiae, a Crowne Plaza four star hotel incorporating a disused cement factory. This is a fascinating complex and I'd love to visit it. However, you'd need a car here, whereas if you stay in Sorrento you can rely on buses and the wonderful Circumvesuviana railway.]


The cement factory in the 1950s
11.40 am - I often get my best ideas when I'm walking or jogging. I've just had the first line of The Pirates of Pompeii pop into my head: "The mountain had exploded and for three days there was darkness..." [Two years later, it ended up almost exactly the same; this is how the Muse works!] 


11.58 am - It has taken me just over an hour (with frequent photo stops) to go round the little promontory. I can't see Vesuvius any more. A sign before a tunnel tells me I'm entering Vico Equense and that it's 11.58 am. 


12.05 pm - Bikini Beach. The change from scruffy Stabia to Vico is extraordinary. Just by rounding the promontory I'm in paradise. The sun is warm, the sky is blue, the sea is the colour of turquoise deepening to sapphire and the pines are like emeralds. See the picture at the top of this blog post.

12.15 pm - Scraio Terme Hotel. According to my guide book, Scraio was famous for its sulphur baths. And here's a hotel which has baths. If only I had more time and money. I might have got my fearsome masseuse and mud wrap here. [Five years later, I get a nice masseuse and a FANGO mud wrap on the island of Ischia.]


12.50 pm - At last! I'm finally at Vico Equense train station. I will take the train back to Sorrento, because my feet are tired to say the least. At the station kiosk, I order a full sugar Coke, a drink I have only had half a dozen times in my entire life. I sit in the shade waiting for the next train, sipping my drink and marvelling at how much I packed in, and all before lunch. 


1.30 pm - Back at the Villa Magnolia on the Capo di Sorrento, it's wonderful to sit in the shade and make notes. After I've showered and washed my hair; I never did get to the baths on this particular adventure.

You can buy all seventeen Roman Mysteries on Kindle. thebookpeople.co.uk sometimes do a great deal on the first ten. Check it out! 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Stabian Villas in 2000

Most of the action in my second book, The Secrets of Vesuvius, takes place on the plain of Stabiae, a Roman town on the bay of Naples, south of Pompeii and Vesuvius. 

In my book, it is the summer of AD 79. My 10-year-old detectrix Flavia Gemina has gone with her father and friends to visit her uncle Gaius, a farmer. Little do they dream that the mountain called Vesuvius will soon erupt! 

I travelled to this region in October 2000 to check facts and get a feel for the terrain. Now known as Castellammare di Stabia this area is not exactly beautiful, but it is incredibly fertile. 

One of the things I wanted to do was visit the beach at Stabia. This was where Pliny the Elder died. His companions survived the pyroclastic flow but his asthmatic lungs could not cope. After his poignant death, Flavia and the other refugees continue south around the promontory on foot. There are no sources supporting this; it's just my assumption. 

In my research, I had read about the 'Milky Mountains' behind the plain of Stabia. I imagined them to be gentle mounds upon which sheep and cattle grazed. When we first took the Circumvesuviana railway through the modern town of Castellammare di Stabia, I saw that the 'Milky Mountains' were steep ridges, rearing almost vertically above the fertile plain. In fact, they are so steep that there is a funicular to take to you the top of Monte Faito, the tallest of them. It is from this vantage point that I open the sequel to The Secrets of Vesuvius: The Pirates of Pompeii

On Friday the 20th of October, 2000, I decided to make an early start and see as much of Stabia as I could. Here are some excerpts from one of the little pocket diaries I always carry with me.

'STABIA DAY'



5.30 am - I am suddenly awake 

6.00 am - I leave our villa on the Capo di Sorrento quietly, so as not to wake the others, going out through the sliding glass doors in the living room. For a moment I stand on the terrace. It is still dark, but beautifully mild. I have packed my rucksack with towel, shampoo, hairbrush, etc. In case I find the ancient but still operating baths of Stabia. 

6.10 am - I thought one of the little orange buses might be waiting at its stop by the American Bar at the bottom of the hill, but 6.00 in the morning is obviously too early. So I set off briskly down the road to Sorrento. I have walked it before, and I know it only takes about 20 minutes. The yellow-orange sodium lights give plenty of light. Directly above hangs a beautiful half-moon.

But I've barely gone a few paces when I hear someone following me!

Someone? 

Or SOMETHING!?

I hear the skitter of toenails on the paved road and a panting sound.


Yellow dog and flea
It's a dog! A yellow dog. 

'No, boy. Go back!' I say in my firmest voice.
The yellow dog stands up, puts his paws on my arm, grins and barks.
'No. Stay. Stay!' I repeat.
He accompanies me all the way to the waterfall at the outskirts of Sorrento. Sometimes, for no reason I can discern, he chases a car, barking at it. But other cars he ignores? Why?

6.20 am - I have a revelation! On a previous research trip to Ostia, Flavia Gemina 'appeared' to me. Here is another character from the pages of my book: Scuto!

I should have seen it before! The golden-brown woolly coat, the absently wagging tail, the cheerful bark and grin, the slightly lopsided ears... most of all the faithful, comforting companionship. 

6:30 am - 'Scuto' waits with me at the bus stop for a few minutes, and when I shrug and resume walking he carries on beside me. When at last I reach the outskirts of Sorrento town he peels off to go have a sniff and I don't see him again. I miss him... 

6:45 - The Sorrento train station is the end of the line for the Circumvesuviana, (so called because it goes 'around Vesuvius'). It's a pretty station with palms and bougainvillea adding colour to the clean, new platform. 

6.50 am - It's just getting light when I buy my return ticket to Castellammare di Stabia. There are no tourists at this hour, just commuters: students and distinguished-looking civil servants who say 'Ciao!' when they step on the train, before they even see who is sitting there.

6.55 am - Perhaps the commuters always choose the same car, because they soon find friends and start chatting. They are very cheerful for that hour of the morning. I feel out of place. I can see from my reflection as we go through a tunnel that my hair is still mussed from my stealthy exit earlier that morning. Peering around me with notebook poised, I must seem slightly suspect. In the crowded train the seats around me are conspicuously empty. 

7.00 am - We rattle through the lesser towns: the delightfully named Piano di Sorrento, Meta, and Vico Equense with its Roman aqueduct out the right hand window. A lot of commuters get out here and then we continue on through the mountain to Castellammare.

7.05 am - We finally emerge from the long tunnel, the green cliff rising steeply on our right, and pull into Castellammare. The sun is just rising to the east somewhere over the plain. But I can't see it because the town is full of tall buildings. Originally, I had asked the travel agent to find a villa here, because this is where The Secrets of Vesuvius is mainly set. 

The travel agent ignored my request and gave us a villa in Sorrento. 'Nobody stays in the plain around Pompeii,' she informed me. 


7.07 am - I set off down the road from the train station and start to ask people where the baths are. My guide book to Naples says 'Thermal Baths; Piazza Amendola; June - Oct; 7am - 1 pm.' Well, it's October and it's just past 7am... I see a lurid poster for a Circus featuring piranha fish and beautiful women. 

7.10 am - I wander down to the 'beach' of Stabia.The sand is a rather unattractive grey brown. More like dirt than sand. It is a big beach, with a smooth opalescent bay beyond, dominated by Vesuvius's truncated cone. The coast stretches round to my right and there are are dockyards on my left. 

7.15 am - Along the waterfront dozens of joggers - both men and women - are running back and forth. Many of them stop and do leg stretches on the balustrade dividing the waterfront from the beach. This is obviously what the residents of Castellammare do at 7.00 am on a weekday. I ask one or two of the 'stretchers' about the baths. Nobody here in Stabia seems to know that their town is blessed with thermal baths. Even the oldest and the most venerable of them give each other glances and edge away from me when I enquire. Finally a man in a red and blue tracksuit gestures vaguely up the street, back towards Sorrento. 

So I set off to find the baths...


7.20 am - As I pass the dockyards in search of the baths of Stabia, I see a sign warning that cars might fall into the sea. The sign reminds me...

The day before we had just stepped off the ferry onto Capri when we heard shouts and turned just in time to see a tiny yellow Cinquecento (smaller than a Mini) rolling into the harbour!

Its front wheel was already over the edge and two Italians were hanging onto its rear yelling 'Aiuto! Aiuto!' For a moment it looked as if it could go either way. Then every Italian man in the piazza left their cups of espresso and swarmed over the little yellow car and pulled it back to safety. 

Thankfully, there was no-one inside. But someone had obviously left the parking brake off. As they pulled the little car back to safety there was much laughter and back slapping and rude jokes (I presume) at the car's expense. 

7.25 am - I am still trying to find the thermal baths of Stabia. I have visions of steamy Turkish baths full of short, moustached Italian women; of a massage on a marble slab; maybe even a mud-bath. I have purposely not washed my hair for a few days in anticipation. It's a bit itchy and I scratch it thoughtfully as I wander along the waterfront of Castellammare di Stabia.

I don't see any baths. 

Across the road is a smart looking coffee shop called the Excelsior Cafe. I figure someone in such a posh-looking joint might speak some English. Yes, he does. Yes, he knows the baths. I'm heading in the right direction but he doesn't think they open until 9.00 am. I glance at my watch:

7.30 am - As I leave the cafe, I note again that many Italian cafes don't have chairs or stools, just a bar at which to stand and grab a quick doppia (a double measure espresso) and one of those cheese filled croissants that seem so popular. It seems the Italians are in even more of a hurry to get through life than Londoners or New Yorkers... I proceed up the street through a distinctly non-tourist area of town. I get suspicious looks from women hanging laundry from windows, men lurking in alleys and high school students on their way to school. 


Then I discover that the way to deal with this intensely suspicious glance is to disarm it with a cheery smile and a bright buon giorno! This has the most amazing effect. Immediately the glowering face is transformed to a delighted smile. I ask some kids where i termi are. They point behind me. 

There, behind a crinkled street-sweeper with a twig broom is a huge fascist-looking structure. Sure enough, cleverly hidden behind a shrub are the words TERME STABIANI... A group of men loiter on the stairs and the steep green cliffs of the Milky Mountains rise up behind it. With some trepidation I mount the steps. I am thinking sauna, massage, mud wrap, steaming hot sulphurous baths...
The man at the ticket window looks blankly at me when I ask for the baths. He gestures vaguely back towards town. Then he hands me a brochure. Apparently the mud baths, massage and saunas are available in the posher part of Stabia, up in the hills in a private beauty clinic. Then he hands me a plastic cup and gestures for me to enter. I stand for a minute feeling extremely stupid, then hesitantly walk towards the huge iron doors. This is going to be a very interesting bath, I think to myself, holding my plastic cup as I pass through the gates.

7.45 am - I find myself outside again. The green cliff rises up before me. To my right is a large open space with table and chairs. The chairs are all stacked on the tables, but presumably in summer this place is crowded with people. 

To my left are semi-circular steps leading down to a kind of altar from which nine pipes protrude. Each one spouts cold water into a marble trough. Above the pipes are the words in Latin 'Creationis Gloria Humanitatis Salute' which I guess means something like 'The Glory of Creation for the Health of Humanity'... 


Looking closer, I see that the spouts are labelled: Solfurea Ferrata (Sulphur Iron), Ferrata, Solfurea, Magnesiaca, S. Vincenzo, Media, Acidula, Solfurea Carbonica and Muraglione.

Nine different types of water gush from nine pipes which emerge from the cliff. Suddenly I get a strong whiff of sulphur, as if someone were waving a hard-boiled egg just under my nose. It really gets me in the back of the throat. I stand with my plastic cup, watching peasant women and joggers fill empty bottles, cups and even cupped hands to get the water. They bottle and drink it avidly.

I take a deep breath and bend to fill my cup with Solfurea Ferrata. I stand and sip it. It's cold and tastes of fizzy, salty eggs. I drink it down. 

The Ferrata is just salty and fizzy. 

Then I try just the Solfurea. It's eggy.

As I finish my third cup an odd woman smiles at me. She has been drinking from S.Vincenzo and is patting it on her cheeks.

She sees me watching and indicates that S.Vincenzo is good for the skin. In fact it's good for all over. She points to the Magnesiaca and prods her stomach. 'Per stomaco' she says. Then she points to the first three pipes, the ones I've been drinking from. She makes a downwards sweeping motion with her hands and says something which sounds like, 'Clistere, clistere...' Clyster?

Oops! I've just drunk three cupfuls of water designed to loosen the bowels!

The marble trough which catches the water as it gushes out of the pipes is rust red, presumably from the high iron content. This is REAL mineral water. A man is filling plastic water bottles from the Ferrata pipe and there is half an inch of red-orange sediment at the bottom of his bottle! I try more of the water, this time just taking a taste. The Acidula isn't acid. The Solfurea Carbonica just tastes salty. I suppose an expert would describe it as 'eggy, with a hint of iron and the insouciant fizz of bicarbonate...' but to me it all tastes the same. 

As I walk back along the waterfront towards Stabia's train station, I notice that most of the joggers have been replaced by Italian naval officers who look as if they've just stepped off a battleship.
Wearing well-cut navy blue uniforms and white caps, they look extremely smart as they stroll towards the coffee shops for their tiny jolt of espresso. 

8.30 am - When you come into Stabia by train, the sign on the platform reads: Stabia di Castellemmare/Villa Romana. So I figure the environs of the train station would give the best lead for finding the famous Roman villas. No such luck. No-one seems to have a clue what I am talking about. Can 'Villa Romana' be so hard to understand? At last I spot a brown 'historical interest' sign promising 'scavi': excavations. It directs me up the main street, in the opposite direction from the baths.

8.35 am - I duly set off through the centre of the modern town. Shopkeepers are opening up shops and schoolchildren making their way to school. Traders have just finished setting up fruit and veg stalls displaying the most wonderful variety of produce: yellow-green baby pears, black grapes, purple figs, pale green fennel, mottled green zucchini, glossy aubergine and tomatoes still on their stalks. 


8.40 am - And the fish stalls! Flat round blue trays filled with shellfish, red mullet, anchovies, and fish I couldn't begin to recognise or name. This probably hasn't changed in two thousand years. Except for the plastic scoop. 

I notice the brick pavements are set with white marble patterns, presumably for the same reason ancient Pompeian sidewalks had marble chippings - to help you see them in the night. These were the ancient Roman version of cat's eyes. 

8.45 am - At last I reach a hill where the street divides, becoming bigger and busier. Ahead of me, the road sign indicates that the 'scavi' can be reached by going either right or left. It's a busy road and I can't go on foot. While staring round distractedly I notice a line of tiny mini-bus taxis which have just finished doing their school runs. I approach one of the drivers, a short young man with dark hair, and I point to the address in my guide book. Though he speaks no English he understands where I want to go and agrees to take me.

8.50 am - I am the only passenger in a little 'buslet' meant for five or six school children. I feel a bit like Gulliver among the Lilliputians: if I sit up straight my head touches the car's roof! Up the hill we buzz. Up an up, round and round, finally ending up at a small white wooden house at the end of a track. Several men come out onto the porch, lean their elbows on the rail and grin down at us. My driver gets out and shows them my guide, asking if this is Villa Ariadne.

'Yes.' they say. 'Of course this is the Villa Arianna.' A tour of the villa should take about 20 minutes. The driver agrees to wait for me. I show the Villa Ariadne men my ticket from Pompeii: it's supposed to allow you free entry to these other sites. One of the men, a pleasant looking Italian with grizzled hair, waves it aside. 

'No payment,' he smiles. 'Just sign guest book.' 

Then he takes a heavy bunch of keys from his pocket and leads me across a grassy, dew-soaked field for my private tour of not one but two opulent Roman villas, both set right at the edge of a cliff, looking down on suburban houses and small gardens built where the sea bed would have been 2000 years ago. But eheu! Alas! I have run out of film. I can't take photographs of the two amazing villas he shows me. [Needless to say, this is before the age of digital cameras or iPhone backups.]

9.00 am - At the first villa I can still see the remains of the terrace where guests would have sat to sip honeyed wine and to watch the sun set. They must have had a stunning sea view in ancient times. This is the famous Villa Ariadne, so called after a fresco of Ariadne lolling about on a rock, after Theseus has abandoned her on the island of Naxos. The young wine god, Dionysus, has just arrived to console her. The famous fresco is now at the Archaeological Museum in Naples.


One of the most famous paintings of Roman times comes from this villa: it is a tiny figure of the goddess Flora. It's also in Naples, of course. [Seven years from now, Bulgarian set designers will paint a much larger version on the set of the TV series based on my books.]

9.10 am - These Roman villas on the hill overlooking Castellammare di Stabia are astounding. Huge rooms, all triclinia (dining rooms) according to my guide, with frescoes on the walls and mosaics on the floors. Some of the stairs to the upper floors still remain. There are tiny slaves' quarters, huge reception areas, hidden passages and narrow halls. These were really vast mansions. These would have been the neighbours of Pliny the Elder's friend Titus Tascius Pomponianus. 

9.15 am - I return to my taxi and we drive to the Villa San Marco. I see later from a map that what took a few kilometres by car is only a few meters. I could have walked it.

9.30 am - A smiling woman in a trouser suit leaves her kiosk to show me the Villa San Marco. She sets off towards a nearby farm, beckoning me to follow. I follow her through a farm courtyard, past some olive groves, a few sleeping dogs (this could almost be the farm of Flavia's Uncle Gaius), and past a more modern complex to the villa.

9.45 am - The first thing that strikes me is the huge swimming pool in the courtyard of the Villa San Marco. It is as wide as an Olympic swimming pool and twice as long! 

My guide has no English, and I have little Italian, so she gestures silently, like a game show hostess showing me the prizes on offer.

She shows me the enormous private bath complex, with its large sunken rectangular pool and the biggest hypocaust system (for heating water) I have seen on any ancient site. 


She shows me the lady's boudoir, with dark blue walls and little stars and a plaster sleeping platform on which to put a feather down mattress.

She shows me the charming atrium, with its four beautiful columns, Pompeian red at the base, then plaster mixed with marble dust and fluted to give the impression of real columns. 

9.50 am - Then my guide shows me the most enormous Roman kitchen I have ever seen. 

Most Roman kitchens have one or maybe two arched cooking platforms. Wood goes underneath, and coals lie on top, like a kind of indoor barbecue. This one has a cooking platform with FOUR arches and enough space on top to prepare a meal for one hundred! On the left a large stone sink! 


In a big airy dining-room about two storeys high is another famous fresco I recognise. Perseus, wearing Mercury's winged sandals and hat, is tiny, less than two feet tall. He calmly holds up the head of Medusa. The decapitated gorgon is not at all hideous. She looks quite mild and even coy. 

Suddenly there is a fluttering in the high rafters: a little sparrow. 

'Uccellino,' says my guide, gesturing at the bird and smiling apologetically, as if it's her fault he's trapped in this bright room. We watch him silently for a few minutes and make sympathetic faces. But there is nothing we can do, and we leave him there, fluttering above Perseus and his little Medusa.

9.55 am - As my female guide leads me away from the villa San Marco a curly-haired young man with a rucksack slung over one shoulder approaches. We converge outside the modern bungalow I noticed earlier. This is obviously the archaeologists' headquarters, the place where they catalogue shards of pottery and collect bits of mosaic. The young man greets my guide in Italian. They exchange a few words. Then he turns to me and introduces himself.

His name is Benjamin and he learned his English in London, in Wood Green. As we chat, a few of the other archaeologists poke their heads out of the doorway and beam at us. One of them has a truly impressive big beard, another looks like the American comedian Jon Lovitz: rotund and genial. There is another woman and a few older men. They confer among themselves then call out something to my guide. 'They want you to join us for breakfast,' grins Benjamin. 

'I'm afraid I can't. I have a taxi waiting for me; I've already been too long...' I smile at Big Beard and shrug apologetically. 

10.00 am - A few minutes later I find myself in a kind of lounge with all six of them. A sink and small cooker in one corner, a formica table, some shelves and chairs. On the table is a rectangular metal caterers' dish filled with a curious kind of food: chunks of wholemeal bread have been hollowed out and filled with an unidentifiable meat and some type of greens - broccoli leaves, I think. 

'They've been up since before 6.00 am', explains Benjamin, 'and they like a big breakfast.'

I've been up since before 6.00, too, but there's half a litre of sulphur water sloshing about in my stomach. I protest that I'm not really hungry and besides, my taxi is waiting for me... But they won't hear of it. Big Beard thrusts a 'lamb-butty' into my hand. As I take a few bites, they all laugh and chatter away happily in Italian. I notice they're drinking wine. 

'They say you must have some wine,' laughs Benjamin. 'It's home-made; they make it themselves...' Ah. So THAT'S what Italian archaeologists do all day... Big Beard reaches down into a green plastic crate and pulls out a glass bottle filled with something dark. It's the home-made wine.

'No. Don't open a new bottle for me. Really. I couldn't. I mean, it's not even 10.00 am yet! No, really. My poor taxi driver. Well, if you insist... grazie... No! Basta! Basta!' The liquid in my plastic cup is such a dark red it is almost black. It is fizzingly fresh, with purple foam on top, and incredibly powerful. I take a few sips and another bite of my sandwich. The archaeologists are really buzzing now, all talking and laughing at full volume. 

'I really must go,' I pleaded. 'If I didn't have a taxi waiting, I'd stay and...'

'No. They say you can't possibly go until you've had a coffee!' insists Benjamin. Within seconds 'Jon Lovitz' hands me a tiny plastic cup half full of rich, dark espresso. It's strong. Very strong. No wonder they're all buzzing!


10.15 am - I say goodbye to the archaeologists of the Villa San Marco and hurry to see if my young taxi driver is still waiting. He is. Leaning against the car, smoking a cigarette. When he sees me coming he flicks the butt into the dewy grass. Then opens my door and drives me back through the most chaotic spaghetti of traffic I have ever witnessed. Big cars, little cars, scooters, bicycles, buses all weaving and dancing and honking and doing U-turns and gesticulating... Apparently it's normal weekday traffic in Stabia. Heaven help them if the mountain blows! 

10.20 am - The taxi finally drops me at the train station of Via Nocera, which is closer than Castellammare di Stabia. I pay my faithful driver 50,000 lire, about £16 [or 15 euros at today's rates] which I think he well deserves

10.22 am - Waiting for a train, I have a sudden thought: Maybe I should try walking round the promontory from here! To see if it's possible... 

[to be continued]

P.S. For up-to-date information on the Villas at Stabia, visit the Restoring Ancient Stabia website and follow them on Twitter @fond_ras.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Long Live Tuco!

What is the world's most highly rated Western?

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Over at IMDb, it consistently ranks as one of the top ten films among viewers top 250. And rightly so. It is a masterpiece of storytelling: funny, exciting, brutal, touching and always unexpected. It is about three men searching for two hundred thousand dollars in gold during the final years of the American Civil War.


Everybody knows that Lee Van Cleef AKA Angel Eyes AKA "the Bad" is the baddie. 

Everybody thinks that Clint Eastwood AKA Blondie AKA "the Good" is the hero.

They are wrong. 


The hero is Tuco Benedicto Pacfico Juan Mara Ramrez AKA Tuco AKA "the Ugly". He is a grubby, greasy, greedy Mexican who cares for nothing but gold. He was played masterfully by Eli Wallach, who died today at the grand old age of 98. 

I will say it again: Tuco is the Hero! Think about it. He's the first one we see and the last one we see. He has more screen time than either of the others. He is the only one with a back story. 

Apparently, Clint Eastwood was worried that Eli Wallach might steal the film. And with reason. Wallach totally steals the film. From the moment he comes crashing through the window of a saloon, a smoking revolver in one hand and a half-eaten turkey drumstick in the other, to his last final cry "You're just a son of a [wa-oo-wa-oo-wah]!" he fizzes with mischievous energy and fun. I've seen the film half a dozen times and his performance is always fresh, always funny, always endearing. 

Tuco is my favourite character in this film and in any Western. 

And Eli Wallach was the key to Tuco's lovability. 

Wallach was a trained method actor who worked with Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Peter OToole, Audrey Hepburn and many others. He could play any type of character, but comedy was his forte. 

Many of Tuco's best moments in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly were ad-libbed by Wallach. When Blondie gives him a cigar he eats it. When bomb is about to go off he dives into a trench head first, butt up! The way he crosses himself is hilarious. The scene of him in the bubble bath is sublime. His face expresses every selfish thought. His muddy brown eyes glow with life, humour, vulnerability. 


Ten things I love about Tuco:
1. He wears a belt AND braces.
2. He has a sense of humour.
3. He likes bubble baths.
4. He likes cigars as snacks.
5. He has a silver tooth.
6. He is man enough to carry a parasol in the desert.
7. He doesn't let life get him down.
8. He has a rich vocabulary... for cussing.
9. He wears his gun on a string around his neck.
10. He is a man of faith. Well, he IS always crossing himself.

My five fave Tuco quotes:
1. There are two kinds of spurs, my friend. Those that come in by the door, and those that come in by the window.
2. Don't die, I'll get you water. Stay there. Don't move, I'll get you water. Don't die until later.
3. Hurrah! Hurrah for the Confederacy! HURRAH! Down with General Grant! Hurrah for General... What's his name? Lee! LEE! Ha ha.
4. If I get my hand on the two hundred thousand dollars, Ill always honour your memory. I swear.
5. When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk.

Thank you, Eli, for giving us so much pleasure. You are gone, but Tuco will live forever. 

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Classics Bucket List


When you first became interested in Classics, did you have certain goals? Perhaps you dreamt of reading Homer in the original Greek? Or of learning to scan lines of Virgil? Did you hope your Classics degree might give you a grasp of Greek philosophy or insight into Roman politics? Did you imagine yourself doing certain things? Wandering ancient ruins in the shimmering heat of the Mediterranean sun? Drinking retsina under a grape arbour at dusk on the coast of some island? Swimming in the same dark waters sailed by Odysseus and Cleopatra?
How many of those dreams and goals have you realised? Maybe it's time to take stock. To ponder which can be ticked off a list and which can stay on. When I was thinking about this talk, I sent out a tweet asking Classicists what goals they still had. 80% of the answers were intellectual: e.g. to memorise a speech, learn a language, grasp a concept. Only 20% had to do with physical activity, usually a pilgrimage to some ancient site or trek along some famous road. We Classicists exist so much in our heads that I thought I would make most of the items on my list about the physical tasks rather than mental goals. My aim with this list of suggestions is to encourage you to use all five senses to reconnect with your original dreams and goals, so you can be inspired and inspire others. 

1. MEMORISE A PASSAGE - Learning something by heart is a precious thing. Memorise a speech or poem in Latin, Greek or Hebrew. Not only will you inspire your students, you will have something to recite when you find yourself in an ancient Greek theatre with those famously excellent acoustics. And a speech or poem is always more impressive than saying testing one two three when you’re trying out a microphone. Best of all, the passage becomes part of you. Tip: Recite it every morning while doing your push ups and crunches.

my kylix from the Vatican giftshop
2. START COLLECTING ARTEFACTS - It’s always fun to collect replica artefacts that you can play with and use in class. I like to buy one at every ancient site I visit. This can be costly at times, but it gives you a entry into the mindset of ancient Greeks or Romans as your teeth click on the ceramic rim of a kylix or as you hold a guttering oil lamp at night. Artefacts are an amazing way of bringing a text alive, of transferring knowledge from your head to your heart. The physician’s cupping instrument taught me about the four humours, the strigil about the baths, the sponge-stick about Roman hygiene. Tip: There is an INSET day on Using Artefacts as Teaching Aids at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford on 22 November 2014.

my replica strigil and oil flask
3. TAKE YOUR STRIGIL TO THE BATHS - In Rome last year, I met two experts on ancient Roman thermae or baths. Neither one of them had ever been to a hammam or public bathhouse of any kind! How can you study Roman baths without ever trying out the nearest thing? A trip to a Turkish bath or hammam can be a sensory revelation. In a hammam in the old town of Fez, I once saw a boy shovelling sawdust into the underfloor furnace, just like a Roman hypocaust. I went to another Fez hammam at night and the electric lights glowed in the steam like oil-lamps. I almost fainted after the hot room because I got up too fast. With its cream and apricot marble and dome pierced with elaborate steam vents, Cağaloğlu Hamamı in Istanbul is so opulent that a visit makes you feel like a Roman emperor or empress. Tip: You don't have to go to Morocco or Turkey, there is a Roman Bath in Bayswater with rooms marked tepidarium, caldarium and laconicum. Take a flask of oil and your replica strigil to the Porchester Spa

Man on Market Street, San Francisco
4. TRY CUPPING - Cupping teaches you about the four humours, one of the ancient mindsets we've forgotten. The cupping instrument was such a common aspect of Greek and Roman life that doctors often hung replica ones outside their surgeries or put reliefs of them on their tombs. But many classicists wouldn't know a cupping vessel if they saw it. Cupping was designed to balance the humours bringing you back to health and stability. Reading Book VI of the Iliad, I suddenly realised that Hector is melancholy by nature and Paris – likened to a leaping stallion – is sanguine. Tip: Your local Chinese doctor or Acupuncture technician can do dry or wet cupping. 

Chris Lydamore
5. THROW A POT - I once attended a workshop in London where children in inner city primary schools were asked to make amphorae from plastic cups, masking tape and balloons! This was supposed to give them an grasp of the shape and function of amphorae in the ancient world. Arghh! How much better for them to have seen a potter at work or even had a go themselves to get a feel for the manufacture of real pots and jars. I was lucky enough to take pottery in high school. I still remember the feel of the lump of clay spinning between my hands, of how you have to pump the wheel with your foot making your thigh ache after a while, of how a pillar of wet clay grows and wobbles and tips if you haven't centred it. The slippery feel of clay water, the leathery texture of a partly dried pot, the chalky texture of a cup painted with glaze before the firing and its delightfully glossy durability afterwards. Tip: Your local community college or City Lit (in London) should offer courses in pottery or ceramics.



The Cambridge Greek play in 2013
6. ATTEND (OR STAGE) A GREEK PLAY - Oxford's Armand d’Angour dreams of seeing an authentic reconstruction of an Ancient Greek tragic chorus. He’s hoping to stage one himself in 2015. Those of you who are teachers have a captive cast and crew. You could always do an adaptation or a musical version. In Cambridge last year, I saw a superb double bill of Prometheus and The Frogs by Helen Eastman and others.  Personally, I would love to see the ancient version of a pantomime, in which a single pantomime dancer wearing a mask would dance out a story sung by accompanying musicians. We don't have any surviving examples, unfortunately, but you could put your own interpretation on it. Tip: If you can't make it to the National Theatre to see their production of Medea from September 2014, you can do Medea Live at your local cinema. 

with Andrew Ashmore 
7. TAKE PART IN A RE-ENACTMENT - You don't have to be in the front line. Re-enactments are not always about fighting. Sometimes they're about dressing up. You can be a poet or scribe or camp follower. If you don't take part in one, try to attend one. Wander from stall to stall, event to event. Talk to the re-enactors. They have insight into the classical world that can only be gleaned from sleeping in a field under a leather tent or cooking recipes from Apicius on a coal brazier or wearing a chain mail shirt all day. Tip: The British Museum has regular if infrequent re-enactment events. They are invariably superb. 

Ben Kane walks for charity
8. GO ON A PILGRIMAGE - Ray Laurence, professor of Classics at the University of Kent, tweeted his dream of following the Via Flaminia from Rimini to Rome. Liz Gloyn would walk Hadrian's Wall. Classics teacher Andrew Christie from Rugby School has the grand ambition to follow the footsteps of Alexander the Great. But why not aim high, like Andrew? You only live once. If you need an excuse to attempt a pilgrimage, why not go on a sponsored walk as author Ben Kane recently did. He and some dedicated friends walked from Capua to Rome in full armour! Tip: train for this one. 

Ostia Antica, numinous and magical
9. VISIT AN ANCIENT SITE - Have you stood in the ruins of Troy or climbed Vesuvius? Cambridge professor Mary Beard would like to go to Palmyra and Mons Porphyritus. Oxford professor Llewelyn Morgan dreams of climbing Mount Ilam in Pakistan. American Latin teacher Edward Zarrow wants to take his kids to Leptis. Many of my friends claim their interest in the subject was first sparked by a visit to an ancient site, not always an exotic or glamorous one. Tip: Ostia Antica is my favourite ancient site in the whole world. It has an almost numinous quality and is only an hour from Rome by train.


Santa Lucia fishing village in Naples
10. VISIT A CITY WITH A CLASSICAL HERITAGE - After many years of avoiding Naples, my husband and I spent a week there on the advice of Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill. We stayed in the peaceful Santa Lucia district – a hidden fishing village at the foot of the Castel dell'Ovo – and we fell utterly in love with the city. Vibrant, crowded, full of superstition and joie-de-vivre, Naples is probably the closest I will get to travelling back in time to Pompeii. Sadly, many Classicists avoid Naples apart from a half-day visit to the National Museum. Athens is another city that has a reputation of being hot and crowded, but if you go off-season, it can be a thrilling experience. We are living in a golden age of air fare and from the UK you can get to Classical cities more cheaply than any at other time in history. Tip: EasyJet.

Puy du Fou near Nîmes in France
11. ATTEND A BULLFIGHT OR CHARIOT RACE - You can't go back in time to the Colosseum for beast hunts and gladiatorial combats or to the Circus Maximus for chariot races. But the closest equivalent to a day in the amphitheatre is a day at a bullfight. If the idea of watching a bull being slaughtered offends you there are bullfights in France where the bull is not killed. This can be an eye-opening experience. The shape of the arenas is the same. Bull stadia are often draped in garlands, as we know the Colosseum was. You can rent a cushion and buy a snack, just like in Roman times. The most important person sits at the shady end of the oval nearest the sand (Latin harena = arena, of course). Dead animals are dragged off with hooks and the bloody sand raked over. Music was played then and is played now. Less evocative are modern chariot races. Health and safety means we will never legally watch twelve four-horse chariots race round a track at breakneck speed, but the Puy du Fou in France probably comes closest. Tip: You eat meat and wear leather, so don't be squeamish about watching animals die. 

The Amber Fury
12. WRITE A NOVEL OR SCREENPLAY - As a Classicist, you have enough insight and knowledge to write a book. Maybe you will write the next Eagle of the Ninth or The Last of the Wine. It could be a child’s picture book about the Trojan Horse, your own translation of Catullus' Love Poetry, or a tongue-in-cheek re-telling of Homer's Odyssey in the style of The Diary of A Wimpy Kid... Oh wait! That's been done. Classicist Natalie Haynes has recently written a contemporary novel based on a Greek tragedy template: The Amber Fury. Or, if a novel doesn't appeal, You could write a screenplay based on a updated Greek myth or re-telling of a fascinating incident from history. I am currently kicking myself that I didn't think of Ruby Sparks, the Pygmalion story from a writer's point of view, or Mark Wahlberg's upcoming The Roman, a filmed version of teenage Julius Caesar's abduction by pirates. If you're really ambitious, why not map out a whole TV series about Theseus or Hadrian? Tip: Find a good story structure method, like Save the Cat.

So those are 
my dozen suggestions of things you might want to do before you KICK THE BUCKET. If you don't like them, come up with your own! 

Tweet me @CarolineLawrenc to let me know how you get on. Oleave your suggestions in the comments section below.  Bona fortuna! Good luck!

P.S. My personal bucket list:
1. To memorise twenty lines of Homer's Iliad
2. Acquire a replica bronze age helmet with lining and crest
3. Take a pottery class and make a Geometric cup
4. Take part in a real Roman banquet, reclining on couches
5. Watch a Roman pantomime (or something close to it)
6. Climb Mount Vesuvius to the crater
7. Spend the night among the ruins of Troy
8. Visit Jerusalem
9. Witness a chariot race at Puys du Fou
10. Write an HBO television adaptation of the Aeneid

[This post is based on my presidential address at the JACT AGM and conference in May 2014.]