August 29, 2007

Rrrrrrrrolling on the Rrrrrrrrrrrriver

This is my favorite new commercial on Italian radio (click the link to play in a new window, or use the embedded audio to the right). It's for a store called Rocco Giocattoli, which is kind of like Toys-R-Us, and is hawking lots of fab back-to-school merch like notebooks (quaderni) and backpacks (zaine, not to be confused with zingari, which are gypsies, or zanzare, which are mosquitoes) starting at 9.90E. My favorite parts are:

  • His enthusiasm for and pronunciation of the English phrases back-to-school, Power Rangers, and Spiderman Tre.
  • The random inclusion into an already loud and hyper commercial of kids who shout, "Yay, we're going back to school!"
  • The ridiculously over-emphasized rolled R in the name of the store.
I think the reason I like this commercial so much is because in 20 seconds it thoroughly confirms the stereotype of Italians as loud, excitable, and completely obsessed with American cultural products. Also, it reminds me of this SNL sketch mocking Italians, which is probably my favorite SNL sketch of all time because it is completely and utterly true.

August 27, 2007

Roman Tshirts: The Sequel

I know you've all been eagerly awaiting another installment of weird Italian tshirts. These are unfortunately not as good as the last ones (and there is one that was a shopping bag and not a tshirt), but here goes. All of these were spotted on or from the tram, which remains the prime location for spotting questionable fashion.




On the tram, I saw a guy wearing this shirt. Just a white tshirt with black lettering - you know, the kind that looks ironed on, the slightly raised velvety letters from tshirts of the heydey of roller disco in the 70s and 80s. At first, I considered he could have thought it was a place. Duke, Montana rather than Butte, Montana. Then I just figured the two words sounded good together, so he got a tshirt. Well, I googled when I got home, and it turns out that Duke Montana is a local rapper. Yes, folks, a very white, very Italian, very romano rapper. I couldn't find this particular tshirt online, but feel free to read all about Duke Montana here.




From the tram one day, I spotted a woman waiting for a bus who had an odd shopping bag. The Calvin graphic caught my immediate attention, and I tried hard to read the information on the bag so that I could search for it when I got home. All I could read, though, was the first line which said, I swear, Dr. Kinky. I unfortunately have no idea what Dr. Kinky trafficks in. It is possible that I misread and it was a bag from Kinky Boots, but I don't think so. No amount of searching for Dr. Kinky, Mr. Kinky, or Calvin helps me figure out what the hell kind of store this is. I do suspect that, like De Niro Spy News, Italians are freely using a copyrighted image.




Just today, I spotted a guy wearing this tshirt. On the front it simply said JMMS Honor Roll, and on the back was something like this. The honor roll part caught my attention because it was in English and because I doubt that Italian schools have this concept. So I swung around a bit to see the back of his shirt, to see if I could get any indication which school this was and where. It's James Monroe Middle School, but I did not get any more information than that. The mascot was some kind of bird, but I'm not sure which kind. I did try looking for which school this might be, and the closest I came was a JMMS in Albuquerque. Their mascot is the raptor, but I can't find a picture anywhere on their website. But I can't figure out why this guy would be wearing this tshirt. He didn't look like a tourist at all - he didn't look lost (all Americans on the tram look lost), and he didn't look American (American men don't wear capri pants). I guess that, along with the clothing drop that brought the Old Navy Halloween shirt, this JMMS shirt was dropped too.



And I've saved the best for last... as I was heading to the train station to leave for Copenhagen last week, a woman got on the bus. She was about 60 years old and was wearing this tshirt with a pair of generic old-lady pants. I stared at her for several minutes trying to figure out what would possess a woman to wear a shirt with a dripping red logo that proclaimed she had her period. Turns out, it's the logo for a band called The Cramps, a punk rock band formed back in 1972. Their 1985 single "Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?" hit number 68 on the UK singles chart in 1985. I feel kinda sorry for that woman who was wearing the shirt. It's possible that she herself was a punk rocker in her mid-20s and still has a shirt from the time. But it's more likely that she got it from the cargo cult shipment.



August 23, 2007

Circular and Sweet



MISSING

From My Keyboard
Rome, Italy - July 15, 2007




My O Key

Description: 3 years old - 1.5x1.5cm - Black with white lettering
Distinguishing Features: Blue 6 in upper right corner, broken snap
Last Seen: Resting atop a little black nubbin

Please contact Kristina with any information regarding the tragic disappearance or whereabouts of this integral element of digital technology.




Don't spread it around - everyone will want one!


I get my kicks

At a very international dinner party last night, this one Italian was quizzing the Spanish woman on Basque separatism and then decided to ask me random questions about America, like exactly how many people were killed in the 9/11 attacks (My answer: I dunno, a few thousand?) and...

Italian: Route 66 - where does that go?
Me: Uhm, I have no idea.
Italian: What? It's famous. Route 66. You've heard of it?
Me: Yeah.
Italian: And you don't know where it goes?
Me: You do realize that your country is the size of Florida, right? No, I don't know the path of all the highways in the country.

Not my finest moment. Insulting Italians because I don't know geography. I feel so... American.

The answer, if you are wondering, is LA to Chicago. I wikipediaed it.

August 19, 2007

Trip to Denmark and Sweden - Pics and Stories

Below are four separate entries on my trip to Copenhagen and Lund. If you click on the date below or in each post, you can go to all the pictures I took that day. If you prefer just to see highlights, by all means, don't click. And if you don't want to read about my trip at all, well, just skip down about a week. :)

August 14 - Thorvaldsen Museum, Rundetaarn, Rosenborg Castle, Kongens Have, Nyhavn, Stroget

August 15 - Christiansborg, Vor Frelsers Kirke, Christiania, Marmorkirken, Churchill Park, Kastellet, Little Mermaid, Nyboder

August 16 - Amalienborg, Amaliehave, Glyptotek, Assistens Cemetery, Strange Danish Things

August 17 - Lund, Sweden. Cathedral, University, Botanical Gardens, Parks.

Scandinavian Pictures - Day 4 (August 17)

Swedish Excursion...

August 17 - Got up late, downed a latte and a croissant, and bought a ticket to Lund. (You'll remember that Lund won out over a visit to the castle that inspired Shakespeare's Hamlet. Mostly so that I can check off another country on my "have visited" list.) Crossing the Oresund Bridge, which is apparently some amazing Scandinavian engineering marvel (built in 2000 it's about 16km long and crosses the strait that separates Denmark and Sweden) was not as exciting as I thought it would be, because trains travel on the lower level while cars get the better view from the top. Arrived in Lund and had no idea where to go, since Erik had only told me that there was a tourist office near the cathedral. Fortunately, the city is small, and I wandered until I saw the cathedral and tourist information office.

The cathedral (Lunds Domkyrka) was quite nice. It was built around 1100, although it was restored to its present appearance in the 19th century. There is an astronomical clock in the interior. Even though it was supposed to do its thing at 11am and 3pm, I arrived just before noon, which is when it went off. It was a brief display, but the guide did give an explanation in Swedish and English before the clock chimed. The clock was made in 1424, although it too has been restored, and it helps tell when holy days (like Easter) are to occur. The crypt was also nice. It was created shortly after the founding of the cathedral, around 1123, and has not been restored much. One column is partly composed of Finn the Giant. The wikipedia page says that he was the builder of the church, but Erik told me the real legend is that he is trying to pull down the column and thus topple the cathedral.

Outside the cathedral is Lundagaard, a large green space with a fountain, some of the university buildings, and the historical museum. The top two floors of the museum were unfortunately closed, so I could only view their exhibit on Barbarians. It was, however, quite good and makes me want to take up Swedish archaeology now. The exhibit displayed a lot of artifacts from Uppaakra, near Lund. At the university, I saw four people dressed in capes, sunglasses, and funny hats. I have no idea what they were doing - perhaps some kind of graduation ritual? I walked around town after that, accidentally stumbling upon a cemetery while looking for the botanical gardens. Unlike Danish cemeteries, in Swedish ones (or at least in this one), there isn't grass in a burial plot but small stones, like gravel. Someone comes by and combs the stones - I saw the cemetery's caretaker doing just this as I walked through. It was an interesting effect.

The botanical gardens (Botaniska Tradgaarden), where Linnaeus once studied, were lovely and nearly deserted. I also walked over to the Stadsparken, a larger park in the west of the town. It had a cute little pond with well-behaved ducks, and also a tree whose intertwining trunks were painted a variety of pastel colors. On the way back to town, I noticed a plaque commemorating the place where August Strindberg lived (miseryyyyyyy!). I shopped a bit in town, buying some strange t-shirts with Danish on them and tights, and I ate lunch in the Saluhallen, famous for its local sausage. I, however, had an amazing amount of tasty Thai food for only 50 kr. (Lund has no fewer than 3 Thai restaurants and at least one Mexican restaurant, making it infinitely more diverse in food choice than Rome, a city probably 10 times its size.)

It got rather cold by the late afternoon, so I headed back to Copenhagen on the train and spent the evening staying off my feet and eating Plopp.

Scandinavian Pictures - Day 3 (August 16)

Third day in Copenhagen...

August 16 - Since I missed the changing of the guard at Amalienborg the previous day, I decided to head there first and then spend the rest of the day at the Glyptotek and the National Museum. Amalienborg is the currect residence of the Queen of Denmark and her husband, and it was finished in the 1750s. As usual, I completely overestimated the time it would take to get there before the changing at noon and ended up wandering around a lot after my breakfast of grande caffe latte, which is the Danish version of a cappuccino (although they do sell cappuccinos) served in a giant glass, the kind you would get Coke in if you were in the US. I got addicted to those lattes very quickly and had probably two a day because it was a good way to get out of the rain and cold. Anyway, I sat in the garden (Amaliehaven) for a while and took some pictures of the weird metal sculpture, wandered over to the art museum to take a photo of the fake David and the shore to take a shot of the opera house across the canal, and then waited patiently for the changing of the guard. There was a huge mob, most of whom were Italians, all of whom were pushing and shoving and whining in Italian that they couldn't see well. The changing of the guards was quite disappointing - even more so than the one at Buckingham Palace - and I left before it was even over, feeling a bit cheated.

I grabbed a giant falafel pita for lunch (my staple, since it was only 25 kr/$5, by far the cheapest thing to eat in Copenhagen, where a tuna sandwich cost 40kr and a latte 35kr) and headed over to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. This museum is famous in classical archaeology because of a trove a Roman portraits that were discovered from a tomb a few decades ago. The Glyptotek is the proud owner of one of the most famous busts of Pompey, for example. However, the Imperial portrait gallery was closed - from August 14 to August 19, the exact time I was there. More impressive than the actual art in the Glyptotek, which I only saw a little bit of, is the way that the art is presented. I like that the stark, clean lines of Scandinavian decor (a la IKEA) are combined with the Danes' penchant for neo-classicism. It made for excellent pictures of the interior of the Glyptotek.

From there, I headed to the National Museum, which was free to enter. My guidebook said you could go through it in an hour, but I would have been hard-pressed to walk through the entire thing in an hour, much less stop to admire the art. It closed at 5pm (like most things in Copenhagen, it was open 10-5pm, which leaves little time to hit two museums in one day), so I just took one picture of their display of Greek Iron Age figurines - because it included plastic figures of Herakles and, I guess, Dejaneira. Weird. I then got drenched while walking to the Assistens Cemetery slightly northwest of town. Here are buried famous Danish people, most of whom I'd never heard of, but I did take pictures of the graves of Kierkegaard, Hans Christian Andersen, and Niels Bohr.

I also included in this day all my pictures of weird Danish things. They had a Cow Parade exhibit, where local artists decorate cows that are then displayed in the city. There was a cow dangling over the entrance to the Stroget, for example, one decorated with eyeballs, and one in the airport with a baby and cremation pyre tied to its back, skull strapped to its head, and flippers on. Funny Danish and Swedish words that have other meanings in English include "slut spurt" (end of season sale), Plopp (Swedish candybar), and Spunk (Danish gummy candy). I'll blog more about the dancing black guy later, I think.

Scandinavian Pictures - Day 2 (August 15)

Day 2 of KK's Scandinavian Adventure...

August 15 - This was my first full day of sightseeing. I wandered around Christiansborg, the location of the original fortification and castle built by Bishop Absalon in the 12th century. It is undergoing renovation, so it was not all that picture-worthy. I decided to go see the little archaeological exhibit in the basement, which showed the walls of the original palace, as well as the walls of numerous other palaces. Christiansborg unfortunately burned down numerous times, all by accident. The present castle only dates to 1916 and is now used by the Danish parliament, not the Queen, who lives at Amalienborg Palace. I tried to get over to Amalienborg for the changing of the guard at noon but got lost and ended up in Christianshavn. So I decided to go up the spire of Vor Frelsers Kirke, the Church of the Saviour, which affords excellent views of Copenhagen. The church was built in the 18th century, and you have to climb over 400 stairs to the top - most of which are very steep and very narrow. From here, I took some photos of Christiania, the Fristaden (Free State) in Copenhagen, where a bunch of hippies camped out in 1970 and refused to leave. It is now considered a "permanent social experiment" by the Danish government. I did not take pictures of crazy-hippie-land from the ground, as I was under the impression that they aren't fond of people doing that.

After a tasty lunch at a great sandwich/pastry shop just east of the canal, I headed past Amalienborg and saw the Marmorkirken, the Marble Church. This was inspired by St. Peter's in Rome and was completed between 1749 and 1894. There is also a Russian Orthodox church just up the road, called the Alexander Newsky Church, which was built for Maria, the daughter of Danish king Christian IX and wife of Tsar Alexander III. I wended my way from there to Churchill Park and the Kastellet, the old fortification that has now been turned into a park. I particularly liked St. Alban's Church. Of course I saw the Little Mermaid, and amazingly managed to frame my photos so that you don't see the huge mass of Japanese tourists swarming her, nor the driving wind and rain that complicated photography.

The sun came out again, so I took some pictures of the Gefionspringvandet (Fountain), the largest in Copenhagen, which depicts the Nordic goddess of fertility. From there, I walked to Nyboder, the oldest remaining neighborhood in Copenhagen, built in 1631 for naval workers. Nyboder is distinguished by its yellow-washed walls. And finally, back in the center of the city, there is a picture of the weather girl at the top of a building - she comes out on a bike if it's nice and with an umbrella if raining - and some Indians singing and dancing in Raadhuset square.

Scandinavian Pictures - Day 1 (August 14)

Day 1 - Arrival in Denmark.

August 14 - I arrived in Copenhagen around noon, made my way to the train, got a map, and started to walk towards the hostel when a guy asked me if I spoke English. I grudgingly said yes, thinking he was going to ask for money, but it turned out he was Italian, was thrilled to death that I was living in Rome, and kept hitting on me until I nearly had to walk away. This encounter heralded an extraordinary number of Italians in Copenhagen when I was there.

Because it was nice outside, I decided to drop off my bags and wander around town. I saw the outside of the Thorvaldsen Museum (an artist who spent lots of his life in Rome); the statue of Bishop Absalon, who founded Copenhagen in 1167; and went to the Rundetaarn, the Round Tower, built in 1637-42 as an observatory. The tower was worth its 25 kr entry fee, offering interesting views of downtown Copenhagen, as well as internal views of one of the two toilets that survive from the creation of the tower and the paved spiral ascent, which Tsar Peter the Great rode up on horseback.

It was still light, so I wandered over to Rosenborg Slot (Castle) built in 1648. I did not go in, but I did take some pictures of Rosenborg Have and Kongens Have (two parks). Finally, I took a picture of Nyhavn, which is one of the most recognizable sights of Copenhagen, and tried to take a picture of a cow suspended over the Stroget, the pedestrian shopping street.

August 17, 2007

Sweden!

Even through Chris and Andy voted for Elsinor (and Chris made a compelling argument to re-enact Tom Stoppard), Patrick and Erik voted for Sweden. So today I went to Sweden. Lund, to be specific. (From a guidebook, I learned that the word lund means grove in Swedish. So I felt very much at home in my namesake town. I guess my Swedishized last name would be Dödalund.)

I saw the giant cathedral, of course, along with its neato-keen crypt, went to the archaeological museum (although most of it was closed, I got to see an exhibit on barbarians for free), strolled around the botanical gardens (where Linnaeus studied!), and mostly just wandered around the cute streets and bought some clothes and coffee. It rained in the morning but cleared up - it was still only about 65 degrees, though, and windy. Brrrr. I bought a tshirt that reads "Grønnere på den anden side." No idea what it means. But it has not one but two cool accents on it. If anyone can tell me what it means, I'll wear it. Who am I kidding, I'll wear it anyway. I hope that it's something really dirty that they sell to tourists. Oh, and I assume it's Danish, since I don't think Swedish has the crossy-o thing (ø).

Things I discovered today:
1) Sweden has a candy bar called Plopp. It's chocolate and has caramel in the middle. No joke.
2) Lund has a tree with pastel painted trunks. You'll see a pic in a few days.
3) The Swedish Iron Age is really fucking cool, as evidenced by the artifacts from Uppåkra I saw in the museum at Lund. It was an exhibit on "barbarians" as the Romans called all non-Romans. I think it's funny that Scandinavia is far more civilized than the Mediterranean today (clean bathrooms, little graffiti, things run on time, people speak English), but a few millennia ago, they were the barbarians.
4) Apparently August Strindberg lived in Lund for a while. I love that little balloon.

More when I get back to Rome tomorrow!

August 16, 2007

Day 3 - Please, god, no more rain!

So Copenhagen is a small town. You can walk pretty much everywhere that there´s stuff to see in 15 minutes or less. Which is great, but it also means that you walk. Everywhere. In the rain. So after 2.5 days of sightseeing, my poor feet are very, very tired and my poor jeans are very, very wet. Today, I saw the changing of the guards at Amalienbourg Palace (lame!), grabbed falafel for lunch (tasty!), and toured the Glyptotek for a few hours (colorful!). The Roman portrait gallery is closed (lame!), but the Glyptotek itself is quite lovely. Shot through the National Museum in an hour (got yelled at - lame!). Then slogged through the rain to get pics of the graves of Kierkegård, H.C. Andersen, and Niels Bohr (wet and cold!).

Highlights of the day:
1) Seeing Andy Samberg walking down the Strøget. I don´t know why he´s in Copenhagen, but I swear to god it was him. There aren´t a lot of Danes who look like that.
2) Finding the dried fruit stand, where I bought dried strawberries, ginger, cantaloupe, and kiwi. Dried kiwi is quite good.
3) Chimichanga for dinner at the Taco Bar. It was bland, but it was the only Mexican food I´ve had in over 6 months. And therefore it was good.

August 15, 2007

Copenhagen - Dæ 2

Well, since this internet kiosk is flaky and apparently decided not to charge me for internet at all, it seemed silly to waste it. I can´t unfortunately upload any photos. But today I went to see a whole bunch of stuff, like Christiansbourg, Christianshavn, and Christiania. Gotta love the Danes - they name everything after their kings, who are all named the same things. There was a cute little exhibit on the archaeology of the palaces at Christiansbourg. I also had a couple of grande lattes, which are basically giant cappuccinos here. I haven´t found any of the eponymous pastry in Copenhagen, settling this morning for a pain au chocolat and this afternoon for a giant whipped cream-and-berries tart. I saw the Little Mermaid and got a picture in spite of the wind-driven rain and the bus-driven Japanese tourists. One of my hostel-mates is a pain in the ass. I had my bedside light on around 9:30 or 10 last night, and she sat up and yelled at me in broken English that this was a common room and I needed to turn the light out. She further whined at 11pm, when the last roommate showed up, and was sleeping at 9am when I left this morning. I have no idea what her problem is, but she´s about 40 and Spanish, I think. She also has no idea what a hostel means - if you don´t bring earplugs and an eye mask, that´s your problem.

I got a lot of good pictures today of strange Danish signs, strange Danish food, and strange Danish dolls sold by street vendors. But you´ll have to wait until I get back.

In the meantime, you should vote in the comments on whether I should spend my travel day at Elsinore (seeing the castle that inspired Hamlet) or in Sweden visiting churches and such. I can´t seem to do both in one day, as Scandinavia is weird and all interesting sites are open from only 10-5. It makes seeing multiple things in one day difficult unless you break it up with things that close later (like parks and department stores).

August 14, 2007

Scændinåviø

My internet kiosk has a funny, funny keyboard. I keep trying to use an apostrophe, and I get the ø key. We are all familiar with that symbol from super-fun educational computer games made by Brøderbund, aren´t we?

Anyway, I made it to Copenhagen. The first person I met was an Italian, which was kind of odd. He promptly hit on me, which was not odd. I came to Denmark to get a break from Italians, and they are following me around. At the museums, in the parks, in the shops, and even at the Round Tower... there were tons of Italians, all being annoyingly Italian. Fortunately, the Danish pretty much all speak English, but unfortunately, that means no exciting Engrish tshirt sightings. I do, however, have enough material for a second edition of my Italian odd tshirt sightings, but that will have to wait until I return.

Copenhagen is a very small city, and as such I feel like I already saw half of it in the 4 hours I walked around (before napping for an hour in King´s Park). Now I am off to find a falafel or shawarma, since they´re cheap. If you´re lucky, I´ll bring you back this hilarious 12" tall plush dancing doll I saw on the street - he is supposed to be a black guy, complete with giant pink felt lips, and he is inexplicably wearing a Che Guevara tshirt.

August 13, 2007

Antipodean Argot

You'll all surely remember the hero of this post, Forensics, from my March blog entry about sports in Australia. Google news today helpfully gave me this news story on a touching reunion between Forensics and his rider Damien Oliver. Unfortunately, this isn't nearly as funny as the previous story, but I think I've found a new hobby in following Australian horse racing - if only for the strange turns of phrase.

Some excerpts from today's story:

"Oliver was the 'pick up' rider for Forensics in the Golden Slipper at Rosehill in March after she was a late inclusion in the final field. Forensics would have been an emergency for the Slipper but made the cut at acceptance time after Hawkes made the sacrificial withdrawal of stablemate Camarilla to give her a guaranteed start."

I like to read the second sentence without capitalization of the proper names. It sounds like the plot of a hyperbole-ridden murder mystery novel involving house shoes and birds.

"The move was too late [for] the stable's number one rider Darren Beadman, who had ridden Forensics at her first three starts but had to make an early commitment to a guaranteed stable runner in the Slipper and selected Shaft as his mount."

I don't think I even need to comment on the end of this sentence. I am pretty impressed that some Australian named his horse Shaft, even if the horse is neither black nor one bad mutha.

August 11, 2007

Spark Gabibbo

Since someone asked so nicely, here's more information about Gabibbo, the ever-present Barney-like creature that appears on numerous Italian TV shows. When Laura was here, we were waiting on our pizza at the place around the corner, and the TV was showing a program called Cultura Moderna. As far as I can tell, this show is basically Italy's Got Talent. Inexplicably, Gabibbo is featured prominently in every episode and dances with the contestants at the end. Apparently he is officially the mascot of the TV channel Canale 5, and he talks and makes jokes - all with a funny, regional dialect (gabibbu is slang for "foreigner"). In 2004, Mediaset, the company that controls Canale 5, got bad press because Western KY U claims they ripped off their mascot, Big Red. Here's a great video that shows just how creepy and weird Gabibbo is, dancing to what sounds like his theme song.

PC? Overrated.

I passed a cafe today with a strange poster that said Ceres Chen and had a graphic of a Chinese man on it. I looked it up, and Ceres is an Italian beer. For their latest ad campaign, the beer company created a mascot, a karate-kicking Chinese man named Chen for their biggest product, Strong Ale. (No joke, that's what their beer is called.) According to one website in English, Ceres Chen is the "soul of the Ceres bottle, which, abandoned on the street curb, wants to avoid to be captured by the garbage man. According to industry sources, Ceres Strong Ale is the most likely bottle to be discarded in the city streets. In spite of his unquestionable mastery of the karate art, Chen has no practical sense, and in each episode he hurts himself in the most creative, funny ways." It sounds like Ceres ale is the Colt 45 of Italy. Here's an example of the short spots that Ceres Chen does. At this point, I'm used to the inane mascots in this country (like Gabbibo), but Ceres Chen is so politically (and anatomically) incorrect that I had to post it. Want to see more? Check all 9 ads out here.



August 10, 2007

Colosseum for Sale

An article in today's Cronaca di Roma section of Il Messagero has the headline, "Colosseum for Sale." Basically, it claims that Prodi wants to alleviate the national debt with an alternative to dipping into the gold reserves of BankItalia. Government official Roberto Calderoli is quoted as saying, "Let's keep the gold and sell en bloc the Colosseum, the Imperial Fora, and, if that's not enough, some other old stones of Rome." Apparently not one to be impartial, Il Messagero comments that this suggestion is ridiculous because the Colosseum is a national patrimony. They quote Pino Battaglio (aside: wouldn't it be awesome to have the name Pine Battle?), a member of the leftist democratic party Ulivo as saying, "Certainly, let's give the Colosseum to a private group so that they can be free to reprise the gladiatorial games. And while we're at it, let's use it to allow ferocious beasts to devour all those illegal immigrants against whom every day they hurl the maximum force of the law." Further, a liberal undersecretary of the economy, Paolo Centro, called the suggestion "barbaric" and said that Calderoli needed to "shut up and take a nice little walk through the capital." The article concludes with the author saying, "I firmly believe that in certain cases, before speaking, a cold shower works wonders."

This article was a hot topic of conversation at lunch today, with my coworkers alternately calling Calderoli and Prodi the Italian equivalent of motherfucking assholes. I don't even think Bush or his cronies would ever joke about selling the Capitol, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial to reduce debt. The Italians (at least the ones I talk to) really hate their government.

Butta Stranamente

Here in Rome, we are supposed to recycle. There's a nationwide campaign whose slogan is, "Butta bene, vivi meglio!" (Trash well, live better!) My roommates have separate containers for regular trash, plastic, paper, and glass, although there is only one bin out on the street for plastic, glass, and metal. My roommates, however, have a very strange notion of what is recyclable and what isn't. Here's a list of things they've recycled when they shouldn't have:

Paper Recycling:
  • Pizza boxes (waxy paper)
  • Used paper towels (with food on them)
Plastic Recycling:
  • Plates and cups (apparently not recyclable in Italy)
  • Cellophane product wrapping (some with food stuck to it)
  • IKEA price sticker (since we all know stickers are recyclable)
  • Rope (that plasticy, waxy kind)
  • Q-tips (seriously?)
Fortunately, glass is pretty straight-forward. I was also told by a roommate that my yoghurt cups were not recyclable, even though they have a cute little recycle symbol on the bottom and are clearly not the same as disposable plastic espresso cups.

Although I applaud them for attempting to recycle everything that they can, I just have to wonder how many batches of plastic recycling their rope and Q-tips will ruin.

August 8, 2007

Path Twednesday

As it was nearing 4pm yesterday, I noticed that the skeleton I was laying out on the table had some major foot issues. He was a teenager of about 16-18 years old and relatively tall for a Roman. His lower leg bones showed some evidence of periostitis, or extra deposition of woven bone that often results from injury to the shin. More interesting than that was the fact that five of his tarsals, which make up the back half of the foot, looked as if they had severe arthritis and that his metatarsals and phalanges were very light and their shafts very thin. As you can see in the photo, the arthritis presents as enlarged articular facets where one tarsal bone meets another. Tarsals, unlike carpals which help you move your wrist in all sorts of fun ways, are generally not very moveable bones, so it is odd that anyone would have severe arthritic changes in these bones, much less a 16-year-old kid. What this means is that he did not have a normal gait and that, based on evidence on the outer edge of the largest tarsal (calcaneus), he walked with his ankles turned outward and his feet turned inward.

The problem is attributing this odd manner of locomotion to a specific disease. The two likeliest candidates are congenital clubfoot and polio. Clubfoot affects numerous infants each year, boys more than girls, and is more or less easily corrected these days with shoes, braces, and sometimes surgery. Sometimes it affects just one foot and sometimes both. However, there is normally a deformity of the talus, where the lower leg bones articulate with the ankle, and this kid's talus looked relatively normal. The other possibility is polio, a highly contagious disease that caused paralysis and permanent def0rmity in children from at least Egyptian times up through the 1950s. Polio can cause muscle weakness and paralysis, and if someone tried to walk on his feet in spite of this, the bones could remodel to compensate for the new stress. Polio, however, often randomly affects one or more areas of the body and does not generally attack, for example, both feet. It is also possible that this kid just had very high arches and walked with slight eversion of his feet, but the light and thin metatarsals and phalanges would seem to argue against that.

One further interesting piece of information comes from the archaeological report. During excavation, numerous small nails or tacks were found in his grave in a line near his feet. Excavators note that these are the remains of calzari, or a kind of Roman footwear. However, because of the talar deformities and the periostitis that extends only up to the midshaft of the tibiae and fibulae, it is possible these are the remains of a kind of leg brace that helped him walk. I will have to wait for more photographs and archaeological information before I can interpret these nails, however.

August 7, 2007

Delay

Your pathology for the week is being delayed a day. I found something veeeeeeery exciting today but didn't have time to fully analyze it and take pics today (since I had to go in search of the other box, which took me an hour to find). But a quick update... I got some information on my new cemetery from a colleague yesterday. In addition to this being very useful information on the skeletons I'm analyzing, I found out two really cool things:

  • The excavators found a burial of a child of about 3 years old. The child was buried face down, which is odd for two reasons: first, most people are buried face-up, and second, most children under 5 were buried in amphorae, not directly in the ground. To top that, the child was buried with an egg in his or her left hand. The excavators say it's a chicken egg, but I'm not sure about this. Based on the very quick research I did into this practice, there is evidence of eggs being found in Etruscan tombs, and an infant was found in the necropolis under the Vatican (the one found when they were putting in a car park) buried with an egg as well.
  • One adult male was also found lying on his back with his right forearm in a terracotta pipe. These pipes were often placed into the ground so that libations of olive oil and wine could be poured directly from the ground surface into the grave. I don't think there is any way that his arm could have gotten into the pipe accidentally through some sort of taphonomic process. But I also don't think that he was buried alive (as some of you guessed when I mentioned this). It's more likely that he was buried that way on purpose so that the libations could directly reach his right hand. For what reason, though, I don't know. I'll have to do some digging.
I also have pictures of these burials. But, since the site hasn't been published and is still being excavated as I type, I can't post them. You'll just have to wait with bated breath for my dissertation. :)

August 4, 2007

What's smeg, ma?

I was in Saturn today, which is Europe's equivalent of Circuit City, looking for a microphone for the computer. (I found one, by the way, for under 4E.) In addition to electronics, Saturn sells appliances, both small and large. To get to the computer section of the store, I had to pass the refrigerators. And I saw a lime-green retro-styled fridge labeled SMEG. I didn't have a camera to take a photo of this, but fortunately there are loads of pics online. I discovered that Smeg is an appliance company and that they sell these 50s-style fridges not only in lime green, but also in white with a rose, orange, Union Jack, and stripey among others. (I have to admit, I kinda like stripey.) Below are some pictures. I still can't get over the fact that this company voluntarily calls itself Smeg.

Update
: As Patrick noted in the comments, Smeg is actually an Italian company, and it's an acronym. Somehow, the fact that Italians call their refrigerators Smeg is even funnier to me. I don't understand why they make Union Jack fridges, though, if they're Italian.





August 3, 2007

Triste Topolino

Although most of my skeletons have been washed, I ran out yesterday. There are about 20 skeletons left in the lab that aren't washed and have giant clumps of dirt stuck to them. I spent half of yesterday and half of today washing bones. It made me sad. To alleviate my boredom, I mounded the resulting mud into a sad Mickey and accessorized it with bones. It's not the bone church in Rome or the catacombs in Paris, but I tried.


For all my former students out there, bonus points if you can name all 6 kinds of bones used in this image. Extra specialtacularistic points if you can tell me the name and side of all 8 bones present. (Click the pic for a bigger image, which should give you enough identifying features to do this!)

August 1, 2007

My Site in the News

On the front page of Il Messaggero today was an article about a fullery discovered last month in the neighborhood of Casal Bertone in Rome. This happens to be the same area from which 150 skeletons were excavated in 2000, and which I studied earlier this year. The fullery dates to the 2nd-3rd century AD, same as my skeletons. In the Italian article, the first sentence was about how bad the smell must have been in antiquity - fullers routinely used urine to work thread and cloth, and there were pots set up all around fulleries in Rome to collect - ahem - donations. I am pretty excited about this news, as my skeletons are thought to have been buried according to guild status in a mausoleum and thus could have been fullers and their families.

You can read the AP article in English here are the Washington Post (whence comes the photo). Oddly enough, this article mentions that they have found the largest tannery in ancient Rome. The article in Italian (which I found here, without a byline) calls it a fullonica or a fullery. The English article also fails to mention that five new columbaria were discovered as well. These are brick structures with little archways in which people placed the inurned ashes of their deceased family and friends. I actually think the picture above is of one of the columbaria and not of the fullery. There are pictures of the huge number of very large vats in the Italian article, but the Post and other AP sites only posted this one.

Whether it's a tannery or a fullery, it's super duper interesting (at least to me), and it's unfortunate that a railroad has to go through this site. Stefano Musco, who's leading the project (and who's been quite nice to me), wants to physically move the site so that they can finish excavating it. I guess I can no longer teach intro to archaeo students that architecture is a feature and features can't be removed from sites!

Update: Just kidding, my Italian is pretty bad. It's actually a tannery, not a fullery. But the Italian article does comment on the vats of organic liquids that were present. Erika told me that they used urine and feces in leather working, so I'm going to have to read up on this!

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