September 28, 2007

L'ultimo post da Roma

Well, this is it. My taxi comes to pick me up in 7 hours. And I have to decide whether to stay up or attempt to nap. I still have to throw a lot of stuff out, and I still need to clean. And eat. And shower.

The last few days have been pretty busy. On Wednesday, I went to the Markets of Trajan, which are finally (almost completely) open. I had some fun lying on and getting into some strange art installations. After that, I finished up my souvenir shopping, got my last gelato from Giolitti's, and said goodbye to the Pantheon and Imperial Fora.

Thursday, I had to meet for a bit with my colleague to get a letter that allows me to transport bone and tooth samples out of Italy. I wandered over to the Colosseum after that to get a picture of my UNC anthro water bottle (for an upcoming contest to photograph UNC anthro merch in exotic locales). As I was doing this, an Italian stopped and struck up a conversation by asking if I was taking artistic photographs. He was a banker, his name was Pino, and he liked to go windsurfing. He found it greatly amusing that I could understand everything he said but couldn't really speak any Italian. I finally managed to get away from him after turning down numerous requests to go get coffee and spent the evening watching TV and packing.

Today, I went down to Mussoliniville, the EUR, to check out the Museo della Civilta Romana, which is the mecca of Roman reconstructions. Like everything in the EUR, the Museo was built on a grand scale, with giant columns and giant reconstructions of giant Roman temples. The focus was on Rome's military history and on the civilizing process of Christianity. This museum is famous for two reconstructions in particular: a large 3D model of Imperial Rome and all of the friezes from Trajan's column unwound. On my way home, I took a picture of the little shrine area to Madonna of Largo Preneste. People leave marble plaques that say "Per grazie ricevuta," often when they or a loved one overcome a health issue. My favorite plaque is the one from Sabina, who seems to have had stomach problems. And the now-infamous Nolita anorexia billboard made it here to Rome just opposite the Madonna shrine.

It's been a crazy 8 months, but I am thrilled to be going home. Everyone asks what I want to do first, so here's my list (not necessarily in this order): eat lots of Mexican and Indian food, sit on a couch, sleep in my own bed, spend time with Patrick and the cats, drive a car, use a clothes dryer, make American drip coffee, talk to people in English, live in a place without loud noises, enjoy not having roommates. I'm sure there's more, and I'll revel in the simple things that I lack here in the big, noisy, dirty, foreign city of Rome.

September 24, 2007

Tesoro Mio

While tutoring the other day, I was helping my student correct a paper he'd written in English for a conference. He had used a word that wasn't quite correct, and I was thinking of synonyms that would be easier for an Italian to pronounce than "thwart." I clicked over to and searched for thwart.

Tutee: What's that site?
Me: It's an online thesaurus.
Tutee: What's a thesaurus?
Me: It's a book that tells you all the synonyms and sometimes the antonyms for a word. This is just an online version.
Tutee: Woooow, that's amazing! What's it called again?
Me: A thesaurus. Italian has the same word - tesoro - although I guess it means something else, yeah?
Tutee: Yeah, we don't have a thesaurus in Italian. This is great!

I found this hard to believe and asked the first foreigner I could find, which happened to be Erik, whether other languages had thesauri. He said he'd never seen a Swedish thesaurus, although he thinks that one exists.

So those of you who know or have studied another language... have you ever seen a thesaurus in that language? Is it just that English is such a huge language, with words drawn from German, French, Latin, and Greek, that it is inevitable that multiple synonyms exist for every word?

September 23, 2007

Porta Portese II

Last weekend, I went to the giant flea market in Rome, which is just across the Tiber. It took me an hour to get there and longer to get back, and when I told my roommate that I went, he asked why I didn't just go to Porta Portese II - which is about 1km away from my house. I had totally forgotten about it.

So this morning I walked over to the east-side flea market (does that make me a Blood or a Cryp?). Unlike Porta Portese Classic, which has loads of tourists, the one I went to today had tons of crazy-looking Italian people (I swear this one guy had the exact facial bone structure of a robust australopithecine) wearing strange things and selling even stranger things. For example, I particularly wanted to buy the woven rug that had the faces of, from left to right, RFK, MLK, and JFK on it. Maybe the Italians think that these three were related because they are all known by their initials and their last names start with K? Maybe they are interested in the conspiracy theory surrounding their assassinations? I honestly can't explain why anyone would put these three together, much less weave them into a rug. There were also 5E tshirts with JP-to-the-Deuce on them, as well as shirts that proclaimed in Italian things like, "I wish you would die," and, well, some rather more colorfully worded ways to tell you to go away. I didn't bring a camera, or I would have taken a picture of a little food truck that had painted on it a scene of several Smurfs - including Papa, Smurfette, and Brainy - making spaghetti, with oddly anthropomorphized chunks of parmesan floating overhead.

I bought a hoodie that has a really cute design on the back, and on the front says "SP 68 Beautily." And that was the least Engrishy design. Although I of course saw completely strange shirts - like the guy wearing a seemingly brand-new tshirt that said "Breast Cancer Foundation Fundraiser 1993, Washington, D.C." and the woman wearing a shirt proclaiming she had visited "Assateague Inn, Assateague, Virginia" - these were the most entertaining to me:

First, to the hoodies. There were just so many hoodies with random English words on them that it was hard to choose which ones to post. This one, of course, makes no sense and is definitely Engrish. I tried to figure out what they were trying to convey: Don't have eyes that bore me? (That would be a kind of pun at least.) There weren't any graphics on the front to help me out either.

And the classic method of throwing random words onto a shirt with the hopes that one of the words will catch someone's eye and they will buy it is at work with this hoodie. Not sure of the significance of "b-suns" or "root craft," but Italian has the cognate veemente.

This shirt just made me laugh. The English is perfectly fine, and this is absolutely the kind of shirt I would expect to see on denizens of the Shenandoah Valley just over the mountain from where I grew up. However, although Italy does have turkey today, it's hardly an indigenous species. More to the point, this tshirt celebrates Thanksgiving, a decidedly un-Italian holiday. I suppose Italians probably have a version of gravy, and they have potatoes, and turkey... but the tshirt was still quite out of place here.

On my walk to Porta Portese, I was briefly behind a guy who had this on the back of his button-down short-sleeve shirt. My only guess for understanding it is that it's actually Grenglish - two English words and one Greek word (the Greek drinking/dancing cheer) rendered in the Latin alphabet.

And finally, because you were good little boys and girls, this was the back of a tshirt that I saw on a woman while I was walking home from work the other day. What truer sentence has ever been uttered than, "Style has always need the glossy of bloom"?

(Random aside: If anyone can tell me how to manipulate tables and paragraph spacing in Blogger, I'd appreciate it. As you can see, editing the HTML to make a table results in weird spacing issues, and I don't understand their weird div paragraphs.)

September 22, 2007

Retail archaeology (guest post by Patrick)

I went to the Southworth (Dryden) Library book sale today to pick up some cheap books. I was not disappointed. I got couple of classics, something funny, something useful, and, uh, a Vanilla Ice CD. When I went to check out, the volunteer at the desk put my books in a small, blue plastic bag. I thought nothing more of it until I noticed a receipt in the bag. The bag and receipt are both from the Ithaca Montgomery Ward, which has been defunct for years. (It was in Pyramid Mall, where Old Navy and AC Moore are now.) Click the receipt for the shocking details: on September 20, 1996, some anonymous buyer purchased "Chewy teeth" and "Squeaky" for $2.50. On credit. Our modern consumerist lifestyle dates at least as far back as 1996.

Pulire le Ossa

I decided that I couldn't put off washing my bone and tooth samples any longer. Having squeaky-clean bones raises my chances of getting them back through customs with no problem, as customs is never happy about having foreign dirt enter the country. I set up shop on the plastic furniture on the patio - bag o' samples, tupperware with water, toothbrush, and tissues for speedier drying. It was about an hour until the roommates started to take notice around lunchtime. Marco and Ivan were out, and Angelo and Pier-Paolo were cooking some pasta. A few minutes passed, and Pier-Paolo came out to where I was washing bones. He said, "Do you know where the napkins are?" I momentarily forgot the word for napkin (since it's the equivalent of mini-table) and asked, "Where are the what?" "The napkins." I said, "No, I don't know." He asked if he could have one of the tissues. I said sure. It was so cute - he came up with an excuse to come see what I was doing, and then to get even closer by taking a tissue from the table. When Marco and Ivan got home, they were completely amused by the array of bones and teeth on their patio, and Angelo and Pier-Paolo came out for a more thorough demonstration of what it is I do. I guess if I were making lunch and caught sight of the random foreigner who lived with me and barely spoke my language doing something completely weird, I'd make an excuse to find out what she was up to as well.

September 18, 2007

Google says what?

Today I checked the keywords by which people have found this blog. Some of the phrases are quite amusing, so I thought I'd post them here - even though by doing so, I only encourage people and perpetuate the cycle. "Gabibbo" and "Dr. Kinky" almost make sense, since I blogged about them, but surely there are pages with a higher rank than my blog - pages that will bring you to the information you want. Other phrases included, "cuffing your jeans," "a picture of a cow bone," "Beadman family photo," "country lyrics - butte montana," "Danish spunk tshirt," "dental worms," "strange Danish people," "guy wearing a Little Mermaid shirt," "horse trying to bone a girl," "location of the human butt bone," "Nordic goddess pictures," "polio feet pics," "skeletons made of qtips," and "I think therefore I tram tshirt." I'm kind of want the last one.

September 16, 2007

Engrish Tshirts - Illustrated Sports Edition!

I started walking to and from work recently because travelling 1.5 miles by foot takes nearly the same amount of time as taking the tram. It seems that the amount of tshirt Engrish is inversely proportional to income, as assessed by mode of transportation. I saw few strange shirts on the Metro, a couple strange people on the bus, some weird stuff on the tram, but dozens of questionable fashion choices on people I pass walking to work. The ones I've seen lately have been sports-related - for what reason, I don't know. But here's your first ever all-sports edition of what has to be your favorite blog feature, Engrish Tshirts. I think they're all pretty self-explanatory in their inexplicability...

For what it's worth, this first one was the back of a tshirt an Asian woman was wearing walking up the street near my house. "Weast" really should be an English word - definition, anyone? The second one was worn by a 30-something guy walking towards me as I was walking to work. And the third one was worn by an Indian immigrant on the tram. Incidentally, it's for a kids' soccer team - the Kaw Valley Force.

Items that did not make it into today's episode because they were too complicated or too weird:
1) A woman at the flea market this morning was wearing a dashiki made out of fabric printed with the face of John Paul II on it.
2) A spaghetti-strap bright red top with loads of sequins that read, "Juicy American Princess."
3) A guy who was wearing a shirt that said, "Philadelphia 76ers Dunk Zone."
4) A tshirt that I saw on sale at the flea market this morning that read, "I'm a New York. I will finish last."

September 15, 2007

Stuck a feather in his hat and called it....

I was on the tram for two hours today, which gave me a lot of time to see billboards. Most were for movies, but my favorite are the ones advertising English lessons at a place called The Wall Street Institute. Patrick commented on their name after seeing an ad on the metro - Wall Street is kind of a stupid name for a language instruction company, but it's widely recognized as American (Italians don't want to learn British English) and high-class (as it relates to the stock market). Wall Street's new ad campaign, however, actually amused me. Their slogan is, "L'inglese maccheronico ti schiaccia." I was curious about the word maccheronico considering the giant piece of pasta in the ad. It seems that the Italian word maccarone dates back to at least the 12th century and generally means short, dry, tubular pasta. This was back in the time when the word pasta literally meant paste, or the dough from which maccarone was formed. But around the 15th century, maccarone gave its name to a literary style, maccheronico. Peasants of the time were referred to in a derogatory manner by the kind of food they ate most - maccarone or gnocco - noodle-heads. Maccheronico writing was a pastiche of the educated, high-class Latin of the day and vernacular Italian. Today, of course, the language of scholarship and international relations is English, and maccheronico has been repurposed to describe a way of speaking that is not quite Italian and not quite English. The slogan of the Wall Street Institute is thus, "Is Italglish crushing you?" I love that the Italians have a word for Italglish and also that it can be metaphorically represented by a piece of ziti. Incidentally, national Maccheronico Day is September 23, a day which celebrates, as one blogger put it, the "tried-and-true academic technique of embarassing people into learning."

Scavi del Vaticano

I previously blogged about a skeleton from my second dissertation site, Castellaccio, that was a 3-year-old child who was buried face down holding an egg in his left hand. A similar skeleton was found at the necropolis under the Vatican, and so last month I made a reservation to visit the scavi. I was pretty excited about this, in spite of the fact that I had to get my ass up at 6:30am just to get to the Vatican ahead of my 9am tour time.

The email said that we were to report to the Swiss Guard and say we wanted to go to the Excavations Office. Va bene, I remembered where those were. The Swiss Guard was nice and told me to wait. When we were called, he asked everyone for their receipt of reservation. Which was strange, since the email didn't say that we needed to print anything out. He was reluctant, but let me through anyway, and the Excavations Office didn't have any problem with it. Stupid Swiss kid.

Anyway, the tour was focused almost entirely on the tomb of St. Peter, which is of course supposed to be underneath the altar in the middle of, ahem, St. Peter's. So in spite of the amazing preservation of at least two stories of burial chambers in the necropolis, in spite of the remnants of frescoes and mosaics, in spite of the large carved sarcophagi, everything was about where we were in relation to the relics of St. Peter and how the excavations were all undertaken to find the relics of St. Peter. Also, all the skeletons were removed from the necropolis and reburied elsewhere. Hmph.

I zoned out here and there, but what brought me back were the questions of highly clueless Americans. I should take more archaeological tours, because the questions from the group really highlight what the average person thinks about archaeology. These are real, actual incidents and quotations:
  • One 60-something guy, upon entering the street of the dead underground and hearing the guide tell us about Imperial Roman, Byzantine, and later architecture, pointed to a brick arch and said, "A Greek architect must have done that. The Greeks invented the arch."
  • The guide pointed out a wall with niches cut into it that ran perpendicular to the street of tombs. The niches were, of course, cut into tufa and faced with ceramic tile, and there were two holes cut into the bottom of each niche. Urns were placed under them, in the tufa wall, and the holes were where libations were poured. After she pointed this out, a guy in his 50s walked over and proceeded to attempt to stick his hand into one of the holes. I gasped and said, "Don't touch that!" like a mother would to her 3-year-old, but the guide was a bit more diplomatic and said, "We don't know if there are ashes under there, so you shouldn't touch."
  • A 60-something woman, upon seeing the building around the tomb of St. Peter, exclaimed, "These are Roman walls? But they're so straight!" Her husband replied, "Yeah, it's like the Anasazi!"
So the 134 bone fragments (that's what the guide said - I'm sure someone counted and that they haven't broken further in the last 18 centuries) that supposedly were St. Peter are housed in this little plexiglass box, which you have to look past a bunch of columns and into a niche to see. Lame. She said they were found in a niche with the phrase "Petros eni" (Peter is here, in Greek) and that they were the remains of a 60-70-year-old man from the 2nd century AD. Yay for Catholicism's love of relics. I still can't get over that these pieces of bone, which are probably not St. Peter, have an insane amount of security, climate control, and research poured into them, and that the remains of the "pagans" as she kept calling them were reburied in a field somewhere in the 1960s.

Not sure that was worth my 10E and 2-hour round-trip on the tram. The Vatican bookshop didn't even have a publication on the scavi. I found more information on the necropolis on google news than at the Vatican itself. Disappointing.

September 8, 2007

More Un-PC Adverts

I found this in the supermarket today. It was under 50 cents, so I bought it, even though I don't have a microwave (incidentally, microonde is a great word). I think I might like it even better than the box of American Popcorn I see in most stores. Who wouldn't love some strange toucan, wearing a bone necklace and green fringey pants, who hightails it away from his teepee because popcorn is attacking him? The popcorn was made in Denmark, so apparently this is what the Danish think Indians look like.

September 7, 2007

All ya need is karaoke

I had just finished talking to Patrick this evening when I heard Beatles songs coming through the window from somewhere in the piazza. The music was OK, but the singing was bad karaoke, and the English words weren't exactly correct. Being an intrepid anthropologist, I decided to check it out. Because of the festival that was held in the piazza back in June, I expected this music to involve a large band and old Italians inappropriately line-dancing. Imagine my surprise when it was actually a couple guys with guitars and mics, with a crowd gathered around them looking up at a building. Someone was passing out lyrics sheets for the songs, although it's strange to me that anyone, even a foreign-speaker, would need lyrics for a sing-along to All You Need Is Love. Everyone was looking at the second floor balcony, which had a sign that read "Briciola Forever." Briciola is a collective noun that means "crumbs." Although it could be a woman's first name, I don't know. The two guys were clearly serenading the woman on the balcony, who was singing and clapping along with everyone else.

So I stayed to watch this, as random people sang along, a guy was dancing with his infant, and a woman was dancing with her dog. The band stopped, and the lead singer went to his car and got a bouquet of roses. He rang the bell, and the woman on the balcony let him in. Then the woman's father comes to the balcony and starts talking to the crowd down below. He gets the crowd all riled up for some reason, then tells everyone to wait a second, then riles them up again. The couple appears on the balcony and everyone cheers and serenades them. They were also holding a sign that said something like "Lulu and Cricri, high in the heavens." I assume the guy is named something like Luciano and the girl is named something like Cristina. After the song, the couple goes back into the apartment. And that was it.

I took a video of this, which you can see below. If you have any better idea of what was going on than I do, let me know. My guess is it was a surprise engagement. But I have absolutely no clue.

UPDATE: 9/8 - While I was returning from the discount supermarket, I saw an old VW bug parked in front of the building, with a little red carpet rolled out to meet it. Then I caught sight of two guys milling around in nice suits, and the father from last night was up on the balcony in a suit as well. Now I'm guessing today's the wedding of Cricri and Lulu.

September 5, 2007


I found a pot in a burial. It was cute. I made a stop-motion movie out of it. But apparently I don't know how to use the stitching program very well, so the color is pretty hilarious and the whole thing needs to be cropped. (Since Patrick has an RSS feed, I suspect he will figure out how to fix this tout d' suite.) Since I didn't have any kind of rotatable platform, record player, or the like, I used a giant roll of masking tape that happened to be exactly 36cm in circumference, marked at 10-degree increments. Sure, it's not as good as the movies my students made, but it entertained me for 10 minutes.

September 3, 2007

Italian things I learned today

Lunch today was unbearably long and predictably boring, with my colleagues talking endlessly about food and corrupt Italian politicians. At one point, Pamela was recounting a dinner she had in which the bill came to 110E. Valentina asked how many people there were, and Pamela said three. Valentina's response was, "Christoforo Colombo!" I nearly died laughing, considering she said the equivalent of "Jiminy Christmas!" in Italian, but Orso misinterpreted my laugh as disdain at the price of a dinner. I'm totally going to shout "Chris-TO-foro Colombo!" at everything people say now.

I also stopped by a Tabacchi to buy a monthly bus pass. A normal bus ticket is called a biglietto, so I said, "Buon giorno, c'è lai un biglietto mensile?" The guy smiled at me, asked if I wanted the one for 30E, and I said yes. He said, "Ecco la tessera mensile." I said, "Sì, sì, grazie." But he said, "No, no. Questa è una tessera mensile. Non è un biglietto mensile." It was so sweet, he was correcting my Italian. Without making me feel like a complete idiot like every other Italian I've talked to does. I repeated the phrase and thanked him again with a smile. I wish more people were like that these past 7 months.

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