Saturday, 23 November 2013

Meanwhile, Back in Paris...

I still live here?


I guess?

It's gotten cold, I've burrowed under piles of knitwear, the holiday decorations are out, and it's sublime window shopping right now. Oh, and it's what I fondly refer to as "Champagne and Foie Gras Season", as that seems to be all that Parisians subsist on from now until January 1.

Mostly though, it is fighting the winter doldrums. The sun, when it rarely peaks out behind thick clouds, barely breaks the horizon. I can barely make it outside to take a few pictures before it sinks back down. Oh, only a few more weeks to go before it starts to return, and who knows where I'll be then.

I know I have tons of catching up to do, but it's time for friends and more travel and Champagne and Foie Gras to comfort my way through dark days and darker nights in a festive mood. Soon- I've had some miles on my new shoes lately and I just need to sit down and organize myself.

Enjoy the season, no matter what you celebrate. As long as there might be Champagne, I am willing.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Postcard from Barcelona

aka, The Killing Fields of Catalan. I hope you like ham!

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These people certainly didn't:


More, soon. I'm actually in London right now, but I'm so far behind I haven't even begun to deal with my trip to sunny Barcelona.

Thursday, 21 November 2013


After spending a day in Pompeii, I figured why not check out the smaller Herculaneum site in Ercolano on the way home.


Well, I almost didn't make it, as the train stops were covered with so much graffiti you couldn't figure out which stop you were at, and the conductor didn't make announcements, and, well, I'm a tourist.


There are lots of towns that were destroyed by Vesuvius on the fateful day. Pompeii is the largest and best known, Herculaneum is the best preserved. Herculaneum was also a more ritzy town than Pompeii, and buried deeper in ash- (60 feet! The site looks recessed into the earth because of it) and pyroclastic flow, so it yielded more riches and better preserved artifacts.


Very creepy- recently, more than 300 skeletons were discovered huddled together down by the sea in the boat houses, as people here had run to the ocean in hopes to be rescued. They even found house keys on the skeletons, as they had been hoping to return home. The seaport with the skeletons aren't always open (they weren't when I was there) but the rest of the site was fascinating. I would even be as bold to say that if you had to choose, go here instead of Pompeii. It's smaller, it's less crowded, and it was more dense with interesting things to see. I was there in late afternoon, and aside from a group of German teenagers, I was the only one there.

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There were pubs where you could buy wine and have your lunch, with enormous vats of wine lining the countertops.

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It was small- it took about two hours to see everything. I got the audio guide just for some company, and I saw a lot of good stuff and details because of it.


Wednesday, 20 November 2013


Having a fascination with all things morbid means Pompeii has been on the top of my hit list since childhood.  Plaster cast of dead volcano victims ranks up there as far as morbid goes, no?



Completely buried under a blanket of ash for 1500 years, it's a remarkable place to visit still.  I had met a nice expat woman from NY/CA at breakfast who was now teaching English in Turin, and we set off together on the train.  It's about a 45 minute train ride to the ruins, and my new friend taught me how to elbow my way onto a packed train, Italian style.


While a lot of the frescoes and artifacts and casts have been removed and put into the Archaeology Museum in Naples (and still...right now a great deal of it is on loan to a museum in Philadelphia right now) you can still see some of the touchingly decorated interior walls of what was once a person's home.


The site is absolutely enormous.  It's essential to get a map of the key sites and artworks, as the alleys and lanes and orderly blocks of houses will go on forever, and after a while it's hard to know what you are actually looking at.


Although the day I went, it was quite warm and hazy, you could see the shadow of Vesuvius looming over the whole works, making it all the more creepy.


There is even a plaster cast of a dog that had been chained up outside a home.


And things like this; the base of a table:


Along with the houses and everyday items that tell the tale, there are three amphitheaters, baths, a gymnasium, temples, restaurants and bars, and of course, houses of ill repute.  


There are stray dogs all over the site today, with warnings not to bother them.  Many seemed quite content to be ignored.






You totally get a sense of melancholy wandering around the town.  


On the fateful day in AD 79, the Volcano erupted, causing people to take shelter inside their homes.  A great wave of heat radiated from Vesuvius, killing everyone instantly before unleashing enough ash and lava to leave very little trace of the existence of several nearby cities.


People died where they were hiding, in poses you would expect to be in if overcome by volcanic activity.  











The very famous mosaic of Alexander the Great:



The officials and caretakers of the site have gotten a lot of flak lately, and UNESCO has even threatened to withhold funding since much of the site is exposed to the elements, and not being properly kept up.  A house collapse a couple of years ago led to much anger and finger-pointing as to how to actually manage the site.  There's an article here from last April in the NY Times.


But, yes, I can vouch: things are in ruins.  :)




There were quite a lot of tourist- this is one of the most visited sites in Italy- but once you got out of the main sites, we had the place to ourselves.  They were nice enough to provide plenty of water fountains, as it was almost 80 degrees and very humid that day.  Shade and water and short breaks were necessary.




It's odd and creepy, it fueled some nightmares,  and I'm glad I saw it.