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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Holiday Reading and...... Abyssinian Kitten Rules!

Before the holidays I went and bought "Dominion" by C.J.Sansom. It said in the reviews at the front that readers who had enjoyed "Fatherland" by Robert Harris, would love this book. Being slightly OCD, I decided that I would have to read the Robert Harris novel first because it was written first. Amazon offered me ALL the Robert Harris novels for a few pounds and I had a happy time filling part of the new landing shelves with the Robert Harris novels I needed to complete the set.
So we went on holiday and while I was reading "Fatherland", DJ read "Dominion". I finished first. It has less pages and density in the reading.
The hotel in Italy had a deposit of read-and-left paperbacks and so I selected "Alone in Berlin" by Hans Fallada. I'm glad I did. It will always be remembered by me. The reading of it was steady and rewarding. The characters didn't have to explain themselves.
 I'm now reading "Dominion" and am about a third of the way through. Without doubt and out of the three shown here, "Alone in Berlin" will live on in my mind. The others will join the BULIMIC READING described by Carol eventually and the Robert Harris collection will be avidly read and just as rapidly blurred into a forgotten library.

Last weekend I attended the funeral of Bernard Griffin who was Principal Architect for Middlesbrough Council. He was a very talented architect and Middlesbrough has benefitted from his foresight and social awareness. His latest project was The Custom's House but there are many public and community buildings which have had his touch over the years. He went to College in London with my sister and the course was six years long which is one of the reasons why our family all knew and loved Bernard and why he will live on in our memories.

And just to show how much he is growing...Billy is asking where his breakfast is. The answer is easy...same place as elevenses, lunch, arvo tea, dinner and supper. Placed in a bowl and then very rapidly devoured.
He is a delightful kitten.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Roman and Greek Ruins

We have been to a few Mediterranean countries in recent years and one of the things we have found they have in common (apart from the climate) is the plethora of Roman and Greek ruins. In fact there are places in museum areas which resemble architectural salvage yards specialising in take-home bits. These were lying around in the approach to the Cumaean Sybil's cave. They were too heavy to carry and a large dark Italian smoking an endless cigarette and on a permanent mobile phone was in charge. They haven't been moved in decades.
1. Sinistro sit amet quam pecunio?
(see p.s. for translations)

Some bits would be an interior decorator's dream. Real marble as well!
2. Hoc non manus sed pes est.

And some others need a TV home rescue show to get the job finished before it all falls down. Why are those bits still lying around?
3. Quid dicis tu animum mutatum; columnas?

Some expose the ravages of age on the faux marble pillars! A core of bricks, some moulded plaster and a clever paint job.

And many were obviously finished by A-----w's Roofing of Bishop Auckland. He did the same sort of work on our roof before we got the good guys in.

4. Si fractum non sit, noli id recifere.

Swimming pools are always problems. No-one knows why this pool has such restricted lane-swimming barriers. Another suggestion is that perhaps they got sick of swimming and changed it into a fish farm.
An accompanying scholar gave us those suggestions and got a free holiday for it! I think it is the area where the heated water from the hypocaust got into the pool. But...we'll never know.

5. Quid est illud in Aqua....Pistrix!

In Roman times it was always handy to get a house in a street with good drains and a pedestrian crossing over the floods. Chariots could be a problem on rainy days.  Looks like A----w's been roofing here too.
6. Debetne multum aquae subter esse?

In one of the museums was a pottery selection of meals available at a local Trattoria. They would have been displayed with the price so that foreigners from the ships in the port didn't have to be able to speak latin. Just as well. Most of them were Greek or African and hadn't been to a convent grammar school in North Finchley.
There were other picturesque tariffs displayed outside bakers, wine bars and brothels. Use your imagination.
7. In catillo est, cibus esse debet.

Our scholarly escort took great delight in stopping to translate all the latin inscriptions. I really don't think that this one needs much translation. A sentence including all the words great, good, fat and god seem to do the job.


Cheers Gillian

p.s. 1. How much money is the big one on the left?
       2. This isn't a hand, it's a foot.
       3. What do you mean, you changed your mind about the pillars?
       4. If it ain't broke don't fix it.
       5. What's that in the water?   Shark!
       6. Is there supposed to be a lot of water down here?
       7. It's on a plate, it must be food.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Vesuvius and Solfatara

I'm fascinated by volcanoes and vulcanicity and have always wanted to go to Iceland or Etna to see red hot lava activity so I was really thrilled on our  trip to Italy when we were taken to visit Solfatara. This was on our first day and it is an active site. Steam and gases escape continuously through holes in the ground inside the crater. These fumaroles can be seen all over the area but are concentrated in more active sites.

An ancient Italian called Signor Bruno took us exploring. He showed how you could make new holes for the hot gases to escape.
And then volunteers cooked their fingers by putting them in the hole to test the temperature. This made Signor Bruno chuckle. He didn't volunteer to put his fingers in the holes so I followed his example and kept mine in my pocket. Quite sensible people will volunteer even after the last person has shouted "Ow!".
He also threw a large boulder onto the ground and it made a hollow booming sound. This was because below us was an enormous chamber covered with a thin solidified lava and ash layer on which we were standing. It boomed when we all jumped up and down as well!
Luckily there were no volunteers to put their fingers into the boiling mud.
Gases bubble away at 90 degrees or more!
Then on the last day was one of the real adventures. A climb to the top of Mount Vesuvius to look into the crater.
The bus takes you two thirds of the way up so you are left with only 360 metres to climb and a couple of kilometres to trek. There is a wide, steepish track but you can rest while you stop to admire the view. Sadly the cloud cover was a bit low that day (it seemed to be so most days) so that Naples gradually disappeared as we climbed.
This is the crater from the 1944 eruption. The 79AD eruption blew most of the top off the mountain and left a new cone here. Until 1944 it was full to the top but it's now a big hole.
There are small fumaroles puffing away and adding to the sulphur smell and the mistiness.
Right at the top is a souvenir shop and the remains of the funicular railway built to take tourists to the top a hundred years ago. Again we had a guide to tell us all about it. An enthusiastic alpine guide with charisma and grand gesticulations made the the story of the volcano come to life. In fact it is theoretically still alive and The whole of Naples and its surroundings live in fear of another eruption. A cataclysm is awaited by the scientists but the people rely on the blood of St Gennaro.
He is the patron saint of Naples and his blood is kept in a phial in the cathedral and it turns into liquid for one day each year. This means that Vesuvius will not erupt that year. To make sure, a grotto with a statue of him exists at the top of the mountain so you can all be glad he's doing his job.
Cheers for now 

Sunday, 13 October 2013


Having read "Pompeii" by Robert Harris and seen a TV programme on the unearthing of the ruins of Herculaneum, we resolved to go and see Vesuvius, Pompeii and Herculaneum for ourselves. We joined an escorted lecture tour of the sites.
It was all arranged by a travel agent and we set off from Newcastle airport, changed at Gatwick and picked up the bus and the others at Naples Airport. They accommodated us in a hotel at Vico Equense for the week and we ventured out most days to see sites, views and ruins.
One day we drove down the Amalfi coast, through the pretty villages, scaring ourselves by looking out of the window at the steep drops and hairpin bends.
Viaducts abound
Hairpin road systems climb out of the deep valleys
If there isn't enough flat land at the edge for a road, a tunnel is made.
The villages have few roads and vehicles are confined to the upper areas,
Sadly there had been a landslide over the road a mile north of Amalfi and we had to climb up and over the hills to reach our destination. The weather was mostly good and the temperatures didn't drop below 20C, but there were thunderstorms and the deluge the night before had loosened the hillside. Nobody was hurt but a couple of vehicles were flattened.
On another day we travelled northwards towards Pozzuoli and therefore had to drive through Naples itself. It seems that everybody lives in a block of flats and that nobody ever gives the place a coat of paint. The washing hangs from the balconies and baskets are lowered to haul up the shopping.
small baskets can be seen beside the upper windows to the left of this block
highways criss-cross the airspace around and between the flats
The roads travel over the roofs and are enclosed in wire cages
Vesuvius is constantly in view
It's one of the most densely populated areas in Europe and people are packed into the available space.
So are the cars. Most of them display signs of contact with other vehicles and how this one got parked is a mystery. Scooters and three wheelers are common.
Our hotel was well sited and the small town of Vico Equense was a delightful spot away from all the hustle of the city. We had time to explore it and visit the pavement cafes and side streets full of shops. The terrace of the hotel had splendid views of Vesuvius
and walks down narrow lanes led to the beach
A long way down.
The whole tour was very interesting and a great way to see everything. It was all arranged and entry was pre-paid and guides full of enthusiasm and knowledge escorted us around each of the venues. Our fellow travellers were a great bunch of folk and the atmosphere was friendly and helpful. Mealtimes were like musical chairs and everyone sat just where they liked without fuss and large tables were popular.
If I didn't have to include Gatwick Airport in the equation I wouldn't hesitate to try another jaunt like it next year.
 There are hundreds of pics and I'll post a few more later in the week or tomorrow even.
Cheers Gillian