Archive for April, 2013

Z is for…

ZZZZZZZ!

And now, a final word from Danda about the AtoZ challenge. I feel it reflects how interesting he has found it, how much he has enjoyed me reading out my posts to him and how much he loved it when I badgered him to help me come up with ideas for awkward letters like K or X….

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Y is for….

YEHHHH!

(That’s me cheering because I’ve been nominated for another award.)

This time it’s the Super Sweet Blogging Award, given to me by WealthyMatters. Thank you so much!

First I have to answer the blog award questions so here goes…

Cookies or Cake?

Oo, tough. I guess biscuits, for dipping into tea.

Chocolate or Vanilla?

Vanilla

What is your favorite sweet treat?

Anything home baked. You can’t beat it. Banana bread muffins, flapjacks, gingerbread….

When do you crave sweet things the most?

About 4pm. Afternoon munchies.

If you had a sweet nickname, what would it be?

Um. I dunno. Flapjack face…?

Ok, next up is my baker’s dozen of blog nominations. These are specifically ones which I have used for their recipes or that I like to read because of the beautiful pictures of food.

1. Biancalovefoodlovefashion – O, the bagels! O, the breakfasts! The loveliness….

2. Hungryhinny – I hardly know where to look. The recent spate of chocolate posts has made me very happy, as did this apple tart, which had me dribbling on my computer screen.

3. Prettygirlscook – I first noticed this blog when Italy was mentioned and I have not looked back since. Posts from the latest trip, to New Orleans, was a feast for the eyes.

4. Copycatmom – This is not necessarily a foodie blog but the recent challenge to eradicate processed food has made for fantastic reading. I loved the post about making ketchup.

5. Eat-move-love – this is a great blog for anyone looking for advice about healthy eating and exercise.

6. Thelittleloaf – O. My. Goodness. How amazing does this salmon and avocado on rye bread look?

7. Le Zoe Musings – Again, not a food blog but the posts which do contain food are beautiful.

8. Rantings of an Amateur Chef – Lovely lovely food. I wish this man was my personal chef.

9. Yes Chef! – I love taking a peek into this kitchen. I love the pictures of the family and I love looking at the things they eat.

10. Fitness and Frozen Grapes – She runs, she bikes, she swims, she writes, she cooks, she’s health and fitness embodied! I love when she writes about food on her blog.

11. Bagni di Lucca – It’s about Italy and there are pictures of food. I’m happy!

12. Pepper Bento – Fabulous looking food in cute little boxes. Brilliant!

Life since Italy

Since being back from Italy, so not to feel sad, I’ve kept myself busy with the following activities.

1. Lunching on salad to detox from the Italian carb onslaught

2. Buying trees for the patio. I wanted an olive tree and a fig tree so I could pretend I was still in Italy but apparently neither get good fruit in England. We got a plum tree…

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…and one of our neighbours gave us something but we haven’t worked out what it is yet.

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Any ideas anyone?

3. Seeing friends for dinner and getting lovely presents.

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4. Planning to pull down the garden shed and put a vegetable patch there.

5. Feeding my worms my vegetable peelings and sprinkling cinnamon around the compost bin to stop the ants invading (it works!)

6. Volunteering at Ham House again. I was there yesterday and it was my first day by myself baking in the kitchen there and it went really well. People liked my biscuits, no-one vomited and lots of people said “Mmm.” I’m taking that as a good sign.

7. Hanging the washing out in the garden and acting all Disneyfied because it’s sunny (it later poured and the washing is still wet on the line but whatever).

X is for…

X MARKS THE SPOT. (From Indiana Jones, although I think the quote is “X never marks the spot”. It’s a very vague connection but I’m a bit like Indiana Jones in this post, hence the quote.)

And so to my last day in Italy… sniffle sniffle.

Two days previously, we had tried to visit the amphitheatre in Pozzuoli and it had been closed but we really wanted to see it. After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we set out again, hoping it would be second time lucky.

And it was! Woop woop! It was so quiet. Apart from a group of school children when we first entered, we saw no other people while we there. And it was amazing. We were allowed under the stage and into all the corridors once used by the gladiators to enter the stage from underneath through trap doors.

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The cut out sections in the second floor up were used to keep cages with animals in to be released onto the stage too.

After a little while, we found a section where the corridors and stairways were accessible, although they were blocked off elsewhere. It was dark and cold and silent and I felt like I was an archaeologist, discovering it all for the first time. The Indiana Jones of the Roman world, if you will. Minus the baddies.

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By the time, we came up by the stage and seating area, it became clear that the section downstairs had never meant to be left open. It was too quiet, too secretive. But we were in by then and it was like a heady mix of discovery and disobedience. Being so quiet, there was no-one to tell us off so we kept exploring.

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We found rooms under the seating area where statues and other bits and pieces had been stored during excavations.

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Eventually, creeping about amongst all these amazing discoveries, we suddenly emerged into sunlight and were in the seating area.

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(I’m cheering an imaginary gladiator, in case you were wondering.)

After all this merriment, we were on a high and, even though we only had a few hours til we needed to be back in Naples to check out of our hotel, we went on a search for the seafront and some coffee. It took us far longer than we realised it would and by the time we got there, we barely had time to sit down before we had to start trekking back up the hill to find the station.

We asked directions at a roundabout and sped off in the direction we were told.

Now, one of two things must have happened here.

1. We were told the wrong direction.
2. We didn’t understand the directions properly.

As we walked down the road, it suddenly became really countrified. We were surrounded by greenery, there was no sound of traffic, only birds singing and we seemed to be walking out of town, not towards it. After fifteen minutes, we admitted defeat and turned back but the diversion had added half an hour on. We now had forty minutes to find the station, get a train back to Naples, get back from the station to our hotel, grab our bags and check out! We were up against it.

We ended up doing it in 43 minutes and burst through the door to reception, panting and apologising and explaining that we had been lost in Pozzuoli and we’re really sorry! Thankfully, they were horrified enough by our sweaty faces and profuse apologies that they gave us an extra hour on the room without charging.

We spent our last few hours after checking out, wandering around a nearby castle and taking photos looking over to Vesuvius…

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…before getting a taxi to the airport where, annoyingly enough, there was a problem with our plane and they had to fly a new one out from London, which meant we took off at 22.20 instead of 19.35. Airports are boring when you’ve just had three hours added onto your departure time!

Anyway, we got home without any more hiccups and have spent the last two days lying around letting our stomachs recover from the carb-and-icecream-onslaught that is Italian food! Mmmm….

W is for…

WHERE ARE THE PEOPLE?

…my constant request whilst in Pompeii earlier this week. I had seen a programme about Pompeii a few weeks before going and the historian lady, strolling around looking at things, stopped behind some of the now-famous plaster casts of Pompeian people who were found when excavating the town. She said something like “This is the first thing that greets you when you enter Pompeii.”

Well, thought I, this will be excellent. I shall see the actual people. I will see their faces and can imagine what their lives must have been like and imagine them in these grand homes.

I find it fascinating, imagining the people going about their daily lives. It suddenly makes history a really alive subject that I can connect with because I can start to imagine myself in the past and how different my life would have been from the one I am now leading.

So we entered Pompeii, my eyes scanned for the Pompeians lying on the ground….

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Eventually, walking into the Stabian Baths, we saw a few in glass boxes…

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…and it was so strange. On the TV programme, they had talked about pyroclastic flows and ash falling and four different flows of something, which had meant that people had died almost immediately. There was no long drawn-out choking to death or disease or anything. They had been caught unawares and had barely any time to try and escape. So when I looked at the man in the top case, I imagined him seeing the ash falling and lying down and covering his face and being immortalised that way, forever. How strange, that the smallest action has defined his life forever. Of all the other things he did in his life here at Pompeii, he is forever defined by covering his face from the approaching disaster.

We kept walking but it was a long time before we saw any more people, which had become my obsession at Pompeii, a little bit.

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Danda walking across the stones set high up in the road so people could still cross the road when it was raining.

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Me ‘working’ in the Pompeian version of a deli.

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Wall paintings

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Floor mosaics

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More people! The lady on the programme said that this position with the arms is typical of someone going into rigor mortis after a shock.

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This one is strange in a totally different way. His exposed skull and two thousand year old teeth poking out from the plaster made me feel odd, like I’d accidentally seen someone undressing.

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You can even see the shape of the belt he was wearing when Vesuvius decimated the town.

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We found some more people in an area which seemed to be blocked off for archaeologists to work in, although there were none there at the time. In between all the wine jars and other artefacts, there were some more people.

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The lady on the programme talked about how this person had probably crouched down and put their hands to their face to stop the ash going on it.

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This person, it seems, dived on the floor and hid their face.

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O and here’s one we found. Just in amongst the wine jugs on the shelf. Have you spotted him yet?

After looking at loads more buildings and reading in my little guidebook about what it used to be and who used to live there, we were back near the entrance, we had been there for five hours and were both knackered.

“But I didn’t see the people from the programme…” I said sadly.

Danda insisted we go and find them, even though I was tired and said it was ok. He reminded me that we don’t know if we’ll ever come back here so we mustn’t go home disappointed. So off we went, back into Pompeii, not much time to spare before closing, the tourists almost all gone, to find “the people.”

We trekked right back to the other end, near to the vineyards which, by the way, they have replanted and turned back into working vineyards (the wine produced there is called Villa dei Misteri) and eventually we found them! The people! The people lying on the floor! Hurrah!

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And it was so interesting. I was enthralled, standing up against the glass case imagining who’s children they were, which house had been theirs, whether they had worked in the vineyards, as that is where these 13 were found during excavations or whether they had lived close by and just run there together to shelter.

Eventually, time and daylight were running out so we made our way back to the entrance, having added an hour on for “the people” and left, among the last few.

What a brilliant brilliant day. Damn planes and trains and the history of the automobile, give me some real people’s faces and clothes and lives to look at and I’m planning my future as an archaeologist/historian.

That’s inbetween my full time job as a farmer, my part time job as the world’s best baker, my hobby as an internationally renowned pianist and my ongoing project as a human rights lawyer.

I can fit it all in, don’t you worry.

V is for…

It’s the guest blogger handling ‘V’ today, a day later than usual…

 

FIVE!

Given that LLM is over in Italy as I write this post I thought I’d try and do something a bit Roman/Italian-ish. Of course, in the title, I mean the Roman numeral V which represents 5 in that counting system. I was watching a programme on TV recently in which someone had brought an antique grandfather clock in to be valued. The interesting thing was that in the “4” position it had “IIII” and not, as we might have expected, “IV”. They expert guy explained that it was more to do with the aesthetics of the clock face. The 4 position is the mirror of the 8 position and as 8 is represented by “VIII” makers wanted to display the face as symmetrical as possible so used “IIII” as an alternative to “IV”. Now just in case you didn’t realise, with Roman numerals the system is that symbols after V mean you add them on to V and symbols before V mean you take away (“VI” = V + I, “IV” = V – 1); similarly with the other main single letter numbers L (50), C (100) & M (1,000). If you think about it it’s very similar to our own way of representing numbers. If you take 32, for example, we know (but we don’t do it) that it is 30 + the 2 after the 3 and so on. 32 only has meaning because we know what it represents: 2 x 1 added to 3 x 10 meaning there are 32 “things”.

However it got me thinking about the “V”: why didn’t they use “IIIII” for instance? And carry on up to say 10 (their X) the base number of modern counting systems. How did they get from “IIIII” to “V”? It seems there are at least a couple of schools of thought: one, that the V came from an earlier system where 5 was represented by “Λ” and two, that the symbols came from tally stick markings. The tally marks were notches cut into a “counting stick”: “I” meant 1, “II” meant 2 and so on. In this system of cuts in the wood, for a number like 7 you would see “IIII ΛII” cut into the stick. I think you can easily see what could have developed next: once you got a “Λ” mark meaning the 5th item had been counted you didn’t actually need the first four “IIII” because people knew they were kind of included in the “Λ”. Then at some point, whether the Romans themselves introduced it or not, the “Λ” was inverted to become the symbol we know today as five – “V”. Seems plausible to me but I won’t fall out with you if you disagree. And on the back of this there is a view that says when you got to 10 you had two of the symbol “Λ” carved into the stick and by inverting one and placing it on top of the other you got X for 10. Again a bit subjective but I like that one.

One further explanation suggests that way back in the beginning when humans were first developing the idea of counting or giving a value to a group of items they would have used the fingers of their own hands. Hold up your own hand and open the fingers and thumb and what shape is formed by the thumb and first finger – a V shape (although not completely symmetrical as the thumb is shorter). It’s not a great leap to see how by using two hands once you get more than 5 objects you could count up to 10. This also seems very plausible.

And that’s it for “V” is for five.

And finally – if you’re wondering when we stopped using the Roman numerals and started using our modern day 1,2,3,4,5 etc (called Arabic) – it was in the 13th century. The strange thing is that in the purely Arabic system the number 5 looks much like our 0 and 0 itself is represented by a dot ( “.”). (The “V” and “Λ” are 7 & 8 in that system.) The guy who most people believe was responsible for the change from Latin to our current system was Leonardo Fibonacci; his book, in 1202, was called Liber Abaci (Book of Calculation). You might recognise his name as many will have heard of the expression “Fibonacci Numbers” named after him; he didn’t actually invent the concept, as it had been previously reported by Indian mathematicians, but gave an example in his book. A Fibonacci number, if you remember your maths lessons, is one which is the sum of the previous two. The start position is usually given as 0 followed by 1. This then generates the series 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13 etc.

 

U is for….

UNWILLING…

…which is how we left Capri on Monday morning. We had our fruit, yoghurt, granola and honey combo which has become our standard breakfast in Italy, checked out of our room and went to a little gelateria we had visited a few times already to get our last coffee on Capri. We then headed to the funicolare and down the hill, away from the quiet relaxing ambience of ‘our’ part of town…

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…to the crowded buzz of the port below.

Boat tickets bought, we headed sadly for our ferry and left the perfumed streets of Capri for the unknown shores of Napoli. We had read a few different things about Napoli, things like ‘dirty’, ‘run by the Mafia’ and ‘untouristy.’

I shall now give you my first impressions of Napoli.

1. Lots of graffiti. Everywhere. And I mean everywhere.
2. Lots of washing on lines hanging off people’s balconies.
3. Lots of concrete apartment blocks. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen any houses. Everything is an apartment block. Painted yellow or pink.
4. Lots of people running. Not to get places. For exercise. But not even doing it properly, like putting any effort in, just kind of plodding, like they’re running lazily for a bus or something. And not even wearing sporty clothes. Strange.

The reports about it not being touristy were right. On the waterfront, it is a little. But most other places, people are just going about their lives and there has been no nod to tourism, no sugar coating, no gelaterias sprinkled inbetween every shop. It’s gritty and, yes, a little dirty and lively. It’s a completely different kettle of fish to Capri.

But the waterfront, where we are staying, is beautiful. The water is blue, the sky is blue, our beloved island is just across the bay, tantalisingly close, as we debate throwing in the towel and just going back and staying forever.

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By the time we got to Napoli, it was afternoon and we had read about a place called Pozzuoli, with an amphitheatre better preserved than that at Capua. We were excited. We jumped on a train and headed over there.

We went first to the top of the highest hill in the town, to see the Solfatara volcano, which is semi extinct and is described as having a ‘rotten egg ambience’ in our guidebook. We didn’t need much more persuading!

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And yes, it really, really does smell like rotten eggs when you get up close to the sulfurous gases.

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As the wind changed and the steam was swept into my face, my nostrils were filled with it. The warmth of the eggrot smell travelled into my nostrils and down into my throat and the steam heated up my face. Mmmm…. Happy birthday…. Egg-face. For indeed, it was my birthday on this day. And what better in the absence of candles to blow out, than some egg-steam in my face?

After being egged out for a while, we headed back down the hill to this amphitheatre. Danda was so excited. He loves a Roman ruin. And he loves an amphitheatre. Since seeing the Colossuem in Rome last year, I had been wanting to see one where I could walk all around, unrestricted, and see the area below the stage.

We found it near the train station and looked in through the side gates…

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It looked fab. We found the main gate and…. Come on, put your hand up if you got it? I’ll give you a clue, it happened twice in yesterday’s post… Yes, you at the back in the red, would you like to guess what happened when we got to the gate? Yes, well done! You got it! It was closed. Closed.

So we got on the train, came back to Napoli and dealt with our disappointment by eating bruscetta and pizza.

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