Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

New Year’s Resolution no.3

….was to blog. So here I am. Blogging. About what? I’m not sure yet. Maybe about my newly discovered love of beautiful art? Maybe about my renewed fascination with the history of Ham House because of my fabulous new book about it? Maybe about cake?

Well, let’s start with the cake. Here is a box that once contained a chocolate orange cake.
image

Danda had one peice. Someone else ate the entire rest of the cake, thinking it might help with her cold because oranges contain vitamin C, right? That someone else had been sworn off sugar because of the sugar headaches and achy teeth caused by their new job as a cake maker. The someone else now feels chocolate guilt and wishes not to be named.

Talking of new jobs, it’s been an interesting year. In the space of twelve months, the following things have happened;

1. Got two new jobs. One I disliked. One I loved. Thankfully I am now in the one I love!
2. Lost a good friend to the murky depths of Texas’ capital punishment system.
3. Went to France (for lunch), Italy (for my birthday) and America.
4. Visited the NASA space centre.
5. Became a ghost tour guide.
6. Made this (the website, not the art)
7. Became addicted to Candy Crush, Breaking Bad and Modern Family.
8. Purchased the most expensive (but most worth it) book I’ve ever owned.
9. Discovered pretty art and fabulous painters (current favourites are Sir Peter Lely and Van Dyck)
10. Got to know the life of the river better, via my walk to work. (And learnt about the importance of knowing the tide times!)
11. Got reacquainted with my childhood best friend when she came to stay in the spare room.
12. Had a cold for a month.
13. Watched family jet off for a new life under the Australian sun.
14. Met a fellow blogger for the first time.

There has been a lot of change in the last year, some of which I’m still getting used to. Here’s to 2014! I wonder what will happen.

Travel advice

Thinking of going on holiday? Got something booked but need advice on the sights? Look no further than today’s blog. All your travel questions answered.

Danda on the Taj Mahal:
“Shite. Really, really disappointing. Right in the middle of nowhere.”

Danda on the Golden Temple in Amritsar:
“Fabulous. Great day out. Best place we went in India.”

Danda on Mumbai/Bombay:
“Second favourite place on my Indian Odyssey. And we won the Test Series.” (Cricket-speak, I’m guessing.)

Danda on going to a test match in Mumbai/Bombay:
“Indians really love their cricket. It’s more like a religion than a sport. It was noisier than the FA cup final. It was 40 degrees and the humidity was off the scale. Really really enjoyed it, especially as we drew the game to win the series.”

Danda on the pyramids:
“Best thing I’ve ever seen.”

Danda on going down into the pyramids:
“Nope! Wouldn’t go! It wasn’t cause I was frightened. It’s just that I… I’ll go tomorrow… Next time.”

Danda on the Caribbean:
“Fabulous beaches. Uh. What else can you say about the Caribbean? I wouldn’t recommend the cuisine. Unless you like chicken, rice and peas. Great cricket grounds! Fav island = Antigua. Lovely people.”

Danda on Rome:
“The Eternal City. Wonderful place. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. And Laura took me there for my birthday.”

Laura on the Philippines:
“Unbelievably idyllic. Gorgeous, like a brochure. Luscious, green, sunny, pale beaches. I think I’ll retire there one day.”

Danda on Florida:
“Best place in the world for a fun vacation.”

Danda on Niagara Falls:
“Awesome!”

Laura on Niagara Falls:
“I have photos of me looking grumpy there. Not any prevalent actual memories. Just some grumpy photos.”

Danda on Bangkok’s red light district:
*pulls a face* “Uh. Yeh. Alright for a laugh. Not very tempting but good for a laugh.”

Laura on Bangkok’s red light district:
“Where else in the world can you find clubs unashamedly blazoned with the name Superpussy?”

Danda on Amsterdam’s red light district:
“I was drinking at the time. Good place to go for a drink. But, like any red light district, you’ve got to go with the right people. People that are game for a laugh and aren’t easily offended.”

Danda on the Inca Trail:
“A beautiful experience. That’s all I can say.”

Laura on trekking the Great Wall of China:
“Epic. Jaw dropping scenery. I swear Mordor was based on this place. The Chinese are the friendliest people I’ve met.”

Danda on Paris:
“I’ve been ten times probably. Good place to take a bird. Specially if her name’s Laura.”

Danda on Germany:
“Wonderful place. Great people. Great country.”

Danda on the south of France:
“Wonderful, wonderful place. I love France. Cannes and Nice are fabulous places.”

Danda on Italy:
“La Dolce Vita.”

Danda on the Algarve:
“If the weather’s good, it’s a good place to go. Golf is prohibitively expensive!”

Danda on Sri Lanka:
“Really interesting place. And the hottest place I’ve ever been! And we won the Test Series.” (I think this is cricket-speak too.)

Danda on Spain:
“Love Spain. Love the Spanish way of life.”

Danda on London:
“Best city in the world by far. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a London cab driver.”

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…

image

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

image

Any ideas anyone?

3. Seeing friends for dinner and getting lovely presents.

image

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).

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….

image

image

image

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

image

image

…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.

image

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

image

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

image

Wall paintings

image

Floor mosaics

image

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.

image

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.

image

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

image

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.

image

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.

image

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

image

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!

image

image

image

image

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.

 

Lemons and ice cream on Capri

Yesterday started well. We rose early, repacked our already stuffed suitcases and jumped in a taxi to Gatwick. As we had already checked in online, we just went to give our bags in and headed through security. The flight was quick and fuss-free (read: I slept through it) and we had landed in Napoli before I could say ‘truffles’.

image

Danda, ever the efficient man-on-board, said lots of words to me about buses and ports and things while I nodded politely and looked around squinting my eyes and pretending to help when really I didn’t know what I was looking for.

We found our way onto a bus to the port and purchased tickets to Capri. The boat was leaving in half an hour so we were on it before we had time to get bored. After a 40 minute boat ride across the Bay of Naples, we reached Capri, a mountainous island, looming out of the sea and rising up to meet the clouds.

image

Danda came to life again leading us to the ticket booth for the funicular, the train up to the main town. Tickets purchased, we waited a few minutes for the next train. It’s not really a train as such. It’s a cable car that runs up the side of the (extremely steep) mountain and gives you your first glimpse of Capri life.

image

Lemons trees are in every direction, the sea is the backdrop to everything and houses are positioned on the edges of the impossibly steep slopes. Despite the plane-bus-boat-train combo, which had taken about six hours, we felt refreshed by Capri, as soon as we arrived.

We found our hotel, the Hotel della Piccola Marina, easily enough, a short walk away from the main square and designer-shop-lined streets but far enough away that it felt quite and relaxed. When we walked into the hotel, we knew we had picked a winner. The receptionist was friendly, chilled out and welcoming, like we were old friends come to visit him at home. He looked comfortable and easy as he walked around, showing us the hotel and our room.

image

(The decor is refined and relaxed)

image

image

That sums up Capri pretty well actually, comfortable and easy. There are very few people about as it is not the tourist season. The shop assistants and restaurant owners do not shout out in the street, trying to attract you in. They sit, working on their ceramics or paintings or jewellery, and you are left to wander in and out of them as you please. On the one hand, this could be seen as unwelcoming or aloof. On the other, it is fabulous because you can potter at your own pace, stopping here, looking there, having an espresso as you wish.
image

It’s like the islanders know that visitors are here to do nothing so they leave them to move to their own rhythm.

And we loved it immediately. The views from the balcony promised much for our afternoon so we put on walking shoes and got exploring. And we walked and walked and walked! Up this road, down that one, round this corner, down this path.

image

image

image

image

We found the Roman Emperor Augustus’ garden….

image

…and had a lemon ice drink from the hugest lemons known to man…

image

We also found a huge tower of flowers and so photographed me next to them. Look.

image

We then returned to change before heading out to dinner, which wasn’t that photogenic but tasted great. I had the veal escalope with marsala sauce and potato and parmesan croquettes in a restaurant patronised by the celebrity elite.
image

image

Every place worth its salt has a fair few of these pictures. Anne Hathaway, J-Lo, Rod Stewart, Ingrid Bergman, Elton John…. Capri is the land of the rich and the famous, of the moneyed classes, of those who can afford the singular luxury offered in the fashion boutiques and the unique perfume shops, offering fragrances made in small batches on the island to methods used by 13th century monks.

And we like it. We’re thinking of doing a Graham Greene and moving here. Anyone got any money we can borrow?

We finished the evening by finding an icecream vendor near the main square and got a little something to sustain us for the walk back to the hotel.

R is for…

R&R!

That’s right. Danda and I are leaving these wintery shores (well, not exactly wintery, it’s quite nice and sunny in England now) for warmer climes abroad (my weather app says there’ll be cloud but I’m hoping otherwise).

Yes, we’re off to Italy. To the beautiful island of Capri. To the coast. To the sea. To the pizzas of Naples. To the ash-preserved ruins of Pompeii. To the volcanic heights of Vesuvius. To the colossal sights of Capua. To the porcini mushrooms and fresh asparagus of the street markets. To the truffle laden plates of pasta. To the bowls piled high with homemade icecream. To the strong palate-cleansing espressos. To the mountains and the blue skies and bays of the Amalfi coast.

Off we go! Here’s hoping my phone works over there!

image