Breaking News – Science Proves Ancient Author Not a Liar

thermopolium.jpg
If they spent much money on this they should be spanked. One disputed coin encouraged this?


Remains of rotten fish entrails have helped establish the precise dating of Pompeii’s destruction, according to Italian researchers who have analyzed the town’s last batch of garum, a pungent, fish-based seasoning.
Frozen in time by the catastrophic eruption that covered Pompeii and nearby towns nearly 2,000 years ago with nine to 20 feet of hot ash and pumice, the desiccated remains were found at the bottom of seven jars.
The find revealed that the last Pompeian garum was made entirely with bogues (known as boops boops), a Mediterranean fish species that abounded in the area in the summer months of July and early August.
“Analysis of their contents basically confirmed that Mount Vesuvius most likely erupted on 24 August 79 A.D., as reported by the Roman historian Pliny the Younger in his account on the eruption,” Annamaria Ciarallo, director of Pompeii’s Applied Research Laboratory told Discovery News.

Once again, science proves ancient texts were not written by liars – that kind of hermeneutic of suspicion doesn’t get you far. Of course it’s fun to confirm things that we really already know – numismatics had already proved this one in the 18th Century; no one has ever found a coin at Pompeii from after 79.
More interesting to folks who don’t know about Roman cuisine might be this information about the fish remains they were testing:


Garum, made from fermenting fish in saltwater, was basically the ketchup of the ancient Romans. It boasted a much appreciated sweet and sour taste, and was used on almost on every dish, often substituting expensive salt.
Most likely it was widely available at the numerous open air trattorias, known as thermopolia, where Pompeian “fast food” was served. The sunken jars on the counter contained spiced wine, stews of meat or lentils as well as garum.
Producing garum was relatively simple. A garum maker such as Aulus Umbricius Scaurus would have first placed a layer of fish entrails on a bed of dried, aromatic herbs such as coriander, fennel, celery, mint and oregano.
Then he would have covered the fish entrails under a layer of salt about two fingers high. The layer sequence — herbs, fish and salt — was repeated until the container was filled. The concoction was then left in the sun to macerate for a week or so, and the sauce was mixed daily for about 20 days.
The process produced a smelly liquid — a local delicacy to the Romans.
“Pompeii’s last batch of garum was made with bougues, a fish that was cheap and easy to find on the market in those summer months. Still today, people living in this region make a modern version of garum, called “colatura di alici” or anchovy juice, in July when this fish abounds on the markets,” Ciarallo said.

Why did they go to this much trouble? Someone was sure a new single coin find had overturned everything! Everything!


Doubts about the date of the eruption emerged a couple of yeas ago when archaeologists discovered a coin which seemed to refer to the 15th imperiatorial acclamation of Titus, believed to have occurred on Sept. 7, 79 A.D.
“Unfortunately, that coin can’t be taken as a dating evidence, since it is hardly readable. I myself agree with Ciarallo’s dating of the eruption, even though I think that a bit of mystery remains. However, it is not so important whether the eruption occurred in August or in October,” Teresa Giove, a coin expert at Naples’ Archaeological Museum, told Discovery News.

The photo is one of mine from this Spring of a thermopolium at Pompeii.
via Mirabilis.ca

The creepiest thing in the Greek Rooms

Aren’t these odd? This is a detached pair of eyes, probably Greek 5th Century, for insertion into a statue. Remember that the Greeks painted marble and wood statues to look more naturalistic (they probably polished bronze to look like tanned flesh), added color effects like gilding to hair, and preferred naturalistic eyes. So this pair fell out of something – maybe the wooden head rotted, or the bronze head was broken up and melted.

Mounted this way they are intensely creepy. Yes, they’re staring right at me.

Link to the Met page about them.

Click on them to go to my Flickr stream – the side view changes things!

Morandi in New York

I got to run down to New York City this weekend with a friend and do a lot of walking around and enough museuming to hold me for awhile. I managed not to buy anything but food and drink, too – though we bought a lot of those! The best meal was certainly Indian, and I unaccountably forgot to grab a card from the restaurant on the way out. I’m going to be experimenting with chick peas for the immediate future to see if I can do anything like that. But then there were the Chinese baked goods from Canal Street. Yum. And the cute little smoothie-making machine that not only blended but sealed with a stretched plastic top – you know, sort of like a foil-sealed glass of juice. Tasty and hygienic!
The best art-dose was, of all things, Morandi at the Met. Now the Rome program went to the Morandi museum in Bologna this March, so it’s not as though I was suffering from some kind of undiagnosed 20th Century still-life deficiency. The show at the Met, though it drew on lots of stuff owned by the museum in Bologna, was more analytical and less chronological – they had lots of multiple-version paintings. There was one group of four paintings from 1937-39 that was especially good for understanding work-technique. The little variations from still-life to still-life are worth contemplating, and I am always amazed by the little landscapes in person. Definitely worth seeing.
The medieval rooms were in disarray in advance of a renovation – most of them were closed or almost empty. We spent a good time in the arms and armor section – there’s something very satisfying about the industrial design of life-saving equipment like this, with all the lines designed to slide projectiles away from the torso.
I went and mooned about the classical rooms, of course. There’s never a visit without that. There were 4 loaned pieces of Greek pottery with clear-cut signage that they were ON LOAN FROM THE REPUBLIC OF ITALY. None of them struck ME as much consolation for the Sarpedon krater, but whatever.
Lots of wandering – a few pictures. The predicted rain mainly fell elsewhere, so we weren’t too sloggy.

Who says there will always be an England?

From the Guardian:

Geoffrey Robertson QC, the constitutional lawyer who has represented the paper in challenges to the constitutional restrictions, said last night: “I welcome this as two small steps towards a more rational constitution.
“The Act of Settlement determined that the crown shall descend only on Protestant heads and that anyone ‘who holds communion with the church of Rome or marries a Papist’ – not to mention a Muslim, Hindu, Jew or Rastafarian – is excluded by force of law.
“This arcane and archaic legislation enshrined religious intolerance in the bedrock of the British constitution. In order to hold the office of head of state you must be white Anglo-German Protestant – a descendant of Princess Sophia of Hanover – down the male line on the feudal principle of primogeniture. This is in blatant contravention of the Sex Discrimination Act and the Human Rights Act.”
The next stage, he said, was for the government to challenge the notion of a head of state who achieved the position through inheritance.
[my emphases]

Modernity takes another step against continuity and in favor of rupture, this time in the name of Human Rights. By the way, I’m not at all sure there’s a current problem with mixed race descendants of Princess Sophia of Hanover, so long as they’re Anglicans. William or Harry could marry nice Nigerian noblewomen (and goodness knows there are lots of kings there!) and their children would have no constitutional problem.
We see that all this is a pretext. Labour doesn’t really care about Catholic princesses or hypothetical Rastafarian princes – the goal is the abolition of the Windsors as hereditary heads of state. They messed with the House of Lords and this is next on the agenda. Not that the craven Tories seem like they’d be likely to resist something like this particularly fiercely, but they might not propose it.
Of course the pressure of Modernity has already reduced any sense of majesty a great deal – I feel more like a historic preservationist than a partisan, as though my feelings in favor of keeping a monarchy around are antiquarian. Alas!
I won’t even comment on Robertson’s use of the f-word in the 3rd paragraph.

MacArthur Genius winner – neat art

I thought I recognized Tara Donovan’s work from the description in the news this week about MacArthur prizes, but I couldn’t find any confirmation – I saw a big piece at the Birmingham, Alabama, museum when my mother and I went down for the Pompeii show last Christmas. I can’t turn it up on a search of their collection, so it must have been a temporary installation.

The work was on the ceiling of the cafe area – and it looked, from a distance, almost like a super-enlarged view of stomach lining. Tripe, you know, something like that. It was beautiful in a creepy way – compelling. I went over and found out that it was made of thousands of styrofoam coffee cups glued to a support structure. It looked remarkably like the piece in the photograph – either another from the same series or actually the same one.


Here’s a gallery website with pictures of more art.

Here’s the MacArthur write up.

Posted in Art

“Green Intentions”

People who believe they have the greenest lifestyles can be seen as some of the main culprits behind global warming, says a team of researchers, who claim that many ideas about sustainable living are a myth.
According to the researchers, people who regularly recycle rubbish and save energy at home are also the most likely to take frequent long-haul flights abroad. The carbon emissions from such flights can swamp the green savings made at home, the researchers claim.
Stewart Barr, of Exeter University, who led the research, said: “Green living is largely something of a myth. There is this middle class environmentalism where being green is part of the desired image. But another part of the desired image is to fly off skiing twice a year. And the carbon savings they make by not driving their kids to school will be obliterated by the pollution from their flights.”
Some people even said they deserved such flights as a reward for their green efforts, he added.

Is this hypocrisy, or simply the revelation that green concerns are class-bound?

Soft Night

I took a very long walk this afternoon – it was so very, very lovely today – sunny, 70, and somehow SOFT outside. So I grilled on the balcony, made a few phone calls, listened to the end of E.F. Benson’s Miss Mapp, watched the sun set and the dark rise, and drank red wine. Sabbatical is good.
Here’s the playlist that came after the end of Miss Mapp.
“Nice Work If You Can Get It” – Ella Fitzgerald – The Songbook
“I Touch Roses” – Book of Love – The Best of Book of Love, 2001
“Roma Criola” – Césaria Évora – Café Atlantico, 1999
“Prefer You Dead” – Frazier Chorus – Ray, 1991
“Langue d’Amour” – Laurie Anderson – Mister Heartbreak, 1984
“How Long Has This Been Going On?” – Boz Scaggs – But Beautiful
“Where I’m From” – Shelby Lynne – I Am Shelby Lynne, 1999
‘Happiness is an option” – Pet Shop Boys – Nightlife, 1999
‘Come Softly To Me” – The Roches – Another World
“I Try” – Macy Gray – On How Life Is, 1999

Oh my! Speaking Truth to Power!

The New York Times is trying to fill an ideological niche. It is a business decision, and one made under economic duress, as the New York Times is a failing business. But the paper’s reporting on Senator McCain, his campaign, and his staff should be clearly understood by the American people for what it is: a partisan assault aimed at promoting that paper’s preferred candidate, Barack Obama.

That’s from the McCain campaign – pushing back against the New York Times. I like “failing business.”
The press release addresses very specific failings (mistakes? lies?) in the Times reporting about links between a McCain staffer and Freddie Mac and questions the failure to investigate the Obama campaign’s links to Fannie Mae. Putting it all in terms of a business decision is elegant.

Think the economy has you worried?

Bloomsberg.muse has a story with a great teaser paragraph:

In a village in southern China, Wu Ruiqiu is worried about the effect of an economic slump on the art market. He should be. Wu represents artists that make 60 percent of the world’s oil paintings.

60% of the world’s oil paintings? Well, they may be right. Dafen is an industrial production center for paintings – original and replicas. I’m sure their sales are down.