R&R

Apologies for the delayed post. As the title of this post suggests, I’ve been enjoying some (in my opinion) well deserved decompressing time. Nevertheless, I’m still here and I haven’t totally succumbed to the sweet repose of the French Riviera…yet.

Last week was my final week at the Apolline Project. It was a bit melancholic to say goodbye to seven weeks of hard work at Aeclanum, but alas, I had to move to Provence, France for my second scheduled project of the (albeit extended) season.

The end of my season in Aeclanum was bittersweet for a few reasons, not the least of which is that it is always hard to  hand over the fruits of your hard labor to someone else. Literally, the site and my trenches have some of my sweat and blood (not a lot, just a knick or two from blisters or my trowel). My departure means that another supervisor will take over where Justin and I left off. New students will learn new skills from a new supervisor. New finds will be tenderly turned over and ogled by bright new eyes. There’s always a part of me, both as a naturally curious individual and as an archaeologist, that wants to keep going; to dig deeper, and learn more. There’s also the fact that it is easy to become emotionally attached to the place where we work, of course. It just so happens that where I work(ed) was the archaeological excavation of an ancient Samnite, Roman, and medieval Italian settlement whose earliest occupation is around 2300 years ago. And finally, I can’t talk about my feelings for Aeclanum without discussing my affection for the surrounding town of Passo di Mirabella Eclano. Everything about this little town in the mountains was perfect. Its citizens were warm and welcoming and genuinely happy to host us there. The local officials even added us on Facebook and shared our posts celebrating our finds and recording our adventures. For me, the highlight was getting to bond with Michelangelo at Filiberto’s. On my last night, he kept the bar open late just for me to have a final drink and meal and share a chat. He left me with some parting words of encouragement on my journey and expressed his faith that one day I’ll realize my goal of becoming an academic archaeologist.

So, yeah, I’m a little sad to have left.

With that in mind, I had a little over a week before the commencement of my next project in Provence, and I had the perfect idea of how to spend it: doing practically nothing!

Well, not precisely nothing, but I have taken the liberty of doing some things at my leisure: the day before my flight to France, I stayed in Rome, my favorite city. My stay was highlighted by a trip to my favorite museum, the Palazzo Massimo Museo Nazionale, home to my favorite pieces of bronze and marble sculpture from antiquity: the Boxer at Rest and the Portonaccio Sarcophagus. When you see the pictures, you’ll understand why.

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The Boxer at rest is my favorite piece of bronze sculpture. His pose, expression, and the details in his composition are so lifelike that one is tempted to sit beside him and ask how his fight went.
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You can see through the knicks on his face and the furrow in his brow that perhaps his fight did not go well. Despite his misfortune, however, his presence has endured for over two millenia.
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The Portonaccio Sarcophagus was carved to commemorate the life and career of a Roman cavalry officer named Aulus Iulius Pompilius, who fought during the wars against Germanic tribes along the river Danube during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. The imagery highlights Roman perceptions of “barbaric” peoples, the glorification of military conquest, and the themes involved in Roman funerary ritual.

Beyond the Palazzo Massimo, I was able to stop by the Baths of Diocletian and the museum there  briefly. I wasn’t able to see the entire place as I was a bit tired from travel and I’d had my fill of museum stimulation from the Palazzo. Nevertheless, the Baths of Diocletian yielded some pleasant surprises of its own, including a small exhibit about writing and material culture in the Roman world.

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One thing I’d never seen before: an example of gold writing inlaid between layers of glass in the bases of various vessels. Imagine the craftsmanship used to make something so intricate, and the means of the household that owned it.

The next morning before my flight to Marseille, I had the distinct privilege of meeting with an old friend and mentor, Dr. Alberto Prieto of the American Institute of Roman Culture to catch up over a quick cornetto cioccolato (mmm tasty!). The AIRC is a non-profit organization that produces and hosts educational programming that advocates for the cultural heritage of Rome and Italy. It is also where I did my first archaeological field school in Italy, and their current excavation of a mausoleum outside of the Ostia Archaeological Park was the subject of my Master’s Thesis.

And with that, it was time to bid adieu to Italy and say bonjour to France! I flew into Marseille airport via RyanAir painlessly and was warmly greeted by my cousin, Jennifer.I must admit, I totally blew the whole hug vs. kiss on the cheek hello thing. Greetings just aren’t my strong suit. She, her husband Ben, and her two young boys Charlie and Milo welcomed me into their home for a couple of days and showed me around the lovely region of Aix-en-Provence where they live. The terrain there was an interesting juxtaposition of jutting rock-scapes and the coastline, dotted by quaint villages like the one where my cousins live and fields where grapes (for wine, of course) and other fruits are grown.

I took the train with Jennifer and her family to spend the day at of the calanques that characterize the coastline near Marseille, where we enjoyed a light lunch and an afternoon swimming.

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Pictured: My cousin Jennifer, her husband Ben, and her adorable boys riding the train.
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Our chosen watering hole of the afternoon, one of the many calanques that are featured along the coastline.

The next afternoon, we went to the historic town of Aix-en-Provence for a stroll through its streets as the sun set, creating a soft pallet of yellows, reds, and browns. The town itself gained much of its historical significant under Roi Rene, the 15th century duke of Provence and King of Naples. His benefaction of the arts and learning resulted in the historic town that can be seen today.

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The historic nature of the town is summarized in the Cathedral Saint-Sauveur d’Aix-en-Provence, the seat of the archbishop of Aix. Inside one can find elements of the Roman and Late-Antique structures upon which the later structure expanded. Originally constructed in the 6th century AD, the original baptistry and some of the Roman columns are still visible. There is also a triptych commissioned a millenium later by Roi Rene himself.

 

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Walking around Aix, one will see many beautifully carved doors like the one pictured here.
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Many monuments can also be seen that punctuate the yellows, oranges, and reds of sunset.

After spending time with the greatest hosts in Provence, I headed to Nice, where I and several other dig-mates are spending the rest of the week prior to the commencement of our project in Frejus. I’ll try and force myself to see something interesting like Cannes or Monaco, but at the very least, I’ll enjoy my time at the beach unwinding and relaxing before another several weeks of hard work.

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