Friday, September 29, 2017

The Greatest World Series Game Ever Played?

Well, it's actually happened.  The Minnesota Twins, the consensus pick last spring for the team least likely to succeed, are heading for the post season playoffs. How unlikely is it that the Twins have done this?  Back in March ESPN convened a panel of "experts" to predict who would win the various divisions of baseball, and who would prevail in the "wild card" race, that system by which the two other teams with the best records also get a long shot chance to go on.

Of the 35 purported baseball sages, exactly zero picked the Twins to win their division or to qualify by the wild card route.

From here my team has a difficult path to follow.  A one game "no tomorrow" contest between the two Wild Card teams....and the Twins have never played well against the vile New York Yankees.  And should they somehow manage to win they then get to face the Cleveland Indians who have been on an epic tear the last two months of the season.  

So while the Twins' career in post season play is perhaps going to be short, it is worth remembering that no team, no team ever, has made the playoffs a year after a 100 plus loss season.  Their turn around has been magical.

Will the Twinkies actually get all the way to the World Series?  Long odds....but remember that at the beginning of the season they were given only a 5% chance of accomplishing what they have already, implausibly, done.

The last time the Twins went to the World Series was in 1991.  26 years ago.  And I was there for what some regard as the greatest World Series game ever.

The Twins limped home from Atlanta down 3 games to 2 in the best of seven series. There was again, no tomorrow.  You lose, you're done.

With due respect to the team effort, it was one man, one irrepressible, pudgy man who carried the day.  Kirby Puckett.

Here are two video clips that sum it up.  I cannot to this day watch them without strong emotions.  It is a better view than we had from the second deck out in left field, but we saw this happen in front of us in exhilarating, deafeningly loud real time.

In the third inning with a runner on first base Puckett somehow climbs the outfield wall to pull in a line drive that would certainly have given Atlanta the lead.  The runner on first was so sure this was going out of the park or perhaps ricocheting off the wall for a double that he was already past second when he had to put on the brakes and beat a hasty and undignified retreat.  Puckett darn near threw him out in what could have been the greatest double play in World Series history.  Note how the Atlanta runner is cursing his base coach for sending him!

The game remained tied at the end of nine innings.  And so it was left to Puckett to deliver the winning run.....and in dramatic style.

I am of course remembering it from the perspective of a fan who was there.  This was in the old Metrodome, a hideous carbuncle of a stadium built for football.  Its only saving grace was that the acoustics were superb.  The entire game you were immersed in the tense hum of the crowd.  And when Puckett saved the game in the third inning and then won it in the eleventh the roar actually was deafening.  My ears were ringing for hours afterwards.  They ring to this day but of course power tools and age probably account for that.

Was the 1991 Series the Best Ever?  Given the media infatuation with Big Market Coastal teams you won't find many experts who pick it.  But as I said at the top of the page, those experts are often wrong.

It was the defining moment for Kirby Puckett.  He was a player beloved by the fans, a man who came up out of the housing projects of Chicago to play Major League baseball at its most sublime.  One of my sons who watched games with me as a baby had as his first word "Kerrbeee".  

When you link a video you get a freeze frame image.  Let's keep that image.  Kirby Puckett pumping his fist, uniform stretched taut over his rather nonathletic frame. I always thought he looked like a sausage.

The bad times are still in the future.  Four years later he was hit by a pitch, fracturing his jaw.  The next spring he developed glaucoma in the eye on that side, losing the sight in it and of course ending his career too young at age 36.  In retirement his weight got out of control, his health declined and he died of a stroke in 2006. Assorted allegations of personal indiscretions dogged his later years.

I know that our heroes are collectively and individually, mere mortals with all the flaws attendant to same.  Let that temper our adulation of them.  But never let it rob us of our enjoyment for those rare, magical moments......

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Middle School Robotics - Has it really been 17 years?

16?  Or is it 17?  It bothers me that I can't remember how long I have been running the robotics classes in the middle school after school program.  It was when my now fully adult, engineer son was a student there but was he in 6th grade or 7th when we started doing this?

By that point we had already been building combat robots for a Minneapolis based competition as our "father-son" projects and it seemed natural to go to the folks running the program and offer to do a class for them.  "Let's have distracted 11 year olds build large Robotic Death Machines!"

To their considerable credit they asked very few questions.  After leading with a polite variation of "Are you insane?" they inquired as to whether we could scale down the size, danger and expense levels.  We could indeed.

So for lo these many years we have been building 1 and 3 pound combat robots and having them fight to chaotic dismemberment in the interests of fun and technology education.  

We've had several different combat arenas, culminating in what I think is the Ultimate Version seen below.

A few times we ran the class twice in a school year, before eventually morphing the spring version into an advanced robotics class. That in turn evolved into the high school FIRST robotics team.  In a highly useful bit of circular development the high school students - many of them my alumni - now come to help with the middle schoolers.  It's a great farm system for The Show.

Both sections, Tuesday and Thursday, are encouraging.  Some creative thinkers.  And of course one or two who are extremely pesky, being blessed or cursed with too much smarts and too much imagination for the work-a-day world.  These are the high school FIRST team members of the future.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Star Trek Discovery. A Review and a Performance Review

I have been a fan of Star Trek since the beginning.  I watched the first episode of the Original Series when it premiered and have been at least a moderate fan of even the recent, lesser incarnations of the franchise.  Admittedly it takes a bit for me to get enthused about the frenetic J.J. Abrams reboot movies.

So, here we are in the fall of 2017 with a brand spankin' new Star Trek series.  And for the moment most people will only see, and thereby judge it by, the first episode.

Star Trek Discovery is a creation of a network (CBS) that is trying desperately to remain relevant by becoming something else (Netflix. Also the Huffington Post I think). After the first episode fans hungry for more will have to sign up for their premium streaming service at six bucks a month.

One would think that this being their big chance the bright minds at CBS would have done what it took to create a - ahem - stellar pilot episode.  Alas, not.

The plot was generic.  A Federation communications satellite goes off line.  The Not Enterprise goes out to investigate. Klingons are found lurking.  The very twitchy first officer puts on a space suit to investigate.  She gets a really bad sunburn, kills a Klingon warrior about twice her size and then decides to start a war.  She assaults her captain and takes over command of the ship. Nobody stands up to her because her immediate subordinate is written to be the ultimate timid Beta Male.  And nobody else has any personality at all.  They sit at their stations peering up like browbeaten inhabitants of Dilbert's Cubicleville.

I assume that the First Officer character got the following Performance Review:

"Commander Burnham demonstrates complete dominance over the officers and crew under her command.  Her interactions with other members of the command hierarchy range from visible contempt to active violence.  She assaulted and incapacitated her captain at a critical moment in order to give the command to fire upon a vessel that had shown no hostile intent.  While we do find fault in her failure to actually kill her captain the overall performance of this officer is considered exemplary."

"She is recommended for immediate promotion."

Klingon High Command

The rest of the cast are as I mentioned non entities other than the captain.  She is played by an Asian woman whose depiction of a star ship captain as a serene monk is interesting....but whoever did sound work on this show made her lines mushy, very difficult to understand.  How I miss Patrick Stewart's rich English accent!

Prior to its premier this program was getting a lot of attention, much of it negative, for the degree to which it went down the Social Justice Warrior track.  Don't get me wrong, Star Trek has always been more about the problems of our times than it has been about any kind of plausible future.  And when it is done well it makes for thought provoking and entertaining stuff.  But in the unfortunate footsteps of the Ghostbusters reboot, when you make the "Message" about as subtle as smacking the viewer in the face with a halibut it is off putting.  Let's review, shall we?

Strong female characters, and ethnic females to boot, who are in charge of things and able to slay huge Klingons.

First male character introduced is an alien whose people are genetically programmed to subservience and fear.

Upcoming male character - per trailer during the show - is the fellow who played the sneering, evil, bigoted Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter Universe.

Klingons who are just going about some obscure religious practices. At the end of Episode One they were about to be fired upon by an irrational, hostile Star Fleet Officer who had just usurped the legitimate authority of Captain Al Gore.  (alright, the captains name was actually Giorgiou but its almost an acronym.)  Have a little War on Terrorism vibe going on here?

And so forth.  

Hey, there's a market for all points of view and for all forms of entertainment.  But will this level of technical mediocrity and indolent, hackneyed script writing launch CBS into the financial promised land of profitable media?

Hmmmm.....if so it will be without my contribution.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Rome on the Potomac - Alternate Histories.....

Recently I gave a presentation for the local "Learning in Retirement" program.  It was on Hadrian's Wall, both the walking trail aspect and the archeology.  It was quite fun. But I did have to prepare for questions of all sorts, and the matter of Imperial Politics might easily have come up.

Now, the Founding Fathers of America were very well read chaps, all too aware of the strengths and weaknesses of Empire. In some areas they copied from Rome rather directly.  Our Senate for example.  In other cases they took an exact opposite approach. Civilian control of the military for instance.

But over the course of Roman history so many different methods of government were tried, especially with respect to the transfer of power.  What if Jefferson, Franklin and their colleagues had all gone on an epic bender at The City Tavern and in a drunken state decided to emulate some of Rome's other political experiments?

Dispatches from an Alternate Rome on the Potomac.... 

1. The Tetrarchy

In the late Empire things had gotten so complicated.  The Empire was huge and the problems they faced - military, economic, cultural - seemed insurmountable. The solution?  Divide the Empire into Eastern and Western halves.  Put an Emperor in charge of each.  Have each Emperor name a junior partner, called a Caesar, who would by years of experience be ready to step up to the big chair in his turn.  In theory the more senior of the two Emperors would have some veto power, or at least influence, over the selection of Caesars in East and West.  How did it work out?  Oh, about as you'd expect.  But let me spell it out for you in Imperial Purple.

Dateline Richmondia  As the Southern Empire mourns the death of Emperor Robertus Byrd a struggle for succession is brewing. The new Emperor Jefferson Davis III is being challenged by Lindonius Johnson who claims legitimacy on the basis of his being the unrecognized son of Robertus by a woman from the Texan Province.  The Imperial Palace has issued a categorical denial of these claims saying that "Just because a matron from the trailer park starts calling herself Lady Byrd does not mean she ever knew the man".  Johnson is said to be rallying troops to his cause over the border in the Northern Province of Transmontana.  Emperor Lincoln IV has not issued a statement.

2. To the Highest Bidder.  In 193 AD the Emperor Pertinax had an "unfortunate accident" at the hands of his Praetorian Guard.  This followed only 86 days after his predecessor had a similar mishap.  In a moment of inspiration the Praetorians decided to sell the position - such as it was - to the highest bidder.  Didius Julianus "won" with a bid of 25,000 sesterces per Praetorian.  His reign lasted 66 days until he also met with misfortune.

Dateline Domus Albia, District of Columbia  The White House chief of communications, Mendacem Lupus, today announced a "Marvelous new Opportunity".  In the wake of the Empress Kardashian's unfortunate hair dryer mishap the post of Emperor/Empress will be available to the highest bidder.  "Go to our online partner for details on how to bid", said Mr. Lupus.  This reporter upon reading the fine print does note that the previous 90 day guarantee has been reduced to 60 days.  

3. Dynasties.  Sometimes the real world trumps any attempt at satire.  If you want a modern day version of the perils of hereditary rule you can find them aplenty.  The decline of the Kennedy family from their lofty status recalls the late Imperial practice of raising assorted lesser sons, grandsons and nephews to The Purple.  And for an example from the earlier Empire where unprincipled, dangerous thugs rose to power I suggest a study of North Korea.  Now, on the matter of dynasties and trumps....

4. The Adoptive Presidency.  A play on the Adoptive Emperors.  These were the extremely competent rulers from Nerva to Marcus Aurelius, who ruled the Roman empire so well in the 2nd Century AD.  They are sometimes called "The Five Good Emperors", a term coined by no less than Niccolo Machiavelli.  And his credentials on knowing the good and bad of leadership can hardly be questioned.

One thing that contributed to this impressive run was that it was not dynastic.  In each succession - right up until old Marcus so foolishly trusted his son Commodus - the ruling Emperor found some extremely competent and worthy non relative....and adopted him as his designated heir and successor.

Of course this was in part making a virtue of necessity.  This run of emperors had a shortage of living male heirs.  Infant mortality, a tendency towards daughters, Hadrian's - ahem - excessive interest in Greek boys.  But all this aside the adoptive system worked well and Gibbon pronounced this "...the period of history in the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous..."  So could it work today?

Dateline The White House.  July 4th 2017 

"Happy Birthday America!  Glad we ditched that loser George III."

#Dynasties Stink!

"Hilary would have been no better!"

#Dynasties Stink!

"And don't get me going on Chelsea.  Or even worse, Michelle!!!!!!!"

#Dynasties Stink!

"Truth is my own kids are no prizes.  Trust me, I know 'em!"

#Dynasties Stink!

"You could do better pulling names out of a hat.  In fact, I did that. After I retire I will be succeeded by this guy from Wisconsin.  Tom, I think is his name.  You could do worse!  With elections you usually do!"

#Dynasties Stink!

Friday, September 22, 2017

My Official Apology to the Minnesota Twins

About six weeks ago I posted a short bit entitled "Minnesota Twins Report: A Season Ending Too Soon".  I felt I had the right of it.

They had just come off a horrible West Coast road trip.  The other teams in their division had gotten red hot.  There are actually graphs that plot the odds of making the post season.  In early August that percentage stood at 4%.  Meaning, sure, its theoretically possible but damned unlikely.

But baseball is a sport where the unlikely is always possible.  And sometimes happens.

The Twins went on a tear, winning 20 games in the month of August and staying strong into September.  Nothing slowed them down.  Their All Star closer traded away?  No problem, other guys stepped up.  Their massive slugger Miguel Sano going on the disabled list, perhaps done for the season?  No problem, other guys stepped up. In fact in one Sano-less game they did something never before seen in major league baseball. They hit a home run in each of the first seven innings of the game on the way to a lopsided pounding of a hapless opponent.

Over the weekend we went over for a family trip to the Twins game.  This is something that has not happened in years.  It was also the first game ever for the Youngest Generation.   

True, he is here more interested in hearing for the 12th time today a spirited reading of "The Big Red Barn".  But he clapped at all the right times and stuck it out for the full nine innings.

For a while there I was not sure that I would.  The Twins pitcher got off to a rocky start, giving up five runs in the first two innings.  One by the shameful route of walking a run in.  The chances of the Twins winning this game were low.  

So of course they went on to score 13 unanswered runs.  I mean...they scored 13 before the Toronto Blue Jays even got another hit.  In baseball there are things that are very unlikely...but I wonder if in fact there is anything that is actually impossible?

As a true fan I of course realize that my team no more expects me to apologize to them than I on so many fitting occasions expected to get an apology from them.

The odds at this time favor their making the post season.  Those who figure such things say it is about 70% likely at the moment (9/18).  But there are still a couple of weeks to play and in baseball, well, the unlikely is not the impossible and the likely never certain. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Selfie with Side Kick

Young children are always fascinated with things bigger than themselves.  Do they instinctively know that they are small but going to get bigger?  I think they do.

For many kids it is dinosaurs.

For some it is The Big Yellow School Bus.

When we saw one parked nearby it was necessary to visit it several times.  Peek in the windows.  Read the words on the side.  And to take a picture in the odd fish eye mirror that the driver uses to keep a safe eye on his or her young charges.

Monday, September 18, 2017

I get a "message" from The Striped Don...

It's been a while since I heard from Don Astrisce. Oh, I'd seen his boys around.  Lolling about on corners.  Sometimes brazenly making off with loot in broad daylight.  But I am an honest man, a property owner who stands up for what is his.  I thought that the Don and I had an understanding.

I was wrong.

The timing was hardly an accident.  The hoods know, oh yes, they know, when my wife is out of town and the watchful eyes are fewer.  They know as well that anything that happens on my exclusive watch reflects badly on me.  Costs me respect where it matters.

So pretty much the first thing she saw when she got home was that Don Astrice had sent a couple of his goons to mess up our fully enclosed back porch.  Plants dug up. Stuff tipped over.  Casual yet directed mayhem.

Oh, it was a message all right.  Just to make sure I understood it a single acorn was left out for me.  "We go where we want to.  We do what we please."

Needless to say I do not take kindly to this sort of thuggery.  I immediately went to the corner of the garage that they usually use to chew their way in.  Sure enough, daylight showing.  I went over to get the chicken wire and tools to seal this off.  And one of the little striped thugs streaked past me.  I don't know which one it was.  "Chip", "Dale" or "Alvin".  

Friday, September 15, 2017

Grandpa's Radio

When I was a young lad I spent a lot of time with my Grandpa.  He was a good guy. He'd been a department store manager and a grocer earlier in life.  By the time I was hanging out at their home for lazy summer weeks on end he was a Lutheran Brotherhood insurance agent.

His hours were flexible, it appears that his main task was just having pleasant conversations with people. There was plenty of time to spend with his little side kick.

Grandpa taught me how to fish, a skill I passed on to my own boys. He was never very strict in the matter of ice cream and other treats, a policy that I have also embraced now that I too am a grandfather.

He was a great fan of the Minnesota Twins.  We'd listen to games on a radio that was already an antique.  The static would snarl and crackle when thunderstorms were brewing somewhere over the long horizon that stretched out into the flat infinity of North Dakota.

Now I have the radio.  And a side kick.  Here we are tuning in the Twins game as I get ready to do a bit of painting and he gets ready for a nap.

- Necessary pronouncements.  

 It's Diet Pepsi, not beer.  We do have Grand Parenting Policies.

The game was very hard to hear.  Lots of static on a day with no thunderstorms. Probably old radio tubes don't last as long as old memories.

I did not finish the painting job that day.  We also have Grand Parenting Priorities.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Orvieto Underground

Orvieto.  It's a place I had wanted to visit on our last Italian trip.  It's up in Tuscany.  It has lots of underground things to see.

Well we included it in our trip this spring.  And I give it mixed reviews.

It is a spectacular location, an old town perched atop a big rock that rises up out of the Tuscan plains.  It looks to be, and was, nearly impossible to capture other than by prolonged siege.

But when we were there it was indeed besieged.  With tourists.

Look Marvin!  It's a CATHEDRAL!
I try to avoid being a "travel snob".  I know that absent visitors and their money many important parts of our cultural heritage would vanish. But still, seeing fancy shops selling high end crap to people strolling around speaking English loudly grated more than a little.

But the Underground stuff was cool.

There is an official tour in which you visit several complexes of caves that have been connected.  That's kind of key here...this is not a network of caves so much as a whole bunch of separate caves.  Chronologically it is a jumble.  This particular chamber was Etruscan - pre Roman - but was later expanded and in continuous use until the 19th century.  Center of the picture is an olive oil press.  Donkeys walked in circles all day to power it.

Here a later chamber has a very early Etruscan well going down into it.  That is illuminated, not daylight.  

And it goes down a very long way.  Drinking water was key to surviving a siege. When the Romans besieged the city it took them two years to capture it. They destroyed everything and nobody lived there again until the Middle Ages.

Another columbarium.  This one is not of the burial type but was for keeping pigeons. These were a pretty good protein supply for upper class households.  Every day they flew out and ate the crops of the local peasantry, then flew back home ready for the dinner table.

We also checked out a little place called "Pozzo della Cava", the Well of the Cave. This is a privately run establishment attached to a little wine shop.  A gnomish older fellow smiled and waved us through, no guide needed.

I actually found this place to be quite interesting.  It had assorted uses including as a medieval pottery.  Of course it has its own really deep Etruscan era well.  

On our way out the friendly little gnome waved my wife over.  He smiled, took her by both hands and backed up a step or two.  This put them onto a glass pane in the floor that looked down a long, long ways.  Grinning he hopped up and down a few times. He clearly did this with every visitor, or at least every female one.  A man enjoying his work.......

Overall I would give Orvieto a pass.  It has things of interest.  The Underground tour as above, a nice walk around the magnificent city walls, some Etruscan tombs. But the tourist hordes spoiled it for me.  Italy is full of marvels that can be enjoyed with less of this nonsense.

And so concludes the chronicle of Italy in Spring of 2017.  A revealing trip if stressful at points.

Monday, September 11, 2017

An impressive marketing effort

It's that time again.  Back to school means an abundance of Thrift Sales, or whatever you call them in your locale.  Garage Sales, Jumble Sales, Trunk Sales, etc.

I saw this sign the other day.  It will make sense to my local readers.  Everyone else can just wonder what might be for sale that would prompt me to saddle up for a two or three day drive to....hmmmm...somewhere near Yuma Arizona.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Santa Cecelia in Trastevere

In many ways Santa Cecelia in Trastevere is a similar site to San Cristogono which we visited on Monday.  For one thing both are "titular" churches of Rome.  This designation is a little slippery.  The term of course means "title" and strictly speaking just means that the church is assigned to one of the Cardinal Priests of Rome. Practically speaking most, but by no means all, of the titular churches were early Christian sites, usually originating in a private home during the years of persecution. They appear on various early lists of parish churches of Rome, most notably one collected in 499 AD.

Trastevere was once the most populous district of Imperial Rome.  Being across the Tiber River (hence the name Trastevere) it went into quite a decline in the Dark Ages. The churches however persisted, and it is the ecclesiastical records that shed much of the Light into that era.  In modern times Trastevere is abuzz with a milling herd of tourists, at least in the area north of Viale Trastevere.  Go a ways south, down where Santa Cecelia lies, and you will leave them behind.

It's a pretty spot.  Unlike San Christogono it still has its own garden like Piazza out front.  The columns are of course ancient, borrowed from an unknown site.  They are a matched set, two from quarries in Aswan Egypt, and two from Turkey.

The entrance to the archaeological excavations was easy to find, and an efficient looking nun was stationed there to accept our small entry fee.

Down below is the usual jumble of features and eras.  Here is a monochrome mosaic floor of Severan vintage.

Pretty much every Italian archaeological site has something like this.  A little barred off room for random things they found on their dig.  I figure all the official museums in Italy are already full up.  These remind me of Old West jail cells.

Here we see several odd holes in the floor.  At one point they were considered to be evidence of a tannery on site but the stonework does not show the corrosion associated with harsh chemicals.  So probably food storage silos.

They don't even look a little like baptismal fonts but people still toss down votive offerings in the form of coins.

Right in the middle of the dim ancient walls you walk into this brilliantly lit room.  It holds the relics of Saint Cecelia.  Maybe.

Sigh.  OK, lets talk about Saint Cecelia.  The Catholic church admits that her story is probably fiction.  You be the judge.

Supposedly she was a noble woman who secretly converted to Christianity and simultaneously took a vow of chastity.  That did not stop her parents from marrying her off to a pagan chap named Valerian.  With some (much needed?) help from her guardian angel the situation was squared with her new husband who agreed to also convert.  Valerian, his brother, and a soldier who converted while guarding them...all got put to death.  As did Cecelia.  Eventually.

First she was locked in the hot room of her own bath house for a few days.  That did not work.  Then they tried to cut off her head but somehow botched the job albeit while injuring her somewhat such that she died three days later.

After initial internment in one of the catacombs her remains - found of course to be incorruptible - were returned to the church that had been built at the site of her house.

Behind the screen are sarcophagi holding the remains of Cecelia and the other players in this bit of saintly drama.  Including her extremely understanding husband Valerian who in my book earned his sainthood at least as much as Cecelia.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Oldest Sewer in the World

Recently I signed on to give a few talks on subjects near and dear to me for a local "Learning in Retirement" organization.  I do like to tell stories.

One program I am working up for a future date will be "Archeology of Rome - Skip the darned Coliseum!"  I figure I have enough seldom visited odds and ends to natter on for quite a while.  For instance.....lets visit the Oldest Sewer in the World.

The Cloaca Maxima is usually given this title, although to be frank who knows if some over grown ditch in the middle east somewhere actually deserves it.  It is certainly the most famous ancient sewer.

More properly it should be called a storm drain, although the dumping of human wastes into it was probably constant.  It was originally a creek, down in the valley below the Seven Hills.  Said valley would become the site of the Roman Forum, the absolute heart of the Empire but not until one of the Kings of Rome - supposedly Tarquinius Priscus - channeled the creek circa 616 BC.  In early days it was an open channel but by the age of Augustus it had been covered over.  It was big enough that officials inspecting it could travel by boat.  Standing up.

There are a few places in the Forum proper where drains go down mysteriously, presumably still into the Cloaca Maxima.  There is also an access door but they sure are not putting a sign on that!  As you go down stream towards the Tiber there are a few places where branches of the main sewer still exist as open canals.  One section can be seen near the church of S.Giorgio in Velabrio.  A photo of this and a very detailed discussion of the Cloaca Maxima can be found HERE. 

I'd like to have had a tour of the upper stretches but alas, they are almost never possible.  So I had to settle for a peek at the outlet, the spot where the Cloaca has been pouring into the river Tiber for 25 centuries and counting.

A quick internet search will give you lots of images like this, or more likely just a snap from the Ponte Palatino bridge above.  The outlet of the Cloaca Maxima is just down stream from Tiber Island.

But in my quest for archaeological knowledge I don't let the little things get in my way. Wobbly, unserious fences for instance. Hobo encampments for another.  Here we have the outlet up close.  I understand that this is pretty new....only around 100 BC.

And a peek inside.  It looks remarkably like a brewery cave but I suppose there are only so many ways to build a vaulted structure. There is still a trickle of water going through it.  But the days of the Cloaca Maxima doing serious drainage are has been connected to the modern Roman sewer system.  This is probably a good idea, in ancient and even into modern times flooding of the Forum to a considerable depth happened when heavy rains flooded the Tiber and caused back flow.

"When in Rome" you spend plenty of time looking at inscriptions and trying to puzzle out what was going on.  This should properly be applied to modern graffiti as well.  I had assumed that the denizens of this little encampment were part of the wave of migrants that Italy has been seeing in recent times.  Certainly that would be the demographic of at least the visible community of street merchants, beggars and idle folks in the central city.  But with "taggers" it is hard to tell.  "Aziz" and "Abdoul" could just as easily be bored suburban teenagers.  The snazzy race they represent the epitome of Western Culture to a bunch of new arrivals scrapping to make a living?

The place certainly looks Lived In although nobody was home at mid day.  This may have been by design, there was a big international summit meeting about to begin and among other anti terrorism measures I could certainly see the Italian police rousting everyone out of places like this.  "Move it along.  No, no time to bring your shorts".

I said that visits to the main parts of the Cloaca Maxima were rare but they do happen, for film crews and such.  Here's a YouTube video for you.  Ancient Sewer diving....ah, I can still dream.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Under San Chrisogono

This week I am departing a little from my "History in a Place" format.  The three sites I will cover were indeed all on the course of one walk but are not strictly speaking particularly close to each other.
One often overlooked place to hunt down Rome's ancient past is underneath modern day churches.  As we have seen many ancient structures were saved by being converted into churches.  And in other cases churches were intentionally built on top of pagan shrines.  A sort of architectural insult if you will.  And finally in the case of the oldest churches they may in fact have originated in Roman houses back in the days when public profession of the new faith would have been unwise.

San Chrisogono is a very ancient church right along the main street, Viale di Trastevere.  From the outside it is not very impressive. When we ducked in on a Sunday there was a service about to begin. The twin rows of columns are ancient, said to have been scavenged from a now vanished bath complex built in the area by Septiumus Severus.  The floor has ornate mosaics of 13th century date but made from bits and pieces taken from ancient structures.

Although we were prepared to simply pay our respects, perhaps drop a coin in the donation box, a sign directing us towards the archeological remains (I think they called them the Paleo Christian remains) tempted us.  Ducking through a side aisle we were smack in the middle of the altar boys and priest getting ready for show time. But a functionary sitting at a little table waved us through and for a small fee it was down the stairs to the mysterious stuff below.

The church is dedicated to the martyr Saint Chrysogonus.  The first church on the site dates to the early 300's, with frequent rebuilds since then.  It is frankly a very confusing site.  

As best I can tell, this is the apse of the original church, with the open space in the walls being where the bones of the saint were kept.

In a site of this sort any kind of basin provokes controversy.  Baptistery for full body immersion baptisms?  Or just a vat from previous industrial use?

Some stuff found during excavations is just lying around.  The brickwork to the right seems to be modern, some reinforcement of the structure was necessary to support the church above.  Note also the sturdy and very modern ceiling here.

Naturally in a church rebuilt so many times there are more recent things to catch the eye.  This painted fresco shows Saint Benedict healing a leper.  Note the leopard like spots.  Leper and leopard by the way have no common etymology.  The fresco is somewhere between 8th and 10th century AD.

Sixth century AD grave marker for somebody named Victor.  Was this another example of memorials being brought in from outlying catacomb sites?  The prohibition against burials inside the confines of the city would still have been quite strong at that point in history.

A very odd skull and cross bones with huge ears.  Another example of Ferengi First Contact?

Arches and walls, floors and pillars.  There is more of Rome under ground than above it.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Thrift Sale buy that (fortunately?) got away.

Now there's something you don't run across at your average yard sale....a deep fryer.

I hesitated and did not grab it at the first opportunity.  When I came back later it was gone, albeit at a price I probably would have balked at.

Likely for the best.  It seems a bit small for turkeys to begin with, and of course you remember every Thanksgiving seeing photos and videos of what happens when you drop a bird into a cauldron of hot sizzlin' fry grease...