The Philosophy of Restoration

A number of things today have me thinking about the restoration architecture and archaeology. In my Intro to Archaeology class we watched a movie about the restoration of the Parthenon. And I just went to a lecture at school by Mary Beard about the restoration of Pompeii.

My first introduction to the idea of restoration was at Pinhey’s last summer. The house at Pinhey’s was restored by the Canadian architect Julian Smith (who also restored the Vimy Memorial) in the 1990s. This is the part of the tour where I would discuss the philosophies of restoration. At Pinhey’s, a lot of the house was left as it was found. This way, you can see the deterioration over time. The deterioration is part of the story. It’s a story of a the gradual decline of the wealthiest family in March Township. Parts of the house needed to be restored in order to perserve the structural value and to allow it to be used as a regulation public place. But the philosophy of Julian Smith, as with most modern restoration architects, was to make it very obvious which parts were new material and which were original. You do this by not matching paints exactly or by not finishing the wood. So you get an idea of what it would have looked like, but you are changing the original material. This works very well at Pinhey’s, since the family didn’t do any major restorations while they were living there, due to their decline of wealth. At Billings it’s a different case. The family renovated and modernized the house themselves while living there, which drastically changed the original structure of the house. Because of this, the outside of the Billings Estate National Historic Site looks old, but the inside looks fairly new, with white washed walls and such. Personally, I prefer the authenticity of Pinhey’s, because when you walk in the front door you’re essentially seeing what they saw 150 years ago.

The movie we watched in class this morning was a documentary about the ongoing restoration of the Parthenon. It was very interesting. Essentially, in order to keep the Parthenon standing at all, it was in need of a major restoration. But they’ve had alot of problems with it. You see, the Athenians didn’t build the Parthenon to be straight. They built it to look straight. This means that all of the lines are slightly curved, creating the optical illusion of perfection, though it is actually imperfect. They didn’t care about how was but how it looked. Which says a lot about the Athenians. This, however, leads to another problem. Each column is made in several marble pieces. But they are all different, by fractions and millimeters. That means each “piece” of the Parthenon only fits in one spot. They have to be very precise when creating the supporting pieces in order to get it just right. They’ve been at it for 30 years. It took the Athenians 7 years (under Pericles, during the Athenian Empire) to make the Parthenon. And, aren’t we supposed to be more advanced than them? Apparently not. As the documentary says, not only did they have a complex system of measurement but they also had tools created in their mastery of mettalurgy that we can’t replicate today.

This afternoon, Mary Beard was telling us about the Allied bombing of Pompeii in 1943. It destroyed many parts of the ruins of Pompeii, and as a result a lot of Pompeii isn’t an original but a restoration. Beard said that as a society, we turn a blind eye to the restoration of major sites like Pompeii and Hadrian’s Wall. Because we want to. We want to believe that this is our “unmediated contact” with the Roman World. That we’re seeing what they saw. When really, a lot of the restorations, such as that of Pompeii and those done at Knossos by Arthur Evans, are more of a product of what we imagine the ancient world to be. It says as much about our society as it does about theirs, maybe more.

“As our vision of the ancient world changes, so does what we choose to find at Pompeii.” - Mary Beard.

Mythology Mondays: The curse of the Tantalids

I’ve noticed that some of my favourite blogs have theme days. I thought I would join in the trend! I love alliteration and clearly the only thing I know something about that starts with an m is.. Mythology!

A while back I posted that I was falling behind on my mythological conaissance and wanted to post more about it. Obviously, that didn’t happen. But now it will! And I have.. 43 more minutes to write about a myth while it’s still Monday!

I have always been interested in the family line of Tantalus, Pelops and Atreus and it’s successive curses. This is the line of Agamemnon and Orestes. I wrote an essay in second year about Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and the curse of the house of Atreus.

I think I’ll start with Tantalus and move my way down through the line on subsequent Mondays, so you can all get out your copies of Aeschylus’ Oresteia and know the whole background story.

From Tantalus, we get the word tantalize.

Tantalus is the son of Zeus and one of his many nymphs. Zeus invites him to dinner one night, on Olympus. Tantalus, always ambitious, steals nectar and ambrosia from the Gods and takes it back down to Earth to give to other mortals. This is a major faux pas in the Olympian circle. See, ambrosia is a secret of the Gods. And mortals aren’t supposed to know secrets.

Zeus is pissed at his son. Tantalus decides it would be a good idea to sacrafice his own son Pelops to the Gods, à la Abraham and Isaac. Except Tantalus cuts Pelops into tiny pieces and boils him. He then serves this as a gourmet dish to the Gods, to appease them. Also, because he wanted to prove he was smarter than them, and trick them into eating a human. Except the Gods, being all omniscient and such, knew what was going on. All but poor Demeter who accidentally took a bite of the boy’s shoulder. Zeus brings Pelops back to life, and they have to give him an ivory shoulder to replace the one eaten by Demeter.

Tantalus is sent to Tartarus, the place in Hades specially reserved for the worst evildoers. Here he is cursed with unquenchable hunger and thirst. He stood in a pool of water under a fruit tree for eternity. When he reached for a fruit, the branches would move just out of his reach. When he bent to drink, the water receded.

Poor Tantalus to taste the water tries,
But from his lips the faithless water flies:
Then thinks the bending tree he can command,
The tree starts backwards, and eludes his hand.
Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book 4

–verb (used with object), -lized, -liz⋅ing.
to torment with, or as if with, the sight of something desired but out of reach; tease by arousing expectations that are repeatedly disappointed.

For the next several generations, Tantalus’ descendants from Pelops onwards are cursed to always reach for their desires and be disappointed. Tune in next week for Pelops!

Old soul songs

I was at my favourite local band’s EP release concert on Friday night. Captain Firebutton is Kaitlyn’s brother Cody’s band. I’ve known Cody since I was two, and so I’ve seen pretty much every band he’s ever been in. Finally, about two years ago, he joined an awesome one. I’m one of their biggest fans and I’ve been to almost every show.

One of their new songs is called Old World, and I loved it right away. Why?

The word “Babylon.”

I have this love for what I call old soul songs* - songs that reference history at all, but especially in reference to love as old as time.

Soloman falls on his face in love with me.
He grows as old as the sea, deep where the fishes are.

He lives in the yard.

He keeps himself hard.
He keeps himself homeless and heartless and hard.

He sleeps under stairs along with the heirs of nothing,
And nothing means no one who cares.
But I love him dear,

And I love him dear,

And I’ve loved him hundreds of thousands of years.


That song, courtesy of my Faebala, is Stay by Belly. It’s beautiful. It is the quintessential old soul song. It makes my bones feel.

Samson went back to bed
Not much hair left on his head
He ate a slice of wonder bread and went right back to bed
And history books forgot about us and the bible didn’t mention us
And the bible didn’t mention us, not even once
You are my sweetest downfall
I loved you first, I loved you first
Beneath the stars came fallin’ on our heads
But they’re just old light, they’re just old light

Your hair was long when we first met

One of my favourite songs of all time, Samson by Regina Spektor. Regina Spektor is a master of the old soul songs. All of her songs a rife with historical references, especially my favourite kind - greek mythology (she has a song called Oedipus!).

Take stock in a master plan
Place bets on an empty hand
Empire has a leg to stand
Holy roman style
A poison from a holy grail
Blind faith doesn’t make a sale
Landmines on a righteous trail
March rank and file

Holy Roman, by the Get Up Kids. One of my favourite Get Up Kids songs.

Remember how it all began
The apple and the fall of man
The price we paid
So the people say
Down a path of shame it lead us
Dared to bite the hand that fed us
The fairy tale
The moral end
The wheel of fortune
Never turns again

Thick as Thieves by Natalie Merchant is probably one of my favourite songs by her, but Ophelia is another great example.

I met you before the fall of Rome
And I begged you to let me take you home
You were wrong, I was right
You said goodbye, I said goodnight
It’s all been done

And to sum it up, It’s All Been Done by the Barenaked Ladies. There are a hundred more I could quote, but I think you’ve got the point. I have no idea why I feel this way. It could be my love for history. It could be that at heart I’m a hopeless romantic who believes in the notion of the Origin of Love and that we have soulmates, stretching past through time. Maybe it’s just that all of these songs are beautiful.

Soon, I’ll tell you about my similar love for Leaving Songs.

*Yes, that’s a reference to Bright Eyes

Who says you can’t go home?

For the past week and a half, my parents have been in Hilton Head, North Carolina with my grandparents. I’ve been staying at my parents house to take care of la minou - my kitten. She’s not really a kitten. She’s actually 17, and very senile. She can’t hear much anymore, she’ll stand in the middle of the hallway and miaoul loudly…. I have no idea what she wants. And then she gets lost. She goes somewhere to sleep (the basement, my old room, a closet) and then since she can’t hear me when I call, I won’t be able to find her for the whole day. It’s very worrying. She’s very old.

I’ve really enjoyed my time at my parent’s place (soon to be my place again, for the summer). I love having the car (though I’m running out of gas money fast). But above all, I love living alone. I love being able to walk around without clothes. Or being able to sing to myself loudly.

It gets a little lonely, though. Without my kitten I think I’d go insane. I love living with my roommates too, don’t get me wrong. And I’m excited for our last drunken/exam (yes, those two things go together) month together. But I can’t be naked, and that’s key.

I think that my parents house will always be home, the place I leave behind as I explore the world. It’ll be a while until I find another place to truly call home, I think.

That being said, I spent an hour this morning cleaning up the house because my parents will be home before I get back from class today. Note to self: a whole chick pea salad is too much for one person and it really should be thrown out/finished within a couple of days of making it.

Omelette fail

I’m a new convert to the ways of eggs. Mostly because of my severe lack of protein in my diet (since I generally don’t like meat… except fried chicken) but also because about two years ago I discovered that eggs weren’t just those runny things I dragged toast through when I was little. They were actually good, in scrambled form and omelette form! Since this wonderful discovery (I actually remember when it was - I went out for breakfast with Kristen the day before I left for Ireland and ordered an egg wrap thing) I have been an egg keener. I almost always order omelettes for breakfast out. I make myself scrambled eggs for dinner.

I have only made two attempts at making my own omelettes. The last was under Kristen’s supervision last Saturday morning - they turned out surprisingly well. Tonight I decided I’d try again.

Needless to say, I failed at the most important part of omelette making - the part where you flip it over. You’d think since I’m a master at making crepes, this would be easy. But alas.

So, I let the thing cook in shambles and topped it with lots of cheese… and pretended that I had intended to make scrambled eggs, not an omelette.