You dig okay, Ponyboy

#57. Do an archaeological dig.

Today is the last day of my two week archaeological dig at Vindolanda, a Roman fort near Hadrian’s Wall.

Since I’m doing my MA in Greek and Roman Archaeology and all, I thought it would be a good idea to finally put my trowel where my mouth is. To get my hands dirty, literally. Though, apparently this is not a prerequisite to being an archaeologist as there are many who never do any digging at all and sit around talking about archaeological theory (the bane of my existence last semester.)

The first week I loved it. It was incredibly painful for the first two days. I didn’t know I even had some of the muscles that were hurting the next day! But once that passed, I was so excited to get back in the dirt and start finding things. Walls, nails, tons of pot sherds.

I’m glad I did two weeks. Last week, I was on a physical activity high and decided that I could actually do archaeology as a job. This week, I’m exhausted and I’ve realized that even though I do enjoy it, it will have to be an occasional thing for me because it’s just too tiring for an everyday job.

I had a really good time, though, overall. The people on the dig were great. The volunteers are all ages, from all sorts of places and have all different levels of experience. It would have been a really long two weeks if it weren’t for my trench buddies.

The highlight of my dig? On Tuesday I found a bronze (or copper-alloy!) Roman door knob! It was the only thing I found to get its own small finds bag.

And now… if I never touch another wheelbarrow in my life, I (and my poor wrists) will be very happy.

Wishing I was a hotter archaeologist, like Lara Croft.

Number 57 is the newest addition to my list, because I found out last year that I’d miscounted and forgotten it! So I got to add something a little more related to what I was going to do with my life.

Clashing theologies

So, the other day I started watching the History Channel’s series Clash of the Gods. Apparently it’s been out for a while, but I don’t normally watch documentaries. I couldn’t resist this one when I found it.


I’ve only seen the first episode, so far, which is about Zeus. The History Channel advertised the series as “the truth behind the myths.” I must say that they were really grabbling for this “truth.”

What “truth” really means, apparently, is finding the Judeo-Christian tradition in ancient myths. Sort of.

I tried to watch this with a grain of salt. I know that these documentaries are produced for the masses, not for someone like me who actually studies classical mythology.

They seem to be trying desperately to relate this to a Christian audience. They continuously referred to Tartarus and Hades as “hell” and Mount Olympus as “heaven.” They have it mixed up here, you see. Because in Greek mythology, all the dead go to Hades, regardless of the lives they led. True, Tartarus is the place for the ἄθεος (godless), but surely there’s a way to say that without the loaded Christianized word. Mount Olympus, on the other hand, is definitely nothing like the Christian heaven, though the documentary refers to it as such on more than one occasion. Mortals don’t go to Mount Olympus when they die. It’s just where the gods live. The ideal afterlife in the Greek World was spent in the Elysian fields, reserved for heroes and other virtuous mortals. The ancient Greek word οὐρανός, which roughly translates to “heaven” means the heavens, as in, the sky. Not as in the paradisaical afterlife.

The Oracle at Delphi is referred to as “a direct line to God.” God. In the singular. Really? Maybe they’re talking about a direct line to Zeus, right? Since they’ve been building him up to be the One True God (though the Greeks were polytheistic, there were some places where Zeus was the only important god, according to the documentary.) But this isn’t even true. The Oracle at Delphi was dedicated to Apollo. Questions asked at Delphi went to him, not to Zeus. It was Apollo who had the gift of prophecy. Failed to mention that little bit.

They try to find a monotheist tradition from the get-go. They start by comparing the birth and childhood of Zeus to that of Jesus or Moses (an important child born and hidden away in order to safely grow up and fulfill his destiny.) There are certainly similarities, but ever heard of Joseph Campbell? All traditional “heroes” have a mysterious birth or childhood. Perhaps that would have been worth mentioning, rather than tossing in a picture of Jesus in the manger and Moses in the rushes.

Next, they talk about Zeus’ destruction of the first race of man, with “a massive flood, one that may even be linked to the Biblical story of Noah.” It’s true that the archaeological and geological data point to the probability of a flood in and around the Mediterranean world at a time that was close enough for the Greeks to remember. And it could also very well date to the same flood as the Old Testament tells of Noah. It’s in mythology from all over the world, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Aztec, Hindu and even Irish tradition. This does not mean, as it was implied, that at heart the ancient Greeks were little monotheists waiting to happen.

The Greeks were polytheists, through and through. Their gods could not have been more different from the Judeo-Christian idea of God. Greek gods are not omniscient. They are basically like really powerful humans. With flaws and weaknesses, tempers and desires. And there are a lot of them, too. They liked it that way. Each little city state could have their own, that way.

As my friend and fellow classicist Kitty said: “Dear History channel: Zeus? Never really succeeded at the monotheism thing.”

And how do they finish it all off, you might ask?

“But there was one more challenger Zeus didn’t count on. Jesus Christ.”

Give me a break.

I understand the importance of drawing parallels between different mythologies. In fact, I love doing it. But they didn’t bother comparing it to any accept the Christian mythology. And this is the “truth” that they were promising us? What I don’t understand is why they don’t seem to think that these stories, which have lasted thousands of years already, can’t stand on their own? That people won’t understand them unless they’re Christianized?

War stories

I’ve been a bit lax on posting about the book I’ve been reading for my 50 books in a year, but I read two books back to back a couple of weeks ago that formed a post in my head from the beginning.

I started off by reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I know, you’re surprised I never read it before, right? It wasn’t required for school and the Second World War isn’t generally my thing. But it’s like, a classic, so you have to read it eventually, right?

Also, Chandra bought it because she’d never read it. Then she handed it to me in class and said she’d finished reading it quickly so that I could read it after her, like we’d talked about. So I started reading it.

The next book I read, immediately afterward, was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I bought it a while ago, on recommendation from Fae. I didn’t really realize, as I sat down on an EasyJet flight to Paris, that I was about to start reading the second book about the Second World War in as many weeks.

“They’re strange, those wars. Full of blood and violence - but also full of stories that are equally difficult to fathom.” - The Book Thief

I think these are the only books I’ve ever read about the Second World War. Truly, my love of history stops at about 500 CE and starts up again during the Cold War. Nothing had ever brought the World Wars to life for me, really. It was all a blur of battles and mud and air strikes and assasinations. There were no faces to the stories, no names to the tragedies.

I think that’s probably why a lot of people are forced to read Anne Frank in school.

I can’t say that I thoroughly enjoyed The Diary of a Young Girl, per se. It dragged on in lots of parts, and I wasn’t terribly interested in how much a 13 year old girl hates her mother. But it was undeniably real. It was the real voice of a real girl and the horrible things she had to go through. And even the parts that were annoying were real. It was her life. And sometimes it was horrible and terrifying and other times it was so shockingly normal.

I only picked out one quote from The Diary of a Young Girl.

I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.”

It’s pretty powerful to think of a quote like that coming from a girl who spent more than a year in hiding above a warehouse, hoping for the end of a war.

The Book Thief, on the other hand, was entirely fictitious, but also very poignant. And much better written, no offense to Anne. I adored The Book Thief. It was a truly unique book. It’s told from the perspective of Death, watching over a girl called Liesel, who encounters him a number of times. It’s full of really interesting foreshadowing, intertextuality and interesting devices like pictures and short lists. The style is very interesting, and being narrated by Death means that it has a lot of really great one liners, my favourite.

“It’s the leftover humans. The survivors. They’re the ones I can’t stand to look at, although on many occasions, I still fail.”

“When she came to write her story, she would wonder exactly when the books and the words started not just to mean something, but everything.”

“It’s hard not to like a man who not only notices the colours, but speaks them.”

“Life had altered in the wildest possible way, but it was imperative that they act as if nothing at all had happened. Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day. That was the business of hiding a Jew.”

“It was a year for the ages, like 79, like 1346, to name just a few. Forget the scythe, God damn it, I needed a broom or a mop. And I needed a holiday.”

“The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this. Without words, the Führer was nothing. There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consolation or wordly tricks to make us feel better. What good were the words?”

I’ve had enough war stories for a while. It was pretty intense, reading these two books next to each other.

La tour Eiffel

The Eiffel Tower, by me

#30. Climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower.

The first time I went to Paris, it was freezing.

Our beloved teachers had said that it was going to be warm in France, “like Spring!” They were wrong. It snowed. I brought a spring jacket, on their advice, and froze the entire time. We bought hats and mitts underneath the Eiffel Tower to keep warm.

There was almost no one around when we got to the Tower, at least nothing like the crowds you see in movies or hear about from friends. The wait wasn’t terribly long. We walked up to the first level… where it was extra freezing and, in my mind, terribly high.

You see, I’m afraid of heights. I try really hard not to be. I’ve been trying to conquer this.

I didn’t go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower that day, but when I wrote my list of 100 Things to Do Before I Die, I include “Climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower.” Because the cold and the heights kept me from doing it the first time and I sincerely regretted it.

So two weeks ago, when I finally returned to Paris, I simply had to go up the Tower. The friends I was with didn’t really want to go up, but luckily it turned out that I could drag my friend Steph, who is living in France right now and was visiting for the day, up to the top with me.

I remember the climb being very tiring, even just to the first level, the first time. I guess I’m in better shape now, because it didn’t hurt nearly as much. And we were lucky enough to get beautiful sunny weather, too, at about 12 degrees Celsius. (Only one week later than the week six years ago, can you say global warming?)

I had to hold on to the railing a bit too tightly when we got to the top. My knees were a little wobbly. But I did it!

Here’s Steph and I at the top!

me and stephy at the top of the Eiffel Tower

Ottawa is only 5,662 km away!

only 5662 km from home!

I’m glad I finally got a chance to do this - another step towards conquering my fear of heights and another (the 29th!) thing to cross of my list of 100 things.

J’adore Paris!

Hello, pets! I have returned from another stint of travelling* the world with a mind to start posting here more regularly again. I have some post ideas, and it’s getting to be the infamous essay/exam time, so obviously I will be procrastinating! So, it’s not a promise exactly, for those of you who are still reading, but it’s a quasi-promise.

So, two weeks ago I finally returned to Paris.

Paris was the first European city I ever saw, the first city I ever fell in love with. And it took six years, almost to the day, for me to finally make it back.

I was a bit worried it wouldn’t live up to my memories. It was a pretty epic trip - I was 16, I was with almost a dozen of my closest friends. I got my first rose from a boy, I drank my first legal cocktail, I ate my first nutella crêpe. It was my first international flight, it was my first hostel experience.


But I have to say, there’s just something about Paris. J’adore Paris. The city has such a unique feeling. There are parts of it that are less than nice (like the extortionate prices and the fact that it smells like pee) but they’re all part of its character, its charm.

I got to sit in a café and drink a great latté, I got to drink beer on a patio facing the street. I got to eat nutella crêpes for most meals and croissants for breakfast. I got to spend an hour speaking only in French to my friend Steph. It was exactly what I wanted.

Number 54 on my list of 100 things is to live in Paris. I thought this might be one I wanted to revise, but it isn’t. Someday, I will live in Paris. Even if it’s just for a month or two, in a crappy apartment in Montmartre (it has to be Montmartre).

I can’t seem to put my finger on what makes me love or hate a city, but I always know it when I get there. And I still love Paris.

Paris 2010
*So I used to think I just couldn’t spell the word “travelling” because I always put two l’s. Turns out that travelling is spelt like that using the British spelling, and traveling is American. So, like a good little Commonwealther and someone who’s tired of correcting her spelling, I’m sticking with travelling from now on!