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Herculaneum: When Archaeology Was A Gentleman's Game

■ 19 January 2015 by James Martin

It makes quite the romantic picture, the swarthy gentleman in pith helmet and immaculately pressed desert garb shouting commands to muscular and sweaty natives as they move boulders, wedge massive pickaxes between giant stones and dust little oil lamps with tiny brushes.

At the time, rich and powerful folk had like Charles of Bourbon, King of Naples, liked to have rooms and rooms of the more impressive loot from older times (stuff they hadn’t pickaxed to dust), so they had yet another group of muscular workers revamp ordinary rooms in their royal palaces to display it.

So, if you happen to be one of the three tourists brave enough to make a trip south of Naples, you can be rewarded not only by seeing the ancient site of Herculaneum and its associated artifact museums, but you can now visit the palace and see where Charles kept the good stuff, which was all moved to Naples long ago, but still.

“Obviously you can’t see any of the antiquities from Herculaneum any more, since these were moved to Naples in the 18th century, but nevertheless it is extremely evocative to visit the original rooms of the Herculanense Museum. In particular, one room contains back-lit copies of all the ancient paintings that used to adorn it (apparently all in their original places). Also on display are original 18th century books about the excavated antiquities, including Winkelmann and Cochin, and what look like original plans of buildings like the Villa of the Papyri, and the Villa of Diomedes and the amphitheatre at Pompeii (but I don’t know if they are actually the originals – but they do look old!). There are lots of plans illustrating where some of the most well-known artefacts from Herculaneum were displayed, and panels about the early excavations and some of the characters who directed them, such as Paderni, and about early restorations of statues, and the early attempts at unrolling papyri (including a replica of Piaggio’s machine). You then get to walk through the king’s apartments, which are next door to the museum, and which were redecorated by the Murats.” ~ Visit to the Herculanenses Museum

It’s a short walk from the archaeological site, which makes your visit a long day, but I’m excited; it sounds very interesting. Besides, you can visit two towns the way, three if you separate ancient and modern Herculaneum. And there’s a train station nearby.

Here’s a link to the official website called MUSA, Musei del Sito Reale (di Portici). There are several museums you can visit in the building and a botanical garden outside.


It seems you have to zoom out the map and you’ll see the location of the site of ancient Herculaneum.

Herculaneum: When Archaeology Was A Gentleman's Game originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Jan 19, 2015, © James Martin.

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Sistine Sardines

■ 16 July 2014 by James Martin

sistine chapel pictureCan a place ever be too popular? Let’s take the Sistine Chapel. It’s part of the Vatican, which is part of Vatican City. But we’ll get to all that in a moment.

I’ve been to the Sistine Chapel when it was packed. It’s likely that if you’ve visited the Vatican museums, so have you. I’ve also been there with but 11 people or so. That is unlikely to occur again, but perhaps you can get close.

But however many people you’ve rubbed bodies with in the Sistine Chapel, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

You see, they’ve revved up the air conditioning. They’ve made it purr like a Formula One car, with just about as much horsepower—while hardly using any energy. So guess what? Now they can squish in three times the tourists! Yes, their breath will be eaten up by the machines and the frescoes will remain fresh and everyone will walk out genuinely moved by the experience.

So don’t worry about not getting into the Sistine chapel on your vacation. Worry about claustrophobia, smashing the air out of your lungs, pickpockets, and the guy in the gaberdine with the baseball cap who just finds it a kick to yell “fire” in a room full of people.

Now, as a city, Vatican City is used to packing ‘em in. If you look on a map that compares the number of tourists to locals around the world, Vatican City wins hands down. Tourists make up 650,655.54% of the population in a given year. Imagine. Yes, about 5 and a half million tourists visited in 2012. The population of Vatican City was 839.

But I have another map for you to look at. It’s a heat map of Rome. It shows the number of pictures taken and uploaded to Panoramio. Vatican city is lit up like a firecracker on the fourth of July.

The map is interesting because you can use it to find places that you didn’t know about where there are lots of pictures taken, like the interesting Ponte Nomentano. There’s a couple of Sardinian restaurants close by. I might visit some day. Just look for the far-out light blips on the map and click them to get info.

Have a happy time in Rome. Here’s a transportation map for you. Good luck. Perhaps you should consider the purchase of armor.


Sistine Chapel to get even more crowded

Map: Revealed: where tourists outnumber locals

Sistine Sardines originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Jul 16, 2014, © James Martin.

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The Arena di Verona Opera Festival at 100

■ 23 July 2013 by James Martin

Yesterday folks saw the 100th performance of the opera La Traviata in the Arena di Verona, which is celebrating 100 years of performances in the Arena as I type.

Did you know that if you’re 100 years of age you can get in to one performance free this Centennial season?

This year in fact people born in 1913 can go free at the Arena di Verona for one performance in program. It’s one of numerous initiatives for the Centennial Festival that is already receiving a lot of requests from all over Europe.

Geez, how many of them can there be I wonder?

I’m not much of an opera fan, but the idea of seeing one in a Roman Arena is quite tempting. Here’s a synopsis of La Traviata:

The idea for the opera came from a theatrical pièce called “La Dame aux Camélias” by Alexandre Dumas, junior. Set in the contemporary Paris of Louis Philippe and inspired by the famous character, Alphonsine Plessis, a courtesan who died of consumption at the age of just twenty-three, in 1847, renamed Marguerite Gautier in the novel and Violetta Valéry in the drama, Verdi composed the music in only forty days, and Francesco Maria Piave, the libretto, in two weeks.

Imagine an arena full of hundred-year-olds watching a character who dies at age 23.

Anyway, here’s the program and we have a map and guide to Verona, which is quite popular this Centennial year.

The Arena di Verona Opera Festival at 100 originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Jul 23, 2013, © James Martin.

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Italy Travel Experts You Should Know

■ 25 June 2013 by James Martin

San Francisco’s Museo Italo Americano recently hosted some of the Bay Area’s finest Italy travel experts. They are all women I know, but before this many I knew only via online interactions. Now that I’ve met and talked to them (and learned how they handle a packed-house audience), I can recommend each of them to you—because if you’re big on Italy travel, you might need one or more of them to help you through the rough spots on your next Italian vacation.

women travel writers picture

Let’s start in the left.

Melissa Muldoon, Italian Language Guru

Melissa is the crazy linguist over at Diario di una studentessa matta. She also takes small groups to interesting Italian cities where they can pick up some Italian language skills. You should learn Italian if you’re a returning visitor; I guarantee you you’ll have a better experience and even get better food in an Italian restaurant by being able to talk to people like your waiter, for example. You don’t get the true Italian experience without knowing at least a bit of the lingo.

Madeline Jhawar, Travel Planning

Sometimes strangers with a website write me and ask if I can recommend them as travel planners or consultants. How could I, without actually knowing them? I mean, anyone can hang out a sign and start recommending Venice, Florence and Rome and hand out 6 day itineraries—but what you need is a detail-oriented travel planner who probes you for you innermost desires so that they can be met during your limited time in Italy. Madeline asks the kind of questions I would ask, but she’s way more detail oriented than I am (I’m a wanderer, remember—I don’t plan much for myself, prefering to just bump into the wondrous things hidden all over the boot—but I probably have more time to burn then you do). After meeting Madeline, I can highly recommend her services. The name of her web site is brilliant…and absolutely perfect for the services she offers: Italy Beyond the Obvious.

Susan Van Allen, Writer and Baci Hander-Outer (front)

Certainly you know the author of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go. Her latest book is Letters From Italy: Confessions, Adventures, and Advice. But Susan doesn’t just write and distribute Baci. She will take you on a tour in Italy. Unfortunately, you will have to be a woman—but you’ll have the run of a villa south of Florence and the toilet seats will always be left down if you spend a Golden Week in Tuscany with Susan.

Angela K. Nickerson, Writer and Expert on Rome

If you like Rome and art, you’ll want to see the Eternal City from Michelangelo’s perspective, and for that you need a book that has garnered great reviews on Amazon: A Journey into Michelangelo’s Rome (ArtPlace series). Angela blogs at The Gypsy’s Guide and has recently penned Angels & Demons’ Rome: The Insider’s Guide, as I understand it correcting many of Dan Browns more egregious errors.

Martha Bakerjian, Italy App Writer and Italy Travel Author and Editor

I know Martha quite well because she hangs around the house and bangs on the keyboard behind me. She writes and edits Italy Travel on About.com. She’s written two Italy Travel Apps, the Puglia Travel Guide for iOS and Android, and her latest: Italy Travel Tips, a guide to navigating Italy, which will appear soon.

Italy Travel Experts You Should Know originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Jun 25, 2013, © James Martin.

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How Bout That New Ferrari, LaFerrari?

■ 11 March 2013 by James Martin

Certainly if you’re a fan of what Italy does really, really well you’ve heard of the new Ferrari, the most powerful ever, dubbed LaFerrari. Yes, Italian cars are feminine—as in, “she’s really, really fast.”

She’s also a hybrid. Hybrids are all the rage. I doubt Ferrari is worried about the gas mileage of a car that accelerates at the rate of 0-62 mph in less than 3 seconds, but I wonder if its as horrible as one might think.

The car will cost over a million euros, something that only the 1% might afford, which is sad. Disgusting, actually, that the only people who can afford such a piece of handmade perfection are CEOs of corporations such as those riding high on making animals in Petri dishes and putting them in Styrofoam at the Safeway without disclosing what’s under the plastic, the modern pig in a poke.

But I know what you’re thinking. It’s not difficult to see the wheels turning. You’re aghast at such monumental excess.

That’s because you think the demand for cars that use hybrid technology will force car manufacturers to buckle down and work something out so that our transportation gets something like 1000 miles to the gallon of gas.

Dream on. I didn’t mean to interrupt. You see, racing cars and high performance vehicles are the only hope for real trickle-down technology. People paying a couple million for a car that’s going to get a door ding the minute they park it in front of the Walmart are going to fund the real technology breakthroughs. Hybrids are going to have to become sexy through racing, street and otherwise, before things start trickling. Only then will we have access to cheap pocket-rockets that get 200 mpg.

Of course, that only makes the gas problem worse. In such a case, the oil companies get a reprieve against the devastating effects of the world being on the downside of the peak oil slope. They get to prolong the pain. They’ll get to sneak (sneak? that’s so 60s—so let’s use the words “openly cram”) money from their rapidly rising $200 a gallon gas price into the pockets of congressmen so that the endless wars for oil and rare earth minerals can go on, well, endlessly.

So I say, buy them darned fast Ferraris. Keep a heavy foot on the gas pedal, Bunky. Ignite the search for new technologies that only our fear of being static upon this sweltering, flu suffering, fracking-induced crumbling earth might bring about. And it might save the lives of countless soldiers fighting for oil, you never know.

And then, when the dust clears on the peaks, go to Tuscany, settle in a hill town, make your own food, eat the prosciutto (fat and all) and live life like it’s supposed to be lived. Don’t worry about gas, you’ll get enough from the beans.

(Just in case you’re thinking of that Ferrari, read about it here.)

How Bout That New Ferrari, LaFerrari? originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Mar 11, 2013, © James Martin.

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Sex and the Romans (And Dinosaurs, Too!)

■ 14 February 2013 by James Martin

After reading an article about those darned romantic dinosaurs that speculated on ways the big boys might have had sex many millenia before the olden days and realizing a bit late, as is the usual failing of many of my own sex, that it was Valentine’s day, I figured it was time to say something about sex and Romans before the calendar flopped over and the desire for the topic waned. Besides, sex is good for page views.

odd roman sex frescoThis desire to let it all hang out comes on the heels of the Penn Museum’s racy Valentine’s day event called Fifty Shades of Pompeii. Pompeii was a Roman resort town which has some pretty interesting graphic graphics on its walls.

Since its release in 2011, E. L. James’ erotic novel series “Fifty Shades of Grey” has sold more than 65 million copies worldwide. The books have enthralled readers with salacious tales of sexual bondage, sadism, and masochism.

But when it comes to risqué behavior, James ain’t got nothing on the art of the Ancient Roman Empire.

No sir! The bedrooms of well-to-do Romans were absolutely plastered with frescoes of folks doin’ the nasty. Cheap oil lamps were produced by the thousands in Ostia with every sexual position imaginable found in bas-relief on top right where the wick fits in. The Penn article hints at why we see all these things when everybody knows God will smite people who don’t use the missionary position only to make babies. According to C. Brian Rose (a name just fit for Valentines day and I didn’t make it up!), a professor of classical studies:

“One of the reasons that the Romans didn’t find the depiction of such a wide variety of sexual practices objectionable is that their gods were doing the same thing,” he says.

I think it’s about time we had a god or gods like that.

rome bedroom frescoImagine, in our time God has changed from the Christian God of forgiveness and light to a deity out for vengeance every time a gay couple tries to get married and who will smite us all if we don’t renounce the practice and make life miserable for others who do.

So, if God can be changed this easily and quickly, why can’t we change him back? What if the narrow minded people who speak for God suddenly changed God’s voice so that he says something like, “Well now, I created those ugly appendages dangling off Adam and his kind and golly gee whiz I’d be remiss if I were to tell these people not to use them and all. There is happiness to consider! Besides, they should be hidden away from sight!”

But really, “God’s” distaste for sex can be easily traced to the Romans. The folks who committed the blasphemy of speaking for God at that time were looking for a hook into people’s souls, a way to control them that the government wasn’t using. They found it in sex, which the Romans hadn’t gotten around to making laws against. So the early Christians ran with the idea and sex negativity has been the norm for a great long while.

So anyway, I’ve posted a couple of framed bedroom pictures from Rome for your immediate titillation. It’s good for you—on this day especially. Don’t let the folks who talk for God give you any guff.

Another inspiration for this article is this: Japan town demands underwear for Michelangelo’s David. Are people nuts?

Sex and the Romans (And Dinosaurs, Too!) originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Feb 14, 2013, © James Martin.

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Electric Racing Cars Coming to Rome

■ 3 December 2012 by James Martin

Don’t hold your breath though:

The FIA Formula E Championship has announced that a street race in Rome will be on the calendar for the inaugural season in 2014. ~ Formula E to race in Rome

They kicked off this little press announcement by having Lucas di Grassi drive a prototype electric powered race car on the roads surrounding Rome’s Colosseum.

Fast, but no “zoom-zoom” if you catch my drift.

When I first arrived in Rome in the 1970s, the Colosseum was a deep gray color. Soot and other crap did it. Nobody knew what the hell the stones really looked like. In the 80s a wipe-on chemical was used to clean everything up. I saw it. Amazing. And then cars got cleaner and the icon never got as badly grayed out again.

So, in some sense, there is justice in running your “clean” car around the Colosseum. And there’s no better place to develop automotive technology than on the race track—or city streets transformed to be a sort of race track.

But…as someone who comes from a country that makes quite a bit of its electricity out of coal, I’m pretty sick and tired of people who try to tell me that these things are zero-emission deals. Yeah, there’s nothing coming out of the tailpipe because well, there isn’t a tailpipe. But we gotta stop thinking we can just push nasty things down the line and then wash our hands of them. You gotta deal with the whole damn line, everything along the line that makes your lungs black and icky needs to be examined.

And another thing. California was bilked out of 9 billion or so dollars when the big boys were left to their own devices with the power grid—and now the rich folks are pushing electric cars.

It will be run by Formula E Holdings, a consortium of investors led by the Spanish billionaire Enrique Banuelos, who made his fortune in real estate and agribusiness. ~ Formula E electric car racing series is launched by FIA

Just some random thoughts. Think about it though. This is gonna be big. It’s not like the old days, when a bunch of guys put together amazing machines in their garages for the sheer joy of racing what you built. This is big business. Without the zoom-zoom. Who benefits from trading carbon credits? Eh?

Do you suppose we’ll be going to war for electricity? Have you seen the electric panels they’ve installed on the rolling hills of Le Marche?

Go to our facebook page and tell me I’m nuts. I’m old. I can take it.

Electric Racing Cars Coming to Rome originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Dec 03, 2012, © James Martin.

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The Nudity Switcheroo

■ 19 July 2012 by James Martin

Ah, Italy in the 80s. You couldn’t go to a public beach in Sardinia without seeing bare naked breasts. You’d send lurid postcards home from Europe remarking about the casual attitudes Europeans had about nude bodies. You’d notice that other folks on the beaches barely noticed floppy things catching some air. There were no protest signs, nobody was screaming that their brains were turning to mush because of the naked flesh on parade. There wasn’t a single person claiming that an embarrassed God didn’t want them to see His creation. Not a one.

Them were the days.

A group of nudists must pay a 1,200-euro fine for baring it all on Italian beaches after the Italian Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a previous ruling.

Nudity in public still creates a “disturbance to the community,” the court said. ~ Nudity not welcome on public beaches, says Italy’s top court

This courtal disturbance fantasy can be contrasted and compared to a recent US courtal fantasy which held that a man who stripped in front of TSA agents and other passengers at an airport was merely exercising his free speech rights while he was demonstrating that the bomb the TSA was accusing him of carrying wasn’t strapped to his less-than-perfect body.

A judge found Brennan not guilty of public indecency on the grounds that he stripped naked as a form of protest, which is protected speech. ~ Naked man who protested TSA found not guilty of public indecency

I don’t go along with all this “everything is speech” malarkey. But heck, it’s darned progressive of the judge to set a precedent that allows us to strip when we don’t like something. It’s probably not all right to lay on a beach naked, but if you were protesting something, well, have at it!

So, in a sense, public nudity has made the old switcheroo, what Italy forbids, the US will start to allow in little, baby steps. Just make sure you’re protesting something before you unzip.

One might say, the balls are in our court, nasty, hairy, and picking a fight with the TSA.

I’m waiting for one of those idiot politicians who thinks giving my money to rich people is good for the economy to come to town this summer. Buttons will fly. You’ve been warned.

The Nudity Switcheroo originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Jul 19, 2012, © James Martin.

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