strange_complex: (Tonino reading)
Very neatly, [livejournal.com profile] wig tagged me for this meme on LJ, and TAFKAK tagged me for it on Facebook on the same day last week. So I shall answer it in both places, but obviously LJ lends itself better to nice formatting and having space to make some actual comments about the books. I have taken the concept of the books 'staying with me' seriously, and thus listed ones which both meant a lot to me at the time of original discovery and to which I have returned regularly since. They are listed (as best as I could remember) in the order in which I first encountered them.

L. Frank Baum (1900), The Wizard of Oz
This stands for the whole series, of course. I was certainly quite obsessed with them by the age of six, and indeed a picture of me reading one of them to my friends on that birthday can be seen here. The 1939 film was important too, of course, and I'm pretty sure I had seen it by that age, but there were more of the books, with far more wonderful characters and adventures than the film could deliver. Dad used to read the books to me as bedtime stories, I used to read and re-read them myself, and of course there was a great deal of dressing up, playing at being characters from the books and so on with the very friends shown in the picture, and especially [livejournal.com profile] hollyione. A lifetime love of fantastical stories was to follow...

Alison Uttley (1939), A Traveller in Time
Did loads of other people read this as children? I don't hear it mentioned very often as a children's classic, but it was another big favourite of my childhood, and has literally stayed with me in the sense that I still have my copy of it. I haven't done that for many of my childhood books - though the Oz series are another exception. Doubtless one of the attractions all along was the fact that the main character, a young girl from the 20th century, is called Penelope. But also, time travel! While staying in a Tudor manor house, she repeatedly finds herself slipping back to its early days, and interacting with characters from the reign of Elizabeth I. Clearly at the roots of my love of both fantastical time travel stories, and the real-life dialogue between present and past.

Bram Stoker (1897), Dracula
Ha, I hardly need to explain this one right now, do I? See my dracula tag, passim, for details. First read, as far as I can tell, in early 1986, when I was nine years old, on the back of having seen the Hammer film the previous autumn. Left me with a love of all things Gothic, which has waxed and waned but never really left me ever since. As the wise [livejournal.com profile] inbetween_girl once said, you never really stop being a Goth. At best, you're in recovery. Or perhaps lapsed, would be another way of putting it.

Diana Wynne Jones (1977), Charmed Life
Initially read via a copy from the school library aged 9 or 10, this came back and 'haunted' me with memories of a book of matches, a castle and a strange magical man in my early 20s. By then, the internet was advanced enough to have forums where I could ask what the title of the book I was remembering might be, and to deliver an answer within a few hours. So I bought a copy, swiftly followed by copies of the other Chrestomanci books, and then copies of multiple other DWJ books (see my diana wynne jones tag for details). As an adult, I can see that the real appeal of DWJ's writing lies in the combination of her light yet original prose style, imaginative vision and sharp understanding of human interactions, but as a child I'm pretty sure it was all about the unrecognised magical powers and multiple interconnected magical worlds. As per the Oz books, I really love that stuff.

Gene Wright (1986), Horrorshows: the A-Z of Horror in Film, TV, Radio and Theatre
In 2010, Mark Gatiss presented a documentary series called A History of Horror, during which he held up a book about horror films which he had owned since childhood, and explained how it was his personal Horror Bible, which had opened up to him the wonderful world of the genre. From the reaction on Twitter, it instantly became clear that everyone who had grown up loving horror films before the emergence of the internet had also owned such a book, and this is mine. I bought it at a book fair in about 1987 or 1988, devoured it greedily, and have been faithfully ticking off every film in it which I have seen ever since. Of course, the internet has long rendered such books obsolete, and insofar as this one was ever comprehensive at the time of original purchase, it certainly isn't now. So it is utterly meaningless to tick off all the films in it, as though somehow the end goal is to tick off every single film in the book - at which time, I don't know, a fanfare will sound and a man in a rhinestone suit will pop out to tell me I've won a prize, or something? But I still add a tick each time I see a new film from within its pages anyway, because heck I have been doing so for 25 years, and I'm not going to stop now. Besides, it's not like I care about horror films made after 1986 anyway (I struggle to care about those made after 1976, TBH), so it doesn't matter to me that it is enormously out of date.

Douglas Adams (1979), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
First read c. age 11, and read at least another 8 times since. I know this because I have kept a tally of how many times I read it in the front of the book - classic geekish behaviour, of course. Once again, it's basically all about travel to wondrous other worlds, but this time instead of being magical (Oz, Chrestomanci), historical (A Traveller in Time), or supernatural (Dracula, everything else in Horrorshows), they are in space! It's not actually like I discovered adventures in space for the first time from Hitchhiker's, because of course I was also watching Doctor Who on a regular basis in parallel with all of this reading material, with which of course Hitchhiker's is intimately linked. But yeah - given everything else which has already appeared on this list, it is no big surprise that I loved Hitchhiker's.

C. Suetonius Tranquillus (c. AD 120), The Twelve Caesars
And now my list radically changes tack, because having established that I love stories about the fantastical, the rest of it is made up of books which mark key stages in the emergence of my academic interest in the ancient world. I am not, of course, unaware that this in itself also basically boils down to yet another interest in a wondrous other world, albeit one which actually existed in this case. Really, the mode of engagement is very similar - we have little snippets of information about the Roman world (texts, objects, places), just as we have little snippets of information about fictional fantasy worlds (texts, screen portrayals, merchandise), but there is also so much we don't know, and are at liberty to extrapolate from what we do. Plus the similar-yet-different qualities and the opportunity to compare and contrast can let us think about our own world in ways that just don't open up if we only think about it directly. And so I found a way to apply the thought-patterns and approaches I'd been developing from early childhood to something which grown-ups thought was admirable and serious, and which it was possible to acquire prestige and eventually even money through studying. As for Suetonius himself, he is here because he was one of the earliest ancient authors I really came to feel familiar with and fond of, mainly during A-level Ancient History. Tacitus may well be clever and sharp, but there is always a judgemental, sanctimonious undertone with him that I don't very much like. The things which interest Suetonius, by contrast, make him seem so utterly human - but there are also all sorts of clever structures and allusions to discover in his text on close reading, which together make him incredibly rewarding. I once literally hugged my Penguin copy of Suetonius to my chest as a sort of talisman when feeling alone, upset and in need of comfort. I can't really imagine anyone doing that with Tacitus.

J.B. Ward-Perkins (1991), Roman Imperial Architecture
One of the first books I bought about ancient material culture (as opposed to texts), in the context of a module on Roman architecture which I did in (I think) my second year as an undergraduate at Bristol. While strictly about buildings rather than cities, it nonetheless includes a lot of material about how those buildings fitted into the urban landscapes where they were located - unsurprisingly, since Ward-Perkins himself was really interested in cities first and architecture second, and wrote one of the earliest English-language books on the subject. So it is to this book which my interest in Roman urbanism can really be traced, and I still turn to it occasionally when I need to get to grips with a new (to me) city.

Christopher Hibbert (1987), Rome: the biography of a city
This one is from my third year at Bristol, and the best undergraduate module I ever did - Responses to Rome with Catharine Edwards and Duncan Kennedy, which was all about post-Classical responses to ancient Rome from the medieval period to the present day. I sat in those classes falling in love with Rome, and then went home to pore through this book and the wonders within. I still return to it in order to refresh my memory of medieval myths about the city's ancient past, Grand Tourism or fascist appropriations, all of which I have needed to do in the past few years.

Greg Woolf (1998), Becoming Roman: The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul
And finally, the book which I consulted most frequently while writing my PhD thesis. It had utterly redefined thinking about the relationship between Rome the state and its provincial populations, killing off tired old paradigms of 'beneficial imperialism' (think: What have the Romans ever done for us?) for good, so would have been important no matter what province I had used to look at the relationship between Roman ideas about the urban periphery and the reality on the ground in a provincial setting. But since I had chosen Gaul as my own main case-study anyway, it was gold-dust. Fifteen years later, it remains at the forefront of scholarly thinking on the topic, and thus still features regularly on my module reading lists, amongst my recommendations to research students, and indeed in the bibliographies of my own published works.

I'm not tagging anyone, because pretty much everyone in the world has done this meme already by now - but feel free to take this post as a prompt to do it yourself if you haven't and want to.

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strange_complex: (Leptis Magna theatre)
A couple of years ago I watched and blogged the 1957 lost-in-the-desert adventure Legend of the Lost, mainly because a lot of it was filmed in the ruins of Roman Leptis Magna. In a comment, [livejournal.com profile] swisstone recommended this film to me as another very similar example of the same thing - so I added it to my Lovefilm list, and have at last got round to watching it.

The main story in this film involves a British army officer fighting in Libya in the second World War, who gets wounded and separated from his division. He gets taken in by a Bedouin tribe, whose leader lives in the black tent of the title, and (inevitably) falls in love with the sheikh's daughter who nurses him back to health. Since the British have been pushed out of the part of Libya where he is located, and the area is crawling with German patrols, he accepts the sheikh's offer to protect him, and hides out with the tribe, eventually marrying the daughter. But news soon comes of a British resurgence, and he hatches a plan to rejoin his troops - promising his distraught new wife that he will soon return. Instead, he gets killed saving the sheikh's life while they try to ambush a German convoy together. Years later, his brother arrives in the desert, trying to find out what had happened to the army officer, and meets the same Bedouin tribe, complete with a blond-haired child who is the deceased officer's son. The sheikh turns out to be concealing a page from the officer's diary showing that he had left all his property to the child - which the sheikh doesn't want him to take up, as it will mean the child leaving the tribe. The officer's brother is happy to go along with it, despite the fact that he has inherited the property in the meantime. But the child (rather hokily and implausibly) decides he doesn't want it anyway, as he'd rather stay in the desert with his people. And that's the end of the film.

Hardly the sort of story I'd bother to watch normally - but it was considerably livened up by the presence of the theatre at Sabratha, playing an un-named ruin near to where the tribe have their tents. As [livejournal.com profile] swisstone said, this is very much the same trick as is played with Leptis Magna in Legend of the Lost, since it's made pretty clear that the Bedouin tribe's lands are deep in the Libyan interior, even though the real Sabratha is right by the sea - and the camera angles were obviously managed quite carefully to conceal this. Unlike in Legend of the Lost, though, the dialogue in this film doesn't attempt to provide any plausible name for its desert ruins. The European characters clearly know that the theatre they are seeing is Roman, but it is largely just accepted as a local curiosity, and no-one ever shows any interest in how or why it was built there.

In plot terms, in fact, the Roman ruins are not really necessary in this film. In Legend of the Lost, the ruined city is the destination which the main characters set out across the desert to find, and it houses a lost treasure which we are meant to imagine is the last legacy of a romantic lost civilisation. But in The Black Tent, the theatre simply serves as a place for the army officer to hide in while German troops check for any surviving British soldiers in the Bedouin camp. A clump of palm trees, a rock formation or a watering-hole would have served just as well. It's tempting to speculate that the Libyan government was at this point deliberately encouraging European and American film companies to feature the local Roman remains heavily in their desert-based stories, so that they would become better known abroad and thus attract lots of tourists.

Still, since it's there, the theatre does manage to add a modicum of symbolic resonance to the story. As a remnant of a fallen empire, it is perhaps appropriate that it helps to shelter the British officer, whose empire (as it would have been clear by 1956) was also on the decline. Meanwhile, the German officers who are hunting for the British hero also interact with it. But while the British character admires the theatre and is clearly in harmony with it, the German officers mainly just seem interested in taking turns to pose on the stage and take each other's pictures. Are they, then, in the cultural role of the Arab invaders at the fall of the Roman empire, conquering the land and turning its assets to their own pleasure? It's probably not a very deep metaphor, but it's nice to see the contemporary WWII story picking up just a few historical resonances from its Roman setting, anyway.

In summary - nice for a bit of Roman architecture porn, but otherwise probably not worth watching unless it's a rainy bank holiday afternoon.

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Weekend doings

Monday, 8 March 2010 11:52
strange_complex: (La Dolce Vita Trevi)
As for the weekend, I spent Saturday sleeping in blissfully, and then lounging around in my dressing-gown on the sofa, drinking coffee, writing about Doctor Who and finally watching the end of Dollhouse. Even the Sci-Fi channel had clearly more-or-less given up on this, as last weekend they stopped bothering to show it one episode a week, and just broadcast the three remaining episodes in one blast after midnight on Saturday. I couldn't watch it at the time due to preparing for my Newcastle paper, but recorded it, and watched the rest over the course of the week.

It was very much about getting the plot finished in the end, to the extent that I found myself caring less and less about most of the characters with each subsequent episode, even though I had two seasons of investment in them behind me. I could have done without the programme's one portrayal of an emerging lesbian relationship appearing as such a very token, last-minute gesture, and it also didn't make much sense to me that those characters who wanted to retain the changes which they had experienced since the mindwipe technology was first applied needed to stay underground for an entire year to escape the potential effects of Topher's 'reset' pulse. All the same, it's nice to see it all wrapped up, and I genuinely did like the way that the relationship between Adelle and Topher was portrayed in the final episode.

Sunday dawned all bright and springy, so I leapt out of bed and cavorted around the house to 1920s music, cleaning and vacuuming, before heading over to Harrogate to spend the afternoon with [livejournal.com profile] kissmeforlonger in the Steam Baths. This was something I'd never done before, and I really enjoyed it - partly for the experience in itself, but of course also because of its Roman resonances.

The décor was a luxurious Victorian take on Turkish / Moorish architecture: all carved wood, coloured tiles and more-than-semicircular arches. But there were elements which were definitely reminiscent of Roman baths, such as marble benches and in some rooms mosaic under-heated floors. I'm not sure whether these were straightforwardly preserved in the Moorish tradition, or re-integrated into the mix when the idea of steam bathing was re-discovered by northern Europeans. The big difference from Roman bathing is that most of the rooms did not have pools for complete immersion in the water - there was only one, for cold plunging. But the sequences of rooms - warm, hot, steamy and cool - were very much in the Roman tradition. And I made damn sure that I gave myself a good dunk in the cold pool at the end, because this is one of the aspects of Roman bathing which modern observers find hardest to grasp - "What? They sat around in increasingly warmer rooms all afternoon and then jumped in a cold bath? Were they mad?" Actually, though, it was (as [livejournal.com profile] kissmeforlonger had promised me), very invigorating after all that lying around and sweating, and nothing like as much of a shock to the system as I'd expected, given that I was already so very thoroughly warmed through.

We went to a ladies-only session, which was course again entirely in keeping with Roman practices. And, on a modern level, it was very lovely to just sit around alternately chatting to one another, and listening to the voices of the other women around us lazily reverberating around the tiled walls. There was a lot of just lying there and letting the warmth lull us into a delicious trance; and afterwards when we came out we found that we were both almost too sleepy to think, and just wanted to go home and go to sleep. Which was largely the point, I think.

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strange_complex: (Purple and black phone)
Well, yesterday may have been a bit trying, but today I have woken up in Italy, and I can see a Roman city gate from my window. Win.

strange_complex: (Corpus Agrimensorum colonia)
I bought myself a copy of CivCity: Rome in mid-April, but hadn't dared play it until I knew I had some proper free time to devote to it. This weekend, I've been finding out how wise that policy was!

Late-night gaming )

What I thought of it )

On dialogue between gamers and academics - or the lack of it )

So the right sort of noises are beginning to be made on the academic side, and the interest is clearly flourishing on the gaming side. We just need to stretch our hands out - that - little - bit - further...

OMG - book!

Friday, 10 November 2006 12:31
strange_complex: (Corpus Agrimensorum colonia)
So I get back from a rather wearisome training morning, and what do I find in my pigeon-hole?

This )

My copy is an advance - it actually becomes available to the general public from 1st December onwards. But, fundamentally, I am now a real, live published author. Wow!

NO-ONE need feel obliged to buy this just because they know me. But if you're interested I can a) give you a bit more of an idea of what's in it than the web-sites do, so that you can decide whether you'd like to buy it or not, and b) order it on your behalf at a 30% discount (i.e. £35 rather than £50).

In the meantime, please excuse me while I go and spend the rest of the day on an excited high...

strange_complex: (Corpus Agrimensorum colonia)
Wow - could this be my ideal computer game? CivCity: Rome.

The screenshots are promising: hardly a historically-accurate rendering of Rome's topography, but, then again, if the user is getting to build their own Rome, then why shouldn't the Colosseum, Circus Maximus and Pantheon all be right next to each other? And the renditions of each are very nice (although if they're to scale, the people in the Colosseum must be about twenty feet tall!).

Good thing it doesn't come out until the summer, really, or I could kiss goodbye to the book...

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