strange_complex: (Clone Army)
miss_s_b gave me an R.

Something I hate: Reactionary social values, by which I mean believing things like "a woman's place is in the home", only particular narrowly-restricted sexual activities are acceptable, you must respect your elders (regardless of whether or not they actually deserve it), and foreigners should be treated with suspicion. I found the description of these views as 'reactionary' rather confusing when I first encountered it. It basically means 'reacting against the current status quo' (as the Wikipedia article explains), but the word in and of itself doesn't really indicate in which direction - towards greater tolerance and equality or lesser? Anyway, in context and in practice it means people who currently enjoy privilege wanting to shore up the inequalities which support it by appealing to tradition. I am a liberal, and I am against that sort of thing.

Something I love: Roses - both the flowers themselves, which I think are beautiful and smell lovely, and more particularly things which are rose-flavoured, such as Turkish Delight, rose creams and rose syrup. Rose flavoured confectionery used to be quite common a century ago, but it is such a delicate flavour that it is actually quite difficult to make it 'work' in any foodstuff and (probably more importantly) it is not easy to synthesise effectively either. So manufacturers of cheap confectionery have tended to drop it, and rose-flavoured delicacies are not at all easy to get hold of. If you ever see some in a shop and want to make me a very happy bunny, this is a fail-safe gift for me!

Somewhere I have been: Rome. Obviously! My career is centred around the study of Roman history, and more particularly Roman urban space. I tend to work with provincial cities more than Rome itself, because I am interested in how people at all levels of society negotiated with one another in the organisation of urban space, and the political importance of Rome means that the dynamics at play there were exceptional and can't be extrapolated more widely. But I still need to know Rome intimately because of the way it served as an archetype for other cities, and because of what it can also tell us about the political issues which I also teach and research. I went there just last week, this time in the name of political self-representation (specifically, Augustus') and other people's responses to it, but urban space was an important part of that too (e.g. his monuments and their post-Classical history). And I will keep going back there throughout my life, because it is such a rich city that I will never know everything there is to know about its ancient past - let alone the magnificent tapestry of contradictions which is modern Rome.

Somewhere I would like to go: Romania. Hands up - this is basically about my current fannish obsession with the Hammer Dracula franchise. But since that's an obsession which I've carried with me since before puberty, the idea of actually going to Romania and seeing the landscape which inspired the original legend is hardly a passing whim with me. What I'd really like to do is take a river cruise along the Danube, the segment of which between Vienna and Bratislava I have already travelled along with [livejournal.com profile] big_daz, but right from Germany to Romania this time. Then I would travel inland to the Carpathians and do the full Dracula 'thing' - i.e. visit all of the locations associated with the real historical Vlad III Drăculea, but also those which had nothing to do with him but did inspire Stoker (e.g. Bistritz, the Borgo Pass). I'm pretty confident that as a holiday this would work very much in the same way as the Wicker Man trip which I did to Scotland last March with [livejournal.com profile] thanatos_kalos - i.e. it would be a great way of achieving a new and deeper engagement with a story I love, but it would also lend a nice shape and structure to the exploration of places which are in any case very much worth visiting. However, doing all of that would probably require about two weeks (though of course the river cruise and Dracula's Romania sections could be separated out into two different one-week holidays), and what with the travel and work I'm going to need to do this year for Augustus' bimillennium I can't see when I would have time to fit in even half of it until that has passed.

Someone I know: [livejournal.com profile] rosamicula. This is a bit of a cheat, as her real-life name does not begin with an R, but as I knew her first by her LJ name, and have interacted with her here (as well as in real life) for the best part of a decade now, it is as real to me as anything on her birth certificate. [livejournal.com profile] rosamicula is one of the strongest, most sharp-witted, and most articulate women I know, and although the word has come to sound cheesy and empty due to widespread overuse, I do find her genuinely inspirational. I have learnt a lot from her, from why it is important to remove your make-up properly before going to bed to how to spot and avoid idiotic social fallacies and understand what is really important in life. If you enjoy food and good writing, I recommend her blog, Beggars Banquets.

Best movie: I badly want to cheat here and say [Dracula has] Risen from the Grave, because I never call it by its full title (who does?), so it effectively begins with an R for me. It is a fantastic movie, but then again I already waxed lyrical about it only very recently, so I guess I can manage without doing so here again. In which case, I will instead nominate Raw Meat, aka Death Line (1972). That's a bit of a cheat, too, since I have to call it by its American release title to sneak it in, but less brazen I think. It is a low-budget British horror movie, set in the contemporary present, and involving passengers being attacked by an unknown menace on the London Underground. It's not as widely-known as it deserves to be, but I think it's a real gem, probably above all because it succeeds in creating a very moving sense of pathos around its 'monsters' (who are actually just human beings who have themselves been very badly mistreated), even while also pulling no punches on the horror. It also has Christopher Lee in it (albeit only briefly), Donald Pleasence as a fantastic sarky Cockney copper, and lots of lovely seventies fashions. I have reviewed it in more detail here. Mind the doors!

OK, I'm done. Comment if you would like a letter of your own to play with.

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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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strange_complex: (Leptis Magna theatre)
I came across this film c. 12 years ago, while channel-hopping on what was quite probably a Bank Holiday weekend. I'd missed the first twenty or thirty minutes, but got hooked into the perilous-trek-across-the-Sahara storyline, and the tensions between the three main characters. Although the desert setting is physically expansive, its extreme character and the isolation of the three people trekking across it make it essentially an example of the cabin-fever genre - my liking for which I have documented previously.

And as a cabin fever story, it's decent enough )

But its real appeal is the location footage )

Roman cities in North Africa )

It's great to be able to see this film again after so long, and three cheers for this modern world of IMDb and Lovefilm, which allowed me to identify and then watch it without having initially remembered what it was even called. I do think, though, that it is about time I made more of an effort to see at least some of the North African cities in real life rather than just on film. I've wanted to ever since my final year at Bristol, and now at last I seem to be living in a time when there are a) companies like this who will take people there and b) enough pounds in my bank account to pay them. It'll take some careful research to make sure I'm getting a decent deal - but I can't think of anywhere else I would rather go on holiday.

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strange_complex: (Leptis Magna theatre)
When I originally set out to record all the books I'd read this year, I stated that this was not going to include my work-related reading. This book, however, I read during my usual bedtime leisure reading slot, and primarily for my own enjoyment - although with the obvious secondary motive of broadening my professional expertise as well - so it counts as sufficiently non-worky to be blogged.

Cut for length )

These are the nigglings of a professional, though - for any normal purposes, I'd whole-heartedly recommend this translation, and indeed the book. As for myself, I think my next move should be to seek out a decent rendering of what remains of Petronius.

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...

All in a day's work

Wednesday, 7 March 2007 11:00
strange_complex: (Cathica spike)
Yesterday, leaving work at around 7pm, I realised that I had spent three hours of the day teaching (lecture on sources for Julius Caesar; lecture on Roman houses; seminar on issues and problems with Pompeii) and three and a half learning things (2-hour Italian class1; 1.5 hour Leeds Classical Association lecture on ancient entertainments as illuminated by inscriptions from Aphrodisias and Ephesus). And I wasn't even going home, either - I was going to have dinner with some colleagues and the lady who had delivered the Classical Association lecture, Prof. Charlotte Roueché.

I'd not met her before, but wow! She was amazing. A firebolt of energy, fantastically interested in everything and everyone around her (related to her subject or not), extremely insightful and superbly well able to communicate her specialist area in all its complexity to non-experts, and have them laughing along and utterly absorbed in what she had to say. That's what I want to be like when I grow up, please.

It was a great day, though. One of those where you feel wrapped up and stimulated by everything going on around you, and it's all so exciting that you don't feel tired at all. Well, not until the end of our meal, anyway, by which time I had faded like a wilting violet, and was fighting unsuccessfully to suppress yawns...

Now today I have just spent the whole of the last two hours writing important emails and filling in a rather silly risk assessment form for the trip I will be taking students on to Lincoln: "Is the area politically stable?"; "Are at least two members of the party competent in the local language?"; "Have the local police been consulted?". Um... I know Lincoln has its dodgy areas, just like any town, but seriously - the most dangerous thing my students will be doing on the trip is crossing the road... just like they do every day.

Time for a bit of lecture preparation, I think.
---------------
1. During which we made origami penguins and told each other how to make our favourite recipes.

GIP

Sunday, 4 March 2007 13:05
strange_complex: (Pompeii sundial)
I've been filling in the latest two icon slots that LJ has bestowed on permanent users. Now at last I have an icon about time - and it manages to combine Apollo, Pompeii and a line from one of my favourite Siouxsie and the Banshees tracks as well, all in one big cross-overy love-fest! Hooray.

I do wish I'd bothered to go out and look at the lunar eclipse last night, now I've seen everyone's photos of it this morning. I was vaguely aware of it, but didn't quite register that it was actually going to be a total eclipse, at a perfectly civilised hour of the evening. Oh well - your photos were good, anyway, all of you.

This morning I saw the episode of Angel from season five where just in case... and there are House spoilers under here, too )

Right. Now I am going to spend the rest of the day catching up with my Italian. We're supposed to hand in homework every couple of weeks, but I think I've done so about twice so far over the whole course. Bad Penny!

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...

Cities old and new

Thursday, 14 July 2005 17:45
strange_complex: (Wicker Man sunset)
I'm busy collecting information about Timgad (ancient Thamugadi) today. It's a Roman colony in what is now Algeria, which is very well-preserved because it was abandoned in late antiquity, and then just left to its own devices while it slowly vanished under the sand. Hence there was no robbing of stone or burying of old structures under new, and it was pretty much all still there when the French excavated it at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

I'm very familiar with it already, having written a Masters' dissertation in which I compared its suburbs with those of Roman Lincoln (a warm-up exercise for my D.Phil. thesis on Roman suburbs more generally). So I'm drawing on that knowledge to put together some stuff for my interview at Reading next week about how the streets of Timgad were used by the local elite to help show the city off to its best advantage. This sort of behaviour will be the essence of my next research project, so I'll be outlining what I plan to do, and demonstrating how some of my ideas can be applied with reference to Timgad.

Just now, though, I had a visitor pop into my office. It was the estate agent I originally rented my flat from this time last year, and who had come to borrow my key from me so that he could show some tenants round who were interested in taking it up in September. I'd been searching for images of Timgad on the web, and this one was up on my screen when he came in, causing him to ask, "Is that a bombed-out German city?". I explained what it actually was, and on closer inspection he could see his mistake, but it had made him think at first of places like Dusseldorf or Dresden (no doubt partly because it is in black and white).

Fearsome to think that human destructiveness can reduce a city in days to what nature takes 1500 years to achieve, though, especially in light of recent events.

EDIT: On the subject of pictures of Timgad, this man is now my new hero. You couldn't mistake that for a bombed-out German city!

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