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Friday 13 November

Monday Tuesday Wednesday nothing terribly much to say: your typical international symposium, except for a sharp division between the Italian and Ausländer participants, both style and substance and, I think, reasons for attending.

The Italian talks (I think of them as "la sfilata delle dottoresse"), well thank goodness I didn't have to interpret them — although I tried one sotto voce and it wasn't that bad — since they were usually delivered at 300 or 400 wpm, often pure reading without even looking up, certainly without taking into account the specific interests of those present; chock-a‑block full of detailed info, but rarely venturing into either any pullback to the general view or any attempt at assessing the meaning of whatever had been found. Several non-Italians told me they had great difficulty following; I only had difficulties at the upper range of speed, where occasionally I found that the slight 'registration' time I need for Italian just wasn't there and I thus found myself skipping a sentence or doing like [a fellow interpreter I used to know] and portmanteauing the beginning of one sentence to the end of the next. . . But even at the lower speeds (still much faster than normal, even animated, speech since cadenceless reading) I and quite a few other people just tuned out, and I would have tuned out in French or English, too.

5‑minute discussion times had been nominally provided, but it wasn't until the last day that there actually was some give-and‑take from the other participants; frankly there just wasn't any time, altho' most of the contributi would've greatly benefited from being cut in half and tightened around some central point, which in turn would've made room for interesting interaction: after all, how often do you get all these experts together in one room, and isn't that the purpose of these things? (Thruout the conference I felt like a chicken in a roomful of griffins. . . .) Anyhow the ultimate fault lay with the organizers — apparently, at the last minute maybe?, there was a rush of requests for presentations: and they were nice guys and said yes to everyone — surely that's also more politic — Had I been running the program (!!) I would have said no quite a bit and most assuredly made lots of enemies. . . .

The non-Italian presentations were, unanimously, delivered slower: in about half the cases this was due to the difficulty the speaker had with Italian; but a very few talks were given in English and they were at 150‑200 wpm, so that's not it: clearly a difference in style. (The program had listed a couple of talks in German, and I was relieved that they switched to Italian or English — although one German jurist, whose Italian was flawless although he was the only person to apologize for any consequent imprecision, started out with some preliminary remarks in German and I found I had the general drift and 50% of the specifics; still, I'm very glad he switched, especially that his talk was quite interesting.)

As for the actual content of the talks, as a mere layman having visited Ostia only 4 times — apparently I'm familiar with about 80% of the excavated area — I got a really good idea of the incredible complexities of stratigraphy first of all; and a feel for the problems of identification, also for the continuity and decay of Ostia thru Late Antiquity. Occasionally, a descent into the most extraordinary detail: one talk — an Englishman I think — dealt with a single trench 4 m long and 80 cm wide, the actual excavation of which had occurred 28 years ago!

As anyone who knows me well might've expected, my nominees for the most interesting — downright fascinating — talks were as it turns out given back to back on the last day: Michael Heinzelmann on inserting Ostia into a more general geographical context — the whole Pianabella area S of Ostia (and focusing on the cemetery just outside the gates along the Ostiensis Romewards: technically, the necropolis of the Porta Romana); and Gemma Jansen on the vexed question of ground levels at Ostia: a wonderfully clear exposition of the problem, the kind of thing I was expecting the conference as a whole to be like (in my ignorant admiration of academics, I guess!). Also typically of me, I was captivated too by Risto Valjus's coda to an otherwise dry catalog of inscriptions, in which he found one guy, a baker from Cappadocia (which he said was well known in Antiquity for the quality of its bread), and surmised that this one guy might be at the root of Ostia's apparently even now reputation for good bread —

My own very slight contribution was as a sort of point d'appui for Jan-Theo's poster session presentation of the Ostia web site: he'd selected a section of my siteº as his most useful partner in linking Ostia to a database of sister ports of the Mediterranean, and his map — with slight modifications by me — was the centerpiece of a database-type page of mine: which I desperately tried to finish before I left Chicago, then started to finish from Spello when my computer kaputted again, then finally became impossible when — probably because I forgot some small but critical detail — FTP connections were refused by UKans. . . . Not to worry: we wound up with about 12 minutes of time squeezed in a shortened break, of which WestMed was about 4 minutes — and Kansas being very slow. . . Only about a dozen people witnessed this unspectacular contributo, although Fausto Zevi (a former Soprintendente of Ostia Antica) was one of them — About the only Italian present, too, further highlighting the differences between Italians and non. (Amusingly, in a spate of hawking our Internet presentation earlier on, at a more classic poster-type table, I got to chat with one woman, probably about my age, possibly a librarian, Italian, who looked at our handouts and as her eyes glazed over a few last words escaped from her: "Internet, non ne so niente".) It really is curious the air of technical unintelligibility that surrounds computers; comunque, non c' era più nulla da fare! All the odder that probably the single country best represented on the Net is Italy: the reti civiche, at least; certainly not the university community. A few more years, apparently.

Tuesday was the fun day, finally; the symposium moved around: German Institute on Monday, Dutch Institute on Wednesday, lunches on the British School, but Tuesday guests of the Sovraintendenza at Ostia itself, in the Castello Giulio II; and to get there I had the great good fortune to ride in a German Institute van with Michael Heinzelmann at the wheel: well, we were early so he wandered us thru the Pianabella area [. . .] I found all of this fascinating, of course: maybe by the time I'm 90 I'll recognize a Roman road when I see one (clear applicability to the causeways of the Flaminia system across the Lacus Umber, for starters). A lot of other people find this fascinating as well: quite a few local guys here and there walking around the fields looking downcast. . . Metal detectors are illegal in Italy, but not unheard of. Someone in the car said it was a local Ostiense tradition that a young man seeking a bride present his intended with a signet ring — Only maybe half an hour, but one of the highlights of the convegno certainly, and prolly of my entire trip: and so I innocently mirror the young couple I walked thru Spello (or at least partway: the Cappella Tega) who told me that my own little sharing was their most interesting visit yet —

Tuesday afternoon, after a good lunch offered us by the Soprintendenza — a tris of gnocchi and lunette and ravioli (this time, the nutmeg was perfect: you wondered whether there was any —); a pollo all' arrabbiata — or rather, in view of no piccante at all, and in the spirit of so many of the papers I listened to: a cosiddetto pollo all' arrabbiata, good; a coupla desserts (I was starving and 'had' to appropriate a 2d loose one floating about that noone was interested in); the white wine only a VDT but considerably better than several DOC I've had, Franco Silvestri — we saw Portus.

Exceptionally in fact, I was right with JanTheo & a few others: for once, despite being starving, I would gladly have skipped lunch completely to spend more daytime — good photographic daylight — more hours at Portus; still, I enjoyed lunch too — even if we then raced thru Portus under the threat of rain and looming darkness. By good fortune, save for a few drops right at the beginning, it never did rain.

Pianabella belongs to the Aldobrandini family; Trajan's basin to the Torlonia family. This latter has resisted (understandably) the Sovraintendenza's efforts to excavate, open it up, etc.: someone told me that the Torlonia are demanding proof that the hexagonal basin is in fact artificial; I offered the reasonable suggestion that it might be quite natural, the work of giant bees from Mars. Nonostante, the Soprintendenza just recently lost the first court battle.

A sunken weedy area enclosed in brick walls; with several rows of 8‑meter-high columns with bosses of rougher stone alternating with recessed sections of smoother stone. It is the so‑called Portico di Claudio at Portus, the ancient Roman port built by Trajan.

The so‑called 'Portico di Claudio' at Portus.
The columns, of bugnato rustico, now differentially eroded, are of a style characteristic of Claudius' reign; the building, however, was erected by Trajan.

Excavation of the peripheral areas has been proceeding at a fairly rapid pace: Severan warehouses right next to the Torlonia property — I wonder to what extent for the purpose of adducing evidence in a court of law? Anyway, the whole thing is pretty interesting; donkey-cart rides are available for the rest of us by arrangement: telephone (06) 588.08.80

Also interesting — one of the presentations — that a serious attempt is being made, in preparation for opening the area to the public, to maintain the ecology of the area, including, and this is the first time I'd heard it, getting rid of invasive trees, esp. Ailanthus and Robinia pseudacacia (also, curiously, the native Prunus sylvatica??)

A large outdoors sign in the excavations of Minturnae (Latina province, Italy), giving scriptural justifications for exterminating weeds.

The policy is being enforced — and explained with scriptural references: here, at the excavations of Minturnae, about 100 km SE of Ostia along the coast.

Photo © Carole Roach 2001, by kind permission.

Our visit was well prepared for us by a series of presentations on the port just before lunch: a rare occasion to learn about something, then etch it on the neurones; good program.

I went skating both Monday and Tuesday evening, at the 9 P.M. session (2006h train; returned 2255h train out of S. Maria delle Mole). Monday energetic but nothing to write home about, generally sloppy; Tuesday I arrived exhausted, but as I'd predicted to Jan-Theo as we walked back to the hotel from the German Institute where the van dropt us off at sixish, I'd pick up energy and I did: also, much to my surprise, a few perfectly OK back threes and at least one good solid low sitspin; this despite by now very dull blades. Waltz jumps gaining energy, 5½ to 6 blade lengths and sometimes good form — I had the further good fortune of being in the rink during all of Tuesday's rain. Both evenings, some surprisingly good layover back spirals (so I'm not scared to do something dangerous). To bed each night thus at just before midnite; although I read, as usual, to decompress a bit: I found a wonderful book about the Templars in America in a store on the via Solferino on the way from Termini to the Kristi.

And that was Rome: no skating, 1918h train back on Wednesday, and I actually went to eat at the Pinturicchio: walked in thinking I wasn't hungry, but wound up doing a primo, a secondo, dessert. . . No way to lose weight; and finally my waist is floating between 80½ and 83 —


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