Saturday, July 20, 2013

Romania - Part IV - Lasting Impressions

I didn’t get to take many pictures as we were zooming through the Romanian countryside, which is a pity since many of the lasting impressions would have made beautiful submissions to National Geographic Photo of the Day.

Some of the small villages in Transylvania were not quite infrastructurally up to date.  Bright yellow pipes often lined the streets, and even formed arches over driveways. I asked my Romanian friend what these pipelines were and she said, “Gas lines.”  Gas lines?? Above ground - at bumper level!?  Don’t people run into them?  “All the time,” she said. 

There were other peculiarities of Romanian villages.  Nearly every driveway/carport/front door had a grape arbor to provide shade, but also for homemade wine.  Many houses have modest livestock:  chickens, goats, cows.  I can’t count the number of times I saw elderly women taking their cows for a walk in the early evening - and I can’t believe I never got a photo!

Romania is still a very poor country.  Like Greece there are half-finished buildings dotting the landscape.  In the Danube Delta we saw people living in wagons - reminiscent of the gypsies of lore, however politically incorrect. 

In the country, I never saw any sort of mechanized farm machinery... everything was done by hand, including the cutting of hay/grain with a scythe, and if the hay had to be dried the farmer and his family turned it over with rustic hayforks.  Shepherds conducted their sheep along rivers, bucolic scenes worthy of Vergil - until a low hanging snag or sandbar reminded me that there is no successful recycling program in Romania - bottles and plastic sacks are piled high, even along the Danube!

Before I left for Romania, a friend told me I needed a rabies shot.  That wasn't the case, but I now understand where she was coming from.  There are hundreds of stray dogs in Romania - in every city, village, at every rest stop and every archaeological site.  Many of them have tags in their ears to show they have been immunized and registered - making them look like a ragtag bunch of Steiff Button-In-Ear toys.  


The only thing I really regret about the trip to Romania was that we had absolutely no time to shop for souvenirs or postcards or find a post office to send the postcards we'd written.  I know that means I'll probably have to go back sometime!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Romania 2013 - Part III

The highlight of the Colloquium was the excursion to Constanța.  The coastal town to which Ovid was exiled (after his affair with Emperor Augustus' daughter, Julia) was, according to his own description, bleak.  Today it is a resort area - Ovid was always a trendsetter!
Ovid looking dour in Constanța (Tomis)

It took a long time to get to Constanța, even though it is a mere 200 km from Bucharest.  But we wanted to visit Tropaeum Traiani as well.  It always amazes me how very far off the beaten path some of the Roman outposts are.  The distinguishing feature of Tropaeum Traiani is the monument which  commemorated Trajan's victory over the Dacians.  The original monument fragments are displayed in the museum at Adamclisi, and a modern reconstruction now stands on the site.  It can be seen from miles away and was a reminder of Roman superiority.
Tropaeum Traiani
Original sculptures in the museum at Adamclisi
Original reliefs in the museum at Adamclisi
As always happens on these excursions, I am torn between the Roman sites and the natural history.  I decided I needed to get a better camera with more control after missing a terrific shot of a green and blue lizard because of auto-focus!

Lacerta viridis
We finally arrived in Constanța, and stayed at the lovely Hotel Palace on the harbor.  To compensate for my lack of view, the door to the bathroom was decorated with seashells between two panes of glass!

Ovid may have complained endlessly about the waves and wind at Tomis, I found them romantic and refreshing:

The next day we went to Histria in the Danube Delta. This turned out to be quite an excursion!  There are remains here as far back at the Greek archaic period, which makes is a good place to study continuity.  The museum was fabulous, and when I found a sculpture comparable to my research poster project (The Missouri Dove Girl), the staff not only found publications and bibliography for me, but even allowed me to visit the storeroom!

As I walked to the archaeological site, I heard THIS SOUND.  And I said to myself, "If that's not a HOOPOE, I'm handing in my Junior Ornithologist card!"  And sure enough, the place was overrun with hoopoes*, which flew from the walls of the ancient city, into the fields and back again.  This is known in the ornithology biz as a "life bird!"

We ended up back in Bucharest in time to grab a late dinner, and the next day the participants scattered to their respective homes in 15+ different countries.  I went to Austria to continue my research (and my job search!).

*and storks, hawfinches, European ground squirrels, crested larks, butterflies, pipits and six-inch stinging centipedes.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Romania 2013 - Part II

Our northwesternmost destination was Deva, where we visited an outdoor lapidarium, played with kitties, paid homage to Decebalus and were entertained by a group of dancers performing for Children's Day.

Look at all the different types of stone and marble!
Obligatory cat picture - what would the internet be without cats?

Decebalus, King of the Dacians - until his suicide in 106 CE

We returned to Bucharest via the oldest stone church in Romania, built from plundered Roman stones and via the World War I Monument in Târgu-Jiu, featuring sculptures by Romanian born artist Constantine Brâncuși.

Basilica Densus
Brâncuși's Gate of the Kiss (note bride!)
All in all on our 60-hour trip to Transylvania we traveled 800 km in a bus that averaged about 30 mph, admired the river landscape when it wasn't littered with multi-colored plastic bags and bottles, visited four museums, heard thirteen more lectures, ate at a medieval restaurant, visited the church and the Brâncuși monument, and made it back to Bucharest in time to catch about seven hours of sleep before our excursion to the Black Sea!

End of Part II.

P.S. Apparently SOMEONE was allowed to take pictures of the Dacian bracelet hoard!
Click for Creative Commons license - Source: Wikipedia

Friday, June 14, 2013

Romania 2013 - Part I

Most Americans will associate Romania with two things: Dracula or Nadia Comaneci. I associate Romania with the Black Sea, Ovid's exile, and Trajan's Column.  Romania was once the Roman province of Dacia which Trajan conquered, and for this reason the 13th Colloquium of Roman Provincial Art was held in Bucharest, Alba Julia, and Constanța.

A colloquium in Romania paid for by the LSU Office of Research and Development and the School of Art may sound romantic, but it was so stressful!  From 8:00 am to 8:00 pm the 100 or so participants attended lectures - up to 17 lectures a day (!) - on all aspects of Roman provincial art given in whatever language the lecturer to present his or her research (German, English, French, Italian).  This left little time for eating and sleeping.

My poster on the Missouri Dove Girl attracted attention and useful feedback.  I'll write it up for the proceedings.

After two days of intensive conferencing, 60 or so participants were packed into two buses and off we went to Transylvania - not to visit Dracula's castle ("Every castle is Dracula's castle" according to the locals!) - but to visit the museum at Alba Julia (ancient Apulum).  We were greeted by legionary soldiers ("the last of their unit!") and there was a special exhibit for us about the Romans, Dacians, and Celts.

We were allowed to see (but not photograph) a hoard of gold bracelets which were under high security and were packed away as soon as we had all seen them.  Some fascinating pieces in these small museums - I'm always impressed by their collections of Roman art that you never see in textbooks.  These outposts really were little copies of Rome. Just look at this gorgeous statue of Hecate, goddess of the crossroads from Sibiu:

One can't say the same for the modern interpretation of Roman art.  There is a bronze statue of Trajan in front of the art museum in Bucharest which has been the focus of some controversy. It's a nice likeness of Trajan from the neck up.  But he's holding a very stiff Lupa Romana in his arms (the Lupa Romana is everywhere in Romania - and the founder of the webpage Ubi Erat Lupa was with us on the tour) - only this version leaves out the twins Romulus and Remus. Instead, a serpent-like appendage protrudes from the back of Lupa's head.  Reminiscent of the Chimera of Arezzo, it's supposed to represent the dragon of Dacia. The sculpture is very controversial and rightly so. 

Just search "bronze Trajan Bucharest" for some interesting reviews of the installation!
End of Part I.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Perspectives of the Past

Women of the Ancient Aegean

            Portrayal of women in the media is a huge social issue in our society today. The students of Art History 4409 have been studying ancient Aegean art this semester, and they have been presented with the opportunity to put up an exhibition highlighting some of the major themes that were discussed in the course.
            This exhibit offers a glimpse into the perceptions of women of the ancient Aegean as people of mainland Greece, Crete and the Greek islands portrayed them through their own artistic efforts. The female figure was the first real figural artistic attempt that we are aware of, dating back to the Neolithic period. The “mother goddess” figures suggest that women were idolized and worshipped by ancient peoples for their ability to bear children, as shown by the accentuation of their hips and breasts.
            Through a number of mediums, including, drawing, painting, sculpture, casting, fashion, photography, photo manipulation, and others, the students of Art History 4409 have presented for you their own take on the ancient perspectives of women in the Aegean.

The Special Reception is on May 11 is at 6:30 in the Atrium of the Design Bldg.

Have your picture taken with the 10 foot Minoan Snake Goddess and post it to our Facebook page: Perspectives of the Past: Women of the Ancient Aegean!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

"Well, back to the old drawing board..."

I know how my friend, Marvin the Martian, feels.  For the second time in 28 months I’m getting kicked to the academic curb and I have absolutely no plan. Teaching jobs are likely out of the question (see below), so I am considering directing my talents elsewhere: academic publishing, guiding academic tours, perhaps even offering private Latin lessons to high school and home schooled students.

My life coach asked me what I’m most afraid of right now.  First I said, “Losing my insurance,” which is true to some extent.  Until the pre-existing condition clause of Obamacare goes into effect, I’m going to be at risk (Damn skin cancer. And Barrett’s. And fibrocystic disease).  But what really terrifies me is the possibility of making another mistake... I’d go so far as to say this fear is paralyzing my next move. 

I finished my PhD in 2003 while teaching three classes (when I write “Dissertations for Dummies” Step One will be “Secure outside funding:  take out a loan, borrow from your parents, marry rich; but under no circumstances try to complete a graduate degree while teaching full time.”).  The next year, the department came to me and said they needed me to teach four classes to cover for a dear colleague who died.  Of the four classes, I had taught only one before.  Four classes, three new preps, including upper level Latin and upper level Greek.  I asked the section head, “But when am I going to find time to publish?” And he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Oh, if you can teach this variety of courses you will be marketable anywhere.”  He lied.  I believed him.  Mistake #1. It wasn’t until a job opened up at that same institution that the bubble burst and the chair said, “We can’t even justify interviewing you without publications.”

I tried to make my escape in 2006, and ended up as a Fulbright U.S. Teaching Assistant in Austria. As I sat in my $275 rented apartment earning half of what I made as a Latin instructor, I made the conscious decision that I did not need a job at a high powered research university to be happy.  And I packed up my research on Pliny the Younger and gave 100% to my assistantship.  How could I have known that I would be fired upon my return to the U.S.?  That was Mistake #2.  Mistake #3 was not staying in Austria when I had the chance - but again, I couldn’t in my wildest dreams have imagined that the university would fire someone with my qualifications:  Latin, Greek, Classical Studies (including Women in Antiquity, Tragedy in Translation, and cross-listed courses in Anthropology), German, Study Abroad, Academic Advising, Residential Colleges.  If you’re going to fire people during a financial crisis, wouldn’t it be in the best interest of the institution to keep the person who can give you the most bang for your buck?

Perhaps I should have taken that semester off and worked on publications - but I was in survival mode.  I managed to work two full time jobs (as a tax preparer and an adjunct at a community college), earning a whopping $11,000 which had to stretch until September.  And then, a deus ex machina - the Greek and Roman art historian left abruptly and recommended me as a replacement.  I applied, I negotiated, I rose to the challenge.  I even submitted an article for a proceedings that first semester.  My colleagues respected me and treated me well.  And when my job was converted to a tenure-track position, they strongly encouraged me to apply. 

Mistake #4: Their encouragement got my hopes up that my hard work might pay off after all.

O.K., so my publication record is a little sparse.  But I did publish an article when it wasn’t expected or required of me, and I did research last summer at the University of Graz which landed me a poster presentation at an international colloquium in Bucharest - a trip which the university is sponsoring to the tune of $2000.  But my application was Not. Even. Considered. I’m the inside candidate, a known quantity, and I didn’t even make the first cut.... or the second cut for that matter.  It’s not because I’m not a good teacher.  I have high academic standards, it’s true, but if you just do the work you’ll end up with an A or a B in my class.  I guess I think the world should work that way, too.  Do the work, receive the reward.  The problem is that in the business of higher education the only thing that’s valued is research and my research isn’t good enough for a tenure-track position.  Without publications, my degree is worth exactly $36,000 a year before taxes.  Taking into account that teaching three courses is by far more than a 40 hour per week job (including class prep, meeting with students, teaching, grading and administrivia), I make exactly half of the annual mean wage for my chosen profession. 

So everything I thought I was doing to secure a place for myself in the world has blown up in my face like the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator.

Meet you back at the old drawing board, Marvin, my friend.