Sunday, November 26, 2017

10 Years Later...

When I started this blog, it was to keep my friends and family updated about my new adventures as a foreign language teaching assistant in Austria.  That was in 2007. Ten years later I am living in Austria as a full-time English teacher in a higher technical college.

How did I get here, you may ask.  I won't say it has been easy, but I am a firm believer in "everything happens for a reason."  This is my take on the events that led me on this most amazing journey.

When I first arrived in Austria in 2007 to teach English language and American culture in an academic high school, it was an attempt to reevaluate some of my life choices. I always thought I'd end up as a classics teacher at a small liberal arts college.  But decisions were not always made with that goal in mind.  I guess you could say I drifted.

I did get a degree in classics with a minor in German from the University of Iowa, and pursued a graduate degree in classics at Vanderbilt University.  Academically that didn't turn out so well. I discovered I was no longer a big fish in a small pond and butted heads with a couple of professors.  I did end up getting an MRS degree and followed my new husband to the University of Missouri-Columbia.  Soured on the whole academic scene, I worked at the veterinary library for a year, then was offered a teaching assistantship in Latin to replace a grad student who decided at the last moment that he wasn't coming back.  I took graduate courses in classics and archaeology and was inspired by all of the wonderful professors at Mizzou.

But I made a decision to give up my last year of my teaching assistantship to my husband, and I went back to working full time for the American College of Physicians and the University Hospital.  He ended up getting a job at Truman State University (then Northeast Missouri State University) and we moved to Kirksville.  I worked for a couple of years for the general counsel of the university.  At one point I was encouraged by colleagues at a private school in St. Louis to apply for a Latin teaching position, but they "lost my application" much to my disappointment. Then a position opened up at Truman for a residential college professor at the same time my husband and I decided that things weren't really working out.  A clean break was made when I moved into Ryle Residential College. This was by far the most rewarding job of my life.  I lived in a dorm with 500 young women for whom I was the only live-in female role model.  I offered academic advising and taught German until the university decided to restructure the residential college program and I had to look for another opportunity.

Around this time, one of my professors at Mizzou who knew my interest in German told me of an archaeological opportunity at a Roman legionary fortress in Austria.  I spent three summers digging in the dirt and making contacts.  The director of the excavation was pleased with my work and offered me a dissertation project - Mythological Scenes on Tombstones from the Roman Provinces of Noricum and Pannonia (modern Austria, Hungary, and Slovenia).  That was in 1998.  I told the University of Missouri that I was going to resume my PhD studies.  I had already completed the coursework, I just needed to write the dissertation, which I completed in 2003 under the guidance of Eugene Numa Lane and Lawrence Okamura.

Now, between the residential college and getting my PhD, I had met my second husband, a blues musician and English professor at Truman State University.  And I found a teaching position at Louisiana State University, where I ended up teaching courses in Latin and Greek language and literature, women in antiquity, and Greek and Roman archaeology.  I took students to Germany where I taught German, Latin, and Roman frontier studies. I thought I had it made.  There were just two little problems.  First, although I was active on the academic conference circuit, I never had the chance to follow up my dissertation with any publications.  As soon as I finished my PhD, a colleague at LSU died and I was put in charge of his classes.  I asked my boss when I would have time to publish and he said "If you can teach all of these different classes, you will be marketable everywhere."  He lied.  I was naive.  Without publications, you can kiss a career as a classics professor goodbye.  The most you can hope for is a position as instructor with the corresponding salary.

The other problem was personal. My personal and financial life was a hot mess, through no fault of my own.  I now had a second ex-husband, a mountain of debt, and no way out of a bad career situation.  I needed to get out and reevaluate my options. A colleague told me about the Fulbright Austrian American Commission teaching assistantships in Austria.  I applied and somehow as a 42 year old woman I got accepted and assigned to an academic high school in the heart of Styria.


Wind Damage on the Putterersee

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!