Friday, September 24, 2010

Interview with Ron Stroud Part 1.2

A while back I posted the first part of my on-going interview with Ron Stroud, in honor of the Regular Year Members of 1959-60. Unfortunately, I left out part of it! So here is the last fascinating tidbit associated with the first part of our interview. It's short but definitely sweet. I asked Ron how he traveled to Greece and what it was like - plane, train, what? He answered:

"I traveled from New York to Athens in August 1959 on the Greek liner, Queen Frederiki.

The Queen Frederica in 1967. For an idea of what the experience would have been like, check out this awesome video.

Pierre MacKay and the other Fulbrighters came on the other Greek liner, the Olympia. Also on the Frederiki were fellow-students Bill Wyatt, and his wife Sandra, Jim Wiseman (his wife Lucy came later), Patrick Henry and possibly one or two others. Fellow passengers were the new Director of Athens College, Dr. Rice and his wife, and the Greek poet, Athanasios Maskelaris, from whom I had Modern Greek lessons on board. The trip took 14 days and we all got the false impression that the long journey was almost over as soon as we cleared Gibraltar, but then we stopped in Barcelona, Palermo (where WW II bombing was still very evident), Naples, and Messina and it seemed to take forever to get to Peiraieus.

I was in a cabin in the very bottom of the ship with five old Greek men who had recently retired and were returning to their villages to live off the proceeds of their US Social Security. I was the only non-Greek at our table for eight, which was provided for lunch and dinner with a large flagon of very bitter retsina. The menu for lunch and dinner was printed in Greek and English and I still have one as a souvenir.

Queen Frederica menu from the 1960s.

We had a Greek orchestra, Greek dances, and Greek movies every evening; I remember Melina Mercouri in "Stella." I relieved the boredom of the journey by a shipboard romance with a young American woman who was sailing to join her parents in Athens, where her father worked for the CIA, and she was going to join the US Economic Mission. The Truman plan was still very active in Greece and the US Mission had taken over the huge city block occupied by the Tameion Building, just off Syntagma, and containing the swish watering hole Zonars, where many Americans hung out. The US Embassy was at Vasilissis Sophias and Herodes Atticus, catty-corner from the Benaki Museum and across the street from the headquarters of the Evzones.

Greece was not in sight on the eve of our arrival but I was too excited to sleep and around 3.00 a.m. went down the hall outside our cabin to where a member of the crew was standing smoking next to a large open door. The sea was rushing by and on the horizon barely visible was the outline of a mountain. "Ellada[Greece]" he said laconically. It was Cape Malea and he seemed as excited to be here as I was.

We were met at the dock in Peiraieus by Colin Edmonson, the Secretary of the School. The Secretary normally met arriving members of the School in those days. We had little baggage, because you had to go down to Customs to clear your belongings the next day, so Colin bundled us all into the School Land Rover, a venerable gray vehicle, with a large spare tire on the hood, that had been donated by Dr. George Miles of the American Numismatic Society, father of Mimsy Miles and future father-in-law of the future Director, James McCredie. It so happened that McCredie himself was there with Edmonson because they had been out on a topographic excursion with Arthur Steinberg. The reason I mention these three is that as we drove into Athens and the Acropolis loomed into sight, we all in the back seats were stretching our necks and uttering excited exclamations, while Edmonson, McCredie, and Steinberg merely drove by without looking. Hardened veterans."

The Parthenon in 1959. This amazing picture from here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Good night, sweet trench

Alas, lovely trench PC 42's days have come to a close.

Actually, they came to a close at the beginning of August, but, well, I haven't quite got around to commemorating the trench's final moments.

In the end, PC 42 was excavated down to bedrock which revealed several walls and a good deal of construction evidence. We found a fair number of post-holes and cuttings in the bedrock and a lot of levelling fill.

Most of PC 42's scarps were a nightmare, thanks to tree trunks and the ancient dumped debris that makes sculpting scarps into vertical faces - 'like glass'- the bane of undergraduates.

On the last day of fieldwork, a tarp was laid in the trench and all the dirt we had removed during the season was dumped back in. This is called 'backfilling' and is done in order to protect the trench from the elements, as well as clandestinii (looters). Watching all that dirt go back in - well, it hurts the heart a little to see it done.

Backfilling at Poggio Colla in 2004.

It also hurts everywhere else a little, too. Actually, a lot. I'll be honest. Backfilling was the one day where the physical pain was so bad I wanted to cry. It was a nice reminder that age and decrepitude even conquers archaeologists.

Ultimately I did survive Backfill Day, though. So too did PC 42's students, who were total champs and made the season really spectacular.

Thanks, guys: Cassie, Kristen, Morgan, me, Sarah, Jack.

For now, PC 42 sits lonely upon its wooded hill, tree roots already weaseling down into the soft empty soil that has replaced its 2300 years of stratigraphy. The Mugello Valley is a quieter place, without the hoard of filthy American students stomping about in a fine impersonation of 'Pig Pen.' I went on to see a large part of Italy over the subsequent three weeks (more on this later), but in the end, the Mugello still holds pride of place as my favorite part of Italy. Mushroom hunters, wild boars and lightening storms just aren't the same anywhere else!

Me and the Mugello at dusk, as seen from the amazing restaurant 'Casa di Caccia.'