Category Archives: travel

Windy ol’ Qatar

Lately I’ve been finding myself in the incredible position of writing about sharing without sharing, writing about blogging without blogging, writing about photography without taking photographs, owing writing to people and being owed writing, and being surrounded by profoundly bored people without having the luxury/curse of boredom. You’d think it would all balance out, but sometimes it feels like I’m chasing my own tail.

And that’s without the wind.

The wind has several flavors in Qatar, but it’s nearly without pause, and in the calm, blessed moments, there are hoards of flies. The best is to hope for a small respite, enough to ruffle the paper on your clipboard, but not enough to snap your measuring tape–something that happened twice to our team last week. My measuring tape didn’t snap, but it did rip one of my grid pegs out of the ground.

Happily my archaeology has been good lately–I am not allowed to discuss details, but the sequence of my features and architecture has been making sense and what we call natural, which just means stratigraphy beneath the human occupation layers, is showing up in several places. Getting through to the bright whitish-yellow shelly sand is a relief, especially as we only have a couple more weeks to dig before we start shutting things down for the year. Funny ol’ job, methodically recording and removing the traces of other humans.

It also helps that I’m working with really good people, but I think we’re all getting a bit sick of each other.

And the wind. The wind.

Qatar – Happy Eid!

All my workmen were excited to have a few days off for Eid al-Adha, the festival celebrating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Hundreds of millions of animals were sacrificed for this event, but we’re out in the desert, far away from the festivities. I’ve spent most of the time working on my dissertation, but managed to do a little wandering in the desert and took the requisite animal photographs:

Here are a couple of the reconstructed fort at Kalet auom elmaa:

An American in Bristol-town

Two magpies are sitting on a chimney outside my window. They’re nodding and peering around, feathers ruffling in the slight wind. Behind them the sky is cinematic–so far English skies have most others beat in terms of cloud variety, color and just general confusion. Some of the clouds race north along the horizon, and a small gray puff wanders S/SW and still more hover, unimpressed by the action.

I’m glad it’s both of the magpies though, as I’ve been told that you have to salute a single magpie and I’ve been gamely waving my hands at the poor things for the last few days. I never really expected to live in England, not like many Americans, but Bristol is fantastic–a nice mix of city living with a great art scene and a sleepy old shipping town where shops close at random hours and a “late night” barber shop near my house advertises being open “until 7 in the evening!”

The Bristol museum is incredibly well curated (hopefully get around to posting about that later) and has a series of old maps of Bristol hanging around the second floor. Walking around the exhibit brought me through the days when there was a stately house and a big square, then a slow creep of blocks and streets along the river front, then the block of housing where I live appeared, up north, some time between the 1850s and 1880s. I’m perched on a hill, and as I write I can see a wide swath of chimneys, red tile, stone. The high street (Americans, read: main street, with all the shops) is only a block away and I wandered down there this afternoon to the green grocer, passing by the fish monger, the butcher, and a few local pubs. For something that was relatively unplanned, we managed to find a very sweet place to live for a couple of months.

When my friend Guy came to visit Oakland he found that he was much more culture-shocked than when he was in Brazil or many other places. Things were just a half-step…off. I think I understand that better now. Ultimately, Bristol is an art, hip college town and that caters to my taste pretty well, but there’s always that half-second of hesitation after you’ve asked for a train ticket or another pint, “ah, American.”

It’s a nice thing though, to write your dissertation in relative solitude, without the endless whirlwind of social things that I tend to have when I’m in places where I actually know people. I miss my friends, I get lonely, but after I write my daily allotment, the back streets of Bristol are mine to explore. If only things weren’t so damn expensive, I’d be set.

iPhone for the Wanderlusty

Leaving on a trip and wondering if you should take your iPhone? Here’s a few things that I’ve figured out over the years if you want the most out of your trusty phone without paying huge bills.

1) Suspend your service. You can call ahead of time and tell them an exact date to suspend your service. They’ll ask why and you’ll just say that you’ll be out of the country and not using your phone. You MUST do this in order to make absolutely sure that you won’t get destroyed by data charges. Yes, you can keep your phone on airplane mode, but some of these tricks make it easy to slip up.

2) Wifi is your friend. When you get to a cafe or a hotel with wifi, let your phone download all of your messages, upload any photos you want to take, etc. Skype on iPhone is genius and when I have wifi I use it to call home and text people. But most importantly:

3) Use location services. The nice thing about iPhones (and maybe other phones, I wouldn’t know) is that the location services still work even if you suspend your service.  Your compass works too. So you are able to pinpoint where you are on the globe and use it to navigate in google maps. But wait, how can I do that if I’m not connected to google maps?

4) PROTIP: when you get to a place with wifi (or you can even do it ahead of time), center your google maps over the place you are going to be, then use the top and front buttons to snap a screenshot. This will allow you to use the navigational services with a street map and google maps won’t try to reload. You can even zoom in and out. Sadly, you can’t use it to search. You can always use the little “crosshairs” button in the corner and it will track with you.

5) Check to see if Lonely Planet has published an iphone guide in the city you are going to visit. The Istanbul one was nice because I didn’t have a regular guidebook, but wanted to explore some of the outlying areas. These have ready-made maps of all of the places, and will locate you on them even without internet service.

6) Use your screenshot ability a lot. When you get to a place that has wifi, check out all the places you want to visit and snap photos of the screens. This has saved me numerous times when I need an address or I am having trouble communicating and can just show a cab driver what I mean. Take screenshots of any important websites–iPhone’s safari app has a tendency to try to reload webpages at the absolute worse times.

7) Use Foursquare while you are abroad if you can. You’d be amazed at how widespread it is, and the tips that people leave in various places are great.

8) Download a yoga program. While I am fully inculcated in the P90x cult and have the series on my laptop, having a yoga program can be really nice if you want something a bit more low-key.

9) Use it to take photos. My DSLR can be a real drag to tote around the city and I don’t always want to take the trouble to get it out and stick it in peoples’ faces. iPhones are a lot more casual and often can get pretty decent results. Moreso if you want to run it through the many programs I’ve talked about before. I also find that I’m a lot more willing to take silly shots of food and other things I want to remember.

10) Download a couple of decent games. Dear lord I’ve been on planes, trains, buses until I thought I would die…I’ve finished all my reading and have no desire to watch Avatar in Turkish again and I just want the trip to be over. I prefer card games for getting through the truly braindead wee hours.

Any other suggestions? I thought about getting a data plan with my iPhone while I was in Turkey, but decided to muddle through without it and it has been good enough.

Turkey – the Whirlwind Tour

It seems strange that I was at Catalhoyuk only a couple of days ago. Oh Catalhoyuk, you busy little excavation out on the Konya plain. In less than a week’s time there it was like I’d never left–my feet were covered in mosquito and flea bites, I was tired and mildly ill from Efes and Raki and I think half of my clothing blew away in a freak windstorm. Still, I wasn’t part of the current project madness–writing up the current round of volumes and excavating. It was a little strange writing in my corner in the seminar room all day, but I got a lot of dissertation work done, a pace that I hope to keep up for a few more months.

I’m in Ankara now, staying at ARIT to check out their incredible archaeology library and perhaps investigate our permit situation a little bit. I’m not sure why Ankara gets such a bad rap–okay I’m quite sure, compared to Istanbul most cities look pretty bad. Still, there are big, lovely parks around and everyone is friendly. I have never seen so many blond Turks in my life! ARIT is up in the hills in the embassy district, right across from the president’s house–something I didn’t realize until one of my fellow hostelers showed me the tennis courts and the guys with machine guns that you can see from our balcony.

The ARIT library isn’t open on Sunday so after I type out these few words I’ll head out to the Museum of Anatolian Civilization and the Atatürk Mausoleum, maybe checking out Ulus while I am at it. It’s been a strange trip so far, I’ve spent most of the time alone, either writing or going on long walks in various cities. Alternately, I was back at Catalhoyuk, where I was around so many dear friends that I didn’t have time to talk to them all. I feel a little addled, but good–after another couple of weeks of this my wanderlust might quiet down for a little while. Maybe. Probably not.

 

Day of Archaeology – Anywhere I lay my head

My head is spinning round, my heart is in my shoes, yeah
I went and set the Thames on fire, oh, now I must come back down
She’s laughing in her sleeve boys, I can feel it in my bones
Oh, but anywhere I’m gonna lay my head, I’m gonna call my home

The last of my books are going into their boxes, my music collection hawked for nearly nothing, and I toasted my friends last night for a going away dinner. The suitcase that I will be living out of for the next nine months is packed.

My plans this summer have changed a dozen times, through events both in my control and totally out of control. Some archaeologists have settled down, have nice homes and steady jobs, but there is a complimentary population that, to take another Tom Waits cue, raindog–travel around after jobs and live on the road. It wears you out, eventually. Most don’t do it permanently, and certainly I’ll be applying for academic jobs.

But today, I’m putting all my things in storage and hitting the road.

I signed up early on to participate in The Day of Archaeology, but I think I missed something in the flurry that has taken over my life. Anyway, check out the rest of the entries on the fantastic website:

http://www.dayofarchaeology.com

Hama, Syria

A little over a year ago, I spent a night in Hama. That day, Dan, Melissa and I were checking out sites in western Syria for potential projects and had gotten ridiculously lost in the mountains. The mountain towns were lovely, friendly and felt refreshingly relaxed. But it was late, and we were all tired, starving, and indecisive – a potentially lethal travel combination. We crashed in our hostel and then went out to get felafel. It ended up being the best felafel I’ve had in my life. Then we wandered the streets. It was the beginning of June and dead hot during the day, so most folks came out at night to socialize. At first it seemed like it was a shibab-dominated scene–boys were everywhere. But there were women around as well, enjoying the night air. We walked by the famous waterwheels – great, groaning, wooden dinosaurs that are monumental in scale and lit up like a carnival. The splashing water cooled the sweltering night, a miracle of relief in the desert breeze.

I hadn’t expected much out of Hama; it was a way-point in a misshapen quadrangle between Damascus, the coast, and Aleppo. But more than the groaning waterwheels, or the dark, cobblestone maze of the old city — the people of the city. The women. Or, one woman. There were a group of ladies on the street just wearing hijabs without a full veil, only slightly older than me, chatting and eating ice cream. I smiled at them, well, because I don’t generally see a lot of women while travelling in the Middle East and I miss their company, if only on the street. It’s a strange and lonely feeling when you recognize it.

The women hesitated, smiled back, and then one lady grabbed my arm. I wasn’t actually all that surprised by it, as I’ve become accustomed to displays of sisterly affection and warmth from a wide swath of amazing Middle Eastern women, but what came next did surprise me–she wanted me to have a bite of her ice cream. I didn’t really get it at first, but even after several demurrals, she insisted. We shared a melting bite of ice cream, laughed, hugged, and went on our way into the night.

So tonight, as the protests in Hama rage on, I’m thinking of her.

Solidarity with people who are yearning, aching, struggling to be free. Always.

Mesa Verde Part 1.5 of 2: Interpretation

The ranger station was in chaos. People in line were shouting at each other, and an elderly man shoved a small Asian lady out of the way so he could farther forward in line. She staggered and almost fell–I hollered at the guy and asked her if she was okay.

Wow. Mesa Verde. Okay then.

When you get to Mesa Verde you have several different choices of what to do–the Ranger you buy your passes from acts as a tour guide/scheduler. You can try to take in all of the ranger guided tours, walk around on top of the Mesa, or go on a few small hikes. The ranger guided tours are the only way to actually enter most of the ruins, so that was the option that we picked. The day before we stopped in Silverton, where a nice shopkeeper told us, “Mesa Verde only really takes about 2-3 hours. You check out the ruins and the rest of the stuff…it’s just holes in the ground.” Still, we gamely signed up for a full day of touring and wandering around. First we went to see the cliff palace complex, during which the ranger ran down the basics about the Ancestral Puebloans: they had to manage water, they farmed on top of the mesa, they climbed up and down using toe holds in the rocks and wow wasn’t that crazy? She was actually pretty good, considering that she had to speak to about 30 people of varied age and education. I usually don’t say much during guided tours, but I did ask about the conservation and reconstruction of the pueblos–were they indicating their reconstruction efforts in any way to make them obvious to the outside observer? The answer was yes, they were trying different colors of mortar to show different periods of reconstruction. After the tour we decided to strike out onto the mesa top, and by striking out, I mean driving along a road to each of the interpretive spots.

In stark contrast to the lady in Silverton, I enjoyed the hell out of the holes in the ground–how surprising! They have some open excavations on display, though I will admit that they don’t look like much these days. The dirt profiles and remains of pits have been heavily eroded and consolidated to preserve the display. It was interesting to see, as they have similar problems at Catalhoyuk, trying to keep year-long displays of crumbling mudbrick looking good is a near impossible task. There wasn’t any information about who dug what when, which was a little annoying, and there could be a lot done with virtual tours that would hopefully make the excavations more meaningful than just “holes in the ground” to non-specialist visitors. Much of the rest of the day was like this–speculating about interpretations and wondering about the details that were omitted from the tours and signs. We did have a spectacularly, hilariously bad tour of Long House, in which I wondered if the ranger was actually completely drunk or if she had debilitating social anxiety. We ended up just ignoring her and checking out the outstanding preservation of Long House–the seams in the buildings, blocked-off doors and re-built walls kept me occupied in wondering if anyone had bothered to phase the architecture in each of the settlements. Something to poke into while further procrastinating on my dissertation, I suppose.

(…to be continued – word counts are problematic these days!)

Mesa Verde Part 1 of 2: Parkitecture

Cliff House, Mesa Verde by Elemsee

I just finished up a 10-day road trip, driving from my folks’ house in northern Colorado back to California, with some fairly significant detours along the way. After taking a quick soak in Glenwood Springs, we took the Million Dollar highway down to Mesa Verde. Colorado had a long, wet winter this year and it paid off in a spectacular run-off, accompanied by the greenest, most wildflower-filled spring I’d ever seen.

I have to admit, I was beyond excited to go to Mesa Verde. Though I’d lived in Colorado for a while, I never made it down to the four-corners region to check out the gorgeous vistas and the Ancestral Puebloan ruins that cover the landscape. It was pretty much a perfect storm of Colleen-geekery: ancient architecture, cave-dwellers, and the National Park system. The National Parks are a revered institution in the US – I’d argue that they constitute a cornerstone of American national identity. As a large, government institution I’m sure there are widely divergent experiences within the National Park service that would either support my enthusiasm or shatter it completely, but as an outside beneficiary of the decades of hard work by thousands of park staff, I remain a big fan.

While others have written more cogently on the aesthetics and the motives of the National Park, Mesa Verde struck me as one of the most vivid examples of the managed tourism and “National Park rustic” or Parkitecture that the National Parks has to offer. Parkitecture attempts to blend in with the natural environment and is often a folksy mix of wood, stone, and hidden cinderblock architecture. While the facilities at Mesa Verde are not as iconic as those at the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, the log ladders, stone borders, and wooden cautionary signs contributed to the “parkiness” of the park, signifiers of the managed nature of the park.

While Parkitecture has its design roots in the 1920s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal projects in the 1930s provided the labor force necessary for transforming the National Parks into tourist destinations. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) were young men between the ages of 18-25 who enrolled in a six-month term and were paid $5 – $8 a month while $22-$25 a month was sent back to their families. The “CCC boys” camped at Mesa Verde during the duration and their work can be seen in most aspects of the park’s development. (I’ll be mentioning the CCC again in the next Mesa Verde post, but for more information, check out the excellent New Deal Days: The CCC at Mesa Verde.) Without the New Deal investment in the improvement of the parks, it is doubtful that they would have risen to such prominence in the national imagination.

Parkitecture occupies an interesting liminal space in the parks; it both informs and restricts your movement, trying to blend in with the natural surroundings while being obviously official. It also requires an investment in apparently outdated trades–we saw trail maintenance in Zion being performed by a team of masons with chisels and hammers, chipping the red sandstone into appropriately rustic blocks. The curation and preservation of these trade skills seem just as important to me as the park itself.

In the extreme, parkitecture can contribute to the Disneyesque feel of the parks. One of the trail loops at Mesa Verde is only accessible by what they call a tram, what is, in practice, a bit more like a stretch golf-cart. We sat in the tram and there was a pre-recorded interpretive speech that blared as we zoomed by the different “attractions.” Even as Americans have gotten fatter, our hunger for National Parks remains unabated, with attendance rising each year. The best beloved and most visited parks have had to adopt measures such as this tram and an increased control over exploration of the monuments, to protect the park’s resources while still catering to the widest possible constituency. While the paved walkways and carefully groomed garden-fences allow people of most physical abilities to experience the parks, it can be frustrating to those of us who are used to scrambling up cliffs, through waterfalls and into the ruins.

With the national, state and local governments cutting all conceivable services, I feared for the National Parks, especially as they are attracting more tourists than ever. While it isn’t on the scale of the New Deal, it appears that the Recovery Act has been funding projects in the National Parks:

$14.6 million dollars went to Mesa Verde for six projects, from improving water lines to the purchase of alternative fuel transit buses for tours of the park. The full list of Recovery Projects slated for the National Parks is actually very interesting and a little sad, considering that the majority of work is very basic, long-needed repairs. This funding seems at best a fairly scanty gesture, especially compared to the massive investment that the New Deal projects provided for our parks and for the enskilment of a generation of workers.

(Tomorrow, more about the actual, y’know, archaeology and interpretation at Mesa Verde.)

Al Jemail

There weren’t any photos at all in the last post, so I thought I’d make up for that with this post. Yesterday I visited Al Jamail (or Al Gemeel or any number of spellings–Arabic romanization is random at best) to take a look around and remember how to take photographs. I barely touched my DSLR all fall, and I have a fairly new macro lens that I wanted to get accustomed to, so I kitted up, intentionally leaving my zoom at home, and went out to see Qatar very close up.

I took along my iphone for back-up, grabbing touristy shots with Hipstamatic. I was told that Al Jemail had been fixed up to film a movie there, and there were parts in better repair than others.

Sadly, I took a lot of photos of garbage, since that was mostly what I could see from very close up. The beach is entirely covered, along with most of the ruins.

Still, it was good to see a more traditional village in pretty good repair, as it gives me a better idea of what the ruins we are digging up looked like a century ago. Oh! And I also found a fishing lure! The survey team has taken to collecting these so I’m glad to contribute.

In tiger stripes, of course!