The Burbs

They’re taking away my citizenship – Part Deux

So, another short trip to Paris. They’re threatening to take away my EU citizenship AGAIN! so this might be my last visit before I’m cast adrift to become a vassal of the orange horror in the US. But, once again, Johnson and the Cons have fucked it and the shoddily laid ‘plans’ of the ‘Father-of-Lies’ have fallen through (yay!) so, for now, I’m still one of yEU.

As well as trying to catch a couple of exhibitions that were on my list (‘AlUla, marvel of Arabia‘ at Institut du Monde Arabe and ‘Paris – London : Music Migrations‘ at Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration), I also had a scout around for something a little more off the beaten track. I’ve been following a Twitter account  called ‘Enlarge Your Paris‘* which is about the Paris that happens in the suburbs and the various outlying areas of the city. The city centre is comprehensively covered by every tourist website going so it’s good to find something that’s a bit different. Via this account, I found out about an exhibition that was going on outside the arrondissement – “Trésors de banlieue

Near Gabriel Peri metro station on line 13 (the baby blue one) there’s an old market building, the Hall of Gresilles (it’s next door to Théâtre de Gennevilliers), which has been repurposed as an exhibition space, an event space, a community space. The exhibits for this exhibition are displayed in 15 shipping containers and include a range of genres and media.

Here are a few of the pieces that I particularly liked.

There was a display of studies for part of a large-scale interior decorative scheme by Blasco Mentor.

And four examples of protest posters associated with the Mai 68 uprising.

Among the big-hitters present are Chagall

And Fernand Léger.

And the photographer Robert Doisneau.

As well as enjoying the artworks on display, I also really liked the space and how it was being used. It’s a big, cavernous space so it could feel cold and impersonal but I think that they’ve managed to make it fee light and airy instead, and it’s pleasant to roam around in.

I did wonder why there were potted spider plants dotted around the floor space but then I realised that this building suffers from the age-old problem: leaky roof. This is neat way to deal with the water and reduce the frequency with which visitors get dripped on.

This exhibition is on until the end of November so if you’re in Paris, pop over and have a look. It’s free. While you’re in the area, you can also make a visit to the the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestique, the Paris pet cemetery. Have a read of my previous blog post if you want to know about it or, better yet, go and have a look at it.

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*Apparently, Enlarge Your Paris has been banned from Facebook because the ‘naughty step’ algorithm thinks it’s offering ‘male enhancement‘!! Random.

https://tresorsdebanlieues.com/ 

https://www.enlargeyourparis.fr/culture/les-tresors-de-banlieue-reunis-en-un-musee-ephemere-dans-un-ancien-marche-couvert

 

Farewell Dear Friend

October. The spookiest month. The month when the distance between the living and the dead is only a hair’s breadth. The month when spirits walk and we can speak once again with the departed.

It’s also the London Month of the Dead.

At Brompton Cemetery, in the chapel, a range of speakers have been exploring facets of our relationships with death and how these are expressed now and, especially, how they were in the past. One of the talks I’ve been to, ‘Walkies in the Paradise Garden‘ was about pet cemeteries and how we mourn and memorialize the animals with whom we spend our lives. Several years ago I visited the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestique, the pet cemetery of Paris. I began writing a blog post about it but the ‘feels’ got the better of me and I had to abandon it. Prompted by this talk, I decided to make a second attempt but this time I’ve had to swerve feelings and just stick to facts and photos.

Here goes…

A recent study has revealed that many humans actually prefer their pets to their partners*.  I can’t say that I’m surprised by this. I mean, let’s face it, humans are a bit rubbish whereas pets are awesome. Don’t get me wrong; humans do have their uses. We have thumbs, we have contactless payment cards with which we can buy cat food, and some of us can play the drums. We don’t look like this though

Unfortunately, most animals don’t live as long as humans, meaning that with pet ownership comes the acceptance that bereavement is inevitable. We bury our loved-one in the garden and sob quietly to ourselves. However, for Parisians, who are always a bit ‘extra’, this simply will not do.

In a north-western suburb of Paris is one of the world’s oldest purpose-built pet cemeteries, the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestique (originally just Cimetière des Chiens). It opened in 1899 and was designed to have all the trappings, facilities and grandeur of a reasonably smart human cemetery. Before the opening of the cemetery the bodies of deceased domestic animals, even beloved pets, were treated as refuse and disposed of accordingly, but a new law passed in Paris forbade such casual disposal of animal corpses, stipulating that they must be properly buried, away from dwellings. For smart, and well-off, Parisians, the foundation of the cemetery by lawyer, Georges Harmois, and feminist journalist, Marguerite Durand, met the need for suitable facilities.

From the exterior, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between this and a human cemetery. It’s really only when you enter the cemetery that the zoological nature of the memorials becomes apparent. The cemetery was originally called the Cemetery of Dogs, as lap-dogs were favourite pets of the well-off and so were the most common animals buried there.

The saying goes that ‘you can’t take it with you’. This good Boi, Arry, begs to differ.

Some of the dogs, especially, were service animals and/or mascots. Some served during, or just after, the Great War or were the working companions of service men and women.

The cemetery also includes the prominent memorial to Barry, a Saint Bernard dog who worked as a mountain rescue dog in Switzerland and Italy before the Great War, and who was responsible for saving the lives of 40 people trapped in snow in the mountains. When he had rescued the 41st person, Barry was overcome and died, but his fame lives on. Barry isn’t buried here though. His remains are still in Switzerland.

But many other animal-types are represented. Cats feature heavily.

Including the pet lion of Mme Durand herself.

There are also rabbits and other small rodents, birds, turtles and fish

There is even a monkey and a gazelle and a fennel fox!

Perhaps surprisingly, there are also a couple of horses. On the day of my visit, part of the cemetery was blocked off as a new horse grave was being dug. Horse graves are big.

Most of the memorials echo those seen in human cemeteries; headstones, grave-surrounds, plaques and mausolea. But these mausolea differ from their human counterparts in that they represent kennels and cat-baskets.

This one even holds its cats’ favourite cushion and, in true cat style, Plume is laid to rest, sleeping for all eternity on the washing.

I visited on a dull rainy day and spent most of the time there blubbing at the thought of long-lost friends. I really know how to have fun, huh?

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 * http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/majority-of-pet-owners-prefer-animal-company-to-time-with-their-partners-1-7855205 

Cimetiere des Chiens https://decouvrir.asnieres-sur-seine.fr/patrimoine-naturel/le-cimetiere-des-chiens/ 

The view from above

I was having a little look at some of my travel photos recently, ones that I haven’t posted online before and I realized that I am strangely fascinated with what I can see out of the plane window. This is slightly weird because, truth be told, flying actually freaks me out a bit, but I’ve found that focusing on the view of sites and landscapes on the ground, distracts my mind, stopping me thinking about crashing down to my death in a ball of red-hot flames.

Anyway, here are a few views from the cheap (economy) seats.

Syria/Lebanon

Flying over Lebanon, out of Damascus airport, I loved the ripples and curves made by the ranges of hills and mountains in the Bekaa Valley.

Algeria

In Algeria, flying is pretty well a necessity. The country is enormous and the country’s history has left it with a legacy of, frankly, unsafe areas. There are still a few places where kidnapping is a very real possibility, making driving dangerous.

The distance from the Ghardaia region back up to Algiers is over 600km so travelling by road is a bit of a schlep. The flight is an hour and the views are spectacular. The landscape starts as golden desert, peppered with towns north of Ghardaia.

As you get further north, the landscape turns to lush green with lakes and reservoirs.

Flight from Ghardaia to Algiers, Barrage Bouroumi, Mahaizia

Libya

Flying into Tripoli, on the coastal plain were miles of neatly planted olive groves.

The olive trees look very sparsely planted but this is the only way get a good yield of fruit, as the tree roots need space around then.

Iceland

Flying out of Keflavik Airport, Iceland, I flew directly over one of the places where I’d spent much of my time on my first visit.

This is Ásbrú, a former NATO base where the festival ‘ATP Iceland’ was held in 2015. It’s all brightly coloured, crinkly-tin shed, like many of the buildings in Iceland. Simple, functional and not especially decorative.I enjoyed the festival, and I enjoyed Iceland too.

And here’s, not the Blue Lagoon spa, but a similar hot water pool.

The heated water is the outflow from the Reykjanes Power Plant nearby.

France

Flying down to Marseille, I spotted a very exciting looking quarry.

Google maps calls this the Perasso Frederic Paul quarry but I think it’s actually called the Perasso quarry of Saint-Tronc. The Perasso company quarries gravel, concrete and sand from here. http://www.perasso.fr/societe-perasso-marseille/

Germany

Flying into Frankfurt means flying over the extensive forests that surround it. I was struck by the appearance of the motorways immediately adjacent to the airport.

This is where the Bundesautobahn 5 meets Bundesstraße 43 and the Bundesautobahn 3. Not quite Spaghetti Junction, but a striking intersection nonetheless.

London

Living, as I do, in Olde London Towne, I generally fly in and out of London airports, mainly Stansted (because it’s the right side of town for me), Heathrow (because it’s on the tube) and City, (because it’s actually IN London, as opposed to being somewhere in a field in a neighbouring county).

This means that sometimes I get to fly up the Thames. This is absolutely my favourite, even though the approach to City is slightly terrifying. The first time that I was actually aware of this, and actually thought about it properly, was when I was flying back from Damascus. I happened to glance out of the window and thought, “that’s Southend Pier!”. And it was.

Since then, every chance I get, I try to spot cool ‘something-on-Thames’ things.

Here is one of the wind farms in the Thames Estuary

and nearby, the Maunsell Forts at Shivering Sands.

This is not the greatest photo because we were in a raging storm at the time, but this is a cluster of six, originally seven, ‘army’ style WW2 anti-aircraft gun emplacements, situated in the Thames Estuary. The seven individual platforms were originally connected by walkways and were arranged as a cluster of six, housing guns and the seventh housing the searchlight.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to get a bit closer to the forts as The Waverley does a couple of trips each autumn.

Further into town, we fly over some very familiar sights. The Thames Barrier

City Airport

Canary Wharf, the Isle of Dogs, Greenwich and the O2

The London Eye…

…and before I know it, I’m home. 😀

Age-old cities

Paris.

Just a super-speedy flying visit, but it was nice to be there all the same. But the trouble with super-speedy flying visits  is that, no matter how nice they are, they always leave you wanting more. There’s just not enough time to do everything. I mean, I need to get to Musee Cluny to see the new entrance and walkways around the thermes, and for the winter expo,  Naissance De La Sculpture Gothique. There’s also an exhibition at Cité de l’Architecture et du PatrimoineLe Crac des Chevaliers. Chroniques d’un rêve de pierre, examining the architectural and political significance of the Syrian crusader castle, Crac des Chevaliers. But, in the end, the short time that I had just had to be spent at the brilliant Institut du Monde Arabe for the exhibition Age-old cities: Virtual trip from Palmyra to Mosul

The exhibition takes in four ancient and modern cities affected by recent and ongoing conflict, and presents aspects of them as they are, as they were and as they may be in the future. This is not an exhibition of artefacts  but of images. Using photographs, films and photogrammetric survey footage, taken using drones (carried out by UNESCO), we get a view of the cities as they are today. The use of drones, in particular, reveals the significant damage, destruction even, of whole swathes of the urban environment, with deserted, bombed-out buildings apparently teetering on the brink of collapse and the still-inhabited areas thick with dust and debris. As I’ve been to three of the places featured in the exhibition, I’ve added in a few photos of mine, taken on my visits. Some of the other photos,which were taken in the exhibition, are a bit blurry, as they’re of moving images.

Mosul

The exhibition opens with Mosul, a city which I have never visited. On entering the first main exhibition space, I walked into a large-scale panoramic projection of a fly-over of the city as it is now. Now, I’ve seen plenty of drone footage of areas affected by the ongoing conflict but, particularly on a such a large scale, these images of destruction are truly shocking.

Mosul
Mosul

Sitting on the west bank of the Tigris, opposite the Assyrian city of Ninevah, and around 400km north of Baghdad, Mosul has existed as a settlement, at this location or hereabouts, for at least 2500 years (Ninevah is far older). Capture by daesh on 10th June 2014 and only retaken by Iraqi forces, after heavy bombardment, on 21st July 2017, Mosul and Mosulis have suffered terribly as a result of the conflict in Iraq, with women and religious minorities particularly badly affected. The city had been known as relatively diverse, with the Iraqi Sunni Muslim majority sharing the city with Assyrians, Kurds, Turkmens, Shabaks, Yazidis, Armenians and Mandeans. Although many of the city’s Jews left for Israel in the 1950s, there was still a significant Christian population until the arrival of daesh in 2014.

One  of the specific structures zoomed in on was the al-Nuri Mosque. Famous for its leaning minaret (possibly due to the effects of thermal expansion caused by the sun’s heat), the mosque was the focus of pilgrimage and veneration for 850 years. It was the site at which the daesh leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, self-declared the (so-called) “caliphate” and the daesh flag was flown from the minaret. The mosque was destroyed during the Battle of Mosul in 2017, although there is some disagreement over whether it was destroyed by daesh or by the forces liberating the city.

Still from drone footage of the al-Nuri Mosque, Mosul. 

There is really very little left of the mosque, just the ruin of the domed central hall and the stump of the famous minaret. All the rest is rubble.

As part of the film, we witnessed the digital ‘reconstruction’ of the site. These images are built up using recent photographs from all angles, often people’s holiday snaps (I actually sent some photos of a site in Syria for exactly this purpose), which are digitally stitched together to create a 3d image.

Still from drone footage of the digital reconstruction of the al-Nuri Mosque, Mosul. 

Aleppo

Aleppo Citadel. Photo taken 5th November 2009.

Moving on to Aleppo, again drone footage lays bare the scale of destruction. We tak a fly-over, and through, the ancient souks, part of the ‘Ancient City of Aleppo’ World Heritage Site, now severely damaged,

…and up the ramp to the Citadel.

This really brought back memories of my time there, when it looked very different.

Aleppo Citadel. Photo taken on 5th November 2009.

The walls of the Citadel have clearly sustained damage, and it looked like parts of the interior space had too, although I  found it a bit difficult to orient myself in this complex site.

Leptis Magna

Arch of Septimius Severus              

The section on Leptis (Lepcis) Magna was less of  an agony for me. Although there has been some illegal digging and looting at the site, local residents, working in militias, have tried to stave off the worst of the lawlessness, and there hasn’t been the kind of occupation or intensive bombardment that we have seen at the other sites showcased.

The images I saw looked pretty similar to the way that it looked when I was there 10 years ago. The ancient structures are partial and the site is, largely, a ruin, albeit a very impressive one, but there weren’t obvious signs of recent extensive damage. Nevertheless, the fly-through of the macellum (marketplace) and the virtual reconstruction of the Severan Basilica was pretty impressive and provided a little respite before the final key site featured, one which I knew I would find hard to witness.

Palmyra

Temple of Bel, Palmyra. Photo taken 8th November 2009.

When I visited Palmyra, and the modern town Tadmur, in late 2009, it was an impressive, pretty well kept ancient site. The main site itself was open for visitor to wander in and look around and it was possible to wander pretty far, as it’s a very large site.

Some people in my hotel were getting up before dawn to go on a camel ride. I, being less interested in camels, got up at the same time and accompanied them for a little way on foot before heading off into the low hills on my own. These hills are the site of the necropolis of Palmyra and I was fortunate enough to have these evocative tower tombs all to myself in the silent, pink, early morning. *

 

 

Several of these tombs were destroyed and/or damaged by daesh in 2014/15.

One of the other notable instances of willful vandalism was the dynamiting of the Temple of Bel (above) and I found myself feeling particularly sad at the images of the theatre and the Temple of Baalshamin, when I found myself standing, virtually, in the rubble of the building.

This was a building in which I had stood, gazing at the beautiful decorative friezes and the carved columns, and thanking my good fortune at having the opportunity to be there.

Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra. Photo taken 8th November 2009.

Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra. Photo taken 8th November 2009.

But I couldn’t help but think past the structural damage and the willful and shocking destruction of the ancient temples, to the devastation wrought on the people living in the modern Palmyrene town of Tadmur. I couldn’t help thinking about the people murdered by daesh in the theatre, including Palmyra’s Head of Antiquities, Khaled al-Asaad (January 1932 – 18 August 2015). 

Throughout the exhibition there are short films, talking heads and personal accounts of the effects of all of this destruction on the people living in these cities but, particularly as a visitor whose French is a bit shaky, the focus of the exhibition really is on the effects of conflict on the built environment. The images recorded by drones are largely devoid of people, the streets thst I remember as bustling and busy with the usual comings and goings of the city, are eerily empty of life. A notable exception is a short film documenting the filmmaker’s return to Aleppo to speak with the people still living there.

He meets the shopkeeper who, despite being surrounded by the dust and debris of countless explosions, still diligently cleans his stock before putting it on display. And there’s the young woman recording a video message on her phone, to send to her sister, who is not in the city.

The young woman doesn’t say anything of any importance, just chats and reads the news and laughs and hopes that she will still be alive tomorrow.

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The exhibition ‘Cités millénaires Voyage virtuel de Palmyre à Mossoul‘ is on at the Institut du Monde Arabe until 10th February 2019.

For updates on the current situations in these regions, follow: @AinSyria ‏ and @AinIraq

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*I had the tombs all to myself except for the small child who chased after me for about half a mile asking for sweets. I had no sweets with me so I gave him a pen. He seemed satisfied with this alternative. I wonder where he is now, and I hope he’s ok. 

 

 

 


 

Our Lady of Work

On a flying visit to Paris I decided to take in a couple of places that I’ve never been. One of those places is a church in the 14th arrondissement. Paris is full of churches, of course, but this one is a bit different.

Ok, it doesn’t look very different. In fact, it looks pretty conventional. But wait till you see inside.

Ta-da.

It’s not really a stone building at all. It’s steel frame construction with just an outer cladding of stone.

In the mid-19th century, the population of this Paris district grew rapidly, quickly outgrowing the existing church. These were working people, many working in construction, but also many poor Parisians. Taking advantage of the interest in Paris’ 1900 Universal Exhibition, the parish priest, Father Soulange-Bodin, started a subscription to raise funds for a new parish church and the church that was built, L’eglise Notre Dame du Travail, Our Lady of Labour, was consciously designed, by the architect Jules Astruc, to reflect the lives and livelihoods of so many of its parishioners.

Overtly industrial in its design, the nave is built over a steel and iron framework.

This, in a way, reminds me of Tower Bridge. It’s so deceptive. On the outside it’s all stone, traditional, old-fashioned even, but on the inside it’s all modern (for the time) materials and construction techniques. And the modernity of it, the engineering, isn’t covered up or disguised, but displayed and celebrated.

Some of this was reused metalwork, having  previously been used in the construction of the Palais de L’Industrie, which had been built on the Champ de Mars in 1855 for an earlier Universal Exhibition .

Even the artworks inside the church reflect the world work work. Saint Luke, the Evangelist, venerated as a patron saint of artists, physicians, surgeons and butchers; Saint Eloi (Eligius), patron saint of metal-workers and those who work with horses; and Saint Fiacre, the patron saint of gardeners.

The church can be found in the 14th arrondissement in the district of Plaisance (nearest metro: Pernety on L 13.

https://www.notredamedutravail.net/

https://www.facebook.com/NotreDameDuTravail/

Musee de la Romanite, Nimes

I’ve been looking forward to the snazzy new Roman museum in Nimes for as long as I’ve known it was going to be a thing. It opened in early June so on my latest little trip, to Arles, I made a point of heading to Nimes to take a look.
The French rail company SNCF earned my everlasting enmity by cancelling my train, meaning that I arrived in Nimes a full 2 hours later than I should have, so my time was a bit more restricted than I would have liked and I actually ended up having to charge round the last bit in order to get back to the station in time to catch my train back to Arles (of which, more later).

Anyway, here’s the new Musee de la Romanite in all its glory.


I read that the design, by architect Elizabeth de Portzamparc, was, in part inspired by the idea of the fabric of the toga, with ripples and folds of glass panels reflecting the light and the shade, and bringing movement  and interest to what could be a boring, bland glass-box exterior.
From the inside, these panels act as frames for the views,

including the highlight view of Nimes’ 20,000 seat Amphitheatre.

I enjoy the visible engineering on the inside (see also the Institute du Monde Arabe in Paris).

A the entrance, the museum begins with a spiral up to the pre-Roman Gaul collection.

The museum has lots of small-ish spaces and several bigger spaces and I must admit that I found it a little bit confusing trying to work out which space to go into next in order to follow the galleries more or less chronologically.

Maybe it doesn’t really matter, it’s just that I did have a few “where next?” moments, although these might just have been on account of my eagerness to see the things that I was glimpsing through the entrance-ways between the rooms. I can’t say that that spoiled the visit but I did have to hurry at the end when I discovered that I’d missed out a whole gallery! Luckily it was a small gallery so I just about had time to have a look before running off.

There are a few signs that seem to be par for the course with newly opened exhibition spaces. That sense of things being not quite finished in time for the scheduled opening. Some of the labels were clearly temporary.

There may have been the odd balustrade missing. Certainly, a proper rail would be better than ropes here.

Some of the spaces between furniture are too narrow. I saw a man with a pretty normal-sized pushchair unable to get past a bench. There was an alternative way around but I do think that, in a brand new building, either the gap should be wide enough (for a wheelchair actually) or there should be no gap at all and we all just go the other way. TBH, if they just moved the bench, that’s problem solved.

The staircase down to the lower ground floor temporary exhibition gallery is pretty bleak, like those staircases you have to go down when you’re boarding a flight, grey, lifeless, empty. It could do with a few images or something, to liven it up a bit.

But that’s the niggles out of the way and I think that all of these things are just tweaks to be made as the new museum beds in. Now for some of the cool stuff.

The building.

As I said above, I do like the design. It’s modern but not lary or obnoxious. Due to the evil fiends at SNCF, I really didn’t have enough time to investigate all of the spaces; there is a garden somewhere (on the roof?) and the expected cafes and a shop. This isn’t a disaster for me as it gives me more aspects of the museum to discover when I revisit. I will be revisiting.

Models.

Some people apparently think that models in museums are cheesy. I am not one of those people. There were models of the landscape, of the city, of individual structures, of types of artefacts.
I like this landscape model onto which the development of the city and its changing layout are projected. It’s not a complicated idea but it really helps to see the Roman city in its landscape context.

Interactive stuff 😀

Museums are, inevitably, full of stuff that must not be touched, but I’m fond of museums that also incorporate some stuff that you can touch to your heart’s delight.
Best one? For me, unsurprisingly, Roman games 😀😀

Click the link and you can see me winning with walnuts.
The Nut Game

Films 😀

The museum has a range of films about aspects of the collection and about the conservation of particular objects. My favourite was the one about quarrying 😀, which demonstrated how Roman quarrymen (often slave or convict labour) removed blocks of stone from the quarry face using hand tools and wedges.

Context. 😀

There’s a definite emphasis on placing objects and architectural elements into their proper contexts. Where did they come from? Where were they found? Which buildings are they associated with? How were they used? The models and films really help with this, moving the artefacts from being just stuff in display cases to actually being part of everyday life in the Roman town.

Despite being big and expensive-looking, the Musee de la Romanite feels like a local museum. I got the impression that quite a few of the visitors were locals, as I kept hearing exclamations of recognition from people looking at artefacts, particularly in relation to key local landmarks like Maison Carrée and the Temple of Diana. People did seem genuinely interested. There were a lot of people watching that quarrying film, maybe, in part, because it related directly to the restoration of the Maison Carrée.

What else? Oh yeah, artefacts 😀

This post is getting too long so you’ll have to wait until the next one for the artefacts but I’ll just whet your appetite with a few. Suffice it to say that the museum takes in a wide range of object types; building material; pottery; metalwork; statues; glassware; mosaics; the lot.

Yasss 😀

So, yeah, SNCF.

Having charged round the last bits of the museum and, literally, run to the station, I found that my train back to Arles was delayed by an hour.

*shakes fist and calls down the curses of the gods*.

museedelaromanite.fr 

Rome with a Vieux

It was the Easter holidays and I had a few days off work so I decided to take myself off for a short trip to France. Staying in Caen for a couple of days gave me an opportunity to visit the nearby site of Vieux La Romaine.

According to the Tabula Peutingeriana, the Romans knew this site as Aregenua and it was the capital of the Viducasses tribe.

My journey to the site will be familiar to anyone who has ever had to try to travel in rural France, or rural anywhere for that matter, without a car, and started with a bus that had to be booked in advance. Thank goodness that they had an online booking system for that, as my French really isn’t up to telephone conversations. In my mind’s eye I see those poor French people wincing when they hear me murdering their beautiful language with my gawd-blimey norf-Laandaan accent.

Anyway, the bus from Caen took me to the village of Esquay-Notre-Dame, which is about 2 miles from Vieux, where the Roman site is, then I walked. This is fine, it’s only 2 miles. However, on the day of my visit, the rains fell… and fell… and fell, meaning that I arrived at the museum a little soggy.

No matter. The site more than made up for the weather.

As well as the museum, the viewable site consists of a section of the forum, which is currently under excavation;

‘Ma Maison a La Cour an “u” ‘ (the house with the U-shaped courtyard),

and ‘La Maison au Grand Perisyle’ (the grand peristyle house);

Unsurprisingly, I spent quite a bit of the time in the museum, which tells the story of the town of Aregenua and the people who lived there. Aregenua was sited at a crossroads of Roman routes so it provided an important staging post and, although it wasn’t particularly big and was never walled, the town had all the usual amenities; temples, baths, forum, and aqueduct.

We can see some fragments of the buildings, and the elements on display include these columns, probably from a temple, which are intricately decorated with Bacchic scenes, and the tendrils and foliage of plants.

There are some very nice fragments of painted wall plaster.

Statues, mostly fragmentary, including the titular goddess of the town.

  

and other fragmentary pieces, some statuary, some sculptural.

One interesting thing about the museum is the lengths that they have gone to to encourage touching.

Not touching everything, obviously, but certain objects actually have ‘please touch’ signs to encourage a more tactile visit than is often the case with museums.

As it was clear that many school groups visit the site (I saw about 4 different groups in the time that I was there), catering to the desire to interact very directly with objects seemed like a good way to go.

So, here are a few favourite objects on display…

I also really liked the Roman key exhibit. It included the usual case full of Roman keys in all shapes and sizes, but it can sometimes be hard, when looking at keys as inanimate objects, to work out how they actually worked, so there’s a model to try out. Which I did.

Click here to see how the replica Roman key and lock work.

There is a whole display of Roman gaming equipment, including a, fragmentary, gaming board and a type-2 die with rather fancy pips.

And there is a whole case devoted to bone-working. The Romans used animal bone to make a wide range of objects, from dice to combs, hairpins to knife handles. This case actually contains unfinished pieces and the offcuts and detritus left behind when things are carved out of animal bone. This is about the process rather than the finished articles.

But here are a couple of the finished pieces, knives with carved bone handles.

Roman knives with carved bone handles.

And I particularly liked this:

This is archaeological stratigraphy explained, and it’s an attempt to show how jumbled up and confusing archaeology in the ground can be. There are all sorts of different phases of building and land use, walls, floors, demolition and collapse, burials, later features cutting through earlier ones. I think that it’s great that the curators at the museum have actually gone to some lengths to explain how tricky archaeology can be to unpick and how archaeologists working on-site, and in the labs, work out what the remains are telling us about the site and its people.

  

 

I spent ages in the museum and at the sites outside, and had a little play with the ‘Roman’ games near the grand peristyle house.

Then, with another pre-booked bus to catch back to Caen, I set off, still in the rain, back to Esquay-Notre-Dame. A good, if soggy and a bit muddy, day out.

More info here:

Vieux la Romaine – http://www.vieuxlaromaine.fr/accueil.html

Perseus Tufts – vieux la romanie

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:id=aregenua