Monday, June 7, 2010

T-minus one week till Dave and Sandy will be winging their way to the land of good food (oh, yeah, and some research on ancient Roman wine) for five weeks. Already I'm so psyched that twice in the last two weeks I've awakened for my usual 2:35am pee and, in that twilight of semiconsciousness as I'm drifting back to sleep, I've begun thinking about the big event and become so excited that I literally can't get back to sleep.  Both times I've finally succumbed about 4:30am...and then the blasted alarm rings at the usual 5:04. Just a wee bit hyper about the whole deal.

This all started last summer, I should explain, when I gave a talk at the archaeological museum in Paestum, near Salerno, on ancient fermentation. The talk was well attended by an assortment of local foodies, food purveyors, and interested academics (some of whom are also foodies and/or food purveyors. It's true! There are places in the world where food is considered a legitimate subject for academic research and even an important element of culture!) and, despite my bad Italian the audience was receptive and a great discussion ensued afterwards, moderated by my friend Elisa Lanza, some of which I actually understood. Afterwards the organizers of the talk were nice enough to take me to a local restaurant and wine and dine me with some of the modern analogues of the bread, wine, cheese and sausage which were the main topics of my talk. I had mentioned in the course of the talk that my current scholarly effort was a book on ancient Roman wine.

Afterwards as we were waiting for the check to be paid, my dear friend Fernando LaGreca asked about my plans for the next (i.e., this) summer and I said that I really had to return to southern Italy to see some of the indispensable archaeology for the book, but that since I didn't have a university affiliation and therefore had little chance of finding grant money to finance it, I was going to have to find more creative ways to make the trip work. I mentioned a house swap with an Italian academic--our house is within 25 minutes of three world-class research universities--and Fernando interjected, "Dave, wait just a minute until Fabio returns." Fabio is Fabio Astone, a grad student in archaeology at the University of Salerno and a protegé of Ferndando, who is a senior professor there. When Fabio returned, Fernando and Elisa reiterated our discussion and Fabio said, "But, Dave, I have an apartment in Agropoli which I don't often use and you are welcome to stay there as long as you like next summer!"
After I picked my lower mandible up off the terazza, I thought surely I was the victim of wishful thinking and more bad Italian on my part, but this wonderful young man was absolutely sincere. I should explain that Fabio, in addition to his pure academic interest in the Etruscan presence in southern Italy, is also quite involved with what is now called archaeotourism, that is, recreating elements of ancient culture (including foodstuffs) to make the experience of such places as Pompeii even more immediate for tourists. Much more about this later, but as an example, Fernando and Fabio had recreated a so-called Lucanian sausauge, what we in America would call a pepperoni, after an ancient recipe from the famous Roman gourmand and cookbook author, Apicius. I should mention that Fernando has done extensive research on the Lucanian (what hasn't Fernando researched?). The sausage was delicious, by the way. In addition to being keenly intelligent, Fabio is also extremely good looking and single, ladies, so I highly recommend a trip to the Bay of Salerno if you're interested.

Fabio's hometown is a beautiful little town called Agropoli at the southern end of the Bay of Salerno and at the entrance to a mountainous area called the Cilento which is famous for its rugged beauty. It is also about an hour from the Bay of Naples and therefore from Pompeii, Stabia Oplontis, Torre Anunziata and many of those other ancient towns buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79, as well as being a skip and hop from the A-3 autostrada, the main north-south interstate in southern Italy which connects with all others, either directly or indirectly. The upshot is that we will be within easy range of an almost unlimited number of sites of interest for my research, as well as living in a gorgeous little town perched on a cliff overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Geez, maybe I shouldn't have posted this. I feel another sleepless night coming on. But it will be a very, very good sleepless.

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