the adventure continues

December 2008: Graduated from university January 2009: started getting sick December 2009: worked on beating cancer January 2010: TBA

My Photo
Location: Seattle, WA, United States

newly minted alumnus of the Art Department at the University of Idaho; BFA in studio art, with a history minor


And now, the end is near

Today is essentially a free day. I slept in until noon, poked around my room looking for my keys, and went to lunch. Since I got up late, I was over due for making my daily appearance at the cafe to order a croque mssr. in garbled French.

Hey, I try, and maybe the waitress thinks it's funny. I've spent the last two hours here in the cool darkness of the internet cafe catching up on world news and web comics. Tomorrow I get on a plane in the afternoon and land in Rome in time for dinner. Hopefully the Mediterranean will ease up on the heat and let me enjoy the middle region of 'the boot' in peace (I doubt it, but I don't really go in for pessimism).

I'm looking forward to seeing the Forum, St. Peter's, and Pompeii. Of course there'll be a few other tours and a visit to the Cistine Chapel so we can goggle at Mikey's genius, too. While that is all well and good, I am really looking forward to getting back to Washington and spending a couple days sleeping and perhaps putting some time into a few mindless video games. My brain has been on overdrive with all the museums, castle excavating, and social interaction over the last month.

There are many more stories to tell about this trip, unfortunately, I don't have the time/energy/money to go into all of them here. When I get back in the States, drop me a line and we'll have coffee or something.

Be seeing you :)


for Your eyes..

Malice in the Trenches

*This post was written two days ago, and not published due to "end of the dig festivities"

It was upper 80s to 90s at the site today; the tension is high as it comes down to the last few days of work.

Some of the crew have exhibited advanced symptoms of “trench fever,” which affects the humor centers of the brain-- giggling, non-sequiturs, and nervous twitching are indicative. Most of us are ready to quit digging and go home for a couple of months of rest until school starts (or a couple of weeks, as in my case). While the team spirit is still with us, it has been dampened: everyone on this adventure is “a character” and some are more or less compatible with others. This is mostly funny, but it is wearing off and becoming more obnoxious.

If my wrists don’t decide to curl up and die tonight, I think I can survive another three days. Too much crouching in a small hole looking for the bottom of a wall built in the 1300s is taking it’s toll on my corporal self. We struck the tents today, after a grueling race to finish excavating the deeper sectors in search of foundations, artifacts, and anything out of the ordinary (like that pile of hardened clay under the cobbles in the southeast corner of Area II...).

Jamie was ill the last two days, but came back and brought her laptop to play some music. Malice Mizer’s “Illuminati” was a featured tune, since Dr. Young’s hypothesis of conspiracies and triangle shaped rocks has gotten much air time in the last few weeks.



Cobbles form a courtyard, cannon in the wall.
Caltrop, rifle shot, grenade and naught at all.
Tile in the turf under rock and under worm.
Pot sherds without worth, and key without lock to turn.
Searching through mud, hauling off the Earth.
Hunting for artifacts; all we find is dirt.


Meet the Crew

The other Palace...

I spent Friday in Louvain La Neuve, wandering around streets I had not been down yet, and generally playing it easy. That night was orientation for Saturday-- brushing up on French and reading up on the sites of Brussels: Rick Steves is my travel god.

Going into Brussels was really easy with the train, and the weather was cool and overcast-- which I was pleased with. Then it started raining, and by the time I got out of the Central Station in downtown it had become a deluge. Fortunately I had packed my rain jacket :) Since I had spent a couple hours going over the maps the night before, I found the Royal Art Museum in no time.

You can tell I am excited to be here, no?

My luck and good timing continue to pay off: the museum is holding an exhibition about Siegfried Bing & Art Nouveau! Bing was an importer in the 19th century who helped spread an interest in Oriental arts and crafts. Many famous artists were at least aware of him-- many more shopped at his outlets throughout Europe. This exhibition included items from Bing’s personal collection as well as objects produced by Henry Van Der Velde, L. C. Tiffany, Vincent Van Gogh, and more.

But that’s not all: this is a big museum, and therefore it has more cool stuff than you can shake a stick at-- For instance, I wasn’t really paying attention to the floor plan the ticket lady handed me-- I just wandered around following the color coded signs to find different eras of art.

Passing through the 20th century collection I spotted something out of the corner of my eye-- it was Magritte! As I walked around the corner and headed towards the far wall to get a better look at “The Empire of Light,” something pulled at my peripheral vision. I spun around and nearly fell over-- caught off-gaurd by Dali’s “Temptation of Saint Antoine."

But wait! Over there! It’s a Delvaux-- and across from it something by Joan Miro-- and on the other side of the wall? Braque and Picasso chilling next to a Kokoschka within spitting distance of works by Picabia, Ensor, Seurat, Khnopff... etc.

After blowing most of my days budget on postcards, I leave the building-- only to be caught off-gaurd again. This time it’s the weather-- when I got to the Museum I thought we might have to start sandbagging soon, but now it's sunny and clear with a temperature moving towards 30 degrees C.

Following Rick’s advice, I find my way down the hill from the museum and start noticing signs for “le mannequin pis.” If you haven’t heard of this statue, I forgive you. It’s basically a diminutive toddler standing on top of a fountain, into which it pees for eternity. Supposedly it was installed in the 16th or 17th century and has become a sort of mascot for Brussels-- representing the good life the citizens lead; eating, drinking, drinking some more, and taking a leak. I watched it do its business for a minute, and then headed off down the street leaving the Japanese tourists to do all the photo-documentation of this amazing phenomenon...

Grabbing a sandwich at a sidewalk bistro, I headed up the narrow Rue des Bouchers-- past a couple dozen restaurants and bumped into the Galleries Royales St. Hubert. The worlds oldest shopping mall, built in 1847 out of wrought iron and glass, and easily more beautiful than any mall I’ve ever been to in America (face it, we just don’t really know what “good taste” is :)

Though I did stop off at St. Mike’s cathedral-- where the Belgian Royalty are “married and buried” (thanks again, Rick), I’ve seen a few dozen cathedrals already. But the Belgian Comic Strip Centre on the other hand...

Well, OK, it was really hot and I couldn’t concentrate enough to decipher the speech bubbles-- but it was very interesting (read: right up my alley). With informative displays on the technicalities of producing comics (from doodles and scripts through printing and marketing), and not to mention original art from some of the most famous names in European comics. Did I mention the Centre is housed in an old warehouse building, designed by Victor Horta-- one of the leading figures in Art Nouveau design? My day just keeps getting better!

I arrived back in Louvain La Neuve just in time for dinner, which I followed with chocolate-- and more chocolate (I hit up the Leonidas outlet for quarter kilo of ganache and pralines). I figured I’d go back to the flat and hang out with a book (and chocolate)-- but when I got up to the rooftop terrace, I ran into Dr. Young. He is a very chatty person, and we started to discuss the weekend’s traveling, but then a storm blew up. We’re talking major Belgian thunder here. I stuck it out on the roof for a while and got soaked watching the clouds boil across the sky and shoot lightning bolts at each other. After a while I decided I’d go hang out with a few of my fellow students who had recently returned from their weekend adventures-- and eat some more truffles...


From Afar



I've got a copy of the article; and for discerning eyes-- that is me crouching in the background with a tape measure.


Paris dans l’ete...

C’est un mal voyage. It was not horrible in any major fashion, but off-putting overall-- I can now recommend from experience NOT to go to Paris in summer time. There are too many people-- particularly tourists; there is too much to see in a weekend (much less an afternoon); and it is too hot out-- you will sweat like a pig in lines, climbing stairs, and just staring dumbly at the stunning array of things happening around you.

That said-- I did enjoy seeing some of the famous sights again, and some of the others for the first time. We drove through the Champs Elysee several times, passed the Louvre, le Jardin de Tullieres, and the Place de la Concorde. There was also a boat trip on the Seine, which afforded nice views but was very warm and lacked refreshments. Notre Dame looked stunning in the sunlight-- the renovations and restorations of 7 years ago having finished well. I got to climb up the hill of Monmartre and visit the Sacre Couer, which was on my “list of things to do in Paris.” It has been moved to the “list of things I’ve done in Paris,” and I will be accepting suggestions for a replacement activity for the former queu.

Field Trip III

The Abbey of Villiers

This Cistercian abbey was founded many hundreds of years ago, after a schism off the older Benedictine Order. Ultimately the Cistercians were undermined by the same problems that had lead them to split from the Benedictines-- While both may start out as hard working, impoverished monks-- they tend to accumulate a huge amount of wealth after a few generations. Then the problem is: what do we do with all these riches?

Sometimes the answer is “be rich and powerful,” and in this case, the abbey was eventually consumed and is now one of the most magnificent ruins of it’s kind. There is still a working vinyard on the property, and the site is host to annual summer theatre productions. If you like ruins, theatre, or great tours-- I suggest spending a day exploring this place and then kicking back at the pub across the street with a pint of Old Villier’s-- named for the abbey (possibly hearkening back to old monastic recipes), which comes in amber, dark and blonde.

PS: I just watched "Kingdom of Heaven" last night-- a film about the fall of Crusader Jerusalem circa 1185 AD. Generally I am not as interested in the "Holy Land" as I am in northern Europe, but it is set in roughly the same period that Walhain was constructed. The overall tone was melancholic and cynical, the Knights Templar were depicted as bloodthirsty jerks, and the Muslim commander and his army were the most civilized fighting force on the field. If there is a religious message, it is a tolerant one: niether side was passed off as being better, or more "right," than the other-- and I can't help but cheer for that.


I’ll have the special...

I may have mentioned that this is an archeological excavation, and that there is some digging involved in the process. It is not all like the movies-- we don’t get bull-whips and fedoras-- and we don’t get chased by Nazi’s, sword-carrying Arabs, or giant boulders in tunnels. We do get a lot of dirt. By a lot, I mean it gets measured in tonnes and meters cubed.

For the last two weeks we have been removing the primary layer of rubbish that is sitting on top of the interesting stuff. As far as “artifacts” go-- we’ve found broken glass, pottery, and rusty metal bits (nails and wire from the old slate roofs).

If we do find anything interesting, we record it as a “special find”-- a term which is unique to this project by most accounts (no “real” archeologist uses the term). To date we’ve found one coin, pieces of a mug with relief on the sides, and a rusty key which all number among the more interesting discoveries.

In the meantime, we entertain each other with anecdotes and bad jokes. Sometimes we listen to music off of someone’s computer-- or we sing. We are also developing our own fairy tale kingdom-- I’ve become a powerful archbishop/duke in the world of “trench fantasies” where I have risen from a mere monk to aid in the rise and fall of various noble houses, fight against heathens, and build fabulous cathedrals!


I want a pony!

There are ponies pastured in what used to be the moat of Walhain

Here is Heather walking past a fish graffitti after lunch in Tournai

This box is a +20 Masterwork "Chest of Safekeeping" for all of your treasure hoarding needs.

and behind door #... No, wait-- there's more than one door here!

Of course the blog wouldn't be complete without a gratuitous shot of me infront of some random hedge with flags-- in Europe :D


Field Trip II

...or: Belgian Chocolate is Better Fresh

We took the train to Brussels early Sunday morning and met up with a tour group to take a bus to the city of Brugges (find a Frenchman for the pronunciation... I’m not going to try to describe that one). We had a bit of down time near the central plaza of Brussels, but it was very tourist-y and full of people and souvenir shops. I despise touristy-souvenirs; especially the little “aged-finish” metal objects such as bells, spoons, clocks, pencil sharpeners, and especially copies of “le mannequin pis.”

The bus ride was quite nice-- much better than a Greyhound or charter bus in the states. Our guide was an older man named Jose, who looked vaguely like “Lyman Zerga” from the movie “Ocean’s Eleven.” His voice was deep and often switched languages mid-spiel. This was entertaining, but not nearly as much as the boat-tour-guide who was a Brit. _He_ could’ve been a stand-in for Michael Palin, with a sharp wit and heavy accent. While Jose explained some of the basic history of the town, “Mike” filled us in on trivia about canals, bridges, buildings, nuns, the Dutch, and much more. Actually, both men are quite talented-- I heard each of them using at least three different languages in a proficient manner, and I’m sure they know a few words in at least three more tongues.

After an hour and a half of being taken around by our various guides, there was “free time.” Most of my group had already departed to sample the delights of Brugges some time before, but a couple of us hung around and then headed down a side street from the main square to find cheaper food and more local shops. By coincidence we stumbled upon a small chocolate store and bought a couple of kilos of really good hand-made chocolate. The good news is: the chocolate is tasty. The bad news is: it doesn’t travel well, and I won’t be able to bring much with me. My suggestion for anyone interested in chocolate is to give me a call or email me and start planning another trip for next summer or fall. Seriously, it’s worth it.

The vagabonds

A few of the people who left the tour early never got back to the bus-- considering who it was, it wasn’t much of a surprise for our field supervisor- who arranged the tour. Remarkably, they arrived back at “home” only half an hour after us, having decided to jump on a train back to Brussels shortly after the bus had left. In America, someone would’ve had to go fetch them in a Hummer or something-- no public transportation for the wicked.

All this transpired on the same day that the FIFA World Cup was scheduled to be played. What does this mean? A lot of Italian and French flag waving, face-painting, drinking, shouting, and obsession. Apparently, Italy was the favored team of many people in Louvain-la-Nueve-- since they’re none to fond of France. I did not cheer for Italy, however, because I have heard there is some question as to their sportsmanship and possible shady dealings. Vive la France!

None of that international rivalry stuff stopped us from having a party anyhow-- there is a terrace on the roof of our building which is really pleasant in the evening. I finally deemed myself fit for a few sips of ‘vin blanc’ and we also enjoyed the company of our professor, Dr. Young, who came up and chatted for a while.


Field trip!

Tournai & Ename

In the 1st century AD there arose a Roman settlement called Turnacum at the site of a crossroads along an important river in western Belgium. Over the centuries, the town has been rebuilt by Merovingians, Carolingians, French, English, French, Spain, Austria, and Germany (on a technicality). There is a wonderful cathedral, numerous smaller churches, hundreds of graves, thousands of houses, and many other sights. We were taken to see the civic bell tower (built by rich merchants to indicate their equal standing with the powerful local Bishopric), as well as the cathedral (which is being excavated and renovated due to it’s siting on ancient ruins and weak foundations).

Here is an image of myself, caught in the act of impersonating a gargoyle at the top of the belfry.

Tournai's claim to Fame: King Childeric (of the Franks) was buried there.

After a luncheon at a very fine local establishment in Tournai we went to the town of Ename. It is famous for a local cheese, and is the site of ancient fortifications, a later monastery, and one of the more eccentric medieval churches in North Europe. The cheese is good, the fort and house of monks are gone, and the church has been recently excavated and renovated-- now to be seen in most of its “year 1000” charm, albeit more Byzantine than Romanesque, which is the local norm (thats the odd bit; a local lord was trying to impress the Holy Roman Emperor, and built it with artisans from Istanbul).


The Town, the Castle, the Digging

The Town

A little bit about the town of Louvain La Neuve: It is home to the _French_ half of a university founded in Leuven (25km to the north) circa 1425. Around 1970 it was decided to cut the two cultural-language groups of the faculty in half and move the French portion to a new location. Normally, when in Europe, there are few “new” locations to move to-- every town has a history that goes back hundreds of years. This is not the case with LLN, which was the first new “town” to be founded in Belgium since the late renaissance. It rose from fields around 2-3 farms near the towns of Ottignies and Wavre, not far from the historically significant town of Waterloo... no, I haven’t been there... yet.

The group of students participating in this dig promised to be an eclectic bunch from the beginning-- we come from all parts of the US. Little did we know how well we would get along and how much fun we have merely riding to work or going to dinner. We are almost equal parts hip, intelligent, sophisticated, down to earth, dorky, maniacal, and all around awesome. I won’t go into a detailed who’s who, suffice to say that there will be no boring moments with this cadre around.

The Castle

Around 1150, a lord named Arnould I began fortifying the site of the castle at Walhain-St-Paul. His descendants continued to work on the project (Arnould’s II-IV), but eventually sold out to the Lord of Glimes (another local noble). The castle saw a few remodels over the next few centuries under a bevy of new owners, but it remained a rural fortification and it’s town never expanded. Compare with the nearby town of Ath where a castle built by the same guy (in the middle of a swamp, no less) became the center of a city that expanded so rapidly that city walls were rebuilt larger several times in the space of 100 years. Our castle is very much a side-note to remind other people who controlled the region. There were never any military actions at the site, and there is no “treasure” to be found either. However, it is an excellent place to learn how to perform an archeological excavation-- with many layers of detritus, structural remains, small objects, etc.

The digging

In the past week we have cleared away the dirt and “destruction” from the cobbles that covered the courtyard in the 16th century. I have found many rusted nails, bits of old pottery that will never see their whole shape again, crushed slate and brick from fallen buildings, and a Coke bottle in an old drain.

I have to warn you: the slate is sharp, the only coin I’ve seen was dated “1956”, and we recently ran into mystery structures in one trench which make no sense to the experts; even me-- and I’ve been poring over plans for medieval castles for more than 10 years now! O.o


Getting there; Germany; Getting there, again

Getting there

Crossing the US is not a difficult task, in my experience-- until now. Flying standby took much longer than flying ticketed all the way. Essentially, I spent a lot of time in Salt Lake-- when I finally got on a flight to Atlanta the thunder storms I had been watching on the weather report in SLC caused us to reroute through Knoxville for fuel. Eventually I did get to Germany-- it took longer than I expected, but I was lucky and got to fly in first class over the Atlantic (the service is good, the chairs are waaaaay cushier, but the food is still crap). And there was thunder...


By coincidence my good friends in Germany live in the region where some of my ancestors hailed from. The countryside was charming, the towns are seldom more than 5 km from each other, and their are numerous hamlets with picturesque thatched cottages. My hosts treated me to several trips to larger towns in the vicinity, culminating in a trip as far as Flensburg on the Danish border. At the conclusion of which we drove by the small village of Krummenort where rumor has it my ‘Harders’ originated from.

Getting there, again

Hamburg to Brussels (or is it Bruxxelles?) is an easy flight, made easier by the in flight service and a crazy Dutchman for your flight deck commander (you could tell by the accent and the humor-- had to be from Holland). Here is a warning for international travelers in the Brussels Airport-- don’t use credit card pay phones unless it’s an emergency: they cost ALOT.

Getting out of the Airport was very easy, they have a train station in the basement that will take you into the city, and from there to anywhere-- albeit with time. It took a couple hours to get out to Louvain-La-Neuve, but the conductors were nice and wear fun hats (think Foreign Legion, but in blue and red-- without the back-flap).


But Dr. Jones...

I am now on the ground in Belgium: It is very warm (unseasonably, for the locals) but about avg. for Tri-cities (read 80s-90s). Europe has problems with technology-- namely, their keyboards are laid out oddly, and even greater-- their internet is not nearly as good as ours (very inaccessible, and/or for a price). I have finally got my machine connected and decided I had better get cracking on this blogging business.

The castle is very picturesque-- but I haven't taken pictures yet. It is VERY dirty work. We are excavating in two trenches on the northwest wall on the inside of the castle (in the bailey). There is a big tower (donjon) which is mostly intact, and three smaller towers on the wall that are more decayed. The northeast wall is pretty much gone, as well as the gate and its two towers. Most of the smooth stones that clad all the walls have been removed, so the exposed rocks are very jagged, and prone to falling.

So far the work is mostly uncovering the cobbles of the courtyard and locating walls of collapsed buildings near the outer walls. There is alot of dirt and dust but it is rewarading to be able to see the rocks that no one else has seen for decades or centuries :)