Sunday, March 29, 2009

House Stories: Flipping the Grandparents' House

House Stories is a collection of personal narratives, a teaching experiment in History of Domestic Architecture (Wesleyan ARTS 637). See Introduction, and Table of Contents.


By Matt Strekel

Growing up, there was nothing remarkable about my grandparent’s house in Colchester, CT. They had moved there in 1981 just before I was born from South Windsor, CT. It was a simple house. A raised ranch, built in the late 1970’s, with plans and materials from a Sears store. Mint green vinyl siding clad the house, white vinyl faux-shutters on either side of each window. Nothing, I promise, remarkable about it. The house sits on a little less than four acres, set back far from route 16. My grandmother was passionate about birds and other wildlife. Heading down the driveway always meant seeing deer, fox, and many birds. There were purple martin birdhouses in the front yard, a bat house, and around the back, more birdfeeders and suet cages than you could count.

The inside of the house was certainly remarkable, but not in a good way. My grandparents had owned a travel agency in Colchester after their retirement, and they had traveled all over the world. As part of their travels, my grandmother would bring home wallpaper from Japan and Egypt, and fabric from Panama and Chile. Each wall in the entire house was covered in a different pattern, but brought together through a common color. My grandfather laid the carpet by himself, which means that the floors creaked, and little padding was left between the thin carpet and plywood floor.
My grandmother passed away on April 4, 2004 at 4:04 a.m. (should would have really gotten a thrill about passing away at a date and time that was all 4’s). My grandfather lived for a few years without her, but despite his tough exterior, was very sad and alone without her. Nearly seventy years of marriage is hard to just forget about, and it was hard for him to begin living on his own.

On a Sunday in August 2007, my brother, uncle, and I went to take my grandfather to lunch. It had become a ritual to take him to, what for him, was an early dinner once a month. When my brother and I arrived, my uncle was in the garden, picking through cucumbers and tomatoes that were ripe. The door to the house was locked, which we assumed meant that gramps was in the shower. Not unusual for him to lock the front door until he was ready to go. After about half an hour in the garden, and no sign of my grandfather, we entered the house through the garage and up through the basement. My brother walked up the stairs first, and upon reaching the top, found my grandfather dead on the kitchen floor. He had passed away while washing the dishes, sponge still in hand. I tell you this story not because of my grandparents or to relive fond memories, but about what role that house played for me after his death.

At the same time that we were dealing with his death, I was going through my own tribulation. I was divorcing from my ex-wife, and the opportunity presented itself to move in to my grandparent’s home to “flip it” before we sold it as part of his estate. I had extensive experience flipping entire homes in the Boston area, and it seemed to be a great time to do it. My grandfather was a tough and hard man, and there were few times when his true emotions for both his sons and his grandsons would show through. But we knew that he loved us. Flipping this home was my way of honoring his memory and doing the best that I could to make him proud. One last tribute I suppose.

About twenty-five years in the same house meant that they had accumulated lots of possessions. I was responsible for going through everything that had belonged to them. It should also be noted that I was not yet working at Wesleyan, and flipping this house was my full-time job. I spent a month, full time, going through their life. Slowly but surely things went in to boxes, off with relatives, or in to the basement to be sold at an estate sale. After moving their life in to boxes and selling it off, it was time to start on the house. Peeling wallpaper that had traveled halfway around the world and then painting the walls. For me, it was a job. For them, it was a memory whenever they looked at those God-awful patterns. As I spent nearly 16 hours a day, 6 days a week working on this house, there was lots of time for me to think about them. About growing up with them, spending nights in that house when my parents were away, dinners, Christmas Eve’s, and more. I have always believed that there is little use in associating a person or a memory with a physical object, and that the memory of that person is inside you, not the thing. For me, it was my way of saying goodbye, saying I loved them, and saying that they were wonderful people by fixing up this house. Room by room, I tore off wallpaper, painted, pulled up carpet, laid new carpet, replaced light fixtures and electrical outlets, installed tile and new plumbing, hung new cabinets, and brought in new appliances.

This house was more than a piece of real estate. It was part of my family, held many memories, and was my quiet way of honoring my grandparents. Shortly after finishing my work in the house, I started working at Wesleyan. I lived there for a while after I started working at Wes, while the house was on the market. We sold the house in an awful market; for $80,000 more than had we not flipped the house. I have no doubt that my grandparents were with me the entire time, checking in on my work, encouraging me, and making sure that I was safe and that we got the best price for their home. It was not always easy, but for me now and always, there will be something remarkable about that house.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

PaK and Sol: Greek Hip Hop Revolution

From a young age, my godson Patroklos showed proclivities towards rap and hip hop. But nothing has prepared me for the release of a masterful full-length CD released a few days ago with his partner in hip hop Solmeister. The LP is called Απ' την καλή και απ' την ανάποδη (From the Good Side and the Bad Side) and was produced by DJALX at 396 μοίρες/Rainlab Studios in Athens. It can be downloaded here. This is a tremendous accomplishment from a 14-year old.

Half of the songs are written by Sol, and have a romantic bend. The other half, written by PaK, present a sobering portrait of contemporary Greek life, full of honesty, nostalgia and anger. Hip hop truly has no national boundaries. Although influenced by American sources, the songs are written in Greek, present distinctive Greek realities, but they also represent the pains of migration. PaK has recently moved to Germany experiencing the contradictions of personal geography and history at an early age. His relationship to the Greek hip hop scene are mitigated by a new distance.

I have only started to listen to the album and I'll refrain from individual comments. In future postings, I hope to provide some aid (esp. for the non-Greek speakers) on a song-by-song basis. For earlier work, see Sol's and Pak's ΑΠΑΧΑ ΓΙΑΟΥΡΤΙΑ (Nonfat Yogurts) here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

From Town to Country: The Archaeology of Modern Greek Landscapes

There are two colloquia that I have been working on this year. Since I have already posted the details of the first one, First Out: Late Levels at Early Sites, I should also post details for the second, co-organized with Effie Athanassopoulos. The Modern Greek Studies Association (MGSA) conference, which takes places every two years, will be held in Vancouver, British Columbia. I have never attended the MGSA meetings, and this is the first time the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology in Greece AIA Interest Group has submitted a panel. On March 21, we learned that our panel was accepted. Congratulations to all the wonderful contributors and their papers.

Modern Greek Studies Association Annual Symposium 2009

October 15-17, Vancouver, Canada

From Town to Country: The Archaeology of Modern Greek Landscapes

Organizers: Kostis Kourelis (Connecticut College) & Effie Athanassopoulos (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Respondent: Susan Buck Sutton (Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis)

Since the birth of the nation-state, the identity of Modern Greece has been defined by its relationship to antiquity. The discipline of archaeology has, thus, played a central role in the construction of Greece, but only in so far as it concerns ancient periods (archaia). For Greece, the archaeology of the recent past is an etymological contradiction. Material culture dating to after 1850 is considered non-archaeological; it can be exported and traded freely. Archaeological studies on 19th- and 20th-century Greece are greatly lacking, leaving a huge disciplinary gap with Historical Archaeology, a discipline that flourishes in the United States.

This panel brings together recent work applying archaeological perspectives to the material culture of Modern Greece spanning a spectrum of ecological milieus from the metropolis, to the small town, the village, the monastery and the rural landscape. The theme that connects the individual papers is that of “landscape” approached through the lens of archaeology. Landscape as a concept refers to the external world mediated through subjective human experience. In archaeology, approaches to landscape have changed drastically over time, from economic and ecological perspectives of the 1960s to more recent post-modern views that focus on the social and symbolic construction of landscapes. In Greece, the field of landscape archaeology has grown out of the tradition of archaeological regional surveys, introduced by American scholars during the 1950s.

The individual papers offer diverse perspectives and examine a wide variety of landscapes in the 19th and 20th century. The settings range from the urban space of 19th century Athens to the town of Corinth, to rural space in the upland basins of Corinthia, to monastic space in Mount Menoikeion in northern Greece, and to landscape features such as Mt. Pentadaktylos in Cyprus. Each paper applies a different methodological tactic. Some revisit older historical records, others collect new data or re-conceptualize physical relationships. Collectively, they represent the richness of a growing field. Susan Buck Sutton, who pioneered the study of the Modern Greek countryside and single-handedly developed the discipline of ethno-archaeology, has agreed to serve as the panel’s respondent.

The panel is sponsored by the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology in Greece Interest Group of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). The Group consists of AIA members with an interest in the archaeology of post-classical Greece, and in promoting its understanding through various programs and publications.

Athens in the 19th Century: Archaeological Landscapes and Competing Pasts

Effie Athanassopoulos (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

This paper examines the changing archaeological landscape of Athens in the post-liberation phase, in the decades following the establishment of the Modern Greek state in the 1830s. During the Othonian period (1833-1862) large scale demolition of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine buildings took place in the new capital. These actions were an attempt to eradicate the physical evidence of an “inferior” past, which interfered with the efforts of the decision makers to establish an unbroken continuity between classical antiquity and the re-born state.

The government officials of the 1830s and 1840s were all proponents of a purist classical perspective. Their goal was to enhance the classical buildings by freeing them from additions of later and ‘lesser’ eras. The ‘purification’ of Athens was carried out by archaeologists who shared these views and felt little sympathy for the material remains of the Byzantine and Post-Byzantine eras. Thus, churches, mosques and other structures were demolished on the Athenian Acropolis and in the lower town. Some churches were destroyed because they stood near ancient monuments. Others were viewed as obstacles in the opening of new roads and the beautification of the capital. According to one estimate, approximately seventy-five churches met that fate; they were noted on maps of the early 1830s but disappeared in the next few decades. The ‘cleansing’ of the Acropolis is well documented, the destruction of churches in the lower town less so. Here, I will document several examples through plans and drawings of European visitors as well as archival research.

Another goal of this paper is to examine the relation of the discipline of archaeology to evolving national ideals. The initial hostility towards Byzantium shared by the educated elite gradually waned. In the 1850s the work of an influential historian, Konstantinos Paparrigopoulos, led to the inclusion of the Byzantine past into the national narrative. In turn, Byzantium’s new role influenced the direction of Greek archaeology, which gradually began to lose its exclusive classical emphasis. Still, the purist classical ideals prevalent in the Othonian period have left their indelible mark; they guided the physical reorganization of the archaeological and urban landscape of Athens in the course of the 19th century.

Ancient Corinth from the Ottoman Empire to the Archaeologists

Amelia R. Brown (American School of Classical Studies at Athens)

Most modern visitors to Ancient Corinth come to see the ruins, the fenced-off ancient city at the center of a town whose houses, shops and churches were largely built since the 1950s. Only a few roadside shrines and now-crumbling structures still hint at the 19th-century town, a far-different Corinth which once occupied the same basic landscape. The written accounts of Corinthians, European travelers and American archaeologists add depth and color to these physical traces, as do archival photographs and the archaeological excavation of 19th-century remains recently undertaken by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. All this evidence is worth studying for several reasons. First, few if any towns in the Peloponnese boast such rich sources for the 19th century, the era in which Greece emerged as a nation-state, began industrial development and became a mass-market European tourist destination. At Corinth, these external shifts meant the destruction or abandonment of the urban and social fabric of the Ottoman town, the founding of a “modern” city on the coast, and a revolution in agriculture on the plain in between the two. The Grand Tour, Greek nationalism and the growth of classical archaeology also spurred interest in the traces of antiquity, once completely integrated into the Ottoman urban fabric. This interest culminated in the establishment of the large-scale excavations which continue to this day, but which have only sporadically taken account of the town which continues to thrive around them. Though these excavations initially sought only “Ancient” Corinth, today their archives and recent finds alike form a unique testament to the dramatic changes in and since the 19th-century. In this paper, I integrate this disparate source material to reconstruct the cityscape of 19th-century Corinth, both to better understand Corinthian and Peloponnesian history in that era, and to tease out what kinds of continuities do, in fact, exist in every city ever established on the shores of the Corinthian Isthmus.

Between Sea and Mountain: The Archaeology of a 20th-Century “Small World” in he Upland Basins of the Southeastern Korinthia

William R. Caraher (University of North Dakota)

David K. Pettegrew (Messiah College)

Timothy E. Gregory (Ohio State University Excavations at Isthmia)

Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory (Ohio State University Excavations at Isthmia)

Between the villages of Sophiko and Korphos in the southeastern Korinthia are a number of geographically well-defined and fertile upland basins or poljes, each one accompanied into modern times by a cluster of farmsteads and used for agriculture and pastoral activities. The heavily forested slopes adjacent to these basins were systematically exploited for resin production, a flourishing industry in the wider region especially after World War II, which is now in serious decline. Although physically isolated from major urban centers, these microecologies played a vital role in the subsistence of its local population, which originated primarily in the nearby mountainous village of Sophiko. Placing these isolated, yet deeply interconnected places into their regional context provides another key case-study for the contingent character of the Greek countryside in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Between 2001 and 2009, the authors investigated these basins, with a primary focus on the largest, known locally as Lakka Skoutara, through two archaeological projects: the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (2001-2003) and the Saronic Harbors Archaeological Research Project (2008-09). The former studied Lakka Skoutara as part of its emphasis on the archaeology of the modern period (19th-20th centuries), while the latter conducted archaeological investigations in several of these basins as part of a larger regional survey of the Saronic coastline.

Typical of the other basins, Lakka Skoutara presents a remarkably robust assemblage of material including domestic and religious architecture, agricultural installations, and ceramics scatters. This material reflects the dynamism of changing land use patterns in the Greek rural landscape as well as the formation processes and life cycles of use, reuse, and abandonment connected to domestic residence. By combining archaeological survey with oral information obtained from local residents, we were able to reconstruct part of the landscape history of this small, low-density rural settlement and its relationship to the wider world. This micro-level analysis of the site complements the broader perspectives offered by regional level data collection, oral history, and comparative studies from elsewhere in Greece. Lakka Skoutara and its neighboring poljes offer both snap shots of historical processes affecting the countryside over the last two centuries as well as the dynamic archaeological environments of semi-abandoned settlements recorded over the much narrower horizon of a decade of field work.

The Sacred Grip: Landscape, Art and Architecture in Mount Menoikeion (19th-20th Centuries)

Nikolas Bakirtzis (The Cyprus Institute)

Kostis Kourelis (Connecticut College)

Matthew Milliner (Princeton University)

Mount Menoikeion near Serres preserves a rich tradition shaped around the 13th-century monastery of Saint John Prodromos. The monastery evolved into one of the major monastic centers, surviving through volatile chapters of Balkan history. It is a spectacular monument of Byzantine art and architecture surrounded by an equally spectacular natural environment. In 1986, the deteriorating architectural shell was taken over by a female community of nuns whose spiritual guide, the Athonite monk Elder Ephraim, resides in Arizona. Although reviving older Orthodox traditions, Prodromos presents intersections between Byzantine and modern realities, between monastic life and local communities, ecclesiastical authorities, productive resources and the landscape. The Program in Hellenic Studies at Princeton University established an annual field seminar to investigate the site’s complexities as exemplary of the Modern Greek condition. Since 2005, the Mount Menoikeion Workshop has brought together a diverse group of scholars and students from anthropology, archaeology, history, classical studies, religious studies and art history. Our paper concentrates on the archaeology of 19th- and 20th-century life, represented in the cultural landscape, the architecture and the artistic treasures of Mount Menoikeion.

Landscapes are the product of ecological and human processes. What to the romantic eye seems idyllic and “natural” is, in fact, the product of continuous inhabitation and exploitation. In order to read the chronological development of the monastic landscape, we have mapped all evidence of cultural activity--caves, chapels, roads, paths, fields, orchards, farm buildings, sheep pens, trash heaps, industrial installations, water channels, memorials, inscriptions, markers and quarries. The early modern landscape reveals an inherent tension between the ideal of monastic wilderness and its aggressive human exploitation. Architecturally, Mount Menoikeion contains an intricate complex of buildings emanating from the Katholikon. Additions, towers and chapels tell a story not only of Byzantine tradition, but of modern Orthodox responses to more recent challenges, including Ottoman patronage, the ravages of the Balkan Wars and the effects of World War II, which in Menoikeion took the form of a Bulgarian occupation. Of special interest are the monastery’s 19th- and 20th-century art. Byzantine art historians have traditionally ignored this period as inferior and entirely derivative. The artistic culture of Prodromos demonstrates not only a flexible multilingual visual language but also deeper insights into the Orthodox community’s negotiation on multiple fronts, from its benevolent Ottoman patrons, to its western European markets and to an independent Greek nation-state further south.

The Body of the Land and the Land as Body in Greece and Cyprus

Nassos Papalexandrou (The University of Texas at Austin)

This paper explores conceptualizations of the land as body in the Hellenic Mediterranean. The evidence for the culturally ingrained tendency of thinking the landscape in terms of somatic metaphors is variegated and richly documented from antiquity to today. It may be attributed to a cultural poetics that enabled the extravagant vision of turning Mt. Athos into a colossal image of Alexander the Great or the perennial association of landscape features with important figures of myth and legend. Somatic metaphors also are deeply embedded in everyday vocabulary as toponymical or substantive terms (e.g. Greek “rachi,” “ophrys,” “neromana” etc.). This phenomenon may derive from the perennial need of humans to create intimate bonds between themselves and their (home)lands. The projection of human categories to the surrounding inanimate world may also register a relationship of mutual respect and interdependence—values, that is, currently in crisis in an increasingly urbanized world.

However this may be, this peculiar connectedness to the land is a universal cultural phenomenon. In this paper I propose that its Hellenic inflection should be studied as such. A good case for this study is the island of Cyprus, the geomorphology of which is rich in toponyms and oral traditions. This is especially evident in the case of Mt. Pentadaktylos (or Keryneia Mountains, in the occupied territory of northern Cyprus), a special geomorphologic feature of which still embodies the memory of the epic hero Digenis Akritas—a gigantic somatic “relic” of a heroic age in the Greek history of the island. The somatic nature of this feature may have motivated a recent Turkish-Cypriot monument that takes the form of a gigantic flag on the north slope of the mountain. This gigantic sign, I argue, “brands” the land/body of Pentadaktylos as an inalienable possession even as it cries out, in image and text, an altogether new but ambivalent identity. This “branding” of the landscape is literal and metaphorical. It derives its referential capacity from the actual branding of possessions, like cattle or enslaved human beings in the past.

Nassos Papalexandrou had to withdrew his submission because of a timing conflicting, but I include the abstract because it's a fascinating paper.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Intimacy of Measurement

Much discussion has developed in the last few years on the epistemological nature of archaeology. Developments in stratigraphic rigor (Wheeler, etc. 1920s), New Archaeology (Clark, etc. 1960s), surface surveys (Minnesota Messenia Expedition, etc. 1970s) have bumped the discipline a step further away from traditional Humanism into the realms of science--both natural and social. Scientific measurement, as the foundation of archaeological knowledge, has placed archaeology under the radar of post-colonial theory, see Bruce Trigger, "Alternative Archaeologists: Nationalist, Colonialist, Imperialist, Man (1984), pp. 355-370. Yannis Hamilakis has argued that we need to move beyond Bruce Trigger's tripartite classification, see ch. 3, The Nation and Its Ruins: Antiquity, Archaeology and National Imagination in Greece (Oxford, 2007), pp. 57-123; "Decolonizing Greek Archaeology: Indigenous Archaeologies, Modernist Archaeology and the Post-Colonial Critique," in A Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and Hellenic Idenity in Twentieth-Century Greece, ed. D. Damaskos and D. Plantzos (Athens, 2008), pp. 273-286. For Hamilakis, European (and American) archaeology brought a homogeneous and totalizing archaeology to Greece, whose positivism displaced alternative, less rationalistic relationships to the past. My friend Bill Caraher, has explored the repercussions of such indigenous and subjective relationships in his explorations of dream archaeology.

I would like to explore a different tactic here, to illustrate some fissures in the positivist paradigm in as far as the scientific method of measuring is concerned. Despite the dominant project of an enlightened archaeology (built on rational proof, the scientific method, and documentation), one may note a gray zone of subjectivity. I have become particularly interested in those gray zones while studying the methods of archaoelogical survey. I am interested, for example, in personalities like Georg von Peshcke, who was project architect for the Corinth excavations in the 1930s but also a member of the artistic avant-garde. Looking through the testimonials available in archaeological notebooks, diaries and field drawings, one sees a fuller picture of scientific documentation. Specifically, one sees great latitudes in the human processes of measurement. The published state-plan, stratigraphic section, profile drawing or perspectival rendering are undeniably the "truthful" objective of these practitioners. Surrounding the rational document (which serves as faithful proxy to the artifact) are subjective methods.

On an earlier posting, I have discussed the practice of producing silhouette portraits, an artistic pass time in the excavations in Corinth, see 1930s Facebook. These shadow drawings survive in the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and, we now know, were produced by Peschke in the 1930s. Such drawings were on the one hand objective (a true outline of a person's face) but also a source of entertainment in their production. Peschke, the artist, caressed the profile of his colleagues by tracing their shadows. More recently, artist Kara Walker has given a critical edge to this 18th-century tradition of silhouettes (see Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love, Whitney Museum, Oct. 11, 2007-Feb. 3, 2008)

The physical and subjectively emotive process of documentation was not limited to the archaeologists' leisure activities. Bert Hodge Hill's explorations of Peirene Spring in Corinth provides an excellent example. This is the subject of Betsey Robinson's dissertation (and book manuscript). I thank Betsey for the fascinating discussions of her project. The archaeological exploration of the springs involved stripping down to bathing suits and descending into the cavernous darkness of the water channels. Betsey has read all the testimonials carefully and has noted how the chief archaeologists relished in the dirty, muddy procedure. Tackling homoeroticism from a different point of view, Robert Pounder is studying the peculiar co-habitation of Hill, Blegen and their wives. Hill's and Blegen's muddy descends into the crevices of Corinth fit nicely into Julia Kristeva's notion of the Abject that Michael Shanks has analyzed from an archaeological perspective.

With Betsey Robinson and Bob Pounder in mind, I recently revisited Hill's publication,
Corinth I.VI: The Springs: Peirene, Sacred Spring, Glauke (Princeton, 1964). Although published in 1964, the manuscript had been completed in the 1930s. The following passage from Hill's forward places archaeological measurement into the realm of subjective corporeality, pleasure, amusement and heroism.

"Amusing incidents were not lacking in the clearing of Peirene. One ingenious member of the staff, who, partially immersed in water, was obliged to crawl on his stomach over the slimy mud in an exceptionally low stretch of a tunnel, invented a new unit of measurement. Finding it virtually impossible to use a tape or even a meter stick in his awkward position, he advanced by heaving himself forward in short convulsions, which he counted and recorded as 'belly paces,' sometimes translated into 'knee paces' in polite circles."
(p. vi)

Hill then proceeds to enumerate "some of the unsung heroes who participated effectively in these subterranean researches," and concludes with the achievement of two women. "Report has it that Mrs. Agnes Stillwell and Miss Lucy Shoe on at least one occasion also penetrated to the far ends of the tunnels."
(p. vi)

It is difficult not to see both the humor and the intended sexualization of the investigation and measurement of the earth's bowls. By taking the archaeological document at a positivist face-value, the post-colonialist scholar misses the nuances of actual documentation. A study of surveying methods, their instruments, social practices and habits places them into a different corporeal context. When the body itself becomes a surveying instrument, the zones between subjective and objective experience are difficult to keep separated. All of us that are involved with surveying full appreciate the difference between applied and pure science.

My second example of measurement as a sociological process comes from a century earlier, from Sir William Gell 1804 trip to the Peloponnese, one of the earliest documentation campaigns in Greece. While surveying Tragoge (near Ancient Phigaleia), Gell's surveying instruments were imbued with supernatural power. I quote the passage in full from Gell's,
Narrative of a Journey to the Morea (London, 1823), pp. 107-108.

"Having finished my sketch, observing that it was very near mid-day, while the air was so still as not in any way to ruffle the surface of the water, which by chance lay before me, collected in a little cavity of the rock, I took the opportunity of ascertaining the latitude, and setting a common watch by a double altitude of the sun. The sight of the brass case of the small pocket sextant, which, with other necessary instruments, I always carried about me, seemed to produce an uncommon sensation among the people, five or six of whom came nearer, and, from a louder whisper than usual, I collected that they had taken the case for a snuff-box of gold, and did not scruple to express the wish to possess it.
As they did not appear to be armed, I continued and concluded my observations; by recollecting that it was not impossible they might, on some other occasion, return in greater numbers, and find us ill or worse prepared for resistance, I called to the savage who stood nearest, and, setting the instrument on purpose, shewed him through it the house of the aga of Tragoge, seemingly placed among the ruins of the citadel of Paulitza. The man was so alarmed, that it was with difficulty I prevented my sextant from falling out of his hands, and persuaded him to remain while I took out two of the glasses of a little telescope, the increasing length of which filled him with dismay, and placing it on a rock, for it was impossible to prevail upon him to touch it, shewed him through it the inverted image of an old woman, who was washing before her door at Lower Tragoge; the first glimpse was sufficient, and he fled to his companions, crying out that the Franks were devils, and that poor Kokōna Anna was dead. We had some difficulty in persuading them that we had only set the old lady on her head by way of joke; that we had taken so much care not to hurt her, that she was unconscious of the fact; in proof of which they needed only to observe that she was continuing her occupation. We added, by way of precaution, that we never hurt any one who did not come with evil intentions; and they retired, tolerably satisfied, behind the ruins of the chapel, either thinking the devil had no power there, or for fear of being set on their heads if they remained in sight."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

First Out: Late Levels at Early Sites

The Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology in Greece Interest Group (IG) of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) was formed in 2005 with the purpose of fostering collaboration, organizing panels and advocating for post-classical archaeology. The IG has organized sessions at the AIA, “The Abandoned Countryside: (Re)Settlement in the Archaeological Narrative of the Post-Classical Mediterranean” (San Diego, 2007), and “The Archaeology of Xenitia: Greek Immigration and Material Culture (Chicago, 2008). The former is under review as a special issue of the International Journal of Historical Archaeology and the latter has just come out in The New Griffon 10 (2008). We have also organized a session on “Cyprus: Archaeology, Architecture and History” at the Byzantine Studies Conference (Toronto, 2007) and a session on “City, Village, Monastery: The Archaeology of Modern Greek Landscapes” for the Modern Greek Studies Association (Vancouver, 2009, under review). We are delighted that we can continue the tradition of organizing colloquia with special attention in publication and availability to the scholarly public.

Yesterday, March 16, 2009, was the deadline for submissions for the 2010 AIA Annual Meetings in Anaheim, Ca. Sharon Gerstel and I have put together a panel idea dealing with new Post-Classical research on old Classical sites. We submitted the panel yesterday and must now wait for six months to hear if it was accepted. It is interesting to note that an additional ten panels have been submitted: The Circus in Roman Culture, Empire and the Everyday, Where no God Has Gone Before: Greek Deities in the North, Moving Marble, Bricks, and Mortar: Supplying Roman Buildings, Interactions with the Ancient Landscape, From Pots to People: Approaches to the Study of Ceramics, A Body Corporate and Politic: The Mission of the AIA, Digital Research and Development in Collaborative Work, Subculture in Roman Social Life, the Art of Art History in the Bronze Age Near East. It will be interesting to see how the academic economy will affect the annual meetings. The choice of Anaheim seems to have also angered some people, but I hope this does not affect attendance.


Colloquium Session Proposal, 2010 Annual Meeting, Archaeological Institute of America, Anaheim, CA.

Sharon E. J. Gerstel (University of California, Los Angeles)

Kostis Kourelis (Connecticut College)


The archaeology of the Classical world sprung out of the humanist tradition that bestowed great privilege to the texts of Homer, Herodotus, Euripides, or Plato. Sites made famous by great texts received early and continuous archaeological focus during the 19th and early 20th centuries. While the development of a scientific archaeological discipline benefited our understanding of the ancient world, it brought about a calamitous side effect, the veritable destruction of “lower” material culture from “higher” stratigraphic levels. Late Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, Medieval, Ottoman, and Early Modern phases were irretrievably destroyed by the classicist’s spade. Archaeological ethics in the 1920s and diachronic methodologies in the 1960s, however, brought about a slow but concerted critique against this collateral damage. Our panel hopes to highlight the positive contributions that have emerged in the last few years in documenting the late periods of Classical sites. We focus on the excavations of Pylos, Troy, the Athenian Agora, Chersonesos, Corinth, and surface surveys in Boeotia and the Corinthia. Each case study reveals a unique confrontation between old traditions of scholarship and new methodologies. The papers raise questions about shifting approaches to later levels, ones that demand an understanding of new sets of texts, building traditions, and settlement patterns. Together with a change in modern approaches to the understanding of stratigraphy and artifact density is the investigation of how and why later cultures utilized earlier sites and whether layered deposits represent the intentional and continuous presence or the expeditious rebuilding on older levels. These questions become particularly acute when ancient sites of central importance find themselves on the periphery of later empires.


1. Jack L. Davis (University of Cincinnati and American School of Classical Studies at Athens) and Sharon R. Stocker (University of Cincinnati and American School of Classical Studies at Athens), Prioritizing the Past: A Byzantine Deposit from the Palace of Nestor at Englianos

2. Kathleen M. Quinn (Northern Kentucky University), Drowned in the Depths of Obscurity: How Archaeology both Marginalized and Revitalized Our Understanding of Late Byzantine Troy

3. Anne McCabe (Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents), A Middle Byzantine Neighborhood in Athens: Recent Excavations in the Agora

4. Adam Rabinowitz (University of Texas at Austin) and Larissa Sedikova (National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos), First but not Out: The Byzantine Levels at Chersonesos in Historical and Archaeological Context

5. William R. Caraher (University of North Dakota) and Timothy E. Gregory (Ohio State University), New Views on Old Data: Reinterpreting Intensive Survey Results After 30 Years

6. Guy D. R. Sanders (American School of Classical Studies at Athens), Late Ottoman and Early Modern Levels from New Excavations in Ancient Corinth


Prioritizing the Past: A Byzantine Deposit from the Palace of Nestor at Englianos

Jack L. Davis, University of Cincinnati and American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Sharon R. Stocker, University of Cincinnati and American School of Classical Studies at Athens

In 1958 and 1959, in the area of the northeast gate in the Early Mycenaean fortifications surrounding the citadel of the Palace of Nestor, a deposit of pottery, glass, and tile of the 11th or early 12th century C.E. was found associated with a floor crudely paved with stones and fragments of broken tiles laid flat. The remains are more likely to belong to a single collapsed structure than a village. Because of the prehistoric focus of the publication plan for the Palace of Nestor excavations, the finds were published briefly though not extensively discussed. In the archives, however, they are recorded according to the same standards applied to Bronze Age levels of the site. Carl W. Blegen had a deep interest in medieval Greek archaeology and history. The artifacts, however limited in number and restricted in spatial distribution, thus offer a detailed glimpse at an historical period poorly known in western Messenia, although churches of that date are known elsewhere in the province and its larger cities are mentioned in ecclesiastical literature. Surface surveys in the Peloponnesos point to the Middle Byzantine period as a time of remarkable expansion of settlement in the countryside. Work of the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project suggests, however, that the Englianos area may have been thinly settled in the 11th and 12th century, as it certainly was in early modern times, prior to the Greek Revolution of 1821.

Drowned in the Depths of Obscurity: How Archaeology both Marginalized and Revitalized Our Understanding of Late Byzantine Troy

Kathleen M. Quinn, Northern Kentucky University

This paper examines the treatment of Byzantine material culture excavated at the historic site of Troy in northwestern Turkey. Consideration is given to how the methodologies and research agendas employed by three generations of archaeologists have impacted the understanding of the area’s history during the post-classical period. The paper begins with a brief overview of the contributions of Heinrich Schliemann and Wilhelm Dörpfeld to our knowledge of Byzantine history at Troy, but the bulk of the previously unpublished evidence for this paper comes from the excavations of the University of Cincinnati archaeologists led by Carl W. Blegen. In keeping with the intellectual climate of the age, the research agendas of both of these early teams of archaeologists marginalized the study of Byzantine remains and often left little in the way of contextualized or detailed stratified deposits. In the case of the Blegen excavations, the Byzantine material survives today as tantalizing tidbits in old manuscripts, handwritten field journals, and card files of artifact and photographic inventories. When coupled with the finds from the more recent excavations of the Troia Archaeological Project (1988-present), however, this so-called “first out” material tells the tale of a small, yet prosperous Late Byzantine settlement. Now known as Troy X, this Byzantine “level” of the famous Bronze Age citadel consists of small houses and agricultural buildings, cemeteries, and a qanat-style water supply system dating to the 13th and 14th centuries C.E.

A Middle Byzantine Neighborhood in Athens: Recent Excavations in the Agora

Anne McCabe, Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents, Oxford

Recent seasons of excavation in the Athenian Agora have brought to light the remains of Byzantine houses on the streets leading north from the Panathenaic Way. The neighborhood lay outside the Late Antique city walls and appears to have been developed in the 10th century C.E.; sections of it have been excavated by the ASCSA since the 1930s. These houses provide unspectacular but welcome evidence for secular architecture of the Middle Byzantine period, as well as an architectural context for the many medieval churches which still stand in the city. The houses are provided with wells and with numerous storage vessels whose mouths were at floor level. Also present are beehive-shaped bothroi for the disposal of waste. The only coins found are bronze folleis. Apart from small amounts of imported white ware, pottery excavated consists of brown-glazed red ware, including chafing dishes, columnar lamps, plates, and juglets. Unglazed wares include cooking pots, water jugs, and basins, often with incised decoration. Large quantities of slag and broken murex shell attest to industrial activity nearby. Human remains are also present in the form of neonate burials, probably premature infants, within the area of the houses. The orientation of the houses, as well as much of their building material, is derived from the principal monument of the area, a large Classical building that may be identified as the Stoa Poikile. Late Antique walls between the columns of the stoa show that the interior of the building was divided into smaller areas, perhaps for commercial purposes.

First but not Out: The Byzantine Levels at Chersonesos in Historical and Archaeological Context

Adam Rabinowitz, University of Texas at Austin

Larissa Sedikova, National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos, Ukraine

Byzantine archaeologists working at major Classical sites in the Mediterranean often struggle to reconstruct the record of post-antique remains removed as “overburden” by excavators eager to reach earlier levels. In many cases, the late levels were damaged even before excavation: closest to the surface, they were first to be removed or mined for building material during modern construction. The city of Chersonesos (Byzantine Cherson), located at the southwest tip of Crimea, offers a stark contrast to the Mediterranean situation. Not only did the city largely escape modern construction and spoliation, but -- despite its Greek and Roman remains -- the archaeological work that has been conducted there since 1827 has focused primarily on its Byzantine phases. The city suffered several violent destructions in the 13th and 14th centuries C.E., and as a result a rich record of daily life has been preserved. Furthermore, for visitors and many excavators, the central historical narrative of the site involves the arrival of Orthodox Christianity among the Kyivan Rus’, and that, together with the excellent preservation of the late structures, leaves the Byzantine remains as the dominant element in the presentation of the site. The importance of Chersonesos for Byzantine archaeology, however, has been obscured by both ancient and modern historical factors. This paper discusses the history of excavation at Chersonesos, the site’s relevance to Byzantine archaeology in the Mediterranean, and the results of recent multidisciplinary investigations of a residential block occupied from the 3rd century B.C.E. to the 13th century C.E.

New Views on Old Data: Reinterpreting Intensive Survey Results after 30 Years

William R. Caraher, University of North Dakota

Timothy E. Gregory, Ohio State University

At the same time that scholars have focused new energies on the recovery of post-Classical periods in excavation, intensive pedestrian surveys across Greece have expanded our understanding of the Greek countryside for the same periods. Over the past 25 years, the publications of numerous intensive survey projects have, in particular, redefined our understanding of a prosperous Late Roman East and revealed post-Classical settlement structures. With these successes in mind, this paper will reexamine the results from several small-scale survey projects conducted in the 1970s and early 1980s in Boeotia and the Corinthia. This paper argues from a series of case studies that early survey projects captured data with yet unrealized significance in the context of recent excavation and survey work. The projects examined in this paper coincided with survey projects like the Cambridge Boeotia Project and the Argolid Exploration Project, but were published earlier and in a less comprehensive way. Returning to the material and quantitative data generated by these projects, in much the same way that archaeologists returned to material produced at major excavations like Athens, Corinth and Troy, represents the coming of age of intensive survey and contributes to more reflexive approaches to survey material and data in general. Re-examining the data collected and these projects’ underlying assumptions increases the transparency of these older efforts, enriches the pool of material available for the comparative study of the Greek countryside, and reclaims fragments of landscapes lost to development, taphonomic influences, and changes in technique, technology, and method.

Late Ottoman and Early Modern Levels from New Excavations in Ancient Corinth

Guy D. R. Sanders, American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Although topsoil is the primary medium of archaeological surveyor, excavators seldom pay it much attention probably because Late Antique, Medieval and post-Medieval are anathema to Classical archaeologists. Topsoil often contains the only vestiges of a site’s final phases. At Corinth these belong to the decades before the earthquake of 1858 that resulted in the village’s population moving to a new site next to the sea on the Isthmus. In the Panayia Field at Corinth, topsoil contained the plowed over foundations of eight houses known, from a contemporary map of the village, to have existed ca. 1830 in a canton called Kalamatamahalla and, later, Arapomahalla. The undisturbed layer beneath preserved the lower foundations of the houses and the bottoms of pits containing household occupational debris representing the decades between about 1790 and 1850. Open area excavation in the Panayia Field, with exhaustive recovery strategies, resulted in an almost complete record of an archaeological phase of Corinth known only from travelers’ accounts and the illustrations therein contained. The houses were simple one, two and three roomed, single storey, tile roofed dwellings with white clay floors and wall plaster. None had wells and only two had outside ovens for baking. The household debris included wine bottles, low denomination Ottoman coins, and imported ceramics from China, Britain, France, Italy, and the Ottoman Empire. Seriation of the contexts show how patterns of imports changed after the War of Independence. This represents the first and only systematic excavation of this period in the Aegean region

Monday, March 16, 2009

House Stories: Haunted House

House Stories is a collection of personal narratives, a teaching experiment in History of Domestic Architecture (Wesleyan ARTS 637). See Introduction, and Table of Contents.


By Tyler Webb

I grew up in Glastonbury, a town full of architectural history and heritage here in Connecticut. Main St. is littered with 18th century Georgian and Adam style homes and one feels right in the heart of New England taking a stroll through the center of town. I can remember hearing stories of the Underground Railroad and mysterious supernatural occurrences related to a number of these houses but none of these tales or homes left an impression on me in comparison to the abandoned “haunted” home in East Glastonbury located down the street from two of my friends.

It sat on the corner of New London Turnpike and Manchester Road, looking straight out of “The Munsters” or “The Addams Family”, two black and white tv programs whose reruns played on Saturday mornings following cartoons. Based on my memory, it looked like either a Gothic revival or Stick Victorian home, vertically imposing with a large tower on one end. The home was visually intimidating and the style stood out amongst the countless colonials found in town. It was apparent in its day the home was magnificent, the crown of neighborhood, with many aesthetic details but years of neglect left it dilapidated and run-down. Around the home was overgrown with vines growing up the side of the house. A mangy mixture of weeds and shrubs veiled the view of the house from the road. Window panes were broken randomly through the house and a large black and orange, “Danger, Keep Out!” sign was visible in a first floor window. The house occupied a large lot and there were no other properties on either side of it. This isolation only added to its mystique. Every time my mother drove me past the home chills went down my spine and thoughts of ghosts, zombies, and evil doings filled my head.

Details of the home’s actual history were unknown, but for young boys with wild imaginations haunted stories and tall tales were easy to create. My friends and I never were brave enough to explore in and around the house but we had a pretty good idea of what we would find if we did. We constantly talked about the terrifying things that went on in the home. One story that frequently was discussed and exaggerated concerned a dead raccoon found in an upstairs bathroom. The animal was supposedly found in a dingy bathtub with an ax still stuck in it. We never doubted the story’s validity, much like a small child never questions Santa Claus’ existence.

We expanded the story, giving cause to the presence of a murdered animal in an abandoned 19th century home. According to us, there was a group of devil worshipping pagans who used the home to perform their rituals. Supposedly, candles were littered throughout, trails and streaks of blood on the walls, and from time to time (according to my friend) shrieks could be heard by those passing the home. I never met a pagan, or a devil worshipper for that matter, but I was certain of their existence. Many of the stories and legends my friends and I shared depended on these mythical social deviants and I imagined them dwelling in homes like the stick Victorian I passed every time I went to my friend’s.

The haunted home of my youth was eventually knocked down, leaving nothing but a grassy field in its place. Its absence does not mean it is forgotten in my mind. I have found a new home, just like it to fill my mind with thoughts of scary happenings and tales. The house is close to my father’s home, just off the Berlin Turnpike. Its appearance mirrors that of the home of my youth; it stands alone, and just like the other house it is in disrepair. A little twist with this home is that people live in it, making me believe that if I rang the doorbell I would meet a devil worshipping pagan for the first time.


Tyler Webb is currently a Wesleyan GLSP student, with plans of completing his Master's in Summer 2009. He is a high school history teacher in Simsbury, CT and resides in Avon, CT with his wife.

Friday, March 13, 2009

House Stories: I Love Lucy

House Stories is a collection of personal narratives, a teaching experiment in History of Domestic Architecture (Wesleyan ARTS 637). See Introduction, and Table of Contents.

by Christina Chamberlain

As we drove down the street, I could not stop smiling. It was Memorial Day Weekend, my sophomore year of high school. While most of my friends were at the beach, I had spent eight hours in a car with my mother, journeying from central Connecticut to the far western corner of New York State. The weekend ahead would be filled with celebratory activities, but for now, this was all that mattered; I had been waiting for this for five years. I tried to notice every small business, to engrain every house in my memory, to take in every tree on this serene road in the tiny working-class village of Celeron. With its modest and well-worn homes, rusted cars, and unfashionable stores, the area seemed to lag behind my hometown in the Farmington Valley by several decades. It seemed appropriate, though. This place should be frozen in time, I thought. It contained a piece of history. That was why I had made the pilgrimage.

The tall green street sign we had been searching for finally appeared when we rolled to a quiet intersection. Lucy Lane, it indicated, was to the left. My mother nudged the steering wheel and navigated our family Jeep down the tree-lined road. I held my breath as our car rambled the rutted gray pavement. This was it. Five years of waiting and wishing were coming down to this very moment. I flicked my camera on. “What’s the house number, again?” my mother inquired. I gave no answer. I had never been down this road, nor anywhere in this state west of New York City, but I did not need a house number to know where we were going. I was positive I would know the house when I saw it. I knew it already.

For five years, I had read accounts of activities that took place in the humble 1890 residence, some by its former occupants, others by authors who had never visited. I had stared endlessly at photos of the house, taken from various angles, by various photographers, at various times over the past century. I cringed every time at its sea green aluminum siding, always wondering when it was added—certainly, it could not be original—and why a dignified colonial blue or even deeper green could not have been selected for the façade. I tried to imagine playing dolls on the covered front porch, which spanned the first story. I dreamt of inventing games in the ample backyard or playing hopscotch on the narrow front sidewalk. I envisioned what it would be like to perform in amateur shows in a makeshift theater, with draperies doubling as stage curtains, in the living room. I wondered what impact these spaces could have on who a person became later in life.

Over these years, I had also tried to picture what the inside of the house looked like. What color were the walls? Were the original hardwood floors still there? Was the original woodwork painted? Did the stairs creek? Was the bathroom tiled? Were the table and chairs in the kitchen, or a separate dining room? Whose bedrooms were behind the two side dormers, which flanked the second story like wings, but were hidden from sight when the house was observed straight on? What was the view from the tiny window that was centered just below the front gable? Might there be a scrap of eighty-year old wallpaper buried beneath the more recent layers? Could there be a tiny, cryptic carving in a door, or initials scrolled on a floorboard? Maybe a long-forgotten trinket or memento hidden in the corner of the attic? What treasures from the past did the house have to offer?

I looked out the passenger’s side window, then slowly turned my neck to the left. There, I saw it. The unmistakable green siding made my stomach cinch tight. The white porch, with its narrow columns and slatted rails, looked just like I knew it would. “Oh my God, there’s the house, that’s it, STOP!” I shrieked. My mother pulled over on the side of the street, opposite the house. I stared at it. The tiny window just below the front gable, the double window in the middle of the second story, the front door below and the single window to the left of it, the white porch: it was all there, exactly as I had seen in the photographs, and exactly as I had hoped to see one day for myself. This was it. I was here: fifty-nine Lucy Lane, Celeron, New York. This was the childhood home of Lucille Ball.

The comedienne had been my idol since I was twelve. I did not just watch her television shows and movies, I studied her—her performances, her personality, her personal history. To visit the home where she lived as a child, the site of her earliest experiences and memories, the place she described in so many interviews and autobiographical writings later in life, had long been a dream of mine. While our Jeep idled along the edge of Lucy Lane, I sat in it, not knowing what to do next. “Do you want to take some pictures?” my mom suggested, pointing to the camera in my lap. I hesitated. “Do you want me to take some pictures?” she asked. I handed her the camera and she leaned out the open window.

After taking a few frames, she turned to me. “Go stand in front so I can get you with the house,” she encouraged. As I zipped up my fleece, climbed out of the car, and ambled to the front sidewalk running parallel to the house, I noticed a gray-haired woman sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch. Had she been there the entire time? I was unsure. Would she mind if I took a photo, as long as I stayed this respectful distance away from the house itself? I was too afraid to ask. She probably had fans coming by all the time. I positioned myself on the edge of the front lawn. “Hurry up,” I mouthed to my mom.

Standing awkwardly while the homeowner watched silently behind me, I waited for the camera to flash twice. After the second flash, I was knew I had to return to the car. The elderly woman was making me nervous. But, I was convinced that I needed something else first. I had come all this way, to Lucy’s hometown, for the annual Lucy-Desi Days, but I was not ready to go back to the neighboring city of Jamestown, where the weekend’s activities were centered. I knew I would never get inside the house. That was a dream that would never come true, I was certain. I would probably never know what it looked like, what it felt like to be in there. I would probably never really understand how this house had shaped Lucille Ball, the same way my childhood home shaped me.

Still, I could not leave just yet. I needed some thing to commemorate my experience, beyond a photograph and a memory. Spontaneously, I crafted a plan. Facing the street, my heart pounding in cadence with my racing thoughts, I knelt down as if to adjust my left sandal. In one quick and smooth motion, I furtively slid my hand to the right of my sandal. Because I had my back to the house, my body hid this move from the homeowner. I quickly opened and shut my hand, then rose to my feet, bringing a fistful of grass from the lawn with me. Holding my unique if unethical souvenir in front of me, I sprinted back to the car, where I shoved the grass in empty film canisters for safekeeping until going home. “Go, go, go, before she realizes,” I urged my mother.

To this day, a photo of 59 Lucy Lane and my “Lucy Grass” are in a framed display in my study.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

House Stories: Fred Flintstone Ain't Got Nothing on Me

House Stories is a collection of personal narratives, a teaching experiment in History of Domestic Architecture (Wesleyan ARTS 637). See Introduction, and Table of Contents.


by Allison DeMartino

I have never owned a house. I have never gone house-hunting or ever had to set up a mortgage. I have lived in two houses, one dorm, and two apartments. All of which have never belonged to me. I was carried home to one, driven reluctantly to the next, flown nearly 350 miles to the third, celebrated the fourth in dramatic fashion, and become a grown-up in the last. I was the child, and now, the less than one year college graduate playing house and learning that washing dishes and scrubbing toilets is not all it is cracked up to be. My memory of a house is one of a child’s. Everything was gigantic. Walking from the family room up the stairs and into my bedroom was a pilgrimage I rarely felt like taking. A house was a structure, complete with the perfect hiding spots, convenient nooks, and a series of plateaus that when scaled carried you, and your army of action figures to the highest point of the house. A house, to my five-year-old self, was my imaginary and mischievous world.

The house I remember best is not the spot of my first kiss, or the spot of my first driving lesson, or even the spot I signed my college acceptance letter. The house I remember best is the house I first was brought home to and the one I truly left my mark on. Brooklyn NY is one of the largest residential areas in the country and one of the most diverse. You could walk for five minutes and have spanned the countries of Italy, Puerto Rico, and Korea. Yet, something uniquely American can be found in each of the neighborhoods you past. This, here in the Marine Park Italian neighborhood of Brooklyn, was my first encounter with a house.
1828 East 29th Street was attached to 1826 and shared a driveway with 1830. It had a small but seemingly vital front stoop, which upon entry would lead you into the living room—the place I took my first steps, watched my first football game, and opened presents of Christmas Day. The next room was the dining room. I don’t remember much, except for cake. Yes, cake. And loud Italian aunts. This is where we celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and, most importantly ate cake. Last, at the back of the house was the kitchen—or since we had no fireplace—the hearth. This is where mom cooked. This is where I ate salads—well cucumbers, croutons, olives and a large helping of balsamic vinegar—before dinnertime every night. These rooms would prove increasingly important to my branding of the 1828 household. You see, the way this house was build and the way my family grew to operate in the morning, my journey from the kitchen table to the front door to then walk the eight blocks to school became somewhat of an adventure; or a mischievous maneuver to avoid my consumption of the orange and grape flavored Flintstones Vitamins given to me at the kitchen table.

For many years parents, especially mine, tired to get me to eat healthy. Despite my nightly bouts with my lettuce-less salads, I was a genuine picky eater and the one thing I hated more then eating yucky food was eating yucky vitamins. Each morning before I set out to school my mom would open the dreaded vitamin cabinet and place Fred Flintstone into my hand. Without hesitation, I would eat the cherry flavored ones, but two-thirds of those bottles contained the worst of the worst flavors imaginable: orange and grape. Five out of seven days I was practically guaranteed a disgusting taste on my tongue. This had to end. Luckily, I soon learned that my mom was far to busy with my little sister Dana to keep a stern eye on me as I walked from the kitchen through the dining room and across the living room to the front door: “You’re five now, you can meet Jen outside to walk to school.” Okay. So my independence from mom and Fred Flintstone began.

1828 was built in the early 1900s. It had cathedral-like windows lining the front of the house and an old-fashion radiator just to the side of the front door. A cream colored metal encasement lined with what seemed like hundreds of holes hid the gurgling heater. Holes large enough for one Fred Flintstone. Each morning after strategically placing Fred on my tongue and refusing to breath as to negate the nastiness of the taste, I would drop him drop through the hole and into the heater. I did this every school day for nearly two years.

My mom is one to clean a lot. She would scrub the bathroom and sweep the floors. But it wasn’t until my parents placed a “For Sale” sign on the front stoop that I would succumb to what would happen next. It was a cloudless June day. A day where you just couldn’t wait to get home just to run back outside and get dirty. I ran up the front stairs, past the chrysanthemum bushes and the “Sold” sticker and threw open the front screen door. And there standing in a baggy old shirt, yellow dishwashing gloves, and flip-flops was my mom. She was not smiling. She was not ready to dig in the sandbox with me. She was staring at me with her hands on her hips and that scary little Italian women expression covering her face. Then she pointed at the radiator. The cream-colored casing was nowhere to be found. Stuck to the radiator and the carpet and the wallpaper was an orange and purple mound nearly a foot high of indistinguishable Fred Flintstones. And Dana sitting in her diaper shouting “Yabba Dabba Do!”

Allison DeMartion is a graduate student at Wesleyan University's Graduate Program in Liberal Studies and a Pre-K teacher in Middlefield, Conn.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

House Stories: From 100 to 99

House Stories is a collection of personal narratives, a teaching experiment in History of Domestic Architecture (Wesleyan ARTS 637). See Introduction, and Table of Contents.

FROM 100 TO 99
by Katherine Chabla

Part I: Orientation

The storehouse of my memory opens most fully in a wood frame house on a straight flat suburban street. A short sidewalk, curves up to concrete slab serving as a stopping point, at number 100. From that spot I have counted the steps it takes to get to my current home, another wood frame house. A mere 52 steps, in my short stride, brings me back home again across the street. The house I have lived in since 1986 is one I have known since 1961. I grew up looking out upon its façade, admiring the lines of its entry, knowing its first floor interior spaces but never dreaming that it would one day be mine.

Backing out of the garage in the rear view mirror of the family station wagon I could see number 99, the white colonial house which I now call home. The route I took from 100 to 99 was neither short nor direct as that driveway. It was more like the curving walkway that joined our front porch to the town sidewalk, the street and the world beyond.

My earliest recollection of this house comes not actually from the house itself but from one of the triple bay garage doors. Opening vertically, the paired paneled doors swing out on metal hinges, lock into place, and are released by a pull chain. While functional they create a sound, which in the early morning would drift across the street, past the bold, raucous sounds of blue jays in the dogwood tree outside my window.

Mr. Johnson, a classic New England gentleman, produced that sound with punctuality as he went out to work in his dark green truck labeled in fluid gold letters “Johnson Brothers Painters”. I admired that truck, but never went inside it. I loved that man too, for his craftsmanship, his knowledge and because he cared tenderly for Mrs. Johnson, his wife who had become crippled by rheumatoid arthritis. They were the original owners of the house, which they had built in 1930.

As a tradesman he was the expert neighbors would turn to for advice on projects. He was not the know-it-all type, but rather the resourceful sage whom one could go to for instruction on any practical matter. A neighbor told me how Mr. J. would not interfere with efforts over a project, but wait, watching you struggle and fumble towards resolution. He drew the line sharply between knowledge and tools. Knowledge he would lend when asked, never interfering with advice until asked.

Tools which he had in abundance and variety, we would never ask to borrow, as he in fine New England reserve would not lend.

Tools and hard work were the foundation of this house. He built this house with profits from his commercial painting business. Tools were the means by which he supported his family. I learned then that a person reveals much about himself in the use, handling and care of their tools. I heard and saw Mr. Johnson using tools and ladders. His tools led to the soul of this man, the means by which he earned money, what he used to build this house. The 99 house was an extension of my home at 100. I heard it, gazed out upon it and occasionally entered it. I was an admirer, looking out from my childhood home upon the simple lines, the stateliness of a house between two trees, fringed with porches, showing New England grace and reserve.

The two entries intrigued me. On the back porch there was an entry enclosure where we left baked goods, and other food offerings for Mr. Johnson. A small open box was labeled “messages”. It had a circular pattern of holes drilled into it.

The front entryway was a glass enclosure which sheltered the front door. The house protected Mrs. Johnson, who in her later years, spent many hours immobilized by her illness, on the couch in the living room. She endured much disfigurement and pain. Mrs. Johnson was a crotchety character whom I also loved, because she was difficult, demanding. She had the raspy voice of a smoker. Mrs. Johnson could release the front door from the couch via a mechanism which Mr. Johnson had configured. My siblings and I did whatever she wanted. We would bring flowers to her, and go on errands to purchase her cigarettes. We were trained in neighborly compassion. We did not to cut through their yard, ring their doorbell or let others cross the boundary of respect that the house and its occupants merited.

Until, one day, many years later, when my husband did the unthinkable. He told Mr. Johnson, who was then in his late 70’s, a widower of many years, that if he ever considered selling his home we would be interested in buying it. I nearly fainted. The obvious and evident excellence of this house had never occurred to me as anything other than Mr. Johnson’s home. Nor had we discussed this unthinkable plan. As I recovered from the audacity of the statement, we sat in the backyard of my childhood home discussing the merits of the 99 house. When Mr. Johnson died a few years later others were interested in buying the property. His two sons came to us. All the years of neighborly concern and gestures made the house ours. This house was bought with compassion, shown slowly over two and a half decades.

Subsequently, we learned he had designed the entryway while his family rented nearby as the house was under construction. Horses were used to dig out the foundation; peaches were a favorite of the Johnson’s, evidenced by the concentration of peach pits in the spit of ground outside the back door. He taught my dad how to harvest and make beach plum jam.

His spirit is here, we summon him, when needed. I petition him regularly when I can’t figure out some domestic mystery. He comes through for us. He scribed shelves and storm windows with numbers, left his lead based paint formulas on the work bench in the basement. Mr. Johnson provided a personal narrative which we found behind the wallpaper, which he hung on winter months when his own work was slack. They are dated letters, note weather and economic considerations, and are poignant missives from his inner self. In one he awaits the arrival of his first grandchild, in another he sadly notes that his wife is no longer able to ascend the stairs.

We are happy to inhabit his house, it has become our home. His frugal economy and hard work during difficult times made it his. Money, good fortune and foresight on the part of my husband made it ours. It was his architectural eye which made me consider the possibility of making Mr. Johnson’s house our first home. In the years of staring out the windows of 100 I never considered I would live here. Forty years later, I still recall the squeaking metal sounds of Mr. Johnson opening the swing doors of the garage. Now that sound is ours, as it resonates through the years.

Part II: Disorientation

A mockingbird calls in the hush of night, repeating harsh tones from a tree top height deep in the hours of darkness in which we lay dozing. Awakened, I respond and reach, with some type of muscle memory, for the first available light switch that will not disturb the dreams of others. I drop my left hand down along the cream colored wall seeking the thermostat and switch. It is not there.

The house I awoke in is across the street from where I grew up. They do not share the same layout. Memory reaches out and turns on the light in the household of my youth. The switch is there, not here, it never was. Light switches don’t move, at least not overnight.

Tonight, here in the home of my adulthood, all our children are dreaming. Now downstairs, in the darkness of my dining room I check to the right of the door molding. The switch is there, but I no longer need it. Touching, without flipping it, assures me that I inhabited the house of my childhood in my dreams. When I awoke to the call of the bird, I reached for the light switch in the house of my youth. Reassured, I go upstairs again, to return to our sleeping family, here in the house which holds our dreams.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States