Thursday, January 31, 2013

12 Tasks for kids on the Bay of Naples

Perseus fresco
I know, I know! "Tasks" doesn't sound like a holiday word. But it's always good to have a few fun goals when you go on vacation, even if it's getting your grandmother one of those tiles she likes so much or sourcing the best local dessert.

So here are 12 child-friendly tasks for you to do in the Bay of Naples. They range from easy to challenging and you will have to get your parents to help!

1 Sorrento is famous for its lemon groves; try a lemon sorbet or - if your parents are agreeable - get one of them to order limoncello after dinner and ask for a sip, but just a sip! It is very strong.
rope marks on the well-head

2 Visit Herculaneum and find ancient rope-marks on one of several marble well-heads by the impluvia (rain-water pools) in some villas.

3 Have Sanbitter (a bright red, non-sweet, non-alcoholic Italian aperitif) and nibbles on the terrace of the Hotel Bellevue Syrene in Sorrento; ask if you can see the Roman rooms downstairs first, to help make the cost of your drink worth it!

funny ducks mosaic in Naples
4 Find the funny ducks mosaic at the National Museum of Archaeology in Naples (right).

5 Visit the so-called Villa of Poppaea AKA Oplontis (at Torre Annunziata on the Circuvesuviana Sorrento-Naples train line) and look at the cake-like layers of tufa (hardened ash) and papilli (light volcanic pebbles) that Vesuvius laid down.

6 Find the public water spouts in Castellammare di Stabia and taste one of seven different types of mineral water.

7 Go all the way into the Blue Grotto in Capri.

Villa of Pollius Felix (model)
8 Visit the model of the Villa of Pollius Felix in Piano di Sorrento (left).

9 Swim in the secret cove of the Villa of Pollius Felix on the Capo di Sorrento. (OK, then, just take a photo...)

10 Find the little fresco of Perseus with the head of Medusa (top of this post) at the Villa San Marco at Castellammare di Stabia. You'll have to get a taxi at Castellammare di Stabia, but it's worth it.

Temple of Mercury, Baia
11 Visit the flooded so-called Temple of Mercury at Baiae. It used to be part of a bath-house but the flooding is caused by a phenomenon known as bradyseism. (Look out for the upside down fig-tree growing in a cave-like vaulted room next door!)

12 Take a hot mud (fango) bath in the oldest spa on the island of Ischia. Or visit one of the modern baths like Negombo.

These "tasks" are adapted from the Roman Mysteries Travel Guide: From Ostia to Alexandria with Flavia Gemina, now available on Kindle. And if you want some good reading, try the three Roman Mysteries set on the Bay of Naples: The Secrets of Vesuvius, The Pirates of Pompeii and The Sirens of Surrentum. Buon Viaggio! 

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

History Chickens!

me and my soft toy chicken
[I first published this on the History Girls in 2011]

One of the drawbacks of being a historical fiction author living in 21st century London is that you have to keep reminding yourself about things that would have existed in first century Rome. Or a Nevada mining town in the 1860s. Or Jerusalem during the siege of Titus. Or where-ever, when-ever.

Some things don't change about town life: beggars, pickpockets, street markets... But there were lots of critters roaming about back then that you rarely see today on the Kings Road, Chelsea. Horses, stray dogs, feral cats, flocks of goats and... chickens!

ancient Roman pawprint
My husband Richard and I are both avid fans of historical fiction, especially movies and TV productions. Whenever we are watching a Western or a Sword and Sandals drama and we see poultry, we punch the air and shout "CHICKENS!" Then we mentally give the film or TV show an extra star, a kind of "chicken-o-meter" of authenticity. (We have recently added a "spittoon-ometer" to gauge the historical accuracy of westerns. What is YOUR accuracy barometer?)

Forum Boarium 1855
One of my favourite things about HBO's Rome was the presence of chickens in the forum. Most set designers wouldn't dream of making Mark Anthony step over a roosting free-ranger as he went to give Caesar's funeral oration, but the producers of this programme were spot on in this respect. Most Romans would have encountered a daily hazard in steaming piles of manure, scavenging dogs, fleabitten feral cats, etc. "Friends, Romans, Countrymen... Lend me your ugh! What did I just step in?" Any Roman passing through the Forum Boarium would definitely have had to watch his or her step. Forum Boarium means "Cattle Market", but they also dealt in goats, sheep, pigs and no doubt chickens. This is one of the 10% surprises I have blogged about elsewhere.

"Only three sesterces..."
Another one of my favourite historical dramas is HBO's Deadwood. This TV series – with its amazing evocation of an 1870s mining town in the Black Hills of South Dakota – revived the Western genre in America and partly inspired my new P.K Pinkerton Mysteries series. But the producers of Deadwood made one grievous error. NO CHICKENS! (apart from some briefly glimpsed dead chicken feet in the title sequence, that is.) 

So you can imagine how thrilled I was when screenwriter Dom Shaw introduced a sacred chicken and its owner to the CBBC TV adaptation of my book The Slave-girl from Jerusalem. Floridius the Soothsayer, brilliantly played by Mark Benton, posts a sign in the forum:

Threptus & Aphrodite
Aulus Probus Floridius: Haruspex, mercator sacrarum gallinarum, orator, peritissimus ad horoscopos operaque varia. 
(Aulus Probus Floridius: Soothsayer, dealer in sacred hens, orator, very skilled in horoscopes and random tasks)

Floridius also says amusing things like: "Would you like me to sacrifice this nervous chicken to ensure the verdict? Only three sesterces?" and "The entrails of the sacred chickens never lie!" Also, he falls into the fountain a lot.

Most authors would be peeved if a screenwriter introduced a major character into an adaptation of their story. But I loved Floridius so much that I gave him a walk-on part in the final Roman Mystery, The Man from Pomegranate Street. Then I let him have a bigger part in the second volume of Roman Mini-Mysteries, as sidekick to an 8-year-old beggar-boy detective named Threptus. And finally I conceived an entire spin-off series starring the two of them.

And all because of those chickens. 

You can read "Threptus and the Sacred Chickens" in The Legionary from Londinium & other Mini-Mysteries

The Roman Mysteries are perfect for children 9+ studying Romans as a topic in Key Stage 2. The Roman Mystery Scrolls series (with chickens) is aimed at kids aged 7+ and the Roman Quests series, set in Roman Britain, is a new spinoff series for kids 9+.

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