Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Long Live Tuco!

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What is the world's most highly rated Western?

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Over at IMDb, it consistently ranks as one of the top ten films among viewers top 250. And rightly so. It is a masterpiece of storytelling: funny, exciting, brutal, touching and always unexpected. It is about three men searching for two hundred thousand dollars in gold during the final years of the American Civil War.

Everybody knows that Lee Van Cleef AKA Angel Eyes AKA "the Bad" is the baddie. 

Everybody thinks that Clint Eastwood AKA Blondie AKA "the Good" is the hero.

They are wrong. 

The hero is Tuco Benedicto Pacfico Juan Mara Ramrez AKA Tuco AKA "the Ugly". He is a grubby, greasy, greedy Mexican who cares for nothing but gold. He was played masterfully by Eli Wallach, who died today at the grand old age of 98. 

I will say it again: Tuco is the Hero! Think about it. He's the first one we see and the last one we see. He has more screen time than either of the others. He is the only one with a back story. 

Apparently, Clint Eastwood was worried that Eli Wallach might steal the film. And with reason. Wallach totally steals the film. From the moment he comes crashing through the window of a saloon, a smoking revolver in one hand and a half-eaten turkey drumstick in the other, to his last final cry "You're just a son of a [wa-oo-wa-oo-wah]!" he fizzes with mischievous energy and fun. I've seen the film half a dozen times and his performance is always fresh, always funny, always endearing. 

Tuco is my favourite character in this film and in any Western. 

And Eli Wallach was the key to Tuco's lovability. 

Eli Wallach's autobiography
Wallach was a trained method actor who worked with Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Peter O'Toole, Audrey Hepburn and many others. He could play any type of character, but comedy was his forte. 

Many of Tuco's best moments in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly were ad-libbed by Wallach. When Blondie gives him a cigar he eats it. When bomb is about to go off he dives into a trench head first, butt up! The way he crosses himself is hilarious. The scene of him in the bubble bath is sublime. His face expresses every selfish thought. His muddy brown eyes glow with life, humour, vulnerability. 

Ten things I love about Tuco:
1. He wears a belt AND braces.
2. He has a sense of humour.
3. He likes bubble baths.
4. He likes cigars as snacks.
5. He has a silver tooth.
6. He is man enough to carry a parasol in the desert.
7. He doesn't let life get him down.
8. He has a rich vocabulary... for cussing.
9. He wears his gun on a string around his neck.
10. He is a man of faith. Well, he IS always crossing himself.

My five fave Tuco quotes:
1. There are two kinds of spurs, my friend. Those that come in by the door, and those that come in by the window.
2. Don't die, I'll get you water. Stay there. Don't move, I'll get you water. Don't die until later.
3. Hurrah! Hurrah for the Confederacy! HURRAH! Down with General Grant! Hurrah for General... What's his name? Lee! LEE! Ha ha.
4. If I get my hand on the two hundred thousand dollars, I'll always honour your memory. I swear.
5. When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk.

Thank you, Eli, for giving us so much pleasure. You are gone, but Tuco will live forever. 

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Classics Bucket List

When you first became interested in Classics, did you have certain goals? Perhaps you dreamt of reading Homer in the original Greek? Or of learning to scan lines of Virgil? Did you hope your Classics degree might give you a grasp of Greek philosophy or insight into Roman politics? Did you imagine yourself doing certain things? Wandering ancient ruins in the shimmering heat of the Mediterranean sun? Drinking retsina under a grape arbour at dusk on the coast of some island? Swimming in the same dark waters sailed by Odysseus and Cleopatra?

How many of those dreams and goals have you realised? Maybe it's time to take stock. To ponder which can be ticked off a list and which can stay on. When I was thinking about this talk, I sent out a tweet asking Classicists what goals they still had. 80% of the answers were intellectual: e.g. to memorise a speech, learn a language, grasp a concept. Only 20% had to do with physical activity, usually a pilgrimage to some ancient site or trek along some famous road. We Classicists exist so much in our heads that I thought I would make most of the items on my list about the physical tasks rather than mental goals. My aim with this list of suggestions is to encourage you to use all five senses to reconnect with your original dreams and goals, so you can be inspired and inspire others. 

1. MEMORISE A PASSAGE - Learning something by heart is a precious thing. Memorise a speech or poem in Latin, Greek or Hebrew. Not only will you inspire your students, you will have something to recite when you find yourself in an ancient Greek theatre with those famously excellent acoustics. And a speech or poem is always more impressive than saying testing one two three when you’re trying out a microphone. Best of all, the passage becomes part of you. Tip: Recite it every morning while doing your push ups and crunches.

my kylix from the Vatican giftshop
2. START COLLECTING ARTEFACTS - It’s always fun to collect replica artefacts that you can play with and use in class. I like to buy one at every ancient site I visit. This can be costly at times, but it gives you a entry into the mindset of ancient Greeks or Romans as your teeth click on the ceramic rim of a kylix or as you hold a guttering oil lamp at night. Artefacts are an amazing way of bringing a text alive, of transferring knowledge from your head to your heart. The physician’s cupping instrument taught me about the four humours, the strigil about the baths, the sponge-stick about Roman hygiene.
my replica strigil and oil flask
3. TAKE YOUR STRIGIL TO THE BATHS - In Rome last year, I met two experts on ancient Roman thermae or baths. Neither one of them had ever been to a hammam or public bathhouse of any kind! How can you study Roman baths without ever trying out the nearest thing? A trip to a Turkish bath or hammam can be a sensory revelation. In a hammam in the old town of Fez, I once saw a boy shovelling sawdust into the underfloor furnace, just like a Roman hypocaust. I went to another Fez hammam at night and the electric lights glowed in the steam like oil-lamps. I almost fainted after the hot room because I got up too fast. With its cream and apricot marble and dome pierced with elaborate steam vents, Cağaloğlu Hamamı in Istanbul is so opulent that a visit makes you feel like a Roman emperor or empress. Tip: You don't have to go to Morocco or Turkey, there is a Roman Bath in Bayswater with rooms marked tepidarium, caldarium and laconicum. Take a flask of oil and your replica strigil to the Porchester Spa

Man on Market Street, San Francisco
4. TRY CUPPING - Cupping teaches you about the four humours, one of the ancient mindsets we've forgotten. The cupping instrument was such a common aspect of Greek and Roman life that doctors often hung replica ones outside their surgeries or put reliefs of them on their tombs. But many classicists wouldn't know a cupping vessel if they saw it. Cupping was designed to balance the humours bringing you back to health and stability. Reading Book VI of the Iliad, I suddenly realised that Hector is melancholy by nature and Paris – likened to a leaping stallion – is sanguine. Tip: Your local Chinese doctor or Acupuncture technician can do dry or wet cupping. 

Chris Lydamore
5. THROW A POT - I once attended a workshop in London where children in inner city primary schools were asked to make amphorae from plastic cups, masking tape and balloons! This was supposed to give them an grasp of the shape and function of amphorae in the ancient world. Arghh! How much better for them to have seen a potter at work or even had a go themselves to get a feel for the manufacture of real pots and jars. I was lucky enough to take pottery in high school. I still remember the feel of the lump of clay spinning between my hands, of how you have to pump the wheel with your foot making your thigh ache after a while, of how a pillar of wet clay grows and wobbles and tips if you haven't centred it. The slippery feel of clay water, the leathery texture of a partly dried pot, the chalky texture of a cup painted with glaze before the firing and its delightfully glossy durability afterwards. Tip: Your local community college or City Lit (in London) should offer courses in pottery or ceramics.

The Cambridge Greek play in 2013
6. ATTEND (OR STAGE) A GREEK PLAY - Oxford's Armand d’Angour dreams of seeing an authentic reconstruction of an Ancient Greek tragic chorus. He’s hoping to stage one himself in 2015. Those of you who are teachers have a captive cast and crew. You could always do an adaptation or a musical version. In Cambridge last year, I saw a superb double bill of Prometheus and The Frogs by Helen Eastman and others.  Personally, I would love to see the ancient version of a pantomime, in which a single pantomime dancer wearing a mask would dance out a story sung by accompanying musicians. We don't have any surviving examples, unfortunately, but you could put your own interpretation on it. 

with Andrew Ashmore 
7. TAKE PART IN A RE-ENACTMENT - You don't have to be in the front line. Re-enactments are not always about fighting. Sometimes they're about dressing up. You can be a poet or scribe or camp follower. If you don't take part in one, try to attend one. Wander from stall to stall, event to event. Talk to the re-enactors. They have insight into the classical world that can only be gleaned from sleeping in a field under a leather tent or cooking recipes from Apicius on a coal brazier or wearing a chain mail shirt all day. Tip: The British Museum and Museum of London stage regular re-enactment events. Check out this film clip about Gladiator Games held in London's Guildhall Yard. 

Ben Kane walks for charity
8. GO ON A PILGRIMAGE - Ray Laurence, professor of Classics at the University of Kent, tweeted his dream of following the Via Flaminia from Rimini to Rome. Liz Gloyn would walk Hadrian's Wall. Classics teacher Andrew Christie from Rugby School has the grand ambition to follow the footsteps of Alexander the Great. But why not aim high, like Andrew? You only live once. If you need an excuse to attempt a pilgrimage, why not go on a sponsored walk as author Ben Kane recently did. He and some dedicated friends walked from Capua to Rome in full armour! Tip: train for this one. 

Ostia Antica, numinous and magical
9. VISIT AN ANCIENT SITE - Have you stood in the ruins of Troy or climbed Vesuvius? Cambridge professor Mary Beard would like to go to Palmyra and Mons Porphyritus. Oxford professor Llewelyn Morgan dreams of climbing Mount Ilam in Pakistan. American Latin teacher Edward Zarrow wants to take his kids to Leptis. Many of my friends claim their interest in the subject was first sparked by a visit to an ancient site, not always an exotic or glamorous one. Tip: Ostia Antica is my favourite ancient site in the whole world. It has an almost numinous quality and is only an hour from Rome by train.

Santa Lucia fishing village in Naples
10. VISIT A CITY WITH A CLASSICAL HERITAGE - After many years of avoiding Naples, my husband and I spent a week there on the advice of Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill. We stayed in the peaceful Santa Lucia district – a hidden fishing village at the foot of the Castel dell'Ovo – and we fell utterly in love with the city. Vibrant, crowded, full of superstition and joie-de-vivre, Naples is probably the closest I will get to travelling back in time to Pompeii. Sadly, many Classicists avoid Naples apart from a half-day visit to the National Museum. Athens is another city that has a reputation of being hot and crowded, but if you go off-season, it can be a thrilling experience. We are living in a golden age of air fare and from the UK you can get to Classical cities more cheaply than any at other time in history. Tip: EasyJet.

Puy du Fou near Nîmes in France
11. ATTEND A BULLFIGHT OR CHARIOT RACE - You can't go back in time to the Colosseum for beast hunts and gladiatorial combats or to the Circus Maximus for chariot races. But the closest equivalent to a day in the amphitheatre is a day at a bullfight. If the idea of watching a bull being slaughtered offends you there are bullfights in France where the bull is not killed. This can be an eye-opening experience. The shape of the arenas is the same. Bull stadia are often draped in garlands, as we know the Colosseum was. You can rent a cushion and buy a snack, just like in Roman times. The most important person sits at the shady end of the oval nearest the sand (Latin harena = arena, of course). Dead animals are dragged off with hooks and the bloody sand raked over. Music was played then and is played now. Less evocative are modern chariot races. Health and safety means we will never legally watch twelve four-horse chariots race round a track at breakneck speed, but the Puy du Fou in France probably comes closest. Tip: You need a car for the Puy du Fou but not for the Great Roman Games at Nîmes. Just fly to Nîmes, get a bus to the city centre and you're there!  

The Amber Fury
12. WRITE A NOVEL OR SCREENPLAY - As a Classicist, you have enough insight and knowledge to write a book. Maybe you will write the next Eagle of the Ninth or The Last of the Wine. It could be a child’s picture book about the Trojan Horse, your own translation of Catullus' Love Poetry, or a tongue-in-cheek re-telling of Homer's Odyssey in the style of The Diary of A Wimpy Kid... Oh wait! That's been done. Classicist Natalie Haynes has recently written a contemporary novel based on a Greek tragedy template: The Amber Fury. Or, if a novel doesn't appeal, You could write a screenplay based on a updated Greek myth or re-telling of a fascinating incident from history. I am currently kicking myself that I didn't think of Ruby Sparks, the Pygmalion story from a writer's point of view, or Mark Wahlberg's upcoming The Roman, a filmed version of teenage Julius Caesar's abduction by pirates. If you're really ambitious, why not map out a whole TV series about Theseus or Hadrian? Tip: Find a good story structure method, like Save the Cat.

So those are 
my dozen suggestions of things you might want to do before you KICK THE BUCKET. If you don't like them, come up with your own! 

Tweet me @CarolineLawrenc to let me know how you get on. Oleave your suggestions in the comments section below.  Bona fortuna! Good luck!

P.S. My personal bucket list:
1. To memorise twenty lines of Homer's Iliad
2. Acquire a replica bronze age helmet with lining and crest
3. Take a pottery class and make a Geometric cup
4. Take part in a real Roman banquet, reclining on couches
5. Watch a Roman pantomime (or something close to it)
6. Climb Mount Vesuvius to the crater
7. Spend the night among the ruins of Troy
8. Visit Jerusalem
9. Witness a chariot race at Puys du Fou
10. Write an HBO television adaptation of the Aeneid

[This post is based on my presidential address at the JACT AGM and conference in May 2014.]