Diary, 20/03/20 – Throwback before Covid-19

So, before the Covid-19 crisis started we were in Santiago, right back from my vacations and surgery, ready to start again with my crazy schedule of trips. As I told you a couple of days ago, this schedule is going to be deeply affected, but right now, let’s focus on the interesting things that happened during the last weeks.

As I told you, right after Santiago I was going to Segovia to start preparing a cool spin-off for the summer. To be honest right now I fear we will not be able to do it if thngs keep getting worse, but I still have hope. Anyway, as said, this is a story for a specific post later on. That Friday I went with some colleagues from CDL Madrid [the professional association here] to Jaén for the second meeting of the project to improve the situation of the Spanish archaeological collective. This is something I am very interested in, but also helps to shape some details for the project, so it had a double objective. To be honest, the first and main was to advance in the work-lines we set in Santander, as research becomes secondary here.

Marroquíes Bajos, Jaén

But once there I had a couple pending tasks: visiting the new Museum of the Iberian Culture. Visiting some lots of Marroquíes Bajos. On the way to the meeting I had seen some amazingly stupid valorisations of ‘sites’ [four square meters in the middle of a square with not much sense], but I was super intrigued about the situation of what is probably one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in Spain of the last years [if you can read Spanish]. In the photo you can see the biggest reserve of the site, that supposedly has the highest protection level. Still waiting to see what happens, while James Cameron still appears on National Geographic every once in a while saying this was Atlantis.

After a short stop in the office, it was time for one of the events of the year: TAG Ibérico Lisboa 2020. I didn’t mention anything about the previous [and first] edition in Carmona back in 2018, but I co-organise this spin-off from TAG in Spain and Portugal, and this year it was huge. As we say in Spanish, we died out of success. From it all, the Saturday at Carmo was explendid. And I had the chance to meet in person the people from MASAV, that invited me to their latest event some days later. It was a huge archaeological party in a rural area of Avila, to present the latest results from the work to the people of the surrounding communities and beyond. Music, anthropology, experimental archaeology, a lot of good food… that is community archaeology.

But the trip of these days was my visit to Italy… right in the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis there. I was in Rome, and Napoli-Pompeii. What can I say? Rome is literally amazing. And Napoli, even better. Pompeii left me with no words. And the several meetings I managed to have around there, helped a lot to understand some of the latest issues in Italian archaeology. Specially after visiting the National Museum in Napoli I had the feeling I was eating good food after a life of eating rubbish. If I had to highlight two things:

  • Big sites: they have a new almost independet status that makes them kind of rich, compared to other sites. I was amazed there is no cooperative scheme beyond the Colosseo Park. However, when you have to manage THAT, and I write it in capital letters because we do not realise sometimes the size of certain places, even this amount of money that looks beyond any known budget is not enought to guarantee much beyond the basics of conservation.
  • Small sites: they survive mostly thanks to cooperative initiatives that are doing a great job. Indeed, there is one in Napoli that deserves a bit of publicity. The Catacombi are doing an explendid job, not just for the management, but also for the community. Problem: The Vatican…

Let’s start with the Vatican. All the catacombi in Italy are property of the Vatican, that has very little interest on most of the remains outside of Rome. The ones in Napoli where completely abandoned, and this group of friends, pushed by the local priest, started to work on them with permission. Ten years later, and some profit in place, now the Vatican want their cut. Sounds miserable, but my experience, or no-experience with them was as miserable as this. No answer to emails or calls, and a rude ‘if they do not answer is because they are busy’ dipatch by an information worker. Experiencing the Vatican makes you regret being Catholic. If anyone from the Vatican reads this, I don’t want any apology, just an answer… if not, my experience will become word, and it was really bad. The Vatican Museums is one of the very few places where I didn’t want to be although I wanted to see a lot of things. The massification of the museum is brutal, specially in a moment when Covid-19 was already closing Lombardia. I am sure the workers do their best, but honestly, not setting limits to the number of visitors and arranging better the flow, it is an irresponsibility that from my perspective answers only to greed, or a negligent management. Looks like I’m angry. I am. Not only for their lack of respect for others, but for what I experienced as a quite uncatholic behaviour.

But let’s go back to Italy… because there are a couple of stories I would like to tell.

My friend Tono Vizcaíno is working on the book of a great project he conducted last year in Rome; SPQR Now! In it, he mapped the contemporary references to the Classical past in Rome. And there are a lot… In the images I just put a photo of Constantino’s hand from the colossal sculpture in the Capitoline Museum, next to this Donald Duck as an emperor from the Disney Store. It is amazing how around most corners you can find references, some of them great. But, I will not talk more about this… wait for Tono’s publication and follow him meanwhile at Pi3dra.

The second story takes me to San Giovanni metro station, where they did an amazing museography with remains from the excavations in the area, going from the lower levels and the Palaeolithic to the most recent ones in a sort of stratigraphy. Just perfect. Indeed, I was there for a while seeing how people reacted to the station and a lot of them still look at the graphics and artefacts. It is disruptive enough to work… would be great to study the impact more in depth.

I think, if you click on the images you get the full version.. if not, I’ll explain. The second story takes us to Napoli, Piazza Bellini and a ‘whatever’ remain with no interpretation in the middle. But I loved the banner… ‘Be a good tourist of your city’, trying to make Napolitans enjoy more their city from a heritage perspective. Speaking with a colleague right there, she told me people is quite disengaged from their heritage there and tourists just do the stop-over for Pompeii. I guess the situation is getting better, but seing for example the ads of the new metro station in Castel Nuovo [‘The best station of the world’ I guess because of its beauty with the integration of the archaeological remains] made me wonder if they are actually working hard towards this…

And last, but not least, an experience at the Museo Nazionale Romano in Palazzo Massimo. There was a French school visit. The were wondering around… looking here and there, taking random photos, not always to the sculptures… Among them most students were black. When they arrived to this sculpture, one of them saw it. And suddenly they became crazy. For good. What was a dull visit, suddenly became interesting. They started to take photos of the sculpture, and with the sculpture, commenting how cool it was. Mary Beard came to mind with the controversy in the UK, and we have now proof that with the material culture we currently have in exhibit and stores, there is the possibility to make exhibitions more engaging for different audiences and addressing hot topics for a better society. I guess now we just need a bit more money to do it.

These days in Italy my mom was very nervous. The situation was becoming dangerous. Half of the north was already in lockdown and Spain was growing its numbers exponentially. I got back to Spain seven hours late. Right away, I had to for my surgery check in the hospital and then go for a seminar at URJC, did not sleep. But the seminar was great. The next week I had to cancel a trip to Algeria, the Covid-19 situation had turn crazy in many countries now, including most Europe. I could not risk a trip to a country where I could actually be stuck. But, before that, I went to Carnes Tolendas, the MASAV party I told you before…

…and last week, before Covid-19 became very serious in Spain and the lockdown was set, we had our internal seminar at Incipit. A great space where all together share our work and design future strategies for the institute and ourselves. We will remember it for years with the Covid-19 updates every little, and desinfecting the microphones and tables. But we could do it right on time, rushing to finish so we could arrange the next weeks in isolation. For the moment we are all okey. I am lucky I don’t have any close person infected yet. The next post will be soon, with good news… next week though.

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