Monthly Archives: September 2013

German pig and Scottish Whisky

Round two of three. The german bar pig-based friday brunch of kings

Round two of three. The german bar pig-based friday brunch of kings

I just returned from brunch at the German bar, I think I might have civilisation poisoning. I just ate two bratwurst, one weiswurst, two other unidentified sausages, parma ham, baked ham, salami, several thick slices of honey roast gammon and a very very large quantity of bacon. The non-pig-based elements consisted of scrambled eggs, pickled cabbage, a bit of salad, a diet coke and two litres of good german pilsner. It was a bargain at $42; I might die of happiness. Or some other internal complaint.

The strange fruits of the iraqi earth

The strange fruits of the iraqi earth

My joyful reunion with Schweinefleisch has not been the only reminder of the things of home this week. Digging out a deep vertical pit on site, which I suspect to have been for a lavatory, we recovered a number of interesting items including shoes, clothing, tobacco pipes, umbrella fragments, a plastic flower and an almost undamaged whisky bottle produced by James Buchanan co. Ltd, Glasgow, Scotland. I feel a stronger connectedness to the people of ancient Erbil, now that I know they were drinking a decent Scottish whisky and hiding the empties in the toilet.

The Iraqi prince William comes with considerably more hair

The Iraqi prince William comes with considerably more hair

There are in fact a series of slightly un-nerving home-like things about Erbil, such as the very sensible adoption of the three-pin-plug and the way the mosque in the main square looks uncannily like Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. In a wedding shop on my way home from work, two of the dummies have been dressed up to look like Prince William and Kate Middleton. The first time I drove past I thought I’d imagined it and was having some kind of mid-life royalist fit. Last night I went to the UN bar where I met a fair few British people and ended up talking about awful British towns we’ve lived in. I think I won having worked in Stoke-on-Trent for two years. The UN bar was unexpectedly nice and gave out free beers and Tuborg t-shirts, although it was slightly over-populated with earnest looking men wearing ethnic scarves. I’m always disappointed by cliché.

Art imitating life: Brad Pitt  as earnest scarf-wearing zombie-fighting UN worker in World War Z

Brad Pitt as earnest-looking scarf-wearing zombie-fighting UN worker in World War Z

Advertisements

Ghosts of archaeology past

The deep magic of calling  down clouds using wet washing

The deep magic of calling down clouds using wet washing

The clouds are gathering over Erbil in a distressingly English way that makes me want to have a slice of cheese on toast and go to the pub. Even here autumn is on the way, in a sticky sort of 35°C manner. I’ve had my first autumn cold, probably due to the damage to my immune system wrought by two weeks of heavy drinking. As well as being snot-free once more, I’m currently enjoying my third day off thanks to the joys of the Kurdish election, so life seems good.

1911, Assur. A German archaeologist teaches a Sharqati workman how to annoy me

1911, Assur. A German archaeologist teaches a Sharqati workman how to annoy me

Work on site goes slowly onwards and downwards. Last week I started to tackle the Sharqatis. Sharqatis are men from Sharqat near Mosul who were trained by Germans a hundred years ago as excavators. This ancient knowledge has been passed down from father to son through the last century so that now they come fully trained to excavate new sites just as badly as the old ones. We have two. Don’t get me wrong, they’re very good at what they do, but we stopped doing a lot of those things fifty years ago. The main problem is that they want to find the walls and have very little interest in the stuff above and beside them like pits and late Medieval floors. As well as being very experienced in archaeology, they are very experienced in dealing with foreign archaeologists. When I ask them to please stop digging holes in things and to take the upper deposit out first they very politely say ‘yes, of course, whatever you say’. Then as soon as I walk away they laugh at my Egyptian Arabic and carry on digging big unstratigraphic trenches towards the wall face. I’ve had to start popping back after two minutes to catch them at it.

Meanwhile I’m continuing my explorations into the Erbil expat jungle. I’m amassing a large collection of business cards, including several important professors, three international consuls and the head of the Board of Intangible Cultural Heritage. I thought about getting some of my own printed but what would I put on them? ‘Homeless, penniless archaeologist, please feed me’, something like that? I’ve also extended my knowledge base in the realm of drinking establishments. I’ve found one around the corner where I can sit in the garden and the beer is reasonably priced, but because I’m a woman they set up a special table for me and whoever I’m with in the darkest corner. There is no women’s toilet. I feel like a leper. On Thursday night I went out with some other expats to try the new ‘Irish’ bar that opened last week. As it turned out it was owned by a Jordanian man and his Lebanese wife and only served German beer. A few forlorn shamrocks hid in a dark corner by the appalling DJ. When we left they tried to charge us a $50 per head cover charge and for a large meal we hadn’t eaten. We paid them for the actual things we’d drunk, told them we would never come here again and went somewhere better. I’d been hoping for Guinness and singing.

I like my archaeology with a decent view

I like my archaeology with a decent view

The many dangers of Erbil

The staff in their excavation issue cowboy hats. I think I look particularly good in mine

The staff in their excavation issue cowboy hats. I think I look particularly good in mine

I’ve been in Erbil for a week now and my general impressions are that it’s a cheery sort of hot squalid city with friendly people, appalling works of public art and a pervading smell of eggs (I suspect that most of the taxis run on some kind of sulphurous biogas). So far I’ve been to four dinner parties and one lecture, got lost twice and been in a car crash. I sustained no serious injury in the latter except getting diet coke in my eye, which was surprisingly unpleasant.

Walking the plank in the temple of doom

Walking the plank in the temple of doom

Work on site is slow but steadily improving in standard; yesterday we cracked the difference between centimetres and inches on the measuring tapes. The achievements of the last season, of which I was thankfully not a witness, hang over us like a health and safety officer’s darkest nightmare, consisting of unmarked precipices and vast chasms bridged with planks of wood. My aims for the season are to improve the standard of recording on site, to draw the elevation of the enormous Ottoman city wall and not to break my neck. I find I have been classified by the powers that be on site as a ‘consultant’, which I resent enormously as I feel it implies that I’m doing very little for a huge amount of money when in fact the opposite is true.

Liberated American pear

Liberated American pear

If the site doesn’t kill me I fear the social scene might. I’m renting a room in a house with other foreigners and so far we’ve had three large dinner parties with a further one planned for Saturday night. I’m developing excellent upper body strength through carrying boxes of Jacob’s Creek back from the wine shop every night. We also get invited out. Last night two of us went to the American security compound at the invitation of a member of the consular staff who has an interest in archaeology. He treated us to hamburgers and cheesecake at one of the compound restaurants and then took us back to his house where we drank a large amount of whiskey and admired his body armour. On the way back to the gates I sustained moderate injuries to my left arm by drunkenly climbing a wall to steal pears. In hindsight I was probably lucky not to get shot – as it happens, the wall concealed a large amount of satellite communications equipment and several armed guards. I’m sure there’ll be plenty more opportunities to get myself arrested.

Repack

I just completed the process of taking everything out of my big blue bag, washing it/throwing it away, and then repacking it into my even bigger green bag (plus some new underwear and a very large bag of coffee). I hate packing, it makes me realise how little I own of any value. I’m off to Heathrow in the morning and then hopefully to Erbil if they let me in (https://oldstuffinhotplaces.com/2013/05/12/disgracing-myself-in-erbil/).

At Warmington village fete I lie on the grass drinking beer and let things get away from me

At Warmington fete I spend too much time in the village pub and end up getting abducted by morris men

I’ve tried to make the most of my six days in fair England; I went down to visit my twin for two days, who just rusticated to a tiny cottage in Oxfordshire where she has adopted an elderly cat and taken up bell ringing. I fear for her mind. She took me to a local village fete (where I became entrapped into playing the base drum for the Morris dancers), we played darts in the pub next door and went shopping for teaspoons, garden chairs and rolling pins. She is starting to nest.

We also ate a pack of Serrano ham, a pack of Parma ham and a 2kg shoulder of pork. At home I’ve managed three large sausages, two packs of baked ham, a packet of bacon, two pork chops and over half a kilo of smoked salmon. My luggage is full of pork scratchings: I am ready.

Emergency equipment: there comes a point when only pig will do

Emergency equipment: there comes a point when only pig will do