Foreign idiots in a car

The sickly pumpkins of Iraq

The sickly pumpkins of Iraq

It’s the morning after an unwisely alcoholic Halloween and things have just got to the point where I think I might live after all. I went to a barbeque, where I got savaged by an enormous orange cat (small tiger?), and then onto the Halloween party at the Palmyra Hotel, and then I woke up. Earlier in the day I managed to procure an Iraqi pumpkin and carve a passably evil face into it. It is of a slightly sickly hue in comparison to its garish western equivalents and is much wetter, causing a brown slime to accumulate in the bottom and an appearance of sweating. It is in all other respects charming.

Iraq's most annoying dog sitting on the aqueduct at Jerwan

Iraq’s most annoying dog sitting on the aqueduct at Jerwan

This weekend is very much a contrast to last weekend which I spent in blameless sobriety, give or take a few glasses of wine here and there. Instead I went together with a few friends to hire a car and get out of Erbil. We decided to go up north of Mosul to see some of the Neo-Assyrian stuff, taking with us an elderly and inaccurate antiquities map to make sure we didn’t take a wrong turn and end the weekend by being sold into sexual slavery in the new Caliphate. As things turned out, what we really should have been worried about our own breath-taking stupidity in the area of car husbandry.

Spoiling the Mazda's fun

Spoiling the Mazda’s fun

Our first stop was at Jerwan where the Assyrian king Sennacherib built a whopping great aqueduct in about 700BC to bring water to Nineveh and keep his slaves busy. The peacefulness of the place was somewhat spoiled by a large dog, which kept up a constant barking for the full forty minutes we were there, and by the rumble of Peshmerga artillery shelling IS positions to the south. We were joined by a local Peshmerga who was on leave, along with his sons and his tractor, which turned out to be fantastically lucky. After Jerwan we attempted to visit a small tell site but taking a wrong turn we drove right into a huge pool of mud and sheep excrement from which the Mazda was unwilling or unable to remove itself. Every attempt managed only to burrow it in deeper and throw huge sprays of brown slurry in all directions. In the end it settled contentedly in the deepest part like a fat black pig. Fortunately, we had just met a man with a tractor who we called and within half an hour we were watching sheepishly as he dragged the Mazda unwillingly out by its arse. I even forgave him for attempting to grope my breast back at Jerwan. The local children took us to their village to wash the car off and laugh at us. We went home via Khinis and Akre and several very narrowly avoided car accidents.

The king doing his king thing at Khinis

The king doing his king thing at Khinis

Out of gas: waiting to be rescued again

Out of gas: waiting to be rescued again

On the second day we headed for the ancient monastery at Mar Mattai northeast of Mosul. We were having a jolly old time until the Mazda mysteriously ceased to function. Having pushed the car out of the path of the death-dealing fuel tankers which were thundering around us, we consulted the Mazda’s manual and after a period of denial were forced to accept that we had in fact run out of petrol. Fortunately, Kurds like nothing better than rescuing mentally deficient foreigners from their own stupidity and soon enough a nice man had driven one of us off to buy fuel at the nearest petrol station and then helped us to funnel it into the car. We finally arrived at the monastery with just enough time to have a cup of tea with the head monk and sit through a church service with a lace doily on my head before it was time to get back in the car. So ended the many valuable lessons of last weekend.

Mar Mattai: Praying for a release from idiocy and a safe drive home

Mar Mattai: Praying for a release from idiocy and a safe drive home


6 thoughts on “Foreign idiots in a car

  1. Pingback: Around the Archaeology Blog-o-sphere Digest #9 | Doug's Archaeology

  2. Jon Pattengill

    Concentration and focus of the mind will allow one to plan ahead and to pay attention and thus live somewhere other than Planet Nitwit. You can do that!

  3. surfacefind Post author

    Thanks Jon, sound advice. I’ve been endeavouring to leave Planet Nitwit for 36 years now, but sadly the gravitational forces are enormous. Probably because it’s so dense

    1. Jon Pattengill

      You’ve got great verbal skills. You could earn multiples of what you do and meet much more interesting people if you could read those presently-annoying tablets, at least some of them. Sumerian is easy and fun.

      LUGAL man-big=King
      E-KUR house-mountain=”The Mountain House”
      E-ENLIL house lord-air=House of (the god) Enlil
      MU NA DU he it built=he built it.

      The Early Dynastic signs are so clearly pictorial and interesting they are really easy to learn.
      You can actually learn many of them just by correlating the signs with the translations in the illustrations in ordinary library books. Ur III left lots of inscribed stone and metal objects, where the signs are really clear. You can curl up somewhere quiet on your own with a few books without creating expectations among certain others that anything potentially big is going on.
      Many, many of the inscribed objects you will see end with that wonderfully-satisfying line


      You will already be able to read that! Sumerian has a very simple structure, and very short, almost always monosyllabic words. “Antidisestablishmentarianism” is not a Sumerian word. Another easy and very satisfying thing for beginners is to be able to read the names of the famous rulers in the original sources, such as “GU-DE-A” and “E-AN-NA-TUM” and later on “ASH-SHUR-BANI-PAL. “Give it a shot. Secret: Learning Sumerian confers anti-gravitational powers.

      1. Jon Pattengill

        I could be wrong about how much an epigrapher or a general Sumerologist makes, but I know I am not wrong about the satisfaction to be had. It also deepens one’s perspective enormously to understand the similarities and differences in thought and experience between our day and theirs. “The Stream of Tradition” , the corpus of broadly-held Mesopotamian literature in its time, was quite impressive. The professionals guess that we are far from having recovered it all, and the missing pieces are still out there awaiting the skilled attentions of people like you. Just as there is architecture made of mudbrick, there is architecture made of ideas.
        Years ago, life was not very happy for me before I encountered the magic doorway of cuneiform writing. The world to which it admitted me is a large and fascinating one, and most of all, a meaningful one. I cannot help but recommend it to anyone in need of that. People seem not to talk about perspective as having a healing, uplifting effect, but I have found it to be so.

    2. Jon Pattengill

      Forgot to mention: I am ten years short of twice your age, and live 26 miles above New York, in Westchester. I am not an errant husband across the street who has had his eye on you. I think your blog is in the top few percent of the things on the internet. If you like, you could give notice of its existence on Jack Sasson’s “agade” site, which concerns itself with all things Ancient Near Eastern. I was introduced to it by John A. Halloran, the author of the Sumerian Dictionary. You can also subscribe to it yourself, if you do not already.


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