—Possum tubera solani fricta habere?*
I can’t wait
to break this news to my friends at the local “slow food” club. Their
logo is a snail (really!) and they (my friends, not
the snails) pride themselves on waiting for their
meals as they lavish insults on barbarous tramontane
habits such as “fast food.” After all, they reason,
their imperial ancestors dined slowly, sumptuously, in
the most leisurely Claudius-peel-me-a-grape fashion
I say Hah! I
call their sloth-besotted attention to Dr. Penelope
Allison's recent book The Insula of the Menander
at Pompeii Volume III: The Finds, a Contextual Study
(Oxford University Press, 2007).
It contains catalogues, analyses, photographs and
drawings of 2,000 archaeological artefacts excavated
in Pompeii. The
average ancient Roman ate on the run (!)
and—(drum-roll)—did not wine
and dine in measured decadence the way you see them
doing in movies about ancient Rome. As a matter of
fact, the ancient Romans never even saw
movies about ancient Rome! (Dr. Allison doesn’t say
that; I’m just trying to help out.) Allison says, "In
many parts of the western world today, a popular
belief exists that family members should sit down and
dine together and, if they don't, this may represent a
breakdown of the family structure, but that idea did
not originate in ancient Rome."
a lack of tableware and formal dining or kitchen areas
in the homes in Pompeii. Instead, there were isolated
plates here and there, such as in sleeping quarters.
She also found mini barbecue-type fire boxes,
suggesting "BBQ or fondue-style dining.” "Similar to
how children today bring a plate of food to their
rooms before watching TV or playing on the computer,”
says Allison, “my guess is that Roman youths would
tote food to certain areas where they possibly engaged
in other activities." Got that, mater?
Another authority on ancient Rome, Professor Stephen Dyson of the University of Buffalo says that Allison’s book is “meticulously researched” and adds, "We've also found numerous fast food restaurants in Pompeii and other parts of ancient Rome, " calling these places a cross between "...Burger King and a British pub or a Spanish tapas bar. …Most Romans lived in apartments or rather confined spaces, and there is not much evidence for stoves and other cooking equipment in them," he says, adding that "Italy's vibrant street and bar scenes today, along with the often multipurpose design of homes with bedsteads stacked in a corner, or kitchenettes in surprising places, reflect the wonderful, slightly chaotic, aspects of early Roman life.”
or, as we say, audite!
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*Can I get some fries?
[See related item on the Roman thermopolium.]