Thursday, March 29, 2012

Potties and Pottery

I've been reading about the ancient Greeks lately, after my recent trip to Athens with my husband. Like the ancient Romans, they were brilliant innovators and inventors, and their achievements in architecture are truly mind-boggling. They were ahead of their time, that's for sure, and built magnificent structures that still stand to this day--and they did it without any of our modern conveniences, like electrical tools, computer technology, and fuel-powered machinery. The Parthenon is still standing; parts of it are in ruins, but after thousands of years, it's still standing. I find that incredible.

The ancient Greeks were not only gifted architects, however; they were also engineering geniuses. For instance, they designed cannons and other machines used for war, odometers, levers, and alarm clocks. If you can believe it, all those centuries ago they even figured out how to provide buildings with central heating. In about 350 B.C., they warmed the Great Temple of Ephesus by circulating heated air through flutes built into the floor. They rigged up automatic doors, for goodness sake! And here are some of the great strides they made in water technology: they built aqueducts for water supply, water wheels and water mills, sewage and drainage systems, and fountains, to name a few; they even figured out how to provide indoor plumbing for showers! And this was all long before the Birth of Christ. I find that amazing, especially when I think about the fact that the early settlers in our country carried water buckets to the house from the pump or the pond, and took baths in giant metal tubs using water heated up in a pot over a fire!

Sometimes, I get the romantic notion that I would have liked living back in Colonial America, because it seems as if in some ways life was sweeter and simpler. You know, I could put on my little homespun dress and my bloomers and my muslin bonnet, and practice my book learnin' by embroidering my numbers and letters on a sampler that my mama would hang proudly in our house...our drafty house, where I would share a bed with three siblings..and never get to have a hot shower...and let's not even talk about the outhouse. Yikes: the outhouse! I like to fancy myself an old-fashioned type of girl--but only until I remember all the modern conveniences without which I can't imagine living!

Anyway, while my husband and I were in Athens
together, we went to the Acropolis museum, and I saw yet another well-preserved marvel of ancient Greece: a child's potty chair from the 6th or 7th century B.C. It was not made of cheap white plastic, like the one I used for potty training my boys; it was made of clay pottery and hand-painted all over with intricate designs, like a work of art. That's it on the bottom shelf, on the left. There were lots and lots of decorated clay pots and urns in the museum, and I may not have noticed that this piece had a special purpose if those little pictures hadn't been hanging to the right of it, illustrating its use.

Not only is the Parthenon still standing, but so is this little potty chair! Can you imagine an archaeologist finding my plastic one thousands of years from now, perfectly preserved? I don't think so. We live in a throwaway society; a lot of what we have is cheaply made, and when things break, we throw them out and get new ones rather than fix them. My husband told me about an article he read in "Sports Illustrated" regarding the construction of the new Yankee Stadium (and the tearing down of the old), and someone was quoted as saying that in this country, we destroy our coliseums. That made me kind of sad. Compared to Greece, with mementos of its ancient civilization in evidence all over the place, the U.S. is so very young. But I wish we'd preserve the rich history we do have! My plastic potty chair? Not so much. But the original Yankee Stadium? Yes! And that's coming from a citizen of Red Sox Nation.

(Don't know how I got on the subject of outhouses and potty chairs...)

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