Here we are again, counting down towards the end of this magnificent adventure. The last couple of days have been spent in Lazio, where I spent the most time during my previous time in Italy. I have been thinking so much about the Italian landscapes and the people's relationship with the land on this journey. When I was here as a 20-something year old, the land was not so interesting to me and I was interested in other things. This time, the land is fascinating. I've been thinking about an analogy with the feminine. Driving through Tuscany, especially in the Chianti hills, the land seems like a very fussily and gorgeously dressed woman, all in lace, tight pleats, high heels, bejewelled and bedecked from head to toe with gorgeous little details. On the other hand, Lazio feels like a grand and buxom mama who is lying down and spreading her ample and voluptuous curves about her, covered with a gorgeous patchwork quilt of earthy greens, browns and terra cotta colors. At her bosom is one grand jewel, Rome, the heart and center of Italy. The whole vista is different, more expansive, more agricultural, more ancient somehow - but both are magnificent.
We spent an afternoon and an evening in Tarquinia, one of my old haunts. It is yet another walled hill town that looks out to the sea about 10 miles away. Tarquinia was the burial ground of the Etruscan civilisation, and thus it has some 40,000 tombs dug into the tufo stone underground. These tombs are famous because they are chambers like large rooms, where the sarcophagi were placed in groups deep underground. Each tomb is painted with bright and joyous frescoes - of dancers, musicians, hunters, animals, birds, garlands of flowers, wine cups, gymnasts, etc. We wandered and lingered in the Museum which houses a lot of the objects that were removed from the tombs, wonderful pots and urns and jewelry and so on. Then we went out to the necropolis where we were able to enter 14 of the actual underground tombs. It was another stairmaster exercise, but well worth the effort. That night we stayed in a converted monastery on the main town square, in a room with vaulted ceilings high above, but a doorway so low we had to bend down to enter the room. Our window looked out across the land to the Mediterranean and since there was a nearly full moon, it was pretty spectacular. In the night, however, a phenomenal thunder and lightening storm came along and went on booming and crashing and pouring down huge hailstones (even set off some car alarms), so sleep was not very good, but it sure was dramatic!
Yesterday was, for me, one of the best days. We drove to Mazzano-Romano where I had lived for a year over 30 years ago. Our old friends were waiting for us. We went to the home of Fernando Falco and his wife and daughter, and there was my dear friend, Immacolata, waiting for me. Fernando had been a handsome 14 year old when I was here last. Now he works for the post office, is an amazingly artistic photographer, and is building a killer country home for his family complete with pigs, chickens, a huge garden, olives, vines, and a house he is putting up stone by stone. They had prepared a huge - no make that HUGE - meal for us, and we sat eating and hugging and telling stories and laughing and marveling that we had found each other once again. Immacolata had lost her husband, Nicola, a few years back, and has had a hard time since, but she is an absolute rock of a woman and couldn't have been more loving towards me. After the massive lunch, we took a little passagiata to see Fernando and Rosella's country home. Then I asked them to help me find another old friend.
We drove to Calcata, another little dot (not on the map) of a town, where we were able to locate Guilio, one of the men who had been a laborer on the excavations when Jonathan and I were working on the archaeological project all those years ago. He was always one of my favorite guys, with a twinkle and laugh for every occasion, a true contadino who provided everything for his family from his own land. We found him living with his only remaining daughter and her husband (both of whom I had known as teenagers) and they were also completely bowled over to see me there, but thrilled and excited nonetheless. They knew exactly who I was, and we sat with them and talked for another couple of hours. Fortunately by now my Italian is getting fairly decent again, at least enough to engage in long conversations with people who don't know any English at all. So we yakked, Daniella was able to follow along pretty well, and they tried to ply us with wine and whiskey and grappa and so many things we did not want to drink or eat! Guilio even asked me if I still raised sheep - he remembered that I told him that the farm where I grew up was a sheep farm - and that was pretty amazing that his memory was that accurate! He is almost 77 years old now, and widowed, and still full of life and very "giovane", young looking. In the end, as we were trying to extricate ourselves, they were begging us to change our flight and come back this weekend for a big "festa" with all the families together! Anyway, it was very moving and sweet for me to reconnect with these old friends, and it certainly pulled the strings of my connection to Italy much tighter. I so much want to return!!
Today we are in Orvieto, such a gorgeous place, where we will eat a scrumptious lunch somewhere and then turn in our rental car and take the train to Roma.