Clouds In The Head


Squint & you can see Etruria
24 September, 2008, 4:31 pm
Filed under: travel versus unravel

I was recently passing 10 minutes in quiet contemplation of Umbria, inspired by the book in my lap, David Dale’s Essential Places, in particular the Orvieto chapter. I was sitting there, straining, but smug about the fact that we’d done Umbria, and loved Orvieto and Gubbio, and found our own forgotten corners, and pretended real Italians still lived in the old towns and not in the two-storey apartment blocks at their feet. Just like David. Like him, we were slightly more special than the run of the mill tourist.

We incorporated Umbria into our family mythology. Maxwell did his first drawing there, age nearly one, and had his nappy changed in St Francis’s birthplace and stopped screaming in St Francis’s basilica. Orvieto itself became one of my mum’s favourite places on her only ever OS trip.

While we were there we were reading that cross-over bestseller, the inevitable Under The Tuscan Sun (not to be confused with Under The Tucson Son – confessions of an Arizonan ex virgin). Frances Mayes’ book was about neighbouring Tuscany, but it was in our consciousness constantly. Beautiful, tasty, funny, poetic, vivid, the book was also irritating in the extreme, making me want to shriek “I know you can write, Frannie Mae, but do you have to seem so effing smug?!”

Her answer, I’m sure: that’s not smugness it’s blessedness, and anyway weren’t you just comparing your smug self to David Dale?

“Touché, FM, touché.”

Anyway, thanks to UTTS, we learned the tell-tale signs of the ancient Etruscan roads of central Italy.

A line of old cypresses, usually along a ridge.

We looked for them, and found them, everywhere (adequate builders, those Etrurians, but fantastic horticulturalists). Emblems of an early rival to the Romans, pretty remnants of a once proud tribe, thousands of years old.

Returning to Australia we found loads of Etruscan roads here as well.

“They’re pines.”

“No, I’m sure they’re cypresses.”

“You can’t tell from here.”

“See?”

So, when we squint, on our own little farm, at the right time of year, preferably after a strong martini, there they are: up over near Nicky & Neil’s place; down the other side of Bernadette’s farm; over along that ridge above Dog Trap Creek Road. Ancient cypresses, marking genuine Etruscan roads, probably dating back to 600 BC at least.

Doesn’t that just make you wonder?

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