Sunday, June 24, 2012

Our visit to an Etruscan tomb

I was re-reading my old travel journals. This one was from 1996 or so. It was a long trip I took with my family and my husband. First, the bunch of us went to Paris. When that part of the trip was over and they scattered either for home or for other European nations to visit, my husband and I went on by train to southern France, and then to Italy.

We had rented an apartment on the Tuscan/Umbrian border near Cortona, in a little town named Tuoro Sul Trasimeno. Each day we would take our rented car and explore.

This particular day I'd written about involved an Etruscan tomb. I remember our experience there like it was yesterday and not 15 years ago. Here is what I'd written.

"after laundry and a rest, we struck out for Camucia, a town at the bottom of the hill from Cortona, in search of an Etruscan tomb we'd heard about. Sure enough, after a few minutes of poking around, we saw a sign for the tomb and a small sign for the parking lot. So we parked. But we did not see anything even approximating an ancient tomb.

As we wandered about the lot, we saw an ancient woman in a vineyard clamber up and part the vines, yelling the whole time. She had a scarf on her head, a plain dress, clumpy heavy black shoes, an apron, and a few teeth. I heard a couple of words, mainly "custodia" caretaker. We asked where the tomb was and again she said she was custodian and seemed to wait expectantly.

Mike dug in his pocket and as he did the woman eyed us and said, "Americani?" When we said "Yes", she pronounced, "20,000 lira!"

Of course that was too much, but we didn't bargain and we handed it over. In return, she asked us if we wanted some white grapes, and sliced off a big bunch. They were SO sweet!

She hobbled down a neat, graveled path, banging her cane all the way to the gate. At the gate, she dug her out of her apron of a huge key, the kind you see in cartoons. It must have weighed 10 pounds. She opened the gate wide and took us around a bend. There it was.

The Etruscan tomb was built in the 6th century before Christ, making it close to 3000 years old. It was 5 rooms large, meaning it had intended to house personages from a rich family. The Etruscan tomb was deep, well constructed, and impressive. There was even writing on the wall, as old as Egyptian hieroglyphs, describing the married couple whose tomb this was.

The old lady began speaking in a loud measured voice in what was obviously a memorized spiel. She'd gesture to this side or that side with her cane, and whack the wall, with it, and sometimes dust would come trickling down. Then she asked how we liked her grapes."

That was our trip back in time 3000 years ago to the tomb. It was an amazing archaeological site to see. But the real feature of the day was the old lady with her cane and her key.

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