22 September 2018

Tuscia - The land that time forgot

Italian shadows






The car falters, and stops.  We are in the middle of Tuscia, the ancient land of the Etruscans, in central Italy.  Sometimes also called Etruria, this area covers much of northern Lazio and southern Tuscany, and is littered with broken down relics - tombs, temples, towns, and, as here, modes of transport.....

It is a wild and unkempt area, cut by deep wooded valleys, and undulating with unpopulated hills.





Villages, like Blera, rise up on spurs, growing out of the living rock, carved like cheese,






Towns like these are still sleepy places, with shaded narrow streets where groups of elderly inhabitants wait for the time to pass.





Symbolically, the local butcher advertises snails for sale at €9 a kilo....






Nearby, the town of Barbarano Romano is in costume.  




A friend of mine, who used to run a simple trattoria here, carries the banner of the Confraternita della Morte.....




While young women dress as noblewomen:




Young men proudly beat the drum:




And the town band plays on:




In these valleys, overgrown and neglected, lie the empty tombs of Etruscans, who ranged across this area two thousand years ago, or more.  Typically they carved tombs out of the volcanic tufo (tuff) in necropolises across life-giving rivers from the towns of the living,






Though sometimes they constructed elaborate tombs from blocks and then mounded earth over them,






The vast majority of these were looted ages ago, or spoiled by being opened and trashed, though some, such as those at Tarquinia, at least kept their painted walls intact, and others revealed their secrets to archaeologists rather than grave-robbers.  The city of Vulci, with its walls and gates, remains an evocative place to visit, though much of what you see now dates from Roman times after the empire imposed defeat in 280 BC,






But what remains is preserved by grazing aurochs....




Today Vulci is a well-cured park with its own natural swimming pool, the Laghetto del Pellicone, surrounded by cliffs in the valley of the river Fiora....





But for centuries malaria crippled this area, and early visitors, such as George Dennis in the 1840s, chronicled the desolation: the wide, wide moor, a drear and melancholy waste, stretches around you, no human being seen on its expanse.... The Fiora frets in its rocky bed far beneath your feet, and its murmurs conveyed to you by the tall cliffs you stand on, are the sole disturbers of the solemn stillness.....

D H Lawrence, some eighty years later, also found the place dispiriting: the country was all empty and abandoned-seeming, yet with that peculiar, almost ominous, poignancy of places where life has once been intense.....

We make our way over the empty landscape, eventually to Tuscania, whose walls and churches indicate a rich past.  The magnificent Lombard-Romanesque church of San Pietro stands aloof outside the town, flanked by two imposing medieval military towers.  





Inside the church, beyond a line of Etruscan sarcophagi, steps rise up to the apse, or down to the crypt.  It is solemn, quiet, and bare.  Centuries could pass in moments here....





We move on, beyond Viterbo, to Bomarzo which  George Dennis described as, a village of considerable size situated on a wooded cliff-bound platform, with an old castle at the verge of the precipice.  It commands a glorious view of the vale of the Tiber, and the long chain of Umbrian and Sabine Apennines to the east; of the vast Etruscan plain to the north, with Monte Fiascone like a watch-tower in the midst, and the giant masses of Monte Cetona and Monte Amiata in the far horizon..... All is not so wonderful, however.  He goes on, like most villages in the Papal State, Bomarzo is squalid in the extreme.....





But we are not here to seek accommodation.  Bomarzo has an unusual claim to fame.  Below the town, in the Bosco Sacro, is the Parco dei Mostri, which was created in the second half of the sixteenth century by the slightly bonkers local nobleman, Vicino Orsini.....  Vast figures, grotesque masks, a temple, a most disconcerting sloping house, and giant sculpted creatures have been created out of the natural rocks, and surprise you amongst the woods....




Across the Tiber valley we spend a night at the Abbazia di Farfa, once one of the most powerful Benedictine Abbeys in Italy, with over five hundred monks and an adjoining village to support it.  Now, though it still houses an important library, it is served by five monks....




But we are well looked after by the Suore di Santa Brigida, aka the Hot Cross Nuns (due to the crosses on their headdresses).  There is something medieval about the experience, though maybe that's due to the wine?




In the morning we backtrack to Torrita Tiberina to pay our respects to another shade of the Italian past, Aldo Moro.




Though this distinguished politician was originally from Puglia, he and his family loved to spend time here in their villa.




After his kidnapping and murder in 1978, his private funeral (he left strict instructions that no politicians nor dignitaries should attend the service) was carried out here and he lies at rest in a simple tomb overlooking the river valley and the hills of central Italy.




Rolling back across Tuscia, we come across a strange, possibly sinister, coincidence.  In the village of Canale Monterano, my attention is caught by an ancient Fiat Cinquecento, the number plate of which bears a close resemblance to that  of the Red Renault 4 in which the cadaver of Aldo Moro had been left in 1978.....




The Renault that was left in Via Caetani in the capital was (falsely) plated Roma N5 7686 in a very similar configuration.....  Traces of sand and soil on the tyres of the car, and on Moro's shoes, were found to match the volcanic ground in neighbouring Manziana, where another Fiat, belonging to Mario Moretti, the head of the Brigate Rosse who kidnapped Moro, had been seen at a villa earlier in 1978.

But that's another story....

On the way, we pass through Vejano, dominated by a grim castle, also property of the Orsini family.  There is an imposing town hall, which bears the motto, Labor Omnia Vincit Improbus (1959), which was once a popular injunction, adapted from Virgil, and meaning Hard Work Overcomes Everything.....

Well, perhaps not everything, as a bas relief on a nearby wall witnesses, calling up other shades of this part of Italy:  In Memory of the Killling of Mariano and Orsio Nobili, Victims of Nazi Ferocity, 7 June 1944....




We return to Lake Bracciano, Lacus Sabatinus, and visit the Odescalchi (originally Orsini, again) castle that overlooks the lake, gazing back at Trevignano Romano, where we used to live, amongst the remains of Etruscan tombs and medieval towers....






And in the woods, after all the rain this year, the cyclamen are flourishing, nourished by all that history.....







While monsters relax in the shades of Tuscia.....









I have a small favour to ask.  More people are reading my blog than ever but advertising revenues (as if!) across the media are falling.....  And unlike many organisations I haven't put up a pay wall -  I want to keep my blogging as open as I can.

So you can see why I need to ask for your help.  My independent, insightful commentaries and my illuminating photography (who wrote this?) take a lot of time, money and hard work to produce.  But I do it because I believe my perspective matters (and might also entertain....) - because it could well be your perspective, too.

If everyone who reads my blog, who likes it, helps to support it, my future would be much more secure.....  [Not sure what this means, but I am only copying the Grauniad....]

All you need to do is to share my pieces with friends, acquaintances, the young, the elderly or the infirm.... It can do no harm as it is free, and there are no strings attached .....  

And it could make a difference to someone who doesn't expect it!

It could even make you feel more better...... [sic] 








26 August 2018

Shropshire

Blue Remembered Hills, AONB....






I am loath to admit this, but I am having a 'nice' time.  The weather is, how can I put it, clement. Like Lady Spencer Churchill before she married.  The hills are cornflower blue....  

At least so it was when I visited the Shropshire hills a few days ago.....






The hills are blue remembered, as A E Housman, from Bromsgrove, wrote in 1896, while Professor of Latin at University College London.  He imagined A Shropshire Lad at a distance..... but never mind.  Hardly anyone reads it now, only saddoes like me, searching for a hook.....






But I am in clover...... Properly immersed in leguminosity which will fatten the calves and facilitate slaughter and feasting later in the year while fixing nitrogen in the soil to ensure richer grass which will enable cattle to produce more methane thus depleting the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and leading to further weakness in the ozone layer and thereby increased harmful radiation from the sun and higher global temperatures....  [I may have got some of that wrong.  I only read The Guardian..... though of course it depends on the intensity of the farming.  Isabella Tree wrote on Saturday August 25th that biodiverse pasture systems are in fact highly beneficial to our ecology....]





I enter a village church - this one being the Church of St. Michael and All Angels, Lydbury North, where people have been praying week by week since the first millennium (or so I am told - I wonder just how many of those prayers were answered?  Did anyone pray that Donald Trump would spontaneously combust, like Krook in Bleak House?  If not, why not?)  

I love the light that filters through the leaded windows.  Is this God, I wonder?  Am I blessed?  Or is it just waves of particles being absorbed by the flaking plaster?








I venture out into the ultra violet, where the dry grass quivers under fleeting swallows.  In the distance is Bishops Castle, a town of some fifteen hundred swains, with six pubs and two breweries.  As Housman wrote:


....malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.
Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world's not.....








Later I am puzzled to know the Shropshire Way?  Is it really any different from My Way?  They both seem to be the prey of buzzards of all kinds.....








But this is the land in which I grew up, a land of blues and hills, a post-war environment where catastrophic conflict was a recent memory, but the prefix 'post' was of the utmost significance.  The sky still had the shadows of aerial dogfights; the earth bore the scars of high explosives, both in towns, where rubble lay in gaps between cracked and crumbling houses, and in the countryside, where huge hollows marked where mis-hits and jettisoned ordnance had fallen.






Intrusion and violence are not new in this land.  Where I walk now in tranquillity was once under Roman rule, with valuable ores excavated from seams in these hills.  Later the Normans came, then bitter squabbles between thorny roses, and then, eventually, liaison with and control by the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family and their descendants (God save the Queen!)  We (who?  Ed.) have never been 'free.'  As an epistemologist might say, we actually have no empirical knowledge of the nature of freedom....

(Or does that come under ontology?)

There are billions of grains of sand in the great egg-timer of evolution, and recent history is but a dot on the landscape....

I know nothing.....







So I walk to shake off the dust from my mind and to freshen my limbs, and to sample the gentle slopes of Salop.  A mountain ash brightens my way:







And I follow the ageing signs on the Mucklewick Walk:








Before diverging onto the Flenny Bank way:








Declining the offer of assistance from some appealing locals:








And thinking better of the possibility of a free lunch, perhaps discouraged by a lack of mint.....









Then I climb up from The Bog to the Stiperstones, scaling the heights of Cranberry Rock, my scoped Springfield M1A sniper rifle (bought from TacOpShop online for $2,425 complete with a black Archangel sniper stock, a bipod, a ten round metal, factory magazine and three twenty round Thermold polymer magazines) on my shoulder, ready to pick off the geriatrics one by one should they approach.....









I look to the north and genuflect towards the Devil's Chair, wondering if the fallen angel will return to take his seat, to rescue us from the modern miasma?







Then, without a shot being fired, I skelter off across the heath, passing Squilver and Stedment, crossing the River Onny at Bridges, then navigate the twisting single track over Wild Moor and the Long Mynd, past Boiling Well, and down perilous Burway Hill into Church Stretton, the heart of the Shropshire Hills.....








And not far from here, at Acton Scott, I pause for breath in Victorian times, the days when Alfred Edward Housman thought and wrote, creating his idealized vision of the English countryside in 63 melancholy lyrics.  I can almost smell the pessimism.....







But Hey!  Oh look!  The sun shineth and the harvest is a-coming in.  Sheaf by sheaf, the lord of the manor reaps in the glories of the Elysian idyll.  Yakob Reich-Mogadon puts together another completely imaginary show, while fiddling the books in his offshore empire....







And then, just by chance, I come across the lair of the ex-primate monster, the lousy, trotters-up David Scumerbag, or is it Davey Caiman?  I tiptoe up to tug at my forelock, trusting not to disturb the scratching of his goose quill as he writes another million dollar word....

[That word being, 'shit.']





And, with breath that reeks of despair, I spittle the words, Thank you, Davey, for all you have/have not done for your/my/our country.  I really appreciate your having created/delivered/precipitated the gravest crisis in political history this country has known since Oliver Cromwell [though, don't misunderstand me, he was a great man....]  And I love/hate/despise the way you scuttled off to scribble your memoirs as soon as the fan and the merde were clearly united.  Denying any responsibility.

What was that word?  Responsibility?  What is that?  Making sure the Bullingdon pig is clean?

Your superior/moneyed/privileged arrogance coupled with your weakness/blindness/selfishness has not only severely damaged my daughters', and their entire generation's, prospects, but has fomented civil division and unrest, raised the chances of the disintegration of the United Kingdom and contributed significantly to the further fragmentation of the European Union - created after WWII (initially as the European Coal and Steel Community) to ensure lasting peace - and to the rise of extremism, intolerance and a resurgence of would-be right-wing supremacists that will make the Ku Klux Klan look like circle time in a Woodstock kindergarten.....  

I hope you rot asphyxiated in your shepherd's hut and that, eventually, someone, anyone, if not me, pushes you and it over the White Cliffs of Dover.....






Whoops!  A little light-headed spin there!  Not to be taken literally of course, just a touch of ecstasy brought on by the image of a Shepherd's Hut, subconsciously linked to rural fantasies such as Far From The Madding Crowd, and All Quiet on the Western Front.....

Sorry!



XL


Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

This is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.


A. E. Housman
A Shropshire Lad
[1896]



But I am still having a 'nice' time.  They can't take that away from me.....