misslizzers (misslizzers) wrote,

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Il Viaggio Parte Due

[For some reason, Part I didn't show up on some people's friends pages, so you may have to go to my page to find it. I'm also trying to put this story behind the cut, but I'm getting so frustrated I'm about ready to put a bullet through the screen, so we'll see.]

The next day . . .
Susan woke me up 4 and a half minutes before check out time. We evacuated our hotel at a speed that would make the Russian army proud, and hopped a train to Cinque Terre.

We arrived in the middle of the limoncino festival, limoncino being my primary import. I fell in love with limoncello last year when I was on the Amalfi Coast with Steph, on our nights in Positano when we expected the check but instead got complimentary lemon liquor in frosty glasses. LimonCELLO is made from southern lemons, which are roughly the size of cellos, and that seems to be the only discernable difference.

Cinque Terre literally means “Five Lands” – there are five different towns built on cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean, and they are all strung together by footpaths. Some paths are broad and paved, but others take you climbing through the local vineyards. We spent the next couple of days baking along with the grapes in the hot, hot sun, then descending into the towns for gelato and focaccia. One afternoon we checked out a mausoleum, which true to the local custom, had these sad black & white cameo photos beside each burial shelf, some of which were close to 100 years old. Psychologically speaking, Italian cemeteries are to American cemeteries what a haunted house is to brand new tract construction. Wandering around I start to feel like I’m in a trance state. It’s even eerier visiting the cemetery where my relatives are buried; everyone in the town shares about five last names, and the family resemblance is strong. And the graves for children really break my heart.

If this doesn't make you want to go to church, I don't know what will:

I’ve been to Cinque Terre once before in July, which is by far a better time than May; I’m not looking for solitude when I travel and I have fond memories of swimming in the Mediterranean. This time, the only things swimming in my favorite rock pools were hot pink jellyfish. And mating ducks. Hoooo-boy! One minute you’re paddling along, henning it up, and the next minute some obnoxious drake is using you as his love raft and clamping the back of your struggling neck with his beak.

After a few days by the water, we headed up to the mountains where my people are from; a quiet mountain village where the silence is broken every day in the early afternoon by a man across the street from our apartment operating a jackhammer while wearing only a speedo. I assure you, this set of circumstances would make a young Schwartzenegger look fat.

I spent a nice chunk of time in the village of Carisolo with my parents and a couple of their friends, hiking in the mountains just about every day, playing rummy every night. The countryside is beautiful and one afternoon we got to explore this seasonally abandoned cattle farm. Dude, if I had a dog I wouldn't let him sleep where these cowboys sleep: 

Although judging by the graffiti and all the empty bottles, they know how to have a good time. [Judging by the size and quantity of droppings, I suspect their long-term plan is quitting the country life and starting a RAT CIRCUS. Holy hell, I got out of their kitchen fast!! Too fast to take pictures. I will never get a job as a wartime correspondent.]

I loves the hiking, but after a few days I'd had my fill. We were doing challenging stuff all the time — so much so that when my mother's property manager, who speaks some amusing English, heard what we were doing he said, "Bingo! Bingo! Tick tock!" His way of saying, "you're gonna give yourself a frikkin’ heart attack.”

On our last day, we took a trip up to Bolzano, The Town with a City-Size Personality Disorder. The place is bilingual, as so many European cities are. But what strikes me as a potential difficulty is that people can’t quite agree on where they are. The Italians refer to the region as the Alto-Addige - or upper Addige River valley. The Germans call it the Lower Tyrol.

Either way, they have a lot to celebrate: speck (what we like to call thick-sliced prosciuto), lederhosen, and those luscious dirndls:

Bolzano is also the home of the Ice Man, who was discovered thawing out on a mountain after a 5,300-year power nap. I’d been looking forward to this the whole trip.

My audioguide was recorded in the Queen’s English, which made me a little apprehensive; the last mummy I saw was at the British Museum and the experience was traumatic. That’s the museum which houses precious relics, stolen by the Empire while the sun was busy never setting, boasting an aesthetic similar to a BJ’s food warehouse with half the cultural sensitivity. There I stood in an aisle as narrow as one you might find between library shelves and saw the mummy stuffed on a rack at about waist level, surrounded by piles of poorly labeled crap. The wrapping had been pulled away to reveal a hole in the gut you could put a fist in - and I literally could have put a fist in it, because there was nothing but air between us. Now, I’m not usually one to get heated about what happens to the physical body after death - organ donation is a miracle, I have less of a problem with autopsies than I do with embalming, grave robbing makes me feel sorrier for the robbers, quite frankly, and I really think the part of my life insurance policy that covers expatriation of remains is money much better spent elsewhere. In short, when you’re dead you’re dead, and it’s hard to get me to care one way or the other. But being in the presence of an actual human being, whose wizened expression you can still make out, is sobering, and the lack of respect for the dead in general and Egyptians in particular hit me on a gut level.

Thanks to the Italians, I had nothing to worry about. The mummy is on view behind glass on an operating table in a walk-in freezer. The room you queue in is kept dimly lit, and one person at a time steps up to the window for a long look. The audioguide even says they’d like to observe silence out of respect and promises to meet you back out in the exhibit.

When they discovered the ice man, he was so well preserved that the honeymooning hikers who stumbled on him assumed he had died the previous winter in a snowstorm. When the scientists figured out what they were dealing with, they found they could still make out fingerprints and the color of his eyes. His body was covered with discernable tattoos. They were able to determine what his last meal was. The basket he used for carrying embers had been lined with damp leaves that still had chlorophyl in them. And there were enough of his belongings around him to fill an entire floor of this museum. Half of the fur was worn off of his hat, but you could still see the stitching. He had a long, flowing coat made of alternating stripes of two kinds of fur. He had a raincoat made of reeds and a wealth of tools and amulets.

The article below is a nice introduction, but since 2002 they’ve discovered a few things:


For one thing, they don’t believe that he was encased in ice for thousands of years - they think he was preserved by aridity. His last meal was made up partly of vegetation that would have been found in the valley, so they believe he had only been hiking for a few hours. Judging by his age - 46 - and his possessions, they believe he was a hunter, and likely a very important guy. He was in the process of repairing his spear when he died. As the article says, the cause of death was likely blood loss after being shot with an arrow in the back, and he has wounds from hand-to-hand combat. They also found DNA samples of more than one attacker: the plot thickens.

The audioguide hypothesizes that he may have died far enough from the trail not to be found, which makes some sense, but what doesn’t make sense is why his killers would have left him to rot with enough valuables to fill a wine shop. My own hypothesis is that he was lured far afield by people he knew - and people who knew better than to return to the village with anything that could trace them back to him. Oh man, I would totally tune into CSI: Prehistoric Tyrol.
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