Welcome! Thank you for visiting dave the writer as the blog is re-launched. Here, you’ll see news, excerpts and intriguing stuff about the people, places and events in my new novel. Please come back soon to check it all out!!

Why Not Call it Troy?

February 19, 2012 1 comment

My last post gave a basic feel for False Light, the novel I’m writing. Its story begins about twenty years after the Trojan War ends, when tales of that victory are still part of daily life. In that post, I also use the name ‘Wilios’ to mean Troy. A reader asked “Why?” That’s a good question. Below is what I hope you will think is a good answer.


Who conquered Troy? And what happened to the victors after that? We think we know. But do we? Achilles died in the Bronze Age, when Egyptians and Hittites were the two super-powers always clawing for lands in between. On the other hand, Homer lived in the Iron Age, when a faded, inward-looking Egypt was still there, somewhere to the south, but the bard had never heard of anybody called a Hittite. Hmmm… .

Homer’s story of Achilles’ rage amidst the Trojan War was a bard’s song passed from one poet’s memory to the next for twenty generations until it was finally written down. That memorized song somehow made it through the chaos of a centuries-long Dark Age about which we know almost nothing—except that four out of five people died at the start, writing was lost and each surviving village raided the next one for centuries. Today, only a handful of dug-up hints give us even a clue about how bad those times must have been. Or what collapsed the Bronze Age. Or how the Achaeans morphed into the amazing people who thought all those brand new thoughts and made up out of thin air most of what we call Western Civilization.

With False Light I want to bring that lost time and its people to life for you. I also hope to highlight the differences between how things truly were then and what we might assume. In addition, I want to show that human nature is a near-constant, barely changing over thousands of years. Love, hate, villainy, nobility, greed, sacrifice, courage, wisdom, foolishness, seekers of truth and corrupt demagogues have always been with us, and barbarians are always at the gate.

Most of all, I hope to tell a good story.

To help realize these hopes, I’ve chosen to use a lot of scholar-verified words and views from that ancient time. The intent is to make it easier for you as a reader to let go of the Troy you think you know—the Troy with shirtless Brad Pitts and Sean Beans conquering it (just before a ripped Gerard Butler holds off a million or so decadent Persians) or the Troy you fell asleep hearing about for weeks on end in High School. Or both.

So, how does calling Troy ‘Wilios’ fit in with that? Historical accuracy is a factor.

First, Homer called it Wilios. In the Iliad, the bard names the conquered city both ‘Troy’ (Τροη) and ‘Wilios’ (Ϝίλιος). That makes sense. Especially, if you’re a master bard with ten thousand lines of poetry to remember and you have to modify it on the fly each night to please the audience in front of you. Having two or more names for a thing—each with a different number of syllables—makes it much easier to tell a story as a poem, which was Homer’s thing. ”Thank you, thank you! I’ll be here all week. And don’t forget to tip your waitress. House Master, more wine; my throat is dry!.”

Second, Wilios is what its conquerors and defenders called the city. As I noted above, Homer lived as long after the Trojan War as we live after Drake’s victory over the Spanish Armada, or Shakespeare. Language changes over several centuries—wouldst thou not agree, mayhap, sire? And so it was for Homer. The Greek spoken by Troy’s conquerors used a ‘w’ sound, but Homer’s Greek did not. And Hittite records from the time of the Trojan War name the city and its lands Wilusa.

So, for False Light, ‘Troy’ had to be named Wilios, restoring the dropped ‘w’. And ‘the Greeks’ had to be called what they called themselves, Achaeans (also corroborated by those helpful Hittite scribes).

Make sense? I hope so. Even more, I hope these and my other author’s choices will help carry you away into this fascinating time with your mind wide open. You’re going to meet some intriguing people doing some interesting things.

Categories: Period, Settings Tags: , , ,

The Ancient Middle

February 12, 2012 4 comments

The events in my novel, False Light, take place long ago in Western Greece and the Central Mediterranean. Things were not the same back then.

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Our story begins twenty years after the fall of Troy, so long ago that most of the Mediterranean Sea was still a vast mystery. In that time, the exciting tales Homer spun out for us in the Iliad and the Odyssey were not myth but the stuff of daily life. There was no ‘Middle Sea’, as the Romans would call it more than a thousand years later, only a Great Sea that had no end, stretching on forever into the West.


The people of False Light  lived when Aegypta was the world’s invincible super-power and had been since time began. For our characters, the ‘middle’ of things was somewhere toward that impossibly huge river delta, perhaps at an imaginary spot between the islands we call Crete and Cyprus.

Back then, Italy was not Italy, but a barbarous wilderness in the Far West where belief in magic held sway while Gods were few and terrible, a place often populated by vicious cannibals eager to draw dark power from the spirits of their ritually sacrificed enemies. Even the first thought of a place called Rome was four hundred years in the future.

Primeval forests grew and thick topsoil lay where, today, three millennia of wood fires, shipbuilding and sheep have given much of the Mediterranean region its barren, rocky slopes and scrub pines.

Back then, Greeks called themselves Achaeans. Over the previous few hundred years, they’d taken the mainland of southern Greece and learned civilization’s value from a powerful people called the Islanders, who also—inadvertently—taught them the secrets of the sea. So, of course, the Achaeans took the Islanders’ empire as well. Then, they took more. Finally, the allied kingdoms of Achaea invaded and conquered The Island itself, Crete. Today, we call those defeated, ancient islanders Minoans.

The Achaeans were a strong, proud and vital people. They looked down on the old, effete empires that had come before and from whom they’d wrested glory and their own place in the sun. Now, Achaea is a full and rising member in the brotherhood of civilized powers. And Pylos in the western Peloponnese is first in honor among all Achaean kingdoms.

With the capture of Wilios—Homer’s Troy—and its countless treasures, Achaeans rule all of the Great Sea worth having. Nine Achaean kingdoms spread across southern Greece, the Aegean islands and Crete. Three more control much of what we know as the coast of western Turkey. And, the new Achaean Kingdom of Wilios has opened a great door to another vast sea with more riches waiting to be taken.


To the north and west of Achaea, twenty or so scattered Achaean Princedoms dot the wild, barbarian coasts and occupy some choice inland sites. One of those sites will become Olympia, where games to honor the Gods go on for a thousand years. By chance—or the will of the Gods—those games will begin right around the time that a tiny settlement on a single hill near a bend in an Italian river names its first king. This insignificant village calls itself Rome.

Greatest of the Achaean Princedoms is Thapsos on the east coast of modern Sicily. Beyond Thapsos is wilderness. There’s nothing there except more barbarians, those pillars that Hercules will tell of in a few hundred years and then the end of the world.

For Achaeans, salt water is both enemy and friend. There are no maps or charts and the open sea will kill even a hundred-oared galley as fast as a starving lion rips the throat from a newborn lamb. Sailors who want to live never stray much beyond sight of land. But, thousands of them follow those rocky coasts and make the dangerous crossings that allow Achaea to be a great empire rather than just a scattering of kingdoms.

In the Far West, is one other place of note, the mysterious, vile Spider Island of Sardu, a land of looming, black stone castles built in strange, circular patterns, where everyone’s hand is raised against his neighbor. For Sards, war and treachery have been the warp and weft of life since the Gods overthrew the Titans. For a century now, Sard Warfathers have supplied tens of thousands of men as mercenaries to civilized kingdoms around the Great Sea. The strongest of the black castle keeps also send vast quantities of copper and bronze on Pylosian ships to feed foundries and workshops in the civilized world. And they grow rich.

Thanks to its fertile land and secure position, Pylos became the first powerful Achaean kingdom. And, it’s still the richest because of those metals flowing in from Sardu. Pylos is first in honor among the Achaeans because its king and heroes led Achaea to finally defeat Wilios after 200 years and four great wars, though Achaea’s King of kings now rules in Mycenae to the east.

The vigorous Achaeans have made themselves great in the world, and their future is bright. Or so they think.

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The map sums up who is where as the story begins in 1,202 BC, twenty
years after the Trojan War and near the end of the Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean.

False Light in 295 Words

February 5, 2012 2 comments

In my last post, ‘Who is This Guy?’, I mentioned the novel I’m writing. Here’s a brief description.

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False Light is the story of three brave but mismatched people thrown together against their wills amidst ancient danger. Hektor is a loyal, ambitious mercenary. Korinsia is a smart but frightened princess. Argurios is a skilled and cynical chariot archer. All three are among the best in their land, but that may not be enough. False Light is also a tale of how fragile a great civilization can be.

The time is more than 3,000 years ago, and the place is what we now call Greece. It is two decades since the great Achaean victory over Wilios in the east, and prosperity has soared. Fabled Pylos is first in honor among the empire of Greek kingdoms. This empire and its ships dominate most of the Great Sea, almost to the shores of eternal Aegypta.

A looming threat has begun to show itself, but the proud, confident Achaeans are blind. Arrogance, centuries of rising power, and their own internal struggles cause leaders and people alike not to see the new peril for what it is.

Our three heroes are forced together by circumstance, but they are far from being kindred spirits. Too late in the year, they must set out on a long voyage fraught with unknown risk. The goal is Thapsos, a powerful Achaean enclave many weeks away. Their galleys struggle along wild barbarian coasts amidst  jagged rocks, would-be pirates and ship-killing storms. At every outpost, they uncover more clues about a vast, new power looming in the Far West. It’s single purpose: destroy all Soft Ones. Utterly.

Can the three fight their way back to warn Pylos in time? Will their constant conflicts with each other and barbarian fanatics curse them to failure? Will any of that matter to merciless Fate? 

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As you might surmise, copyrights apply to everything about the book, False Light, and The First Dark Age series.

Who is This Guy?

February 1, 2012 1 comment

Dave loves the ancient Mediterranean world. He’s a well-travelled writer and photographer who has explored Classical and Bronze Age sites throughout the region. From the pre-pyramid Mastabas of Saqqara in Egypt to the storied cities of Magna Graecia to the mysterious Megaliths of Malta, he’s wandered in the footsteps of mysterious, fascinating and mostly unknown Antiquity.

A few years ago, he spent some time amidst the three-millennia-old stones at Mycenae in the Peloponnese, and then at Knossos on Crete. This experience ignited a deep interest. He plunged into the the churning sea of scholarship about the age of Homeric legend, the time when a thousand black ships sailed to war, the high towers of mighty Ilium fell and wise Nestor ruled sandy Pylos.

Out of that study, the outlines of a lost time appeared. It was the more than four centuries that followed, until the bard we call Homer finally wrote down his epics.

For most of that chaotic, danger-filled time, a Dark Age reigned. Perhaps a generation after the Greeks’ conquest of Troy, history’s terrible club, bristling with long, poisoned spines, slammed down on the victors. It smashed their world to bits in just a dozen years. Only a scarred and battered few survived, For those remnants, warm sunshine that nurtured a high, fertile plateau of civilization had just winked out. And, amidst the ruin and death, Fate arose, terrible and merciless, to hurl them into twenty generations of bloody, barbaric night.

Why? How? And, what happened after whole civilizations were snuffed out? Especially, what happened then that later spawned the ideals of Classical Greece, those thoughts that form the core of Western Civilization and have been a shining beacon for humanity ever since? Dave sees amazing stories in the answers to those questions, ones that need to be told.

Thus began his journey as a novelist. And, now, most of his first book, False Light, has tumbled across his keyboard into a rough manuscript. It’s a tale of adventure, passion and sorrow, civilization and barbarism, fools and wisdom, cowards and heroes, true friends and implaccable enemies.

The story is set in a prosperous ancient world that doesn’t yet know it’s on the brink. Little time remains before all is swept away in one last, screaming plunge into the Abyss. For those who care to delve, this epic novel may also hold an insight or two about the fragile stability of modern times as well.


The Dave of today is a former Marine and Navy man. Degreed as an engineer, he spent more than 10 years in the service, enlisted and officer. Then, he worked far longer as a businessman. He has always lived as an outdoorsman. Dave’s personal philosophy aligns in many ways with that of author Robert Heinlein, where narrow specialization is best left to insects. Also, his outlook resembles Mark Twain’s: moderation in all things, including moderation.

Home for Dave is near a pristine river in the clear, bright High Desert of Central Oregon. Proud of his whole family, Dave shares their deep respect for his Cherokee great-grandmother.

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As you might surmise, copyrights apply to everything about the book, False Light, and The First Dark Age series of which it is a part.

Snooze and Ski in Santorini

January 29, 2012 2 comments

Dave the WriterWe were on a mission: find the perfect hotel for our upcoming anniversary. So, high above the deep, blue Aegean waters, we explored Thira Town on one of Greece’s most fabled islands.

With some Traveller’s Luck, we managed to achieve our objective by mid-morning: three nights booked in a romantic room with a phenomenal view for two people who were cozily sipping their morning coffee in bed.

We strolled back past the island’s whitewashed homes, shops and churches. Most of them had bright blue trim and dazzled us in the morning sun. We also marveled at how fortunate we were to be on Santorini for the first time when so few other visitors were around.

Every few feet, I’d stop for another photo op or she’d be drawn through another open shop door by that primal urge to declare “Look what I found!” when we linked up again. I have to say that whenever she does tell me that, she has found a small treasure. Not everything is a perfect green velvet riding coat, but all are ‘just right’ for the time and place.

The most scenic part of Thira town is built on the interior crater wall. In a few places, white structures hug the very steep slope all the way to the water. But, mostly, they spread down only fifty yards or so from the ridgeline. Narrow main streets run parallel to the ridge, so there’s the happy situation where you can mostly have a clear view across scenic, well-kept roofs toward the dark, barren lava island in the crater’s center.

As I finished taking the photo to the left, my bride grabbed my arm and guided me to see a roof she’d found a little way ahead. There, snoozing blissfully was a handsome cousin of Max, her beloved German Shepherd from girlhood. I couldn’t begin to describe how much she’d loved that dog, or how safe she’d felt with him by her side. But, every big, healthy ‘Max’ who we meet just melts her heart—perhaps this one most of all.

Later, we took the funicular down from the town center to the small-boat quay. The conveyance looks more like a ski lift than a typical European funicular. Each small, windowed cabin holds four people comfortably—or six whose sense of personal space has been forever ‘adjusted’ by Riechsfuhrer Napolitano and her Gropen SS Battalions.

We rode down with a couple whose ship was anchored close to the crater wall below. After a little small talk, I asked where they were from and what they did when not cruising the Aegean. The well-dressed and bejeweled woman smiled under her broad-brimmed white hat and replied in a smooth voice with just a hint of Southern Belle. They were skiers from Connecticut.

At our puzzled looks, she let out a soft chuckle and delivered her punch line, “Yes, skiers, as in Spending our Kids’ Inheritance.”

In the few minutes remaining of our descent, we learned that they traveled a lot, and always in style.

After saying our farewells at the lower station, my bride and I realized that now we must be skiers in two ways!

SKIers Ship

Time is Hungry

January 26, 2012 3 comments

Dave the WriterIt ate the Etruscans and then, eventually, those upstart Neo-Etruscans, the Romans. Time is funny that way.

One day some years ago, it had also eaten most of an Italian hill town named Civita di Bagnoregio, east of picturesque Lake Bolsena and south of the much more famous hill town of Orvieto in Italy.

My bride and I had walked across the long, narrow bridge to the Civita one cool morning, pursuing our duties as Card-Carrying Etruscophiles. As you may know, the Etruscans thrived in what is now eT(r)uscany from about 800 BC. They also launched a lot of what we think of as Ancient Roman culture.

Around 2,500 years ago, when the Etruscan rapper, Big ‘E’, and his crew founded the Civita, it was much larger, though still a very defensible place high above the two surrounding stream valleys. One of the plusses for them then was the soft tufa rock. It erodes fast and offered a steep approach to deter Bad Guys. It could also be easily shaped into walls, structures and stone-cut storage rooms inside the hill.

One of the minuses today is that more than two-thirds of the ancient town has fallen away, a loss hastened by the big quake of 1695 AD. Long ago, the two valleys were filled with gently-sloping, fertile fields. Now, they’re a relatively barren landscape of what the locals call calanchi (gullies, ditches and small ravines). That’s what happens in a few thousand years wherever tufa overlays sand, as it does in this countryside. But, intense Medieval agriculture surely hurried the process. The medievals weren’t as into maintenance as the ancients.

The fertile terrain of ancient times was likely quite well-preserved until the Fall of Rome in the West, when irrigation and terracing systems were no longer maintained. Those pesky barbarians just thought that plundering wealth would produce the same quality of life as civilization. kind of like today’s Occupy movement. Even so, though we don’t see now the landscape that the ancients saw, it is a lovely and fascinating view.

Normal Italians live back along the ridge line in the rest of Bagnoregio (literally ‘The King’s Bath’, a name given the place by Medieval Lombard invaders). Only about thirty people still live in the small Civita area, mostly Brits and Americans, for uniquely Brit and American reasons. There’s a simple church, though, so at least one Italian priest probably lives there as well.

The evening of our visit day, over another in a long series of relaxing Italian dinners, we were moved by what we’d seen to wax philosophical about Time’s perspective on human history. Incidentally, we measure human history as starting when dogs finally domesticated us, about 15,000 years ago.

No Sequoia or Gingko tree alive today was alive then. Yet, 15 millennia is far less than an eye blink in the time of life on Earth. And, science has only been around since, say, Galileo, maybe 400 years. That’s long enough to be perverted and corrupted by power-hungry politicians (a redundant phrase, I know), but  it’s s not nearly enough time for many of us to give up the Old Ways.

A sizable percentage of us still freak out over an extra-snowy winter or a few extra-dry summers. Just a century or so ago in similar circumstances, many people wondered why God was punishing them and offered sacrifices to appease His wrath—human sacrifice in the more barbaric cultures.

Today, the High Priests of Climo-hoaxuality tell us that we have sinned against The Earth and The Mother of All Dooms rushes down upon us for our transgressions. So, we must sacrifice our evil and unjust Prosperity on their sacred Altar of Perpetual Tax. Our prosperity, not theirs. And, many Believers rush to do so.

Surely a deep, fundamental aspect of human nature is in there somewhere when so many people worship this foolishness. Theirs’ is not a set of feelings subject to the mind. But, it must have had some survival value for small groups of hunters and gatherers chasing primeval food or we wouldn’t still be so easily duped by Preachers of Wrathful Cataclysm.

Thankfully, for people with time to relax, sip Chianti and reflect on a day with the Etruscans, Galileo’s new-fangled notion of reason does a good job putting things in perspective.

I highly recommend it.

Jac’s Frozen Fountains

January 22, 2012 1 comment

Dave the WriterJac was a clever guy.

It’d been below freezing in this part of Italy for almost two weeks. Farmers with orchards or vinyards were tearing their hair and wailing in despair, but the crystal-clear air and magnificent views of the snow-capped Apennines in the distance went a long way toward consoling my bride and me.

We’d booked a few weeks’ stay in a romantic room at the recently refurbished 14th century Palazzo Catalani about sixty miles north of Rome. From there, we took day trips all around to explore the countryside.

This day, we were in the small town of Bagnaia to see its major attraction, the gardens and fountains of the Villa Lante (not to be confused with several others of the same name elsewhere in Italy). That’s where Jac comes in.

In the late 15oo’s, a rich* Cardinal asked Jacopo Barozzi of Vignola to create a water wonderland using a small spring that bubbled up on the churchman’s hillside hunting preserve. Jac did fine work.

In our travels, we’ve seen a lot of beautiful fountains, but this one was unique. It was frozen in motion. No pumps or electric-powered mechanisms made the lovely water art there function—just gravity and Jac’s masterful skill. The modern management didn’t have anything to shut down and preserve from cold-weather harm, so they just let it flow.

How perfect for us! Lovely arcs and cascades of ice were everywhere. As the weeks of cold weather had continued, the fountain heads froze last. So, they had the chance to make rare and beautiful paintings in the air before they too stopped working. The beautiful result grabbed us then and has held on in our memories to this day.

Given the skills Jac showed in every other aspect of his work there, we believe that these frozen fountains were no happy accident, but the result of a superb architect’s design intention. And a lucky Cardinal’s bottomless treasury, of course. 


 By the way, doesn’t it seem that all the Cardinals were seriously rich back then? That’s probably for the same reasons that modern politicians mysteriously and regularly join ‘the one percent’ on nothing but 30 years of honest Public Service and government salaries. Or, maybe, it’s Divine Intervention helping the Future Saints among us, just like it was 500 years ago. Yeah. Sure. That’s it.

Phase Boundaries

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Remember High School Physics? Solids, liquids and gasses? That sort of thing? zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

Big blobs of stuff can be boring.

For me, not boring mostly comes at the contact points, in the places where they touch each other. Lots of not boring has also happened when I leave one for another. Dive off a rocky black ledge and fly through some thick, balmy air. Then, land in a tossing, turquoise sea and tell me if you agree.

This notion of excitement at the boundaries hadn’t really come together in words for me until recently. My bride and I were once again out on the ever-fascinating Oregon Coast. To us, the land around there is pretty much a non-descript temperate jungle. In the other direction, the North Pacific isn’t really much more than a huge, monotonous backdrop for The Deadliest Catch.

It’s where land, sea and sky meet that grabs us, making us pay attention. We go from bored to exhilarated just rounding that last turn before the beach, especially if it’s stormy or even just a bit breezy. At least, I and my bride do.

And that started me reflecting on my newly articulated phase boundary principle. I looked back on the most exciting moments of my life in the natural world and dozens of personal examples jumped out at me. Here are a few:

  • Standing in the deck-edge catwalk to see maybe a hundred flying fish leap out of the water near our bow, fins glinting in a glorious South China Sea sunset.
  • Balancing at the top of a sharp, craggy ridge on a golden day to see the same river sweep by on both sides far below.
  • Feeling ice-cold sheets of water pour down my neck in the pitch black a thousand feet underground while surveying an abandoned gold mine High Cascades.
  • Silently observing a Water Moccasin glide across my rifle barrel, disappearing into the foliage and roots while I was almost submerged in swamp, waiting to ambush ‘the enemy’ during training.
  • Watching from the Bridge as a twenty-foot wall of green water swept down the length of a thousand-foot flight deck time and again during a typhoon.
  • Body-surfing the perfect wave too long, getting pounded into grainy, green sand by the shore break, then sucked out again to pop up ecstatically and swim further out for another ride.
  • Hearing a gifted boatman sing O Sole Mio in the magical light of Capri’s Blue Grotto.

All these vivid memories and many more tell me something. Nature calls the loudest and experiences are the most alive when I’m near the phase boundaries.

Ancient Tyndaris

January 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Dave the WriterHere, Greeks fought the armies of Carthage before the Romans even cared. Those Greeks, after being driven out of the western Peloponnese in 396 BC, founded the city of Tyndaris on a high, craggy bluff that looms steeply over a lovely, sandy lagoon.

Surrounded by fertile land, the town, now called Tindari, is almost 40 miles west of Messina at the northeastern tip of Sicily. Back in the day, it was closer to the Carthaginians who ruled western Sicily than any other colony built by the Greeks. Long runs of the city’s original walls, made with massive marble stones still stand, attesting to constant ownership disagreements.

By 269 BC, the Romans had advanced and the town sought protection from Carthage. Then, the Greeks thought better of that choice, but Carthage held them fast. By 254, the Tyndarians managed to break away and become part of Roman Sicily.     

Later, when the famous orator, Cicero, governed the island, Tyndaris was one of its most prosperous and loyal cities. But, horribly corrupt Roman governors and civil war changed that, and the city declined fast. Think Detroit in the last 50 years.

This painting is of the largest Roman ruin still standing at Tyndaris.

This photo looks down at the lagoon, now filled with sand after 2,400 years.

After the Roman Republic fell, a great earthquake dropped half the town and part of the bluff into the sea more than 500 feet below. Then came the fall of Rome in the West and 1,000 years of Muslim pirates and other bad stuff. By the 19th century only a church and ancient ruins remained on the bluff.

Today, a few shops and homes accommodate visitors. A large, modern church, built in the 1950’s, is richly decorated as the Sanctuary of the Black Madona of Tindari, a beautiful ancient statue recovered from the ruins.

King Tarquin’s Town

January 13, 2012 4 comments

Dave the Writeror How a Day-Trip Paid for a Year of Italian Classes!

First, though…

Quick! Who was the 5th king of ancient Rome? You remember, back in 616 BC, before the Republic or the Empire. Any guesses?

That’s right, old Lucius Priscus Tarquinius. He was an Etruscan who’d moved to Rome seeking his fortune. Then, he’d made himself useful, becoming right-hand man to the old king.

Given Rome’s eventual conquest of Greece almost four hundred years later, it’s interesting that Tarquinius’ father was from Corinth. He’d left that city to make his own fortune at a time when it was perhaps the most prosperous in the Greek World, plunking down colonies left and right.

But, this post isn’t about the Corinthian or his son, the King. It’s about Tarquinius’ home town and how my bride and I got the chance to explore it.

Working out the plan for a long trip is fun. But this one, many years ago, had a glitch. My bride and I had agreed that a day in Tarquinia was a must. Since our stint among the downtrodden ranks of graduate student slave labor up around Siena, we’d become Etruscan Groupies. So, Tarquinia, it’s museum and it’s tomb-filled archaeological park was centered in the crosshairs of our Slavering Groupie travel sights.

Here was our problem: given the rest of our travels on that trip, the closest we’d get to Tarquinia was Rome’s port of Civitavecchia (literally Old Town, though it’s much newer than ancient Rome’s original port of Ostia).

The planning glitch was cost and time. Isn’t it always? Except for Vasari’s Corridor, but that’s another story.

I didn’t want to hassle with renting a car. Unlike most Americans, I enjoy driving in Italy; it’s the parking that makes me crazy. And, my map showed that parking near Tarquinia’s old town center would be more sanity-stressing than most places in Italy. So, driving was out. But, the other touristy alternative, a taxi, would be €450! Grrrr.

It was time to pull out the new weapon in our arsenal. We had to jump into Italian travel with both linguistic feet, taking the train and then Tarquinia’s town bus. We could do this!

The past year, we’d taken all three 100-level Italian courses at our local community college. It was just too lame going back as often as we did but still speaking only English or our meager and awful mash-up of Pidgin Italian. Now was the time and Tarquinia was the place to use what we’d learned —Verbs on the Ground, so to speak.

So, I jumped online to find schedules and prices. Back then, Trenitalia didn’t have an ‘English’ option on its website. So, I got my real Final Exam right away. I knew the cost would be pretty reasonable, but I was shocked. The price for a roundtrip for two was €9.60. Even adding in our tuition costs for a year of Italian, the total would be far less than a tourist taxi would have been!

I’ll have more to say in other posts about the Etruscans. Here, I want to attest to Tarquinia’s delightful Medieval-with-a-dash-of-Renaissance look and feel. We spent happy hours wandering around the oldest part of town, with its tall, square towers (think Montagues and Capulets) and old stonework. Beyond that, the town’s excellent Etruscan museum is in an old palace that’s almost as fascinating as its ancient contents.

Take a day, treat yourself to a place most visitors never see. Visit King Tarquin’s Town when you get the chance. It’s only sixty miles from Rome (or Civitavecchia).

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