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Time is Hungry

January 26, 2012 Leave a comment Go to 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times was likely quite well-preserved until the Fall of Rome in the West, when irrigation and terracing systems were no longer maintained.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.

  1. January 26, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Thank you for this beautiful post, God bless you ..

  2. January 26, 2012 at 10:33 am

    I’m surprised that it’s mostly Brits and Americans who live there!
    But either way, it’s very curious site to visit for sure.

    • January 26, 2012 at 1:16 pm

      Great word: ‘curious’! And, in many different ways for the old civita. One of the Brits owned a small cafe and told us she’s there because a ‘certain kind’ of visitor comes to that part of Bagnoregio. More into ancient history is what I think she meant. But, her words could also have been one of those Brit Super-Putdowns that sound like polite conversation to an American, Canadian or Aussie. An American resident we happened to talk with was a New Age devotee. As you may know, it’s a fad among some Archaeologists to suppose that the Etruscans had female gods heading their pantheon and might even have been matriarchical. That was his thing. He lived there to be closer to that ‘truth’. Come to think of it, maybe the Brit gal meant visitors with the same views as that American. Could well be.

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