Saturday, October 29, 2005

Quid Novi?

(that's Latin for "£9?!")

Some things that I had not done prior to this sojourn in Italy...

eaten lotus:
It's true, I'm a lotophagos now. The fruit is about the size of an apple and is a bit redder than the tomatos you see in ads. You pull the leaves off the top, and inside it's mushy, with three or four large seeds each enclosed in its own membrane. I'd bet that the reason I've never seen these in the US is they're too messy to eat (either that, or kids would choke on the seeds).

drank must:
that is, freshly pressed grape juice undergoing fermentation before it turns into wine. It's delightfully fruity and fizzy. The word, incidentally, comes via Old English from Latin mustum, the neuter of the adjective mustus, "fresh." There's a page regarding the use of mustum in place of wine in Catholic communion here: it was written by then Cardinal Ratzinger, the present Pope Benedict XVI (Note also the continued life of Latin: quibus glutinum ablatum est).

herded sheep:
I started with the 20 at the agriturismo in Busso, now I'm herding 250 here on the farm in Castropignano. I work with an aging border collie named Whisp and a yellow plastic whacking stick to keep the sheep in order. I'd like to take this opportunity to say that the phrase "follow like sheep" doesn't mean what you think it does. Sheep, in my experience, only follow other sheep. If you see a shepherd leading a long line of sheep, it's because the first sheep in line thinks the shepherd is a sheep (they aren't known for great eye-sight) and all the rest are following the first. Sheep also stop following whenever they feel like it, usually if there's something green close by; the exception to this is if that green something is a field of grass that you want them to eat, in which case they'll walk right over it, shuffling along like people trying not to look like tourists in Times Square.

ridden a horse (apart from those pictures of me at two years old being stood on top of one):
Yesterday I had my first 15-minute lesson, covering such things as how to put the saddle on, how to get on the horse, how to make the horse go, how to make the horse stop, turn left, turn right, get off the horse....

herded sheep while riding a horse:
Since they're sheep, I guess I can't be called a cowboy. Supposedly the sheep always follow the horse. So far, they follow about the same amount as when I went pedestrian. I'm still working on making the horse go where I want it to, so god-only-knows how I'm supposed to make the sheep go there, too. It was a nice long ride back from the meadows this evening as the sun went down. Since it was dark, the sheep couldn't tell that the big white horse wasn't, in fact, another sheep, so they followed peacefully, and I was left free to imagine that I was a lance corporal in the Queen's Third Samnite Cavalry headed back to camp after a long day of chasing down bandits in the Hindu Kush (it was a very long day...).

worked for two Italians who have been to San Francisco:
Both Giovanni and Mario have seen the Golden Gate, a place I have never been (Who are three men who've never been in my kitchen?).

Friday, October 14, 2005

Time hurries on

Well, well... several days ago I arrived safely at the next farm on my itinerary, in Castropignano (Castrum Expugnatum), Molise. Mario and Carmela have a bunch of sheep, maybe 200; I've taken them out to the meadows twice so far. This is real shepherding: strolling down tiny roads and turning onto overgrown dirt trails, the sheep strung out behind in a great white, rolling mass, or coming home at the end of the day along the "shortcut," a dry streambed, as thick fog settles over everything and you think that people will speak your name in whispered tones around campfires for centuries to come... looking out from the pastures, I can see the towns all around, perched on hilltops: Frosolone, Torella del Sannio, Castropignano itself. Today we went out along a stretch of tratturo, the system of transhumance trails that used to crisscross Italy, predating even the Samnites and Romans. Only in Molise are substantial sections of these ancient highways preserved, and even fewer of those are actually used for the movement of animals. I generally go out around noon and stay the whole afternoon, affording me the opportunity to do a lot of reading. It turns out by felicitous coincidence that Mario's father Pietro Borraro was Lucanian historian, so there are a lot of very interesting books to be found here. At the moment, though, I'm making my way through one of the books I recently purchased, Safinim -- actually the acts of a convention held in 1992 on the Samnites and the Table of Agnone.
I bought it at the archaeological museum in Isernia three days ago. When I left Giovanni's farm, I took the train from Boiano to Isernia, the ancient Aesernia, and checked out the museum. Their claim to fame seems to be the so-called Homo aeserniensis, although no human remains have been found -- only evidence of a 400,000-year-old human encampment, with elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, and lion bones, along with other less exotic things. I much preferred the lapidary section, where there are housed many fine inscriptions and some fabulous relief sculpture, including a bit of a funerary monument decorated with a naval battle. (Pictures from the last several months should be appearing over the next week or so... ) I saw some other ancient traces around the town: the cathedral is built directly over the foundation of a Roman temple, for instance.
Later that day I took the train to Venafro, ancient Venafrum, but I have to say it left me disappointed, at least coming from Isernia. The museum had a no photography policy, but there truthfully wasn't all that much to photograph in the first place. Just a couple of inscriptions (besides a nice big one on the regulation of aqueducts), plus many fragments of frescos, which, although nice enough, weren't spectacular. I guess I've grown picky when it comes to antiquities. There is more to say, but for now it's time to sleep. A hundred thank-yous to all of my correspondents, keeping me informed via letters and e-mail.