Today, how about a bit of erm… Etruscans?

I think my dad is slightly scarred by how much we’ve made him drive yesterday… We sort of swung by the amazing natural waterfall hotsprings again… Well, you know, it was sort of a little bit on the way-ish, and we’d noticed the water had done wonders for Zaza’s cradle cap (top tip for parents everywhere, just find a good natural sulphur hotspring nearby, and er… yeah). So we went again, and that was the third time for us, and it was amazing all over again and Zaza loved it again. But now my dad wants to go somewhere nearby, understandably, so we pick the area near Chiusi, which was an important Etruscan city named Clevsin, and my parents have not yet delved as extensively as us into Etruscan-ness. We depart after lunch after another morning happily hanging out in our Tuscan palace of Sinalunga. My parents immediately start having disagreements about the route as is traditional, and Zaza is lulled to sleep by a minute and a half of Italian radio (the radio is truly magical to send her to sleep in the car, I soooo wish we’d known this a month and a half ago).

The weather is pretty threatening, and sure enough as we near Chiusi rain starts up, just in time for us to take refuge in the city’s main attraction, the National Etruscan Museum, which is set in a neo-classical pseudo-temple. Even though we’re becoming fairly Etruscan-blase, by now, and even though there are still many carved sarcophagi and funerary urns, I have to say we see things in the Chiusi museum unlike any we’ve seen previously: funerary vases with fantastically expressive faces set on top of vases or bronze “seats”, miniature household sets that were buried in tombs to be of use to the deceased, beautiful jewelry, moving clay portraits of the dead, and countless beautiful vases and pots. It’s fun to watch how much Eliza is interested in everything, but especially anything with a face, and she spends a long time gazing open-mouthed at the star attraction of the museum, a “canopic urn” (which contained the ashes of a cremated person) with a clay face atop a bronze assemblage.

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[Last four pictures courtesy of Wikipedia and the museum website, because I forgot to take any]

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Holy what the what is that???

With the museum ticket comes the visit of two Etruscan tombs nearby, and we ask how to find them – the museum staff quickly have a little hushed chat with much gesturing to decide who will take us there, and the winner (or loser) is a gangly moustachioed chap; we’re told how to find his car (a blue Fiat Panda, OLD model, VERY OLD, insists the smirking receptionist, whose name is Elisa) and to convoy behind it to the tombs. Find the old Panda we do, and we follow moustache dude to a leafy road under some more rain (mere spittle to us Brits / Normands) to the tomb of the lion. Ooooh, think we, the tomb of the lion, can’t wait, you gotta like a good lions, the frescoes will be beautiful.

Nope, no frescoes. The guy tells us (well, tells me, and I translate for everyone) to look there in the corner of the ceiling, that rock that sticks out a bit, looks a little like a lion doesn’t it? Yes? Nope. Anyway, the tomb of the lion is a sand gallery which is crumbling like crazy, and they tried to restore the frescoes and paint them again in 1997 and they’ve gone again because sand and humidity, so there’s pretty much nothing there to see apart from a dug out gallery. Nevermind, because we’re now headed to the tomb of the Pilgrim (ooooh! we say, a pilgrim!) – “the tomb of the Pilgrim is called this because it was found in 1917 on the piece of land on the Pilgrim street”, says the guide… Oh well. This tomb at least has lots of sarcophagi still in situ in their little side funerary chambers and it’s cool to see them how they would’ve been. Also quite interesting is the fact that everything’s been left exactly how it was found, and there’s evidence of grave robbing from ancient times, when the Romans came and nicked the stuff from the Etruscan tombs (there was a market for Etruscan statue heads as decoration in fancy Roman houses, apparently). One of the stone sarcophagi is propped open with the head of a reclining dude on the lid of a funerary urn, it’s all very Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (I’ve always been struck by how shit an archaeologist Indiana Jones is and how destructive he always is of all these awesome ancient sites in the recovery of the one artifact. Come on, now, that’s just silly).

Tomba-della-Pellegrina

[This one courtesy of valdichiana.it]

I can see my parents are a little disappointed by the absence of frescoes. There is one tomb here which has frescoes, actually, says moustache. But it’s not open today, it’s open tomorrow. “But you don’t happen to, erm, have the key, right now on your person, right?” I ask. He looks shifty. “No”, he says, “nope, no can do, I do not, sorry”. I try a couple more times but he will not be swayed, and we remain fresco-less.

We’ve decided to try and take a walk around the Chiusi lake, which we can see on the map – moustache has warned us that it is eighty metres deep and we should not try to swim in it, with a slightly ominous look, so we’re intrigued. We reach the lake and it’s kinda grey, boring and non-descript; it looks kind of depressing and there’s loads of wind, so we ditch this plan and get back in the car where Heather and Eliza are busy bonding over milk.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now, I cannot remember for the life of me the name of the village where we stop next instead. It’s perched on a hill (of course) and has a magnificent view over the countryside (of course) and some narrow medieval streets where we enjoy wandering for a while.

We decide, for the last dinner we’re sharing with my parents, to purchase a feast from a local produce shop (Heather is so happy) – and end up with some frozen squids from India, some tomato puree, and some handmade pasta. This does make for a rather fabulous last dinner, actually, and concludes happily our time with my folks, which as usual has been full of easy chats, affection, warmth and laughter. I feel so fortunate to get along so well with my parents!

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