So, the two of us could not be more stellar examples of the resilience of human consciousness. Down to breakfast at eight o’clock, and parked and through the gate at Villa Romana del Casale by 9:15. This 3rd century Roman hunting lodge has the most extensive and magnificent mosaic floors in the world. The site was covered by a mudslide and largely forgotten for centuries, then sporadically excavated since the 1800s. Beginning in the 1950s, the splendid art was brought to light, one room after another.
Alice isn’t fully awake, but her orienteering skills are unimpeded. Though we follow a bus with big load of evil through the gate, we are but the third car in the parking lot. I have been warned about the attraction this place has for buses. Plus, personal experience has shown that the early bird often gets an experience unencumbered by jabbering assholes. And because it’s Sunday, the site is free.
The building’s foundation has been partially enclosed, protecting the floors from the elements. It can snow in Sicily: we’ve seen traffic signs with a tire and two snowflakes, so we know. Wandering along the catwalks, deciphering the goofily translated documentation, and peering at antic or ferocious animals, frolicking putti, and kaleidoscopic geometries, we butt into the slowpoke group of tourists getting the English-language lowdown from a voluble Sicilian lady. We tag along, semi-unobtrusively. Sponge-like we absorb info we’ll likely forget in 90 minutes. The building’s centerpiece, the long Corridor of the Great Hunt depicts the capture and transport of wild beasts; African critters on one half and Indian on the other, in other words, giraffes and lions, elephants and tigers, in minute and careful detail. The drama and sheer narrative drive of the images is remarkable and nearly impossible to leave.
The parking lot is full when we amble back to the car. With a Coke and a croissant in hand, we are ready to tackle anything. Morgantina is a dozen kilometers away. The ancient Greek town was at its peak during the time of Christ and was the last community in Sicily to fall to the Romans in 211. It’s situated high on a long ridge and suggests what a large agricultural center might look like. Grass and wildflowers cover the site, giving it a feeling of lushness and life. Golden stone set in green under a gray Sicilian sky.
Morgantina’s fame rests on its spectacular treasures, looted in the 1970s and 80s and recently repatriated after much bickering. These include a hoard of sixteen pieces of gilded silver and three acroliths of goddesses. And, wouldn’t you know it, the silver and two of the goddesses have gone on tour. They won’t be at the Museo Archeologico in Aidone. The larger than life statue of Persephone or perhaps Demeter is still there and still commanding. An acrolith, by the way, is a statue whose head and arms are marble, while the corpus is wood or limestone. The Met in New York had purchased the silver hoard and for some reason, it has returned for a visit. Disappointed, yes, but there’s a story here.
Aidone seems pretty deserted this Sunday afternoon, but when we order a slice of pizza and an espresso at a café, the couple with last night’s caterwauling baby are sitting right next to us. This compels us to fixate on the mysteries of Italian television and eat a kilo of cookies. It’s time to admit that each of us is whipped, done in by travel.
Alice guides us to Villa Trigona the back way. “The way we were supposed to go yesterday, Dad.” It requires the traversing of a fifty-yard puddle. We generate a little, muddy Fiat wake. There’s a fucking car behind, so onward. Up to our gunwales!
We enjoy another excellent rustic meal with the grumpy, old people from Hoboken on one side and the sweet newlyweds from London on the other. The crazed baby seems to have exhausted its repetoire. Pray for us.