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  Field Notes From
Ancient Italy

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From Author

Erla Zwingle

Ancient Italy On Assignment

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From Photographer

O. Louis Mazzatenta

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by O. Louis Mazzatenta (top) and Bronwyn Barnes


Ancient Italy On Assignment Author Ancient Italy On Assignment Author
Ancient Italy

Field Notes From Author
Erla Zwingle

Best Worst Quirkiest
    I went to a restaurant in the countryside and found an expert to tell me something about how the Italic people ate. A woman and her family actually re-created an Umbrian meal from back in 600 B.C. We had lamb innards (heart, lung, intestines, liver) chopped up and simmered together, another meat dish of chunks of pork with garlic, and bread cooked on hot bricks under a layer of ash. I enjoyed it not only because I was hungry but also because it was another way—as much as possible—to experience physically, personally, and in real time something that an Italic person would have experienced. It was better than just reading about the people. It connected me in a way.

    The worst for me was the dig at Matelica, a small town in the Marches region of Italy. Someone had wanted to build a parking lot there. But the law states that if you start excavating to build something and you hit an archaeological artifact, all of your work has to stop while archaeologists inspect the site.  
    While working on the parking lot, a bulldozer hit something that looked historic, so the contractor called in archaeologists. They discovered this Picenian level, which held a series of rudimentary kilns used to fire pottery around 600
    So there's a parking lot there now, and people are going to be driving in and out for decades, parking their Fiats or BMWs on top of this ancient site they'll never know was there. I'm not saying every dig should be a shrine. We're not living in 600
B.C. anymore. I understand we need garages because we need cars, but people are going to be parking their cars over a place that was really important to somebody, and I don't know how else to say it: It makes me feel bad. 

    I went to visit an old lady who takes away the evil eye. I don't believe in this, but there are many people who do, and when I'm in the field I try to look at the world through other people's eyes. She was sublimely sincere and exotic. She believed that she was doing something to help a person in trouble, which is clearly something anyone could relate to. What made this situation difficult for me was to show her my respect while not pretending that I believed in what she was doing. I'm always very grateful and sometimes even surprised at how willing people are to share important parts of their lives. The worst thing I could have done would have been to scoff at her. After all, I asked her to show me how she did it. Being a reporter as well as a participant is always a difficult balancing act. I hope I managed it well.    


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