I’m sorry. I’m sorry for not posting for the past few weeks and I’m sorry that as a result this post is extra long. I didn’t actually come to Italy with the intention of dropping off the face of the planet but that’s what happens when you start digging holes into it for 8+ hours a day. On Tuesday the 13th our dig director told us the happy news that we had obtained permission to dig on another section of the hill. For 11 days only. This area of the hill is considered important because in the 1980s, ancient burial material was found there. Oh My God, right?
Imagine a clock that is grassy and dome shaped and has cypress trees on the very top and an olive grove hanging off the bottom of it. If the burial material was found (rather accidentally I might add) at the 11 o’clock position, we had permission to dig at the 5 o’clock spot in hopes of finding graves that wrap around the tumulus.
The staff (comprised of second year returners and above) were pretty much peeing their pants with excitement (this possibility of digging there has been dangled in front of student’s noses since 2001) and I was pretty damn close to joining them in needing to change my pants because it would be the most effin’ amazing thing ever to be able to come home and say “This summer I lost some weight, took a train for the first time and excavated Etruscan tombs. NBFD”
Because we had a limited time frame in which we could be on the property and we wanted to excavate 4 huge trenches to deep, deep levels we changed our work hours from 7am – 3:30 to 7am-5/6pm and we got sent up in a morning shift and an afternoon shift.
Now, when I started work at my second M&M Meat Shops store, my first day ended up being 9 hours long. My feet hurt afterward and I was tired. Italy Siobhan wants to go back in time and smack Past Canada Siobhan and tell her to suck it up, Princess.
Olive trees are not big, and they don’t provide much shade. And they grow on slopes of unbelievable incline. And the dirt around them has to be ploughed, which is an archaeological disaster.
The sun creeps above the timberline at 7:30 and doesn’t stop beating down on you until 4:30 at the earliest, depending on which trench you’re in and where the neighbours’ tree-fence begins to provide shade.
The first few days we ran on adrenaline which was good. We needed it to get through layers of sun-baked, sharp edged, clunky chunks of ploughed clay. We worked hard and we worked fast swinging pickaxes, filling buckets and cutting up our hands with blisters and scratches. I don’t remember if I said this before, but it’s at least 35 degrees and sunny every single day here. It hasn’t rained in four weeks (I’ve already been here for four weeks!!) and it is stinking hot. I have never sweated so much in my life. Ever. I was a human slip-and-slide to the degree that I could not rest my hand on my knee without slipping off and falling awkwardly into a pile of exhausted muscles and bones. But it was fun.
The weekend was our long weekend, a half Friday with Saturday, Sunday and Monday off of work. I hadn’t made plans previously, hoping to stay here and relax and get some writing done, but pretty much everyone else was travelling. A group went to Venice, others went to Rome etc. But I opted out in the name of rest, finances and wanting more time and energy to experience those cities. When the announcement about the new trenches was made on Tuesday the staff voluntarily cancelled or adapted their travel plans in order to keep the trenches open and get more work done in our 11 days. Students had the option to work as well if they so desired. I told myself I’d go up for a morning.
Friday at noon is when we broke for lunch and the kids who were staying ate on the hill and everyone who was travelling came back to the house to eat and bus off to wherever they were going. I ate on the hill.
There were three students (including myself) who ended up staying on the hill working for the entire 11 hour day and I wasn’t even tired until I got back to the house and had to walk up the stairs. It was awesome and I felt fairly accomplished at the end of it.
I had planned to go to Siena for a few hours (it’s only 40 minutes by bus and there’s a big grocery store and some fun little shops) with a couple other students on Saturday but I woke up two minutes before my roommate’s 5:48 am alarm and I wanted to keep working, maybe just for the morning. So I did. And I was up there sweating and moving rocks for 8 hours.
Sunday I was feeling slightly like a zombie, but a zombie programmed to dig and lift rocks out of trenches that I was digging so I went up to work then as well, and a few more students who had stayed for the weekend went to work as well. My trench only had one extra person but it was still a tight squeeze and I ended up with little rocks in my eyes which I had to cry out. Once that dam was opened I couldn’t close the gates and I sobbed on the hill, “I’m just so tired. I’m so damn tired! But I want to keep working!”
Jason (the assistant dig-director and my trench-master) and Alyssa (my roommate) brought me down with them to get lunch and left me at the house to sleep. I was mad about it for a bit because I felt like I’d bailed, but I had a nap, gave the kitchen a massive cleaning and did some laundry and felt better by the time everyone got down off the hill and we headed over to the pool for pizza and drinks provided by the wonderful family that owns the hotel.
It may have been the pool water, it may have been allergies or I may have just worked too damn hard, but I went to bed Sunday night feeling a roughness in my chest cavity that was unnervingly like the chest-infectiony cold feeling I had right before I came here. It was still with me in the morning. My buddy Josh and I had decided on Saturday to take Monday afternoon off to go to Siena and go to the grocery store and just get out of town for a bit. After a brief 6:48 am consultation with Alyssa(work wasn’t starting til 8 on Monday) I decided to stay at the house, rest some more and get some writing done instead of pushing my body way beyond its breaking point.
I did all of that and we left for Siena at 2:00 and we had a great time. There’s this store in Siena known as the Chinese Store to all the Scavi returners because the neon sign above the door is written in Chinese and we don’t know what it’s called. Everything in the store is made in China and the main reason we go there is for the t-shirts which are so poorly translated and made of so much lycra-elastane they are worth every one of the 5 euro you pay to wear it. Really, you should make a profit off of these shirts because they are so entertaining you could charge a fee for looking at them. I bought two and they cannot be described in words. I will let you know that most of them are studded, bedazzled and covered in glitter and celebrities and typos.
Tuesday I had mag-duty which is boring as hell (dry-brushing artefacts for 8 hours leaves something to be desired) and Wednesday was back to work and work we did. We worked and worked and hit bedrock. So much bedrock. “How much bedrock?“ I hear you ask.
So much bedrock that Wednesday was our last day digging and we spent Thursday backfilling the trenches. Backfilling is the physically gruelling and emotionally taxing process of taking all the dirt you removed from the hole, and putting it back in to make it look like nothing ever happened. Some people find it depressing. Some people find it cathartic. I found it thrilling. You want to get a lot moved as fast as you can and so there’s a lot less gossip in the trenches and a lot more panting and work which is a nice change of pace. I filled buckets for a few hours before being delegated to the end of the bucket brigade dumping buckets into the trench. We finished all four trenches by 1:00 and Tony (our boss) told us to take the rest of the afternoon off.
He also bussed us all to Florence yesterday for a personal tour of the Archaeological Museum which was hot and crowded but a nice treat and I got some shopping done (I found new shorts that fit and don’t fall down if I forget my makeshift cheese-string suspenders!) and today I’m beginning my REAL relaxing weekend which I feel I have earned.
Only 2 more weeks at the Scavi and I miss home a lot but I’ll miss here as well. Lots of friendships have been forged and an unhealthy adoration for labouring in the hot sun and getting coated in sweaty mud has blossomed. We’ll see what the next two weeks bring as we’re back on the regular hill and back to regular field school and a regular pace.
I might post again tomorrow (to make up for my absence) or I might just be too busy by the pool J xoxo
And Happy Birthday Max!!!