Of Roman Bones and Barking Dogs

By | August 3, 2011

I am sitting at a small desk in an upstairs bedroom of my sister’s house in Transylvania, the notorious Romanian province. She lives with her family in a house surrounded by blue and green hills and serenaded by armies of crickets every night. Nighttime is magic. Lights glinting all lined up far away make me think of oversized wands thrown from the sky by mad magicians. Owls hoot tirelessly and fly with their padded cottony wings over the fields to get their nightly rat and lizard fix.
The boys are asleep, dead tired after a long day. They had water fights and chased lizards around the yard. They also found some lizard eggs that are now safely placed in a large container filled with dirt on a sunny windowsill where they’ll hopefully hatch one day.

We explored the fields around including some archaeological sites where we found some pieces of roman skulls and other bone fragments, plus some roman pottery shards. I have to admit that holding a piece of skull in my hand, all bleached by the minerals in the soil – that’s two thousand years of bleaching – and of course by the sun over the last few weeks since the digging started, well, that’s one humbling feeling. I could see the suture all ragged like a broken zipper, plus the softly curved space where the brain was once nestled. People who walked the very ground I am standing on more than two thousand years ago. They laughed and cried and loved to see the sunset just like I do, they were joyful and mad and pensive. The boys kept asking “This is part of a roman’s head, right, Mom?” Yes, it is, I kept answering. That’s all that’s left after all. We struggle so much for things that have little or no relevance in the big picture. The more I think about it the more I believe that it’s not about the things we touch and deposit inside some walls but the ones we cannot touch that go straight to the heart and get braided into thick strands of everything that’s real, the only reference to having been truly alive. There’s odd impossible-to-assemble anymore pottery pieces left behind by archaeologists. They feel rough to the touch and have dirt-filled ridges in them. Pieces of a puzzle lost forever, except for two that somehow match and give us the thrill of a glimpse into a long lost past. The skull and bones we leave behind, they’ll find their way back in somehow as the site will get covered.

Before sunset we go for a walk to a grocery store. Sasha collects a nice flat rock for me which I’ll take with me back home, I’m known to do that. Every now and then Tony stops, grabs my arm and grins: “I like being here.” I do too. The air is warm and soft and some early cricket chirps twirl through the orange glow like confetti. The boys stop every ten steps or so to touch a tree, or a big metal gate with an intricate design.
As we take some back streets to avoid busy roads, I am learning the following:
–    Behind every gate there is a barking dog. Loud and sudden, that is, which translates into every little hair follicle standing up straight and my skin feeling frozen for a few minutes after. Just until the next dog gets us.
–    While it may look like fun to make the dogs bark since they are behind the fence, some are big enough to jump over the above mentioned fence. Big enough means the equivalent of an oversized pony. I can’t, nor do I want to imagine the size of the thieves these dogs are supposed to protect the properties and their owners from.
–    There is a pink house with a big metal gate and behind it three black Rottweiler dogs. There used to be four but one got hurt and was eaten by the others. Gulp. No, no pun intended, that’d be a cruel one.
–    The narrower the side streets the faster people drive. Gluing ourselves to the fences we’re passing by to avoid the fast moving metal devices sets the dogs on fire. There is a certain thrill in almost feeling the hot breath of a dog that cannot get me.

The dark fields are laced with cricket chirps like a giant web of sounds in which owl ghost-like calls bounce up and down, invisible cotton balls. The house is asleep and my thoughts crawl all drunken with the promise of solid dreamless sleep into a burrow of quietness. A good long day indeed.

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