My house is nearly a hundred years old – historic, almost ancient for my part of the country. I know vaguely of two families who lived and raised children there, and a dozen or so short-term (less than five years) inhabitants. I'm up to eleven years now, and feeling like an old timer.
So why this sudden attention to history? Because I’m in the middle of a bucket list adventure…at this moment I'm sitting on a bus hurtling between Venice and Florence. More than half my fellow travelers are dozing – we did some pretty significant hoofing around the alleyways of Venice. A local guide filled us in on the history and highlights of the town and then cut us loose.
We saw all the touristy things, St. Marc's and the Rialto Bridge and the squares. But my real feel for Venice came alive when we got lost in the maze of corridor-streets crammed between the lapping green water of the canals; clutching maps, we twisted and turned and ended up in the cobblestoned courtyard entrance of what must have once been a home.
Plastered walls flaked color and exposed the inner stone walls. Doors were shortened with snaggle-toothed rot left by the flowing sea (the city sinks a little every year). A handsome fountain had been torn away, leaving only the chipped skeleton. The dank breezes wisping by seemed to carry the ghosts of old lives.
The population of Venice is dropping; people who had carried in their armloads of groceries, sent children off to school, gone to work and dealt with the trivial troubles that beset us all, had disappeared into unremarked history.
As will I. As will most of us.
I'm gazing out the bus windows now as we hurry our way towards Florence. I’m drinking in the countryside, thirsty for a glimpse of the history that saturates the country. All around us lay Tuscan fields that have been planted and harvested for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. It's late April so the ground is tilled with ruler-straight furrows. Corn stands perhaps two inches high in some fields. Terraced grapes are thrusting out leaves and tendrils in others – the promise of the next vintage of luscious wines. Crops I can't identify are sprinkling the rows in hues of pale green. Farmers in old windbreakers and jeans walk, hands on hips, keenly noting the health and growth of their precious crops. I would not be surprised if they are the descendants of generations who have done the same, all the way back to their Roman ancestors.
The houses are all old. Most are stuccoed and brightly painted in yellows, pinks, whites and corals. Red tile roofs soften the colors against the vibrant spring green. But the structures’ tiny windows, the occasional exposed stone, show that these homes are hundreds of years old.
And the people. Going about their days. Dealing with the events of their lives, great and small. Loves, wars, sicknesses, babies, hopes and ambitions. The people who have had full vibrant lives that are gone; their passions remembered only in family lore, if that. They are not the poets, senators or warriors. They are us – the mass that flows through the real stories of our human past.
The forgotten stories. They are the silence between the remarkable words of remarkable histories. I wonder about them, who they were, what words of theirs lie beneath what we see and read.
The real history of us all. Such a great tick on my bucket list.