Day 17 – March 3rd, 2008 (my 39th birthday)

In the morning I tried to hook up to the internet with my remaining few minutes from the hour I purchased the night before but their internet service was down so, small consolation prize, they didn’t bill me for the portion I did use.

Headed north on the back country roads again which wind lazily through dozens of small villages. Most of these are perched on hilltops with the houses all bunched up against each other in very scenic, though slightly claustrophobic arrangements. This is all in contrast to America where the towns out in the toolies are down in the valleys and the residential areas all have plenty of elbow room. The reason for the Italian way of laying towns thus was borne of military necessity as way back when you feared constant raids from your enemies and being holed up on a mountain afforded a measure of security.

The roads often take me through the winding hearts of these towns where the roads become little more than impossibly narrow alleyways that form switchbacks. One wrong turn and you end up in a dead end that is a nightmare to turn a car around in so that often you just have to go back in reverse and hope for the best.

Just north of the city of L’Aquila is the town of San Vittorino in which the map tells me is a site of historical interest named Amiternum. I pull off the road to find the now typical ruins that consist mostly of stony foundations and there is little else evident from the road other than a rather well preserved amphitheater, de rigeur for any Roman settlement worth its salt.

Although fenced in and inside certain areas where excavations are ongoing are cordoned off the place is empty save for a small mobile home that has been converted into an office. I walk in to find a guy “manning the fort” and ready to ask him how much the tickets are (because hardly anywhere is anything free these here parts) and to my surprise he says all that I need to do is sign the guest book. He, evidently a little bored, made some small talk and out it comes that I’m in Italy doing research for a coin book. At the mention of this part he waves me into his office to show me a handful of coins they found on site and we talked for a while about them and the other finds as he proudly hauled out a stack of photographs from the team that is excavating the area.

After that I walk into the grounds and once again have the place to myself. This time, sadly, no coins or anything else jumps out at me for the taking and there isn’t really that much to see or photograph either. By the time I walk back to the entrance another guy has joined the gatekeeper and evidently they’d been talking about me because he introduced his friend to me and mentioned that he was a coin collector. One thing led to another and we got to talking about metal detecting. I wanted to know if it was forbidden to go detecting in the grounds just outside the digs as they’re just pastures and farmland. They said it wasn’t a good idea and even though I came back with a quote of Italian law which supposedly allows metal detecting in this particular region given permission by the landowner they just smile and nod at my naivete. Maybe that’s so on the books but the cops out here are crooked and in any case ignorant of that type of law. If I got caught I’d have to bribe my way out of a huge hassle.

But his friend at this point admits that he goes metal detecting at night and finds coins all the time and offered to take me around detecting, at some risk now that it was high noon but he knew his areas. We drove up through some unpaved back roads not far from there and there was a freshly tilled field where I hauled out my detector and started searching but after about half an hour of nothing I felt bad for his generosity and told him that I had had enough (though had I been alone I would have stubbornly stayed all day til I found something). He took me to his home and gave me a handful of coins he’d found despite my frequent protests that it was unnecessary but he wouldn’t budge and said for me to keep them.

Very appreciative, it was now time to head back on the road and get somewhere. By late afternoon I decided to start scoping out a good area to call it a day and decided on a service road off a national park near the summit of a big mountain. I spent the night above treeline at 5,000 feet with a marvelous view all around. I managed to cool my drinks in pockets of snow which were all around me and settled in for the night reading a book my sister Seven gave me just before leaving about food. Although it was a particularly depressing irony to have a book on food to read given my situation I was very into it anyway and soon got sleepy then turned the car lights off and stared for a little while at a jet black sky filled with a million dots of light.

Day 18