Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Italian relics

Usually when we go to Italy I am on the lookout for relics, looking in the Catholic churches for body parts, pieces of saints, bones, teeth, blood, breath, pieces of the True Cross and thorns from the crown of thorns. This trip had a slight variation on that theme.
In Rome we went to the Spanish Steps, and the Keats/Shelley museum, the rooms where Keats died, facing the Spanish Steps. There they have locks of hair from Keats, Shelley and Milton, collected by Leigh Hunt, and also a piece of Shelley's jaw (with a quote from one of the women in their circle saying that she couldn't bear to see the jaw, as she would remember the lips that once covered it, and the words which came from those lips...)Shelley's heart, saved by Trelawney from the funeral pyre, is not there. Mary took it with her.
In the north of Italy, in the south Tyrol/Dolomites/Alto Adige we went to the city of Bolzano, to the Museum of the South Tyrol, where the oldest relic going in Italy is housed - The Ice Man. The Ice Man dates to 5400 years old, frozen into a glacier high up in the mountains and found emerging from the ice by two hikers. A storm in the Sahara had deposited a dark layer of sand on the ice, causing melting (of course, along with global warming) and the eventual exposure of the Ice Man. Italy and Austria argued over which country would house the relics, and the international border was surveyed, showing the Ice Man to be about 20 meters into Italy.
Relics have always brought pilgrims, tourists, and business. Bolzano has created a lovely museum to house the Ice Man. They feature, of course, a look at him, but also create a story and a context for each article of his clothing, his tools, his first aid kit, his weapons. The museum looks at everything from his tattoos to his bearskin soled shoes, from his fleas and tick, stomach parasites and blue eyes to his arsenic levels (high, probably from taking part in the smelting of metals). He has mushrooms in his first aid kit, to stop bleeding, and carried two birchbark containers lined with leaves. He was killed by an arrow in the back, and died clutching a dagger in his hand. It is an amazing thing to come face to face with someone from so long ago and yet, right there. I sat on a chair in the museum and wrote this little poem:

Ice Man Sutra (Bolzano)

where everything is revealed.
These are the mountains.
These are the mountains
beyond the mountains.
This is the sky.
This is the sky
beyond the sky.
This is the moment
beyond the mountains
beyond the sky.

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