2000 years ago, one of Rome’s northernmost fortifications was located in Comagena, on the banks of the Danube, a place known today as Tulln, a nice little town near where I live, where you can’t dig a foundation for a new house without hitting some bones or potshards; and if this happens, and you don’t cover them back up fast enough, the archeologists come and examine everything, delaying your construction by weeks or months while they say, “oh, a Roman spearhead,” or “an unknown item, obviously an object of worship.”
Today was a nice sunny late-summer day and friends with kids from out of town visited us and they were having a “Roman fair” this weekend so we all went. It was sort of like a Ren Faire, except that a lot of the surrounding architecture actually dated back to the Roman era. But there were people wandering about in period costume, guys in armor and mini-skirts explaining the various items of weaponry (the genuine Roman soldiers got the good stuff, the local soldiers in conquered areas were given, wisely enough, softer helmets, duller, non-shield-piercing spears, etc., just in case they ever got the idea to revolt against their Roman friends.
They had blacksmiths banging away at this and that. They had Roman food. It was interesting, I could’ve stayed for hours; that’s the only way I can grasp history. We went into the Roman museum and looked around. Our friends are an international couple, he is Japanese and she is Austrian; they have three gigantic sons roughly Beta’s age. One, the 12-year-old, is nearly as big as me. In the museum, standing in front of a glass case admiring spears and swords and mean-looking throwing darts, I looked around to see where the girls were and saw all the women at another glass case, looking at old jewelery. And I thought, what a different life it must be, having a house full of boys instead of a house full of girls.
Outside you could shoot arrows, so we went over there. They had authentic-looking bows. Old-fashioned-looking wooden recurve bows. And various arrows – what looked like your basic target arrow, maybe a little longer, and arrows with sort of soft fabric balls on the end instead of a point, which I suppose were for hunting birds.
Instead of shooting those at birds, though, you got to shoot the target arrows at an approximate facsimile of a wild boar. Basically a stuffed toy animal, covered with fur of some kind, like what people won at state fairs 2000 years ago before they started rigging the games.
How to shoot an arrow: hold bow in one hand. Balance arrow on thumb of that hand, with the notchy part at the back, feathery end over the string, in about the middle of the string. Pull it back with two fingers of the other hand, so the point end is balanced on your thumb now. Point it where you want the arrow to go, then release the string.
There was quite a crowd shooting arrows, one after the other. Most were doing it for the first time, and having problems with the arrow-shooting checklist outlined above. The bows were kind of heavy for the little kids. Some moms had never shot an arrow. Right before me, a dad was shooting for his kid, who was scared to. No one hit the pig.
Then it was my turn.
I felt sort of bad, you know, stepping up to the plate right after that other dad failed like that. He and his kid were standing there watching. When I was a kid, I was into archery for a while, Robin Hood, Native American roots, all that shit. I was never a good archer, but hell. I can draw a bow and point it.
I missed a few times – I was leading the target to the right, which would’ve been excellent had it been running in that direction. Then I got it solidly in the snout, then I got it in the head. My posse was all like yay! Of course, if it had been a real hunting situation with a real boar, I wouldn’t be here at my PC right now, I’d still be running away from a very angry wild boar with an arrow in its snout.
Then, although I would’ve liked to watch the blacksmiths more and look at the swords and eat some Roman food, we strolled through town with our friends. We looked at an old church, from the tenth or eleventh century or so, and the old bone house next to it, which was built in the mid-thirteenth century, and rennovated in 1874. We looked at another church, which is a few centuries newer and fancier inside. We walked along the banks of the Danube. We had lunch at an outdoor restaurant there. While Beta stewed because her least-favorite journalist was also eating there, and basically did girly stuff with her sister and mother, our friends’ three boys were closely examining a maggot they had found in a rosehip. They were all, “oh, a maggot!”
“Where? Let me see the maggot!”
“Give me the maggot, my turn.”
“Oops, I dropped the maggot.”
“Where’d the maggot go?”
All through this, all day long, we were swatting mosquitos, on ourselves and on each other, which sometimes started sort of swatting fights.
We drove home. We had some coffee and sat around talking. Our friends left. Beta and I went and rowed a little. Think “African Queen” only with mosquitos instead of leeches.
Tomorrow: I paint our porch railing.