Yoharie: Neverers (part one)
“But places the landscape was uniform in appearance…which might be desert, coastlands, tropical forest…and, of course, among the Mediterranean nations early mariners generally kept within sight of land… So we see the building of monumental works—statues, temples, mausoleums. They were navigation aids, practically, as well as the majesty of a god incarnate. Peoples in alpine regions, who of course had a great deal of stone at their disposal…northern Italy, much of Central Europe, being surrounded by natural peaks, divided by great river systems. And in northern Italy again, the Auvergne in France, a peppering of volcanic lakes…picture the imaginative impact of that deep blue jewel, that to reach one must climb a height, arduously…
“And so of course,” (Roberta’s teaching speech had a peppering of of courses) “all these would be invested with the powers of individual gods, each to his own mountain, her own lake, et cetera. These peoples had no need, either of landmarks, or of conjuring awe from manmade things. So we have the theory of lost civilizations.
“My grandmother’s old place… For one, there’s the foundation…beams and clapboards long gone…but, big rough-cut blocks of sandstone, structurally arrayed. Then the concrete cover over the wellhead my father and uncles put down in the 1960s. If you froze this plot of land…in fact, there’s still a fairly intact shed…and plastic bottles, styrofoam, pull-tabs, metal caps… The point, of course, Giarma, the period represented by all this is only about a hundred and eighty years. Would you say plastic bottles and peg-built barns are of the same civilization? That is, if, having no other information, you were comparing finds at some archeological dig?”
Her name invoked, and this rather amazing free education coming from a Totem-World devotee unsuspected, Giarma put effort into the question.
“But…you want to say…”
“Exactly. The ancient record is sparse. The periods by which we measure developments in Egypt alone span millennia. And why would we suppose no one lived in a place for gaps of centuries, merely because we can’t find evidence of what we call civilization? We don’t suppose it, of course… Yet we don’t know. We don’t know where the lines of demarcation are between technologies and peoples. Greece and Rome declined into barbarism, by the canonical way of calling these things. We would of course today have a different valuation of Visigoth or Hun culture…but by tradition there was a Dark Age, there was a Renaissance. Very old and unknown civilizations are no more likely to have progressed linearly.
“And then a drought, a volcanic winter, rumors of plague, a hostile invasion. Almost everything you might produce by handwork, including finished masonry blocks, but also, going back to the idea of the peg-built barn… In the 1830s, when my maternal ancestor’s family raised it, the practice was commonplace enough—to dismantle and move barns, houses, whole. It was logical. Either you would not find the materials you needed in your new home, or you would duplicate labor to no purpose. Provided in leaving, you had time to load wagons.”
“So, cutting to the chase, Roberta—and our Lady Mondegreen is an influencer—puts Totem-World in Etruria. At least a sort of proto-Etruria.”
Giarma, on coffee today, shot Trevor an over-the-rim meeting of the eyes.
She was in a minor social bind. Chapter Four, the character’s reckoning passage before Lady Nyma’s court, was to be read for them by a surprise guest. So he’d emailed. Val had opened Trevor’s door, smiling. With portent, she might (Totemly enough) have said. Trevor had shaved off the beard.
And then Roberta, leaning in to wave from the kitchen. Bustle and food.
And if Professor Witticombe, a hostess Giarma deferred to, did not invite her comment…
Had he maybe changed his picture, online? Or she’d passed him driving home, saw without noticing…
Or did he not want her to notice…would that be the way of going wrong?
In Totem-World, everyone had a moniker.
“You should join in. It’ll say you’re there listening, people’ll say hi. Welcome, Giyo…say you call yourself that… Just ask a question…that’s a good way to get started.”
This mild prod, last session. She wasn’t mad, but she wasn’t ready. (What had Trevor looked like then, specifically?) Reticence had been the right call…to scorn the Totems and find out a person she respected was kind of their doyenne…
She asked: “Is Etruria a real place?”
“You heard of Tuscany?”
Her brother had lately been knocking her with these mumbled, mild rudenesses. He hadn’t wanted her to move home… She shrugged. Dad and Dawn’s wasn’t home. There was no such thing. She didn’t care, either—to be unreasonably irritated with people, she could as well decide unemployment was her thing, that Val poached on.
Trevor handed across his phone, Wikipedia’s entry.
“Oh, them! I love them. Do we think…”
She clicked the image, scrolling on through other Etruscan art than the lounging tomb-couple. The chimera (“Oh! Truly fabulous…”), the god statues, with their non-European faces, and strange authority. “That the character looks like that?”
Here was the special vocabulary of Totem-World. The character was not male or female and had no name, so was always discussed as such, otherwise The Foundling, or—of course—The Totem-Maker.
(2019, Stephanie Foster)