Surprised I look down. Out of the thick green grass crawls a little tortoise. It has a little grey scaled head, tiny in comparison to the rest of its body. With its beady black eyes, it looks around for a moment and then crawls on. Black lines stretch in a hexagonal pattern over its yellow shell which moves from side to side as it is making its way on its four grey legs through the garden. The legs are scaled and have tiny claws reminding me of dinosaurs. I have to think about the fact that the ancestors of this tortoise have actually been already around when dinosaurs were still alive and we humans, mammals, were just a novelty of evolution’s mutations. We would live in the shadows for millions of years to come. The little yellow tortoise moves out of my shadow and continues its way through the garden and slowly disappeares behind a dark green bush.
I continue to watch the scene from a marble bench of the museum garden courtyard. After some more quiet moments the sun disappears behind the houses, but the shade has transformed the garden, surrounded on three sides by the Renaissance building, into a magical place. Everything appears quiet yet filled with life. Two white butterflies dance in the air, two insects who have found each other in this garden, flapping their wings at each other, flying so quickly through the air as if they were running out of time. A cat stretches out its hint legs, lying on the garden wall and sleepily it looks around. Its fur is black and white. Suddenly, it looks down at the bush where I have last spotted the yellow tortoise. The cat must have spotted it now, and with its eyes, it follows the tortoise’s movements behind the bush. But after a moment the cat closes its eyes again and continues sleeping. The two of them probably know each other. Nothing could disturb this place.
I breathe in the Italian summer, noticing the scent of roses, the cool air of the earth, the marble and lavender. It is the scent of this place. I am tired of the entire day exploring Volterra and visiting two museums. I just want to rest here for a moment longer. Later I would try find my sister and my parents. We would go to a restaurant and have a well-deserved Italian dinner. But for now, I am just here.
I exit one of the main hallways of the Victoria and Albert Museum and step outside into the Victorian courtyard with a quiet pool of green water at its centre. There are some pigeons hopping around, eyeing the tourists for food. Some visitors of the museum relax in the grass, ignoring the pigeons. The afternoon sun shines upon one side of the courtyard.
Unlike most other tourists, who try to escape the late August sun and sit in the shade, I head for the sunny side where less people sit, open my Coca Cola, drink and sit down. I breathe in the summer air and spot an airplane in the blue sky, probably heading for London Heathrow. It’s been a relaxing but also a busy day. I have spent three hours in the museum and feel as if I have seen and learned quite a bit of various time periods from all over the globe. It astounds me how much stuff has accumulated over the centuries. The amount of history within this building, like puzzle fragments from all over the world, a lot of them stolen, some bought, appear to have found peace. I remember the colours of a plate from Asia. Deep blue and turquoise, it stands out from most other artefacts. Its patterns and elaborate dark green drawings tell of a time and place long forgotten brought to a country where no one understands its language.
The ones which have enchanted me the most were the very elaborate silver teacups, tea pots and tea cans. Some of them shine brilliantly behind the glass, others appear so old they might have been used one too many times by some thirsty duchess who could not get enough of black tea. Others look like as if they could have been taken out of my mermaid stories and placed here in the museum. Some teacups and pots are decorated with white and creamy shining pearls and brilliant blue gemstones. They look like as if they were used by royal mermaids of the deep sea. Like props from fantasy films they appear almost unreal, but they were once in fashion during the colonial times when the British Empire brought pearls from all over the world to decorate not only the necks, fingers and ears of wealthy women, but were also put on tea silver. Teatime would then tell a story of a faraway place and a faraway world. They are silent witnesses of the past in this place behind the glass, so the dust of time would not cover them.
I continue to watch the pigeons for a while. Their brown and black eyes stare prominently out of their little heads, moving around quickly, looking out for danger and food. They flap their grey and dark wings from time to time. Some of them have missing claws, a view of them, poor things, miss all their claws and try to balance themselves on their stumps. I have read somewhere that pigeons with stumps rather than claws appear more often in bigger cities like London these days. It is the acidic rain that causes this mutation, this illness. The rain can actually corrode the thin skin and the fragile bones of the pigeons. Eventually, the pollution of this world will maybe cause all pigeons to hop around on stumps rather than their little claws. It looks very painful and I have to think about the colonial history of Britain and the pearl teapots again. All these precious artefacts will remain forever behind the glass and the glass will collect dust until it breaks. I am pulled out of my thoughts when I hear another plane flying over the London sky, heading for Heathrow Airport. I look up and see the shining steel bird up there, this fast-moving machine expelling burnt kerosene. I finish my Coca Cola and then head back towards the shop and the exit.
I remember the little tortoise when I step into the Renaissance courtyard of the Volterra Museum. It’s been nine years since I have last been here. Nothing appears changed, except that on one side of the garden there is now sunlight. It is only midday. The leaves glow bright green in the light that shines through them. There are some birds singing but I can’t see them. Roses blossom in the shade, the scent of lavender is enchanting me, and bees fly around pollinating. Nothing has changed here.
The garden seems to be a little bit more alive than I remember. I walk along the pathway within the garden wondering if the little turtle is still here. I can’t see it. I turn to one of the stone walls in the shade, the Italian July heat is too much to sit in the sun. I sit down on a marble bench by the wall and by the cool stone underneath the bench sleeps the tortoise in the shade. Its grey scaled little legs are stretched out as if it were relaxing. Again, I am reminded of dinosaurs and a long time ago, when the tortoise’s ancestors were not in company of humans but in company of much larger scaled reptiles. One of its black beady eyes looks up at me, I wonder if it remembers me.