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Sunday 7 March


[image ALT: A very tentative-looking cat I befriended when I was in Italy.]

I eventually called him Mr. White.

If he looks tentative, well, it's the first time we'd ever clapped eyes on each other, two days after I came to Umbertide.

About the only thing I can predict is that I'll spend too much money. Yesterday morning, since the weather was one once again grey and threatening rain, the best part of wisdom was an urban day trip: consulting my list, the first one was comune #76, Corciano, which, from all the guides and websites, showed no particular reason to spend lots of time in, though said to be pretty; so a perfect place to go for the day, to knock one more place off my list, and off I went by the 10:54 to PSG after shopping at the supermarket for detergent and dishwasher detergent, then at Angelo's for milk and yogurt, and feeding Big White Cat — hungry, he had seconds. Round trip ticket to PSG, 3E70; PSG a few minutes late, surprise: no stop at Ellera-Corciano on the next train out: fine, ticket to Magione, which after all I barely know, and I'd walk to Corciano.

Train skirted endless Perugia; Magione station at 1209, and up the hill, poked around for what I could — both churches closed, the castle of the Knights of Malta now open to visitors (but not yesterday: weekday 9‑13h) — and left, down the dreary trafficky industrial highway E for a couple of kilometers under occasional drizzle, eventually falling on the side road to Madonna del Soccorso (which sounded promising), Villa, Pieve del Vescovo and Corciano: a bit longer, but off the dusty whizz-car straight two-laner thru Bacanella, which is an uninterrupted sequence of furniture outlets, building contractors, etc.

[and if you need it, here's help in using the map,
including my own symbols & added information.]

Other walks in the area, see Walking in Umbria.

The side road to Soccorso (so the signs including the town entrance) was quieter and a bit better, but still no great shakes: along the rim of the hills above the industrial plain. Around a bend — and the beautiful little octagonal cupola'd brick church of the Madonna. Closed of course but, as the TCI says, elegant. Inquiring, priest who could open it is at Villa: none of us here. Off to Villa anyway, following my road, now with never absolutely conscious aim of finding priest and coming back — since most unlikely after all.

[image ALT: The upper part of a small building of irregular mortared stone and brick masonry: a rectangular window with a gable above it, to the left a small open belfry tower of the type called 'campanile a vela', its two arches being of different widths because housing bells of different sizes; above these, in the background, an octagonal brick cupola with a tiny lantern atop it. It is a partial view of the church of the Madonna del Soccorso at Soccorso, near Magione in Umbria (central Italy).]

Madonna del Soccorso: the cupola.

Villa a small tentacular knob of spacious modern houses by now overlooking a good chunk of the valley: not small enough, or a bit too tentacular, since, seeing the church, I tried to get to it, and each time finding myself lost and on my way out of town, the second time was good enough, I kept on going — and promptly found myself ineluctably skidding down into the valley towards the superstrada and the 75bis that parallels it that I'd been so glad to get away from. Nothing doing, no side roads, nothing: bottom of the hill, and a stretch of the 75 bis, at the end of which I found myself at a crossroads, where every place under the rainclouds was neatly marked — except Corciano. In desperation I went to the little fast-food place 50 yards off, all plastic and cigarette smoke, where the very helpful woman behind the counter gave me two routes, direct and scenic back by Pieve del Vescovo. Bucked up a bit, I sat down and had a slice of zucchini pizza and an aranciata amara — reading the ingredients of which I suddenly realized why the body likes it so much: quinine (well, extract of cinchona bark).

And off to Corciano, maybe, following the scenic route. Pieve del Vescovo about 2 km off, a large quadrangular castle with an equally large construction crane — full of stuff, closed except on the last Friday of the month and by appointment. A pleasant-looking town near it on a low crest, I thought it might be Corciano, but my road — sworn to me (I actually asked her, "Me lo giura?" — !) by young woman at crossroads to be that to Corciano — veered further and further away; turned out to be the frazione of Migiana. (Curious collection of Migiana names around here: Montemigiano, Migianelle, this Migiana di Corciano, and map shows a Migiana di M. Tézio about 8 km NE: reason not clear to me, yet, if ever.)

Finally then a nice road, past another attractive-looking town on a higher crest to my right, maybe a kilometer past it: then curved back on itself, it was Corciano, finally. Four P.M., and of course here I was wondering already how to get out of here and to my sequence of trains (that last 1943 out of PSG, remember); and forming the idea of staying if Corciano needed a longer visit and if I could find a fairly cheap room.

Well by the time I got to the gate of the town my mind was made up: big beautiful round torrione — stone, not brick, and I do like my stone — and two gates in short succession, and another tower, and one on top of the hill, and from my guides I knew there were several churches and where's a hotel.

[image ALT: An archway in a medieval stone wall, flanked to the viewer's left by a powerful round tower; in the background, to the right, a much thinner but taller square belfry. It is a view of the Porta S. Maria in Corciano, Umbria (central Italy).]

Corciano: the Porta S. Maria.


[image ALT: A painting of a woman rising into the clouds, surrounded by angels. It is the Assumption of the Virgin by Perugino in the church of S. Maria Assunta in Corciano, Umbria (central Italy).]

S. Maria Assunta di Corciano:
the Assumption of the Virgin
by Pietro Perugino.

Into town, my stone fetish tickled even more: a beautiful little place, clean as a pin, yet not unduly artificial — wandered into a church at the foot of huge separated belfry (on the scheme of the one at Asproli, I always think, though surely it must be Asproli's that's on the scheme of others, but it was my first one in Umbria lo these many years): late Saturday afternoon and would you believe open; parish priest wordlessly goes flips on light for me, this immense vibrantly-colored Perugino radiating down onto the whole church. I gazed, photographed, and turned off the light. Other nice things, gee I hope I find a hotel.

A few more yards and (by now quite 5 P.M. on a Saturday) the Palazzo Comunale, open; an adjacent ufficio di informazioni, open. Amazing: I go in, jabber like I do when I'm nervous but relieved; pleasant, efficient, and at the same time nonplussed by furrin boobies having walked from Magione furriners-are-so‑strange woman at desk calls around, calling Corciano's only nominal hotel (Locanda S. Michele: no answer??), and on third try finds me a room at an agriturismo a ways back out of town; me still worried, hey if it's in Ellera I might as well take my train. Assures me no, just a bit of a ways, via Baldeschi, brochure, down there, wave of hand — fortunately on the way in I'd crossed the street and remembered the name: gathering dusk in the gloom and drizzle, off I go. Maybe 400 m out of town, overshot it (Il Galletto, 30 via Baldeschi was below 2, v. Baldeschi and 9, via Baldeschi — go figure, backtrack, benvenuto signore, more relief, double dose of gabble from me: Mrs. Dina and Mr. Gabriele (Galli and Romani respectively as I learned this morning).

Huge cavernous room and living-room, full kitchen and bath, separate entrance: double bed and double-decker bunk bed. Chocolates near entrance, strategically positioned near entrance and on the way to bathroom/kitchen area, told my hosts I wouldn't touch 'em ("Un momento sulle labbra, un' eternità sulle cosce" my translation of "A moment on the lips, forever on the hips"). Apparently 3 months a year the space is the GHQ of a professor Don Kimes of American University who chaperones a group of art students — they quartered on the population of Corciano — an assistant professor Albert much more widely known in town because he does the logistics and runs around a lot; I hope these kids learn to understand their good fortune and make the best of it!

And off again immediately by dusk back into town, visit, find food: Il Galletto doesn't do food. Getting cold and damp, but not enough to get in the way of beautiful Corciano; and the joy of this camera! that takes pictures basically in the dark. . . . Withal, Corciano all lit up, and I take more pictures than I normally would, reasoning (correctly as it turned out) that the artificial illumination will give me far clearer photographs, more defined shadows for example, than the dismal weather, which was supposed to get worse today and did.

Finally though Corciano ran out, and cold and hunger took over and I found the one place in town to eat, Ristorante del Convento, right behind S. Francesco (built like much of the town by the way of Subasio stone, another point in Corciano's favor and to make me feel right at home).

Dinner was good. Scary since greeted by tuxedo'd young waiter, so immediately I asked him am I going to be able to get out of here without dropping 100 euros. Assured I could — cast an eye at menu — I ate dinner; too expensive as it is, but marginally OK, call it a celebration of my first new comune since 2000: the real beginning of my stay in Umbria.

By good fortune one eats well at the Convento: a B overall, which would have been a B+ had I not woken up in the middle of the night with salt mouth, an indication that flavor excessively pumped up with salt. I had — and photographed for Pauline and the general use of SlowTrav and its readers, since film is free now — antipasti del Convento, their royal flush: the least successful item the crostino ai fegati C, the best a superb pizza the size of a Morgan dollar, wonderful dough and flavored only with sage A+, other items scattered in between, good. Umbricelli (seems to me I'd seen umbrichelli before elsewhere?) al tartufo: heavenly fragrance, no stint on the truffle even if I think scorzone — but oily, B+ though. Agnello a scottadito: here, they were careful and not oily at all: also B+. A half bottle of Trebbiano, the alternative being red Sangiovese dell' Umbria which I find vulgar — or of course full bottle of say Sagrantino Adanti (18E plus the concomitant headache the next day sadly now). No dessert; played dice with liqueur: if they had an armagnac (no, cognac won't do), but nothing else; they didn't, I had coffee, the "usual" heavenly Italian brew nor does it keep me awake.

Escaped for 35E although tipped friendly Albanian waiter, quite unlike the stereotype here of Albanians, more like the Albanians in my own Chicago neighborhood, hard-working go-getters; he beamed when I dumped my few useful words of Shqiperia on him such as they sort of are; he spoke feelingly of American help in the Kosovo mess: better that than a French waiter, for sure.

Hot shower, slept.

Actually less to tell; having asked Mrs. Galli and husband to wake me up at whatever time they felt reasonable (my idea, 6 o'clock but they themselves apparently sleep later!), I woke up on my own — after aforementioned saltmouth in the middle of the night — at 6:40; read a bit, an excellent guide to Corciano in the apartment (Corciano: Arte, Storia, Fede di un antico Castello — EFFE Fabrizio Fabbri editore, Todi 1999, ISBN 88‑8‑8‑3), another hot shower — had immediately turned off the heat I'd been shown, these family-run places gotta help 'em maximise their profits; but hot shower, always — and knocked at the family's door at 7:40. Mrs. Galli sat me at her kitchen table with her (or her husband's) mother, a powerful model of Umbrian gravitas; coffee, homemade cake of which I cut myself a very small slice and refused bread and jam and stuff. She offered me an umbrella, gladly accepted; and a drive to the station in Ellera, tentatively accepted as well although I kept on hoping it would clear and I'd walk back to Umbertide leaving say earlier than 4, since only about 20 km — but not about to do it in the steady rain of this morning.

And thus, mit camera bag and sepia and slate-blue paisley tote-type umbrella, back up to the paese. Saw the lions, Romanesque to some, Etruscan to others: I'm undecided but lean towards Romanesque.a Saw the "Perugino" exhibit — some Perugino, mainly context — in S. Francesco; paid my 6E and thought there were some things of beauty (my favorite was a Madonna con Bambino tra i Santi Bonaventura, Francesco, Antonio da Padova, Maria Maddalena by Orlando Merlini, fl. 3d quarter of the 15c, a student of Bartolomeo Caporali), paintings do less for me than stone, and I found myself wishing I could see the bare fabric of the church which was completely masked by the installation required by the exhibit. There was also a very beautiful carved wooden door which the Corciano book — bought it at the Ufficio a few minutes later, more money — tells me is from the castle at Pieve del Vescovo.

The Ufficio — Comune still somewhat open (Sunday around noon!) — got a small accidental group of us, against all expectations, into the Sala del Consiglio, ceiling elaborately beamed and frescoes with what they're calling "Zuccaresque" work; attractive, fantastic vignettes and grotesques, a lot of sea monsters for some reason: complete photo shoot —

[image ALT: A somewhat obscure painting of a romantic landscape, with in the center a bearded man in Roman armor waving a sword to a ruined building or wall to the viewer's right, with a couple of small towers; but he looks to our left, where, against a rocky cave, stands a winged horse. It is a detail of the frescoes in the Council Room of the Town Hall of Corciano, Umbria (central Italy).]

Corciano, Town Hall:
A (very small) sample of the elaborately decorated ceiling of the Council Room

By noon I was back at the Galletto, not having seen everything by any means in Corciano, even less so the outlying frazioni although some had been collected into the exhibit — not the church and cloister of S. Agostino for example thought quite close to the Galletto, nor the church of S. Maria del Serraglio on the opposite side of the town out the gate — but at least with a good idea, and if by good fortune a walk from Umbertide brings me to Corciano again I can complete my visit. Mrs. Galli, claiming it was convenient for her well before lunch, drove me to Ellera Stazione; I then sat from 12:30 to 14:00 in the dingy cold damp waiting room, escape pointless under steady rain and nothing to see within a radius of a couple of kilometers, probably at least to Chiugiana. (Lodging was 30E.)

On the other hand the Foligno train, running about 5 minutes late, put me in PSG in time to hop immediately onto the northbound for Umbertide, arriving back home at 1456, same dismal wet all day.

I found the load of wash I'd expected to set to dry on returning last night: first order of business; then two cups of hot tea, an inch of dry sausage, about a dozen olives, a lot of housekeeping (i.e., photos, CD's etc., everything fine), a yogurt, diary, limoncello. It's now 8:45 P.M. and I'm caught up, and thinking about plans for tomorrow. Absolutely must not spend a penny tomorrow, been spending lots of money. Tuesday (call last nite from her just as I was nodding off) afternoon 4 P.M. here Karen Fronduti, which I'll treat as an inspection call but then there's nothing much to inspect, and that's late enough that if I get a move-on early enough and the weather coöperates I can walk somewhere and be back well in time.

Corciano then another lovely place in Umbria, much more than I expected; a pity I had this weather. On rereading, I notice I forgot to mention long pit stop at the bar on the Piazza dei Caduti, "L' Arte del Gelato": steered clear of any icecream, had a cappuccino and two paste vuote (not made here, but much better than usual); long chat about all kinds of things with the owner, a man a few years younger than me, especially his travels back I gather in his bachelor days in the late 80's in England and Ireland: amusing to hear from him (he's Tuscan) how many hills to climb from Salisbury to Stonehenge; chilling on the other hand his graphic account of a trip, spur of the moment, from Dublin to Belfast, in which latter he was preceded and followed, relayed from place to place, by armed thugs passing him from one to the next 'til he got back to the station — and they didn't like cameras, but he had the presence of mind to play coglione (a useful knack as I too know). All this while I waited for the exhibit to open in S. Francesco; a second cappuccino kindly offered me on the house.

Corciano, though possibly dying — the woman at the Ufficio spoke feelingly and very pessimistically about the drug problem, "i nostri giovani non invecchiano mai", overdoses, dead: surely exaggerated but squares with what I've heard elsewhere — Corciano open and proud of itself, from the priest who went and flipped on the light for me, to the Comune that staffs the Ufficio on which for Italy is the most amazing schedule and opens up its Sala del Consiglio on Sunday, to my pal at L' Arte del Gelato, to the warm accoglienza at Il Galletto, to tuxedo'd hard-working Albanian and his employers running against all the stereotypes, to the obvious pride and cleanliness and signposted monuments: this is my first discovery of this trip.


Later Note for the Web:

a I'm very influenceable; I'd seen quite a few similar pairs of lions in various places in Italy, and shouldn't have had a moment's hesitation: they're as medieval as can be. And these particular lions, as it turns out, we know exactly where they came from: see my page on the Arco della Vittoria and the Battle of Montemolino.


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Page updated: 18 Jul 11