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Sunday 7 September

Sitting here in already broiling heat at maybe not nine in the morning yet on my terrace, but it's been a busy morning so far.

As soon as I woke up, I dashed out to see if I could catch the right sun conditions to capture on film properly the little streets of the Borgo S. Sisto: the short answer is no; the sun never really penetrates enough into the narrow streets, so twisted that something is always casting a shadow — which of course is what makes them pleasant (in the summer at least).

A fair amount of wandering around with my camera, one or two pictures, nothing exceptional. A couple of vignettes though: in the via Stretta, which on the E side is all two- and three-story houses, but on the W a very high wall enclosing I think vegetable gardens — man waking up opens his windows; two cats on the other side, who've been waiting patiently, cross the street two stories up on a plank into the window from the garden wall. . . Not quick enough with the camera . . . .

Just as mass was about to begin at S. M. Maggiore, a little girl in First Communion dress and with a fan, walking up the via Torri di Properzio with family, friends, a couple of nuns, a photographer — I took pictures from the hip — 30% chance of anything good, we'll see.a

So having stopped at the big caffé with the terrace N of the p.zza della Repubblica and bought two cream-filled cornetti of different kinds (eaten up-here just now) and a tuna-and‑artichoke sammich cornetto (eaten immediately in the street), I came home and started setting up breakfast, making coffee etc.: when I hear coming up the street rather good singing — grab my camera and keys, stop the coffee, and out the door. It was a procession of Lefèbvrists from Bevagna to Assisi, today its second day: their leaflet says it's 45 km, but that really can't be right (I'll check), my guess is 35 — although in fact they end at S. M. degli Angeli, so maybe that comes up to about 41?b Anyway, about fifty young people, mostly boys, three priests in surplices — they are going to be hot! — and banners, flags, etc. They sang their way thru Spello, but stopped singing at the Vallegloria — took the straight road (not the Collepino road) up the hill and were gone. Then I finally got my breakfast.

So now shower and shave and will probably do some of the churches remaining on my Viviamo la nostra città map — before they all close for eleven months on Tuesday.


7:30ish, rooftop, after a good meal, enjoying the cooler air (it rained around 5) and my tozzetti con vin santo, coffee; maybe grappa later.

Well I didn't go to Collepino, but thinking I was going to I didn't go anywhere else, either — I need to get some miles under my feet, and to see some country . . . .


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The modern sculpture is by
Angelo Mancini

I did go out, to S. Maria della Misericordia: a little chapel connected with hospital work in the Middle Ages, and 2 orders of penitents. Nothing much and in awful shape: still, I'm glad I saw it; the most striking thing was a mediocre 16c fresco of the Crucifixion which was iconographically interesting: Christ had died — he'd just been lanced, and angels were collecting the blood — and Mary was swooned at the foot of the cross, in the same position as are normally depicted depositions: even including Mary Magdalen at her feet with her jar of ointment (altho' looking up at Jesus). This is a very unusual I think case of iconographic identification of Mary with Christ, and anticipating by 400 years the now official dogma of Mary's co-mediatorship —

Also the little chapel of S. Mary Magdalen, redone in 1910 — rescued, but (with a Latin inscription proudly claiming the donatrix to have done so and then adorned it with newnesses). These have not worn well; but the space is good, and there is one good painting; plus a modern, derivative icon-type painting still of the Umbrian school, that I rather like. A nice young woman conscientiously doing the explanations: well.

That also had me at the right place to see the drive-off of a newlywed couple from S. Maria Maggiore, which was nice. A sister of a friend of the guide at S. Maria Maddalena, of course.

Back home I watched — surprisingly — the Grand Prix d' Italia car race; it was of mild interest, even if the commentators knew very litle about the strategic aspects of the race; or weren't telling, at any rate, limiting themselves to narration & statistics.

First workout, almost to the letter: Melvin is good at this and did in fact devise something I can do here. I will probably need to do it early in the morning, else I won't find the time. After my shower, I went to the Belvedere and filled one of my bright blue plastic manubri with gravel — the nearest source of something heavier than water — and a few people looked at me a little oddly: most did not. I thought I'd then have each manubrio weighed at the alimentari; it didn't dawn on me they're closed on Sunday until I got there, of course. [. . .]

It'd been making loud ominous noises for twenty minutes and clouding over; within ten minutes there was a good solid downpour, but it didn't last longer than maybe twenty minutes. I was in fact right: it is dry and people want rain — Unfortunately, after the rain it stayed fairly cloudy (I watched rather carefully) so that I couldn't have got any striking sun and wet stone effects: next time, forse. Forgot to mention that after my two churches today I did walk back via the Urbica and the Venere: the former I photo'd adequately; the latter again not, because the sun was too high. The central arches of the Venere look to me awfully new, like 1930; pictures taken early this century and exhibited in a tunnel-type vicolo leading to a photo studio don't resolve the matter, being unclear: I'll have to ask. I also need to figure out how to get closer to the long stretch of wall, which is splendid (as in, "splendidissima Colonia Iulia Hispellum"), and I need to get a good hopefully single photo showing clearly the successive strata of masonry.

Anyway, at home I've had an early dinner by Italian certainly, but even a bit by my standards: spaghettini al burro — first time not olive oil — with a light sprinkle of reggiano; preceded by some of that very good Umbrian ham (I reserve "wonderful" for acorn-fed, which this is not — the grocer knows of such and doesn't claim it for his — as the truly wonderful ham I had with James and Cécile at Lesc a few years ago; I keep on telling myself this appears in Pliny, but to be honest I can't remember whered), followed by two tomatoes, salted, with capers, 2 cloves of garlic, olive oil; accompanied by rosso di Spello; then a few fraises des bois, my tozzetti (and vino santo is 'way better, also, oddly, more alcoholic, with the tozzetti than by itself where it tastes vaguely prunish), and now for the first time in the dark up here, the electric light lit from one floor below, after the slow changes of sunset: 18c greys and vivid orange-pink cumuli over the stolidly self-identical honest umber and cypress landscape possibly one of the reasons, this honesty, I like Umbria so much — nothing false —

And now bright frequent extended flashes of lightning from the mountains directly east of my roof, soothing rumbles to match: I'm glad I didn't think to be walking back from Collepino starting an hour from now, either in the rain or (actually worse) under the threat of violent storms on the roads.

Continuing to cool down; the occasional mosquito (I remember none from Todi, but James has pointed out that mosquitoes are among those memories I block out. . .) now gone. Mind you, other'n one large bite on my belly after a night's sleep three days ago, it's really been nothing; ditto the wasp that shows up early on every meal: she goes away without any shooing on my part, after a minute of two; I don't think she likes what I eat —


Later Notes for the Web:

a Even the better of the two pictures was only marginal.

b From downtown Bevagna to downtown Foligno, from there to Spello, Assisi and S. Maria degli Angeli is roughly 34 km; and this assumes a 4‑km detour to go into downtown Foligno, which would not be the normal route from Bevagna to Spello.

Some mileage must have been added by starting at the Madonna delle Grazie, 2.5 km SW of Bevagna, and by calling at the various small churches on the slopes of Mount Subasio between Spello and Assisi.

c Les, a small town in the Val d'Aran in northern Spain; in 1993.

d Typing Pliny in July 1998, I finally found the passage (N. H. XVI.25). It doesn't exactly say what I'd remembered, of course.


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Page updated: 29 Jul 01