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Friday 11 November

Just woke up a few minutes ago: a wonderful patch of bright blue sky in my window, in the time it took to get up, take a leak, hang four pieces of laundry and weigh myself (76- = 167), has totally disappeared, replaced by solid drippy grey cloud. Plan today is to take the 1224 train somewhere if the clouds continue: and use the morning to continue wrapping up (thank-you note to Mrs. Galletti, mail pix to my California girls, whatever more packing I can do now) and to take a gander at the Fiera di S. Martino today in town, altho' Alberto says it's really not so interesting now as it used to be in the old days — which I can well believe, since the county fair has lost its historical importance since the days Braudel describes —

The "somewhere": either Rome and skate; or Spoleto or Foligno to get at least a little bit of an idea of the eastern side of the valley — another possibility is Macerata, since this could conceivably prepare next trip: there is a rink somewhere (?) nearby, wherever Ussita is, and Macerata, according to a study reported on TV here, is the most livable town of a certain size in all of Italy, so could make a pleasant stay: the Blue Guide says it's pleasant and it has a nice piazza and a few old buildings though only Renaissance [and on that train of thought I've just spent ½ h poking around in the Blue Guide, Macerata area [. . .]a

So here I am on the putt-putt to Terni, having just pulled out of Massa Staz.; I just realized that I could spend well over an hour in this train and cross only country that I've done on foot: if I got on at Marsciano and off at Cesi —

The fair in Todi today is nothing much: like Ventimiglia every day except not as good. The stands extending from the corner of the piazza all the way down to the Consolazione; drip, drip, drip, lots of merchandise covered with plastic sheets, people wandering by under umbrellas, merchants looking dispirited. Saw nothing unusual or of interest, except a couple of tables of men's underwear, but I'll probably buy underwear, if at all, near the Largo Argentina in Rome; and stopped to look at a table of cheap books and pleased to find Molto rumore per nulla, which I'm now well into Act I of; it'll help if I go to the performance Sunday evening.

The bus, slightly late, was at the Porta Amerina; the train was a bit late too. The weather is overcast but for now the rain has stopped. I have my Blue Guide with me since I don't know where I'm going: Spoleto or Narni or Foligno are all possibilities, the most likely; Antrodoco is less; l'Aquila, Viterbo, Macerata are conceivable, even possibly a stay overnight in a hotel —

26 pushups this morning, although 1½ seconds rest three times; on the other hand, they're all good military pushups, absolutely straight; a month ago I could not lift myself off the ground after 12 or so, period; and in fact I had a false start of 1 pushup then someone looking for the Martorelli's rang the bell, so I started over at zero a minute later. I'm going to have my 30 before I get back to Chicago next week. In the meanwhile, my left calf hurts, clearly from the pushup; but unexpected: for one thing, my legs are in terrific shape, and then I'd expect my arms — which I can feel a bit, mind you — to hurt worse.

Snap decision at Terni station (had one minute to make it) to let the train to Narni (my usual to Rome in fact) leave without me and go somewhere else, still not knowing where. Result, I'm now on the 1355 for Orte where I'll change for Viterbo — in this weather the 1402 for Antrodoco doesn't appeal to me: Viterbo is a large town if it suddenly starts to pour — Had a tuna & artichoke sammich and a vantaglio in the station buffet: both good, total cost 2500₤ or $1.60 (just try it in France!)

Viterbo station, waiting room, on the way back. [. . .]

Arrived at Viterbo train station after a delayed start by 40 minutes (to allow the people on some major train, late by 40 minutes, to make their connection: and there were lots and lots of them, in my car alone, among others, there was a group of 8 who were celebrating something with a Cinzano spumante in little plastic cups like you get at the dentist's, and small eclairs) and another 50 minutes slogging thru the rather nasty countryside in the rain (ugly landforms, lots of sheet‑metal-roofed shacks, garbage dumps a little everywhere; plus too flat for my tastes) [. . .]

[image ALT: A cityscape with trees and a large church with dome and square belfry, framed by a dark columned archway. It is a view of Viterbo (Lazio, central Italy).]

Now to Viterbo. I basically followed the route sort of suggested in the Blue Guide. The town is emphatically medieval; wide sections of it don't ever seem to have been much rebuilt and have no extraneous buildings at all — the most medieval place I've ever been, in Italy for sure, and possibly period, for its size. Like the Blue Guide says, there are lions and handsome fountains everywhere; three piazze all at the W end of town are for me the heart of the place and what I'll remember, even if the most medieval area is another area altogether (running along the S walls and the via S. Pellegrino).

The first piazza, where the Gesù is, is described in the Blue Guide as "an attractive old market square", which is about right, except that, in part because of a patch of unkempt grass at the main entrance to it, you suddenly feel like you're in the main square alright of a town of 4000 inhabitants — almost in the country; in part also because the old buildings are low and simple and the empty space in the center is open and wide —

[image ALT: A large leafy square with an old iron pump in the center. It is the Piazza della Morte in Viterbo (Lazio, Italy).]

The second piazza couldn't be more different — with an unprepossessing name like P.zza della Morte!! — a small fountain under tall plane or chestnut trees — triangular, small; cars parked all over yet not unpleasant at all, much on the contrary.

The third is totally different from the other two: grand buildings on 3 sides, even the 4th is rather noble, the whole exceedingly urban: the Palace of the Popes, the Cathedral, a beautiful 12c house with elegant arcades — somewhat lit up; the city by and large not as lit up as I would have expected: tourist season of c. is quite over.

After these three piazze, I wandered thru the medieval quarter. A lot — too many — artistes and antique dealers. . . At the same time, the young men look unemployed — my train back to Orte-Terni-bus to Todi being at 7:35 I had a bit of time to kill; although to visit Viterbo properly would take two days, at night with leftover rain dripping off eaves everywhere and all the churches closed as well as the Etruscan Museum, I wanted food; I found a sandwich shop tended by a mynah bird — long conversation with his owner; she allows it to bathe in hot water every morning laced with a special detergent for birds, and cleans the cage twice a day. I told her of my bird (and by now I know how to say guineafowl, vultureb and rook in addition to the commoner birds the words for which I already knew — I still don't know what Dinner is!) —

[image ALT: A young chicken standing on a silver tray, looking vaguely inquisitive.]

Dinner turned out to be a bantam hen; in short, a chicken.
For further pictures, chickenophiles are directed to her page.

And back to the station past the peculiar Fontana Grande, S. Sisto, and a long section of very tall, powerful walls; and went and sat in the station waiting room, then got on my train —

But it refused to start. . . by 8:20 there was no way for me to get to Todi, a hotel somewhere had become necessary; in Rome after hours of train and at 160 ML — or in Viterbo right away at 95 ML —

Also on the train [. . .] another story. (Maybe this diary, with massive cuts, would be publishable. . .) The story is a tale of vanity mostly [. . .]

I wind up stuck in Viterbo so take a hotel room for the night. I did some situps: only 150 because (a) I'd had 2 amari just before coming to this hotel (and alcohol — or hot liquid of any kind — has, I've noticed, a definite impact on exercise); and (b) I couldn't find anything but a metal radiator to hook my feet under and also stupidly forgot to put my socks on — so now the tops of my feet have chafed blisters [. . .]

Later Notes for the Web:

a I did eventually go to Macerata, almost ten years later: see my diary account, Mar. 23, 2004, with link of course to any additional pages I have on the town.

It's just as well, though, that I didn't take off for Macerata on the grounds of the skating rink "somewhere (?) nearby, wherever Ussita is". "Nearby" is a word car people use, and even throw in guidebooks to confound the rest of us, or, often enough, to conceal the fact that the writer of the book has not been to the place they report (see diary, Mar. 14, 2004). Ussita, though in Macerata province, is nowhere near Macerata city.

b Vulture (avvoltoio) would eventually come in useful (diary, Mar. 21, 2004).

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