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Sunday 6 November

It's odd what weather does to the mind; it's raining out there, the first real rain in weeks and weeks, and immediately my mind has gone into gear for the return to Chicago. . . I woke up at about six-thirty, remembered there was a train to Terni at 7:35 (bus downstairs at 7:18) and got showered and dressed as for city tourism but with a plastic bag packed with my funny red shorts and the maps for a walk from Foligno back to Todi — swilled down a large cup of tea, met the bus at 7:15 and waited and waited and finally came back up to restage for the 8:48/9:05 train — it wasn't until I wrote the date above that I realized this is Sunday and not all the schedule runs. So, having my breakfast: more tea, biscottes with jam (Europeans except for the English of course have no idea how to make jam, the best is English or American; and the very best jam I ever had, and probably expect to, was my mother's of our own apricots on the farm —),a a persimmon probably before it goes, some grapefruit juice.

Thoughts also turning to getting out of translation: which looks pretty easy these days!! The birth certificates and the nasty little bureaucrats in personnel departments, marketing divisions and two-bit ad agencies are getting to me: and there's no point doing midlife unless I do it right. . . .


At a warm table at the Umbria; after an unpleasant day disguised by tourism. The tourism part first:

I caught the 8:28 bus and the 9:05 train, found myself in Terni at 9:44, had just the time to consult schedules, buy a ticket, and hop on the 9:48 train to Rieti — after all these months of not having been there, remembering that before settling on Todi (operating purely from guidebooks) last year, I spent several months thinking I'd be vacationing in Rieti . . .

Should mention first that on the train to Terni a probably father-son couple — the son about 23, very goodlooking, is of course the initial attention-catcher — that was rather striking. The father was very alert and shrewd looking, and very constraining, I could just feel it; and the son hated him or at least regarded him with dislike and contempt, and I had the strongest and most certain intuition that he wanted was his freedom — fortunately, he looked intelligent —

zzz Rieti, reached after four stops (Gréccio, Terria, Contigliano, Poggio Fideni) or maybe also Marmore although I didn't see the falls, is an old place, and that's about it. All the ingredients seem to be there (several old churches, sculpture, frescoes; a nice little museum; a Roman bridge; a nice natural setting) but it doesn't gel somehow —

I started near the train station at 10:45, at the 12c church of S. Agostino, which deserves a better notice than it gets in the Blue Guide: they're digging out the frescoes, which are lovely — when I walked in the seven-girl choir was brushing up before Mass, near the left apsidalº chapel where the best late frescoes are (16c I think), so I didn't photograph them, although the right chapel, of similar period, I did, less good; some earlier, medieval, frescoes in the first chapels of the south ai‑sle (howzat for hyphenation? speaking of medieval!) and one chapel still has its frescoes covered by an 8ʺ‑thick layer of stucco — a hole poked in one corner gave me a glimpse of what's beneath — Hope my pictures turn out —

Still under rain, gradually slowing during the course of the day to an occasional drip, found the Duomo — Mass in progress, but I peeked in and it's one of those churches that was ruined during the Seicento; the tiny Museo del Tesoro del Duomo in the contiguous baptistry, however, is wonderful, toutes proportions gardées: a single room, watched over by an old geezer with obvious orders to badger everyone who walks in, with literature plugging the beatification of a former bishop of Rieti — I didn't escape — but I put up a spirited defense of laypeople, wondering firmly why they only made priests and nuns saints — The Museum itself has a few, but not many, of the usual church vestments and 18c monstrances; the core of it is a collection of good, occasionally very good, 13th-17th century silver gilt on wood processional crosses: I made the discovery that the titulus of Christ on the cross of one of them, apparently during its last restoration in 1957, had been nailed on upside down; as it turns out, the titulus itself is of interest (reading: "YNRI") and also the cross in that there is a coiled serpent below the pelican vulning — and five chicks — and above the titulus and Christ: presumably intended as a reference to the rod of Aaron, lifted up etc. I called the guardian's attention to the upside-down titulus, but he won't even report it, it was clear that he feels that the restorers were consummate experts — indeed they may be, to a point: but they still nailed a piece upside-down, and I'll probably write a letter to see if this can be set right: the 1974 catalogue raisonné shows it as is, so noone has caught it in twenty years — or possibly, it's been caught all right but resistance to correcting it has been strong . . .

There are also several beautiful frescoes and a rather elegant — and large — 16c baptismal font, the one that came with the baptistry. Some beautiful statues of prophets — stone — in niches; an ivory crozier; a hideous 14th‑century rock-crystal cross (glad to see that I'm not so obnubilated by the Middle Ages that I can't recognize bad taste when I see it); and an I hope temporary strewing of daubs of the Rev. Bishop Rinaldi chumming it up with peasants etc. — God help me, if I were a priest, someone out there would be trying to canonize me for having helped the woman at Porchiano beat back her sheep the other day


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Wandered back into the Duomo after mass, snapping pictures: one or two nice paintings, but mostly a wonderful, wonderful little tombstone of a young girl seven years old who died in the early 16th century, with a sculptured high-relief portrait of her in a medallion over an inscription, truly lovely — withal, the church, as I said, heavyhandedly 'remaniée' —

Various vaguely medieval buildings, including about five rows of ogive-vaulted portico with cars under it; [a Roman gate faced over by Pope Sixtus V on one side — a little further on,]1 the Roman bridge over the Velino — as I crossed the bridge, humped as Roman bridges often are, I thought it was awfully modern — redone — and I looked down at the river. . . and there was the Roman bridge — arches still holding up, but basically underwater: a puzzle; has the river risen (damming; the 1979 or another earthquake; or some other reason?) or did the bridge collapse and if so why are the arches still whole?

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The Roman bridge of Rieti.

Wandered back, different route of course — but no great grab-me kind of feeling, even if here and there a nice view or an old stone. Decided against going to find the medieval gate pictured in some book I have somewhere — saw, after all, a good deal of the North wall of the city near the station and the (rather good) War Memorial, fresh with four large elegant wreaths from Nov. 1 (or 4, which seems to be a secular AllSaints) b right across from it — Did, however, stop, on the way out, at a pastry shop, the Napoleon,2 and had three pastries — different crusts with different cream fillings, plus a cappuccino,º I was cold — and on the way back at a little restaurant, which recommended itself by the sawdust they spread on the threshold — sure enough I was the only foreigner: fregnacce in a fresh tomato sauce with a bit of garlic (a fregnaccia is a lozenge-shaped pasta about 1¼″ long, flat), a good pork chop, excellent roast eggplant, fruit salad, pleasant almost amber-colored carafe of white wine (¼ L) all with coffee and a Nonino grappa not the same as the Nonino I had here at the Umbria a while ago, all for 31,000₤.

Train back to Terni at 2:45; in Terni, spent a bit over an hour, leaving at 4:45 or so; so finally visited the actual town, by daylight, after Lord knows how many traversings of it and train/bus changes. . . Even less than Rieti, the only thing of any real interest being the remains of the amphitheatre in a park next to the church of St. Alò behind the rather attractive Austrian-looking Duomo —

Train thus back to Todi — or should have been, but incredibly — all the more so that I was watching carefully and identifying easily all the stops (including Rosceto for example) I somehow went right thru Ponterio. . . after all these weeks! and had to get off at Marsciano (that awful station in fact at Ammeto) and wait 45 minutes for the same train to take me back — dismal little bar 100 m up the road, a cappuccinoº and a ball of bubble gum — anyhow, made it back to the apartment just in time (one minute) to answer James phoning apparently just to say hello — long conversation — then to the Umbria; I've just finished my dinner (tagliatelle al tartufo — as I told my waiter, I've failed to reproduce it, he says it's due to their getting fresh truffles every other day and my having to rely on truffles in a glass jar — pernice alla salvia, very elegant flavor, thank goodness since the little bones make it work — still unsure whether 'pernice' is pheasant or partridge; tiramisú, coffee, and the best grappa I've had this trip, very complex, which is welcome after a number of rather monolithic unsubtle alcohols — "Beniamino MASCHIO of S. Michele in S. Pietro di Feletto (TV), their grappa di Pinot —).

[. . .] the wonderful double rainbow I saw on arriving at Terni station: I actually almost dragged two women out from under the eaves of the station to see it, they thought, having seen the weak secondary bow, that they'd seen all there was to see: the primary bow was the most brilliant I'd ever seen — both bows lasted the time of a slow walk to the P.zza Tacito (and on the way I showed it to another couple in the street. . . .) Almost noone in town saw it: only one man in the train station piazza saw the double bow on his own, was clearly fascinated by it. I've only seen one other double rainbow in my life,c as it turns out, last year just before leaving for Colombia — and there too I had to call Aida and Betty's attention to it, they'd only seen one [. . .]
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For more about double rainbows, see my page.


Notes in the Diary:

1 oops — gate AFTER the bridge —

2 with rather striking opulent floors of varicolored pink green and black marble —


Later Notes for the Web:

a As I transcribed this on 9/28/96, honesty compelled me to note that this "very best jam I ever had" was made following a French recipe by my French mother from a French cultivar of apricots grown on (our own patch of) French soil. . . .

b November 4, 1918 was the date on which victorious Italy ceased fighting the First World War. It is thus the Italian equivalent of the Armistice Day celebrated in America and most of Europe on November 11th, a date on which the dead of all wars are honored.

It is also probably useful to note, for the non-Italian reader, that what to the rest of us was a First World War, was for Italy a continuation and completion of the Risorgimento: the war (which for Italy, only started in 1915) was against an Austria that had just a generation or so before still owned large portions of Northern Italy. The Austrian War must therefore be seen in the framework of the creation of modern Italy.

Finally, precisely because the end of the Austrian War was within a few days of All Saints, there is an effective connection, and in Italy one speaks of "I Morti" as early November, including All Saints on Nov. 1, All Souls on Nov. 2, and Victory Day on Nov. 4. Tourists beware: make sure you have enough cash to tide you over.

For a photograph of a typical Victory Day ceremony in an Umbrian town, see my diary entry for Nov. 3, 1997.

c Since then, I've seen three more; one of which is reported in this diary, Jan. 5, 1997.


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Page updated: 2 Sep 01