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Wednesday 25 February 2004

Heathrow, giant hot carpeted seating area surrounded by shops, about 8:45 local time. Lots and lots of shops: clearly designed to get you to spend money as you wait bored or itchy to walk around; a sort of fly-in shopping mall.

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Part of the vast central waiting room in the transfer zone of Heathrow Airport.

As it turns out, I'm a better packer than I gave myself credit for: I do in fact have my diary, neatly tucked into a side pocket of the computer case. Found it as I settled into my seat onboard, but wound up eating dinner, watching "Chariots of Fire" — one advantage of flying, you get to see good movies that otherwise I'd never pay for — and slept the rest of the way, waking up after breakfast, over the Irish Sea: very nice stewardess, one of the best I've ever had, rummaged up a breakfast for me, this despite in fact picking up the débris of the other passengers and us due to arrive in under half an hour.

It was already sunset as we climbed into the air over O'Hare. The immediate area, just Chicago, covered by a blanket of clouds quite low, so I missed the view, but after that a succession of spidery cities of light all the way thru dinner: quite beauti­ful, in contrasting orange sodium-vapor lights and bluish-white. Sunset itself, behind us, was four bands of color from the horizon: a deep orange-red with darker, greyer, less saturated red where there was a band of cloud; then tangerine, pale yellow, and a top layer of a darkish grey-green variety of yellow — above that, sharply delimited, a wide band of aqua shading into royal blue then black: the whole thing like a rainbow with the blue side stretched out.

The same in reverse, although less striking, on the east shore, and in front of us of course: night bracketed by rainbows, as it were, a good omen I guess.

The meal was negligible; little cubes of "beef" in a sauce, reminding me of some of those varieties of catfood we feed Fiend and Bonely poor things, and it could easily have been rhinoceros or mouse. Green beans, diced also, and best forgotten. A little squib of potatoes like gratin dauphinois, the only thing that was actually good. Dessert was a thin wedge of some pasty chocolate muck, maybe cheesecake. I had a quarter-bottle of red, an appellation Bordeaux (not even Supérieur), OK although now your average Californias are better. Despite the bourbon and the wine, no headache: I really am beginning to suspect the house for those headaches; or maybe it's the rotgut we've been reduced to drinking these last years, although the other day I got a terrific headache after two very small glasses of good port — but then that's port.

Stazione Fiumicino Aeroporto, with what really seems like far too much luggage — the big blue, the "carryon" fra virgolette, and my computer, all easily retrieved and immediately — and now we've just left for Fara Sabina and Orte. It's 2:57, I stepped out of the plane (slept all the way from London) at 1:57, exactly one hour's transit. Confusing new system for the putt-putt to Orte, they now issue you 2 tickets; with the ticket for Orte to Terni, total cost 9E65, and at Terni of course I'll have to buy the last leg to Umbertide: I asked anyway at Fiumicino but no, they can't sell those, as I expected.​a

Had lunch at the tavola calda in the station (called the Miami; an exotic holiday destination I guess), 9E30: mostaccioli alla puttanesca, zucchine, eggplant, a roll, an aranciata amara: filling up both Tummy and the short wait for this train.

This time no FS schedule-books available at the tabaccaio at the station, will have to get elsewhere. They had that other brand, the one with the yellow cover, but I'll pass on it until I can at least compare it to the one I'm used to, and then decide.

We've just got to Ostiense; my first real conversation with anyone on this trip will have turned out to be not in Italian but in Spanish, with a man who just got off here, in town for 4 days for some kind of conference, carrying a suitcase full of handouts; at least his'll be empty on the way back! We talked Barcelona, it was like he wasn't here, he's so fond of his hometown. They just opened a funicular up to Montserrat last October — there's going to be a top-level exhibit of religious art from May to September — he wanted me to go see the Roman roads —

Leaving Perugia P. S. Giovanni on the day's 4th train, at 1943h, due in Umbertide at 2014. This was good news, bad news, and mixed news all over the map: despite the very quick connections today in Orte (arr. at 1659, just the time to jump onto the Ancona train leaving at 1701), and Terni (arr. at 1729, and again just time to jump onto the FCU leaving at 1732, even had to buy my last ticket onboard), this put me at PSG at a few minutes to 7, with the next train the one I'm on, at 1943. This is also the last train of the day into Umbertide, and there is no tighter connection, so that any excursions S involve this wasted 45 minutes in the small, dingy waiting room at PSG: no bar, either.​b So this was good news for today, since any later into Fiumicino and I could not have got to Umbertide at all; mixed because of the wasted time (and now I'm wondering about the local to Orte, whether it might be faster to go in to Rome and back out — I still think not); and bad news overall since daytrips to Rome will be inefficient: the first train out of Umbertide in the morning is 0615, arrive PSG 0647 and there's a quick connection alright, a Eurostar at 0654 that gets me in to Termini at 0842 — but if I take a normal-priced train, I leave PSG at 0729 and don't get to Rome until exactly 1000. Put that all together, and it looks like day trips to Rome, while possible, are very inefficient: a lot of time on trains and hanging around train stations, for about 5h total in the city. Mind you I was expecting this to be rather more Umbrian than some of my previous stays; now it looks like it'll have to be, which is something a bit different.

Five minutes to eleven and I should get to sleep soon, plus I'm sleepy, too; but can't start my stay by running late on my diary, so here's the rest of the day.

Got to Umbertide perfectly on time, the usual efficient Italian train system; and was delighted, after my experience in Fossato, to debouch from the station straight onto what looked in the damp lit evening, like a piazza full of open things and of life, even though looking back it was mostly I think an impression given by cars on a busy road, cars parked in front of the station, and an undoubtedly busy caffé.

Now I think I would have got to Ann's house OK on my own, both my sense of direction (and map printout in my wallet) and rolling suitcases along the flat sidewalks, but it seemed the better part of luxury to scrounge up a cab. A cappú at the caffé and a number, but I don't have phone cards, euros in proper coins, etc.: the woman behind the counter took pity on me and called the cab herself. The cappuccino was wonder­ful, just wonder­ful after 4 years gone, I told her so of course, and blathered on the way I do — I guess burbled would be a better word — about how fond I am of Umbria and how I feel at home here. That and effusive thanks and a good tip and a second caffé, this time un caffé corretto con quello che si beve qui, per favore, and she was beaming at the end of it all. I gave her a dollar bill after asking her if she had one; told her that every self-respecting business in America has a framed dollar bill, told her it brings good luck.

Cabbie showed up, recognized Ann's address, said oh you must be a friend of the American woman (followed by brave attempt at "McGarrell", a hybrid of "girl" and "growl") he and she great friends; I said I'd pass along his greetings to her tomorrow, I expected to be calling her. Giuseppe Ceccarelli, helpful, and me encouraging him to overcharge me, aware of course that I'd dragged him away from his pursuits for a tiny ride, maybe 400 m. He asked 10 euros, which under other circumstances would have been exorbitant, but which I gladly paid.

The via Mancini is a narrow lane off a sweet little piazza; Mr. Ceccarelli pulled one of my suitcases and waited to see that my key worked; I'd been slightly worried it might not. But it did, easily, and Mr. C. took off, and in I went.

I'm not about to launch into one of my usual extended descriptions ('s now 11:15) since after all the house'll still be here tomorrow; but I'm delighted with it, a crazy-quilt of a house mostly stairs, molto umbro: the ground floor a single room, a kitchen-living room combo — and all the rest of the house started up a set of wooden stairs at 75° angle. I was so happy I was giggling to myself as I'd find a new room and another staircase.

Out of 4 possible bedrooms I picked what must be the master bedroom; open the shutter and S. Maria della Reggia's octagon all lit up looms at you, more inane glee. Spent a couple of hours putting away my stuff; computer works just fine here, not too far from the plug, and I'd brought the exact right adapter. No hot water yet, I'm sure I need to read Ann's instructions, but not something I want to do tonite, so to bed and I'll worry about it tomorrow.

Later Notes:

a Umbertide's train station is served by a line of one of Italy's rare private rail companies, the Ferrovia Centrale Umbra (FCU); this line runs from Perugia Ponte S. Giovanni thru Umbertide to Sansepolcro. You can catch the line from Perugia; I opted to catch it by the more direct (and cheaper) route, from FCU's connecting line, Terni to Ponte S. Giovanni. The state-run train system does not sell tickets on the private lines. (Like the diary says, I knew that but it was worth a try anyway.)

b Not true. It's in a separate small building.

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