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Thursday 26 February 2004

Pretty much settled in now, although I haven't called Irene yet. I slept well and woke up with the 9 o'clock church bells, although I heard some earlier church bells and at least one set of train bells. The house is quiet, only the sound of passing traffic, muted to a modulated whoosh, which with the intermittent rain makes a pleasant white noise.

And yes it's been raining off and on since before I landed; yesterday, mostly off, today mostly on. The temperature must be around 48 or 50; at any rate I'm quite comfortable in long-sleeved shirt, sweater, and outdoors a windbreaker. We're due to have more of this thru tomorrow — and then of course this is February and we may have this for a month yet.

This morning I found the boiler pilot, turned it on and with it both the hot water and the central heating. Within half an hour I was able to have a warm-to‑hot bath; hot water is not going to be a problem here.​a

Before I go on to today, two items I forgot from yesterday: (a) the descent into the clouds on the way in to Rome: I'm always surprised what definite edges clouds have! Some kind of small puffy cumulus — but they had shape and boundaries, and it felt that if I were outside the plane and swimming thru the air I'd feel the difference on entering a cloud, like passing from water to oil maybe. (b) the caffé corretto at the station last night, the ciò che si beve qui was anice Varnelli: well I like anis and I love the coffee, but that's not a great mix, although you could taste both.

I finally stepped out of the house at a few minutes to eleven, and wandered the immediate neighborhood: the very first tiny circle after the house itself, and couldn't escape thinking of Pauline's Circles. . . .​b The via Mancini, a tiny lane, empties onto the Piazza 25 Aprile. On that date in 1944 an air bombardment killed 74 people and flattened a block of houses that used to occupy the piazza, the quartiere S. Giovanni wiped out.​c The space was never rebuilt, but they marked the places of the houses in the pavement, with the number of each house. It's now really a parking lot. The real piazza is 50 yards away, the Piazza Matteotti, where the Comune on one side is humbled by the large, dominant building housing some kind of leftist party — didn't look closely at the signs in every upper‑story window — the smaller sides of Piazza taken up by various shops (an ottica, a tabaccaio, an alimentari on one side; a restaurant on the other just changed hands due to reopen soon; a free-standing newspaper kiosque on that side too).

After ranging a bit further, down to v. Cibo and the v. Grilli, somewhat downhill (rapidly less old and less nice) and back around via the v. Vittorio Veneto, and even over the bridge where I stopped to take my Umbertide icon photo in 2000 — sure enough, you can see a piece of this house in that photo, now that I know what I'm looking at — I went shopping, to what will surely be my regular alimentari.

Angelo — salt-and‑pepper curly hair, about my age maybe, affable manner — and Arianna, surprisingly young-looking but I guess she must be 40 — guided me thru what I should be eating as a little introduction to culinary Umbertide; I asked them flat outright, of course. For 52E15 I wound up with a scontrino of "Non pesato" and "Non codificato" including toothpaste, floss (which I'd been hoping to find), radicchio, garlic, a bit of bread, yogurt, milk, Earl Grey tea, bananas for the potassium, pear juice (the Parmalat bankruptcy causing big supply dislocations but he'd just got some in), coffee; and of course cheese, sausage and wine, so I can picnic in the house. Angelo has a pretty good selection of wine — didn't really look but an Amarone jumped out at me — but I started with the low-level absolutely local Umbertidese wine, a red called Fratta produced by Doniniº here in town. A pecorino di fossa made in Scheggia then aged 4 months in the fossa in Sant' Agata Feltria; Tufino, a truffle-flavored cheese from Acqualagna; and a chunk of Parmesan from a little town where Angelo's father used to get the stuff, which he says is quite reputed 'coz it faces W so that the hills where they graze get more sun but also more light and thus makes better cheese, that he wouldn't get were it not that his father had been getting it over 50 years ago, so they keep supplying him by courtesy. It's in fact good cheese, but I wish I knew more about Parmesan.

Also some sausage and some capocollo, which is locally eaten with a yellow cheese bread called pan di Pasqua, so of course I got some of that too, and when I got back to the house that was my lunch with very small glasses of Fratta not even a quarter of the bottle (4E50 for the bottle). Forgot to mention garlic, but hardly forgot to get it: that was the first item I picked up of course. Held back on the oil, I think I'll go to Trevi tomorrow.​d

Pit stop also at the Polizia Municipale, in the Comune building; they gave me 2 copies of the form to be filled out, which will require the help of the woman I am now starting to think of, thru no fault of her own, as the elusive Irene. Elusive because I have to phone her; and though I found the phone, which is said to work, and paid for a new non-rechargeable battery for it (25E) and a card (25E, they'd run out of 10's), the latter won't take effect, for some arcane reason I didn't really understand, for "48 hours". All this at a (WIND-Omnitel) phone shop on the main drag on the way to the train station, at around 12:45: my last stop and came back here, lunch and watched the news and mostly the weather, peggioramento domani, con pioggia, temporali e neve sul nord-centro appennino; and indeed, the rain is now steadier and stronger than it was when I woke up.

5:50 P.M. and back home after another semi-random prowl in Circle Zero. Headed out into the light rain rather aimlessly but on the principle after all that I'm not here to lounge around in an apartment no matter how nice; actually the clincher was I couldn't figure out how to turn on the gas, and having nearly exploded self and house once in Umbria I'm a little chary of it, so had, and have, no way of preparing coffee until I meet up with the mythical Irene — so I went out for a coffee.

That in turn (Boobykins does what he knows) meant wandering down to the caffé at the station under the drizzle; had another marvelous cappuccino — no better than anywhere else in Italy,​e but marvelous just the same — and two non-marvelous cornetti, feeling a little hungry; 2E50 and sat off to the side at one of the blue plastic tables, not really observing, just decanting and staying out of the rain.

[image ALT: A small sharply tapering glass cup of cappuccino, in a metal holder base with an elegant modernistic handle; on a china saucer with a spoon tucked behind it.]

If the cappuccino at the bar near the station in Umbertide was the best of my 3‑month stay, the one you see here was the most elegant, served to me at the Caffé Tinca in Pietralunga a couple weeks after this entry.

Off on the perpendicular from the station, I think the viale Unità d'Italia, to a point where it met another similar wide street at a sharp 7 o'clock turn, probably the v. Roma; an odd monument at the corner, modern metal and stone (or maybe concrete) in honor of the Italian Air Force and its origins in the Resistance.

This put me back at S. Maria della Reggia from behind, a small green park with a curious little enclosure I couldn't figure out, paved and with an ornamental railing around it with a gate, can't imagine what it's for: if it had a sandlot it would make sense; but it didn't.

S. Maria Reggia was open, as it usually seems to be. I went in and did a thorough photo shoot. It's a pleasant building, not too encrusted with stuff, good proportions, and I'm glad to see — now that, as usual after the fact, I read the literature — that the two-tone brick pavement I like is 17c and considered noteworthy.

This took maybe half an hour, and the rain had stopped. I decided to go over to the Comune and make arrangements to make my courtesy call on the Mayor (Booby bugging mayors, or: spring on them before they spring on you from behind a bush somewhere). A chat with his secretary Mariolina, a handsome woman immediately going out of her way to be pleasant and helpful, although I made it quite clear I needed no particular help, just dropping by because I thought it the proper thing to do since I'm really living here for 3 whole months after all. I told her about Tentacle-Baby and even showed her my paginetta su Umbertide, complete with its link to their site, for which I got an extra half-point: they're proud of it, of course. A bit of blather about storia romana and vecchie pietre, and a sheaf of additional literature for me, and I should go peer at the mayor some morning next week when his schedule cleared up, this week heavy.

The waiting room all frescoed, not Michelangelo or Perugino, but in context very beauti­ful, as was the Sala del Consiglio, which seems to have been a private theater, with tiny marble balconies on either side: a very handsome room, and was encouraged to photograph it when I come back under better lighting conditions. A single solitary Roman inscription on the landing of the main staircase, rather mutilated but ought to be decipherable with a good deal of attention — looks like a funerary inscription although not an actual tombstone, the guy died age 43. Other inscriptions too, but being Booby just sort of waved at them with the camera; much easier to read.

[image ALT: Most of a cubical room about 7 meters on a side. The centre of the room is taken up by rows of benches like pews in a church, but the striking features are, across from the viewer, an ornate balustraded balcony with four access doors each surmounted by a pediment broken by volutes and a large central shell; and on the wall to the viewer's left, a very large stucco sculpture, imitating a draped hanging, painted with a heraldic mantle, supported by cherubs, surrounding a rococo escutcheon and a coat of arms the main feature of which is three rectangular towers. It is a view of the deliberations chamber of the town hall of Umbertide, Umbria (central Italy).]

Palazzo Comunale di Umbertide: the Sala del Consiglio.

My photograph by kind permission.

Raining harder now, although not as bad as half an hour ago, actual thunder and a good drenching; still, stronger than it'd done all day. Caught up on diary, also on transfer of photos to computer (about 150 MB, thus about ¼ of a CD). It's 7:25, wait a bit longer and I'm going out to dinner.

And I did. It's 9:55 and I'm back. Hotel-Ristorante‑Bar Capponi, on the piazza XXV Aprile in Circle Zero. A meal that wavered between C+ and B- to settle finally as C+; but I'm still in Umbria and it's kinda wonder­ful. Primo: gnocchetti ai funghi porcini, the gnocchi themselves rather good, the funghi vaguely commercial, the whole thing looking like dogfood — still, not bad. Secondo: vitello tartufato, talk of looking appetizing! looking like [an Army term for chipped beef on toast], grey sauce with flecks in it, although with very tender veal and the taste of truffles not absent. Contorni: biedola, very plain, and peperoni arrosti; the latter worked best as a savory for the rest. The cook is Sicilian, so when I go back — fifty yards from the house and not expensive — I'll do Sicilian, but for my first meal here I could hardly do that — I'll eat Sicilian and see. House red, more than adequate, if expectedly thin; dessert, despite homemade torta alla nonna and tiramisú played it safe with a tartufo nero affogato (al Bols), pleasant. Coffee. Brother-and‑sister team doing the tables; lots of single men eating there, looked very much like a hotel where you stay when you're a salesman on the road, although towards the end of my meal a group of four came in including one woman. For all the averageness of the place, Umbrian; reminded me of that place in Rieti years ago, except it was Umbrian and I felt at home.

Tomorrow maybe in Trevi, depending on weather, how early I wake up, trains etc.

Thayer's Notes:

a Famous last words. For the hot water saga, Feb. 28, Apr. 8, Apr. 11, Apr. 16, Apr. 19. Hot water — the absence thereof, or conversely my delight at having some somewhere — would be a recurring leitmotif in the three months of this Umbrian stay.

b Pauline Kenny for many years was the webmaster of SlowTrav, a site devoted to intelligent slow travel, where instead of rushing around to try to see famous things and spending a great deal of time in cars or on trains, you see a given area in some depth. One of Pauline's guiding ideas was that of "Circles": when we stay somewhere for a week or a month — again, as opposed to hopping about from place to place in hotels packing and unpacking every day — our first care should be to become acquainted with "Circle 1", our immediate neighborhood, before going on to Circles 2 and 3, day trips and longer excursions respectively. I've taken her excellent idea to heart, expanding it down to "Circle 0", which is very literally the few blocks surrounding my rental home: my neighbors, my grocery store, my neighboring church. It has served me very well.

c A moving memorial of the people killed in this bombing was published by a high-school class in Umbertide; I am honored to have been allowed to republish it onsite: Voci della Memoria.

d This apparent non sequitur is resolved when you know that many people, including me, find the olive oil of Trevi to be the best in Umbria: I therefore would not buy some generic oil somewhere, but pick it up in Trevi, where in addition I have friends.

e In fact, this turned out to be false. The best cappuccinos (for purists, the Italian plural is cappuccini) I had in the 3 months of this trip remained those served at the caffé of the train station in Umbertide.

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