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Sunday 29 February 2004

Mistake yesterday to have had 2 large cups of tea so late, I know better: sure enough they kept me awake 'til past 1; and as a result I woke up at a few minutes past 9, and wasn't out of the house 'til about two minutes to eleven.

I thought I'd go to Niccone and Montemigiano; never so much as saw either one of them.​a By total overcast and with every appearance of threatening rain again, I took the main drag past S. Maria della Pietà, thinking I'd read my maps — such maps as I have, scale is for drivers though and thus none too clear — and before I knew it, the road was looking too familiar; which could mean only one thing: since the only road out of Umbertide I'd ever walked was in 2000 to Montone, I was on the wrong road, the one to Montone one road east of the one I wanted to Niccone. I quickly made up my mind this was hardly a problem, I'd just go wherever the road took me. About a kilometer from the house, a sign to the left led to Petrelle, which is what I must have seen in the plain a few hundred meters off: it didn't grab me, I kept on going.​b Not very long after that, a bridge over a brook, and immediately after it, a sign to the right: Borgo Pulciano, S. Lorenzo, Madonna dei Confini — never heard of any of these places but why not, and I turned right.

I never did have a clear idea of where I was after that until I got back home; the 1½‑lane road just went up rather regularly, nothing too steep, not too many flats, and only one or two brief descents. Borgo Pulciano was a rock and gravel roadlet to the left, about 100 m after the turnoff a big farm, couple men standing inside the property, somehow — I had no particular reason to butt in or make myself known — we wound up talking, and in I went: wouldn't you know it, completely obscured by the front building, modern, a (much reworked) 16c tower; an agriturismo or something like one, and one of the men was the owner, Luigi Apicella: the other, a young man who would have been cast as Italian by any film director from here to California — and his name was Angelo — spoke pretty good English and volunteered the information that his mother was an Englishwoman from Gloucestershire — disappointed I think that I was American not English — Mr. A. and his wife Valeria encouraging me to go beyond Montone and . . . eh Signora, sono a piedi e devo torna' ad Umbertide prima che faccia buio! . . . oh, well then do see the little chapel of the Madonna dei Confini, it's a ways up the hill though, S. Lorenzo about 4 km — and off I went, after including sweet German shepherd Stella in my photo of the tower, also a large white chicken posing in a window.

[image ALT: A chicken, feathers fluffed up against the cold, huddling on the outer sill of a small wooden window with lace curtains.]

The road followed a roughly N‑S ridge, with peaceful views onto another ridge to my right (E) and more complex views left onto the ridge of Montone and past it what looked like a rather busy industrial plain maybe S. Maria di Sette though I don't remember it that built-up in 2000; over the top of the Montone ridge, distant mountains capped with snow. Weather cool but not enough to make my hands cold; almost solid clouds overhead with a narrow band of clear at the horizon in almost every direction, although more so to the W.

Well I walked and walked and no S. Lorenzo, although at one point a tiny belfry that looked promising peeking out of a group of farm buildings: I went and looked but was disappointed, not much more than a decrepit semi-abandoned hovel, puzzling though about the belfry.

Eventually the pavement turned to strada bianca, every couple hundred meters a large farmhouse, no real hamlet though. By now I was about as far from Umbertide as Montone is, and maybe 50 meters higher. I saw deer — in an enclosure, across from a house guarded by 2 Maremmanas in one run, and five hunting dogs (3 English setters, a Weimaraner or something like it — getting on in years — and a hound that was just itching to be petted). A bit farther on, a brown hare bounded away from Photo­Booby; another mile or so, and a brace of pheasant started up from a bush and away in a flash.

Finally, as it looked like I would be running out of hill soon, I spotted an old man coming out of a modern house, and asked: I'm lost, where's S. Lorenzo? To this a man about my age and two young women or maybe even younger, oh you passed it a ways ago: it was my uninspiring belfry; I'll drive you to the Madonna dei Confini, hop in. OK thanks, though it was only about a kilometer; still unsure of the weather — it'd started to snow, a few grains more like very fine hail, at just about where I came across my first snow on the ground, an eighth of an inch clinging to plants and colder manmade surfaces.

The sun was coming out at the same time, though: a beauti­ful little drive thru sparse brown oak forest, then round a bend the church — no big deal, a very plain country church, 16c or 17c maybe, with bits of house attached (there had been more, as a line of beam-holes attested) and repairs being done to it — but a pretty surprise. Brief pit stop, I took my obligatory photos, and Walter — my friendly guide — just had to show me Morávola; in the comune of Pietralunga,​c a very loose group of houses, one restored and lived in; one fifty yards off, huge and quite ruined tho' salvageable with lots of money; a third being worked on, some kind of little watch-fort with a beauti­ful barrel-vaulted stone passageway; and across a ravine, two more facing each other across a narrow paved path, one of 'em with an inscription over the door, carved in 1928. Most of these and other neighboring houses are being bought by Germans, Brits, Americans; Walter waved his arm at a big chunk of landscape and said until recently it was all inhabited.

[image ALT: A single-lane dirt road slopes slightly up between winter trees; at the top of the rise visible in the photo, to the left of the road, a small single-story stone building with a chimney and what turns out to be a belfry. It is the rural chapel of the Madonna dei Confini near Montone, in Umbria (central Italy).]

The chapel of the Madonna dei Confini (see my more formal webpage), in the countryside of Montone.

Back to their house, a knob of hill called Montino di Sotto (di Sopra up the road a hundred yards), where Walter insisted on offering me a goccia of wine, and I gave him my Web address; maybe I should have cards printed up. Three minutes later we were all on our way back to Umbertide, him by car, me on foot, with gradually sunnier bluer sky. I got back to the house at about 4:50.

[image ALT: A low ridge covered in conifers and crowned by a small stone village with a prominent church belfry; behind the ridge, a chain of much higher mountains. the summits topped with snow. It is a view of Montone, in Umbria (central Italy).]

My view of Montone from the road just out of Montino di Sotto.

Starving: despite the uncivilised hour, made myself a largish plate of pasta, olive oil, salsa tartufata; more of that Tufino cheese — quite good, like what Boursin used to be, 'cept even better; the last glass of Fratta red. Read a bit — briefly interrupted by knocking at the front window, a woman who, prodded, said she was Bruna Santini and she fed the cats, Ann had bought here 600 cans of catfood, showed me where they live, a cozy little den under the front steps of her house, with a door with a large round hole in it just big enough for a cat. Said the other cat, the gray or tabby who's so frightened, was 30 years old.

Read some Umbria books kept near the fireplace, of varying quality, truthfulness, and style; and a bit of the McGarrells' 1911 Britannica, and now it's time to go to sleep.

Evening snack: small piece of bread and butter, a banana (this time I'm going to be careful about the potassium even if I have to live offa bananas), glass of milk. Which reminds me how good breakfast was this morning: incorrigibly generous Spellani family, Mariella's orange-and‑lemon jam, very good; walnut jam, knockout good unlike anything I've had, after curious and not altogether promising smell that reminds me of something but what? Anyway usually at the end of my stays I have left-over jam, but it certainly won't be hers; wow.

Also forgot to note that James called at 8 sharp; he was worried although he thought it might be something of the sort (my cellphone still can't call out, I'm starting to panic about reaching Irene lest she and Ann think I'm weirder than I am, or worse of course, untrustworthy). Pliny depressed but starting to get over it.

Mileage today probably 14 km; what with sitting on my butt for 4 years in Chicago, then suddenly back and forth three flights of steps umpteen times a day, Achilles' tendon and lower calves slightly sore, and soon again not. Waist, first time measured in a year or so, 95 cm in heathenish units = just under 37½″, pretty bad.

Later Notes:

a I finally did get there; see diary, Mar. 3, 2004.

b When I eventually did go there, of course, I found one of the most curious buildings in Umbria, locally said to be Etruscan. (See diary, April 11, 2004.)

c I'm not sure this is right. Morávola is closer to Montone, and most Web references to the tiny, scattered place seem to put it in the latter comune; on the other hand where would I have got the idea it was in Pietralunga if not from the local who showed it to me? not that he was necessarily right. Still, on balance, on my site, you'll find Morávola pigeonholed under Montone: the more formal page is here.

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