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Sunday 14 March 2004

A repeat this morning of yesterday; uncertain where I was going to go until about an hour before the train at 1054; settling on walking to Pietralunga, cutting the distance slightly by taking northbound train two stops (0E80) to Montecastelli, 11:10.

The walk 2 km on the flat from the station thru the actual town of Montecastelli — nothing much, although somehow I managed to miss the church (saw it when I looked back); then fairly steadily up with little traffic to Montone: alternately passing and being passed by the same man in a truck towing a little flatbed of rocks behind him; here and there he'd stop the truck and pick up more rocks — big cuboid masses two foot on a side, he had the neck to match — and pitch 'em into the flatbed with the others. I think farmers when they clear their fields leave them near the road to be picked up and the comune uses them for something.

Montone, 12:24; never went into town, just stopped two or three minutes outside the Porta del Verziere, ate my four slices of sausages (the good stuff this time) and drank half my water, and off I went again, estimate mileage from there to Pietralunga 17 km. Almost immediately though, no more than 400 m, two churches: to my left at some short distance down a side road, Pieve S. Gregorio,​a 12c Romanesque-apsed built into farm house; and right across from it on the road itself, which is probably the "14c" Madonna delle Grazie, though bearing an inscription saying it was built in the Jubilee Year 1600 in the month of May (and looking exactly right for 1600, not at all for 14c); also bearing street number "S. Angelo 2". Closed, of course.

Finally as the bells of Montone rang 1, I left for real, within 50 m making the decision to turn off the paved road to Pietralunga (which looked like it was going to go way back down into the valley plus curve around backwards on itself, neither of which I like), onto a strada bianca marked Pieve de' Saddi — since I'd read in one of the guidebooks that Pieve de' Saddi was "a poca distanza" from Pietralunga, so this would get me there plus be quieter. The Pieve is said to be one of the older churches in this part of Umbria; I of course wondered how accurate that guidebook was — turns out not in the least, the Pieve is 10 or 11 km from Pietralunga, and it's clear the writer of that ambiguous phrase had never been to the Pieve, merely cribbing from a fact sheet by the comune.

In the entire road, from 1:00 to 4:25 when I emerged back onto the paved main road, I was only passed by one car, at 2:45; at 3, reaching an intersection, fortunately clearly marked else I would have taken the wrong road and wound up in Città di Castello, I watched a couple on a motorcycle go thru it ahead of me (from Castello to Pietralunga), and a few minutes later at Pieve dei Saddi, one stopped car, a couple visiting the place like me.

[image ALT: A wide field of grass in the foreground behind it, amid a few bushes, a flowering fruit tree and two low conifers on the right, a group of two- to three-story buildings of rough stone masonry with tile roofs. The central building has a three-story windowless tower and a small open belfry of the type known as a 'campanile a vela'. It is a view of the medieval church complex at Pieve de' Saddi near Pietralunga, Umbria (central Italy).]

The Pieve de' Saddi, traditionally identified as the site of S. Crescentianus' martyrdom.

The road up to the intersection was first by and large gently rising, then more or less flat; though a via glareata, very comfortably so. Quite wild, only one inhabited house and maybe three abandoned: I was following a crest with views to my left towards Trestina and N, to my right onto nothing much, a lone stone building on a parallel crest prolly the Rocca d'Aries (still don't believe all this muttonry​b but it's so prevalent maybe I'm wrong after all, I'll have to dig).

After the intersection, the road surface much less good, rocky, couldn't help thinking of what Roman roads must have been like, plus those awful boots they wore. The road dipped a fair ways down to what I assumed (correctly as it turns out) to be the Pieve, then right back up. Whereas there'd been a fair amount of olive trees before, with broom and oak, after the Pieve no olives almost, but a lot more pines. In the back of my mind — I'd called the one hotel in Pietralunga 15 minutes before leaving the house, the man told me no we're closed until after Easter, but maybe the agriturismo La Cerqua about 2 km out of town towards Castello — maybe I'd have nowhere at all to stay, so was eyeing the landscape for comfortable bedding. I'd found a beauti­ful little stream, photographed it, drank from it, refilled my bottle, throwing out the house water from Umbertide — but a flat, safe, sheltered, reasonably warm and soft-floored place to sleep is another matter; hoping if worst came to worst and there was nothing in Pietralunga, that there'd be a convenient pine forest.

[image ALT: A close‑up photo of the side of a hill at a slope of about 30 degrees. A rivulet drops about a meter over the lip of a clay deposit. It is a spring in northern Umbria (central Italy).]

About 6 km before Pieve de' Saddi: good water.

Finally after some while the strada bianca started a steepening descent to the main road; at the intersection, still had no idea how far Pietralunga (about 5.5 km as it turns out): always a demoralizing situation, plus the damn road was going back uphill; all that descent had been to cross a stream.

Then suddenly, Pietralunga still nowhere in sight, a very sharp needle-like pain hit me in the left kneecap like a thunderbolt; I nearly fell down. In the space of about 1 km, I had 4 more of them, in pairs, although lessening. Very scary, and wondering whether I'd be able to walk, and very afraid to continue but of course you have to. Slowed down to a very gingerly crawl, at the same time trying hard not to compensate since that can lead to problems in other unexpected parts of the body. Very afraid, in some pain, and suddenly very tired.

Pietralunga finally appeared, on one small hill, me on a higher crest looking down on it — and from here to there, a long Circus Maximus-shaped bight of road, over 2 km; as the crow flies, maybe 500 m — but of course this aging crow not flying anywhere.

[image ALT: A small town, of mostly modern 3- and 4‑story apartment buildings, on the side of a low hill in a landscape of pines, scrub and the occasional tilled field. It is a view of Pietralunga, Umbria (central Italy).]

Pietralunga, looking roughly NE from the hill near Candeleto.

Finally, finally, very slowly and rather worried, arrived in downtown Pietralunga — a street with at least 3 caffé-bars, at just about exactly 6, the passeggiata in full swing: not Perugia but a fair number of people out in the street, though almost all men.

I passed up the first bar, on intuition, and made like a bee for the second, pleasant woman of about my age clearly the mother of the caffé; two tonic waters (for the quinine of course), then two cappuccini and I started my hopeful enquiry about La Cerqua, with the best possible result: my angel behind the bar called them (I'd been unable to find their number), and they in turn came to pick me up. Very relieved, a place to stay and no more walking for the day.

[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.]

The most elegant of all the cappuccinos of my 3‑month stay in Umbria, served to me at the Caffé Tinca in Pietralunga.

Further luck, after good hot shower (praise God for hot water!) and change of underwear, shirt and socks and a little rest with my feet up, feeling like a new man — no pain except slight foot, mostly right foot — had one of my better meals in Umbria other than at the old Umbria in Todi and at the Pinturicchio in Spello. A bit hard for me to disentangle a critique of La Cerqua's cooking from being rather hungry and very relieved, but I think I can: an A‑ meal, interesting good local food, but I've now been writing for an hour and a half, it's 11:25 and I need to get some sleep, all the more so as tomorrow is uncertain in almost every respect; the only certain thing is that I came here to see Pietralunga which I haven't yet done. I have a feeling my knee will be fine, and that whatever it was was just a fluke; still don't like it much, never had such a pain in my life.

Later Notes:

a For another church by the same name, about 70 km away — a beauti­ful one, too — see Oct. 20, 1997.

b Though the town of Montone probably owes its name to Monte and ‑one, meaning "Big Mountain", it also coincides with a word for "sheep", and in the popular mind the name is said to derive from that animal; why, no one has ever explained. A nearby fortress — still marked on some maps, I'm told, as Rocca d'Aria (where aria may mean "air" or may be a cognate of "aerie") — has become contaminated by this conceit, and is now called Rocca d'Aries (aries is Latin for "ram"). People point to this as an argument in favor of the sheepiness of Montone: yours truly doesn't believe any of it; it is baa‑d etymology.

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