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Tuesday 16 March 2004

Resuming Sunday evening: thank goodness for a substantial meal. A plate of cold antipasti (eggplant A although very salty too much garlic even for me! a local pecorino A- and I'm not usually too big on pecorino; salame and pancetta both from the Cerqua's own pigs poor things, B — although I'm a very poor judge of pancetta which I usually associate with rancid, which this wasn't); a platelet of hot antipasti — 2 cheese crostini, one with peas (curious mix, but it worked: A-) the other with minced onion, A.

Ravioli, looking all the same but on dissection two kinds of fillings: one mostly ricotta, the other mostly a mix of greens, in a balanced sauce with sage and rosemary; good texture, somewhat oily, A-.

Four thin slices of something, either veal or, more likely, pork, with a single juniper berry cooked along with; B- but could have been an A with about six times the juniper puréed into the pan juices (will have to try this at home, degreasing first).

Local red, not bad, slightly sparkling, went well with the food. Dessert, plain homemade orange cake; and, having seen the little glass by my plate was going to preëmpt the limoncello in favor of a nocino — when Mr. Martinelli (Gino and Silvana, in their thirties) shows up with . . . a nocino: so their sense of food and mine coincided nicely. As a result, a really very good meal (A-), next to a grateful fire.

Yesterday morning, woke up on my own at 0640, dense fog out there — the day before had nominally been clear, but veiled above, and downright haze or even smog over the towns — which eventually cleared to much the same; I'd been told breakfast around 8, so at 8:05 I was down at my breakfast station, rather like the tribe of cats gathered in huddled poses beneath my window (room directly over kitchen): mostly grey-and‑white longhairs, not the usual round these parts.

Breakfast looked more impressive than it was, half the table being covered in large jampots; ate everything in sight, of course. A peach jam tasting much like quince, and an outstanding plum jam, when normally every plum jam I've ever had has been an insipid excuse to sweeten bread — but this with flavor, color, texture. The leftovers of last nite's cake, also a slice of dryish unidentifiable fruit tart though not as bad at all as that sounds.

Ride into town thank you very much tagging along with the morning's shopping expedition at 9:30; after careful consultation with Mr. Martinelli about roads and terrain to Gubbio, Castello, and Umbertide, decided to walk back to Umbertide, good road mostly flat and of course no train schedule constraints: if something happened to me (fear of God in me for that knee) I'd be visible on a travelled road; and if I had to walk very slowly like the last 3 km from Candeleto to Pietralunga, well so what if I got home at 10 P.M. Room and board 58E, slightly expensive but given my circumstances quite happy with it. Gino dropped me off in the piazza 7 Maggio at the foot of the tower — tall, austere, and five-sided — and now finally I get to explore Pietralunga.

After a wander thru the church (1904 façade, and what looked like a very good polyptych in the presbytery, liturgical S wall) then around it to discover the original Romanesque façade 180° around from the modern façade, with a beauti­ful uncial inscription, and back in front when I saw right next to the church an Ufficio del Turismo, open. "I like old stones and Roman roads, have read a few guidebooks and even about 50pp of Alpini​a last night — but what do you think I should see?" Affable, knowledgeable man behind the counter, named Maurizio, gradually providing all kinds of useful info: starting with a well-designed self-guide to the town that takes the visitor thru the old nucleus with stops at clearly marked buildings, plaques with numbers matching the text in the booklet (I eventually did all the percorso though not strictly in order); but also several local and regional booklets full of good stuff — and the determining information that there are stretches of Roman road in the area, a diverticulum of the Flaminia (probably heading to Cagli); triangulating this with my knee and the fact that 2 buses would leave for Umbertide, one at 1425 the other at 1745, and I decided to forego the road to Umbertide (20 km and no particular virtue, other than a small, closed, late church the Madonna dei Remedi 2 km out of town) for a walk to see what's left of the Roman road, in the hills beyond a place called S. Felice, about 14 km round trip. During my little exploration of the centro storico, my knee seemed OK, at least most of the time, and by walking very carefully and very slowly I'll probably be alright.

[image ALT: Against a background of rough mortared stone masonry, an exceptionally well carved and attractive uncial inscription in four lines, on an outside wall of the Pieve S. Maria in Pietralunga, Umbria (central Italy). It is transcribed and translated on this webpage.]
Uncial inscription on the former façade of the Pieve S. Maria,
now the back of the church.

The inscription (see this larger and slightly enhanced photo) reads:

corvit · h · plebes · svb · Xp̅i · mille · dvcentis
et septē · denis adivntis · hisqve · novenis
et reparata · fvit · svb · eodē · tpr̅e · Xp̅i
hvivs · rector · erat · Vgolinvs · nomine · dict9

Corruit haec plebes sub Christi mille ducentis
et septem denis adiunctis hisque novenis
et reparata fuit sub eodem tempore Christi
huius rector erat Ugolinus nomine dictus.

"This church collapsed in the year of Christ 1279, and was repaired in the same year of Christ; its builder was Ugolinus by name."

If you're wondering how such a long inscription can say so little, no, I haven't skipped any of it really: if this were prose, the date would be mille ducentum septuaginta novem; but the rules governing the scansion of Latin poetry — in this case dactylic hexameters — were such that this phrase is absolutely precluded. What's a guy to do? Find a paraphrase that scans. Here our poet found "A thousand, with two hundred, plus seven times ten and to these added nine". . . .

And I was, with an additional stroke of luck and generosity: as I was leaving town (instructions: W on road to Cagli for 3 km, then a road left, a strada bianca up to S. Felice, then a path) who should up and again but Mrs. Martinelli, swooping me up in her car and taking me the back way (via La Cerqua) to S. Felice and pointing out the path; after that the remaining 3 km out, 3 km back, 2 km down to the Cagli road, and 3 km back to town I was on my own: stepping very carefully, slowly, checking each step where I was putting my left foot, solid, level, nothing to turn my ankle on; and being very careful not to pound, gently padding my way uphill.

[image ALT: A section, about 15 meters long, of an old stone road about 1.5 m wide, ascending a gentle slope in a landscape of scrub at the end of winter. The pavement is composed of broken stones of very irregular size and shape. It is a view of a road near Pietralunga and Castelfranco, Umbria (central Italy), that is said to be Roman.]

The old road between Pietralunga and Castelfranco.

Well — Roman, who knows. Maurizio's maps put me in the right place, there was only one brief alternate possibility and on the way back I took it just to make sure; he'd told me that since the photographs he showed me'd been taken, in 1995, motorbikers had pretty much destroyed the patch in the photograph — beauti­ful square blox for 300 m — But who knows what I saw? Possibly destroyed Roman road; possibly nothing at all; and I never saw the same landscape as in that 1995 photograph, yet I did eventually wind up where I was supposed to, at the church of S. Maria delle Grazie in the frazione of Castelfranco.​b The church is worth seeing, even if closed of course; the walk was pleasant; and my knee except for one sudden twinge, didn't act up: it was a good walk.

Back in town just after 4, with my bus at 5:45, I went back to the Caffé Tinca, 7 via Marconi, where I'd been so kindly helped the day before — and this time her son was behind the bar; I bought my bus ticket from him plus a 50E phone recharge that I hope should do me thru the end of my stay. And a cappuccino too, and sat and wrote.

Forgot to mention that during my careful walk around Pietralunga I saw a curious carving over a door at 22, v. del Forno; and not finding any mention of it in the little guide, went back and asked Maurizio about it, showing him my photograph of it: to both my surprise and his he'd never noticed it and had no idea what it was; he actually accompanied me back to peer at it, and several times after that he came back to it in conversation, it seemed to travail him, which gave me a bit of the giggles, how it takes a stranger to see something you've lived with all your life. If I absolutely had to guess, I'd say it was an occupational or guild sign — possibly an anvil, thus the shop of a blacksmith; I'm sure it's buried somewhere in the 1200 pages of Alpini.

[image ALT: The top of a small stone arch — five wedge-shaped stones and on either side parts of two more — on the center stone of which a geometrical carving of a trapezoid, wide side at the top, on which a figure resembling three of the points of a five-sided star. It is a mark of uncertain meaning on a medieval door in Pietralunga, Umbria (central Italy).]

Mysterious item — at least to some of us — at via del Forno, 22.

1745h bus on time, with me its only passenger; driver from Pietralunga, just bought a camper and hopes to be travelling around Italy with it. Pointed out the house of an American antique dealer on the road maybe 4 or 5 km out of Pietralunga, and told me bits of what must be a fascinating story of another American during the war who fought with the S. Faustino partisans: Pietralunga was an absolutely attested center of the resistance, and liberated itself well before the Americans got there; the town receiving the Bronze Medal for Valor for all this: quite unlike Umbertide, where my pal Angelo tells me that after the war a huge number of Umbertidesi were found to have been Resistance, while during the war Umbertide he says had the highest percentage of loyal fascists — nor can I put this down as a cynical battuta, since in Codovini-Sciurpa (p23, I just looked it up) I remembered the very same phenomenon at the end of the 18c, cheering the Pope and the Emperor, then a few months later signing their letters "Libertà, Uguaglianza, Fraternità".

Stopped by Angelo's (yogurt, parmesan, gorgonzola, radicchio) — long informative chat; Etruscan stuff apparently found on the summit of M. Acuto but all excavated and carted away — Angelo swears up and down something most unlikely to me, that Maximinus Thrax was from Pietralunga; me, come mai, Thrax cioè venne dalla Tracia — but he then gave me an accurate physical description of that emperor (granted, a rather unusual-looking man, but how many grocers in Chicago could tell you what Martin Van Buren looked like?) which gives him a fair bit of credibility, so I will check — but this seems a most bizarre story.​1

And so to bed last night after a not completely unsuccess­ful meal of tagliatelle ai tre formaggi (mozzarella, parmesan, gorgonzola natch): as I told Angelo, I retreat in the evening to my cave and brew up horrid concoctions in there, anonymously, calling them Umbrian cooking. . . .

Today was much simpler: not trusting my knee, and wanting to spare it for a couple of days, the wisest thing was to pick a town. Between Foligno and Perugia (neither one of which I know well despite all this Umbria-izing), the simpler choice was Perugia, and round-trip to S. Anna it was, leaving at 0945.

Virtuous, succeeded in not spending anything except the 4E10 train fare; large breakfast large dinner here, and a bite of sausage and two candies during the rest of the day: I walked around Perugia quietly, with very good sun and blue skies.

Palazzo dei Priori and Duomo — it was not till after I'd shot maybe 20 photographs inside the Duomo, as I left, that I saw the sign no photography permitted.​2 I'll keep the pix of course, but I can't use them for anything (other than as personal reference of course) —

From there to the aqueduct, eventually back up to S. Angelo again, merely taking a blue-sky photo of the outside — game of something like touch football on the dexter lawn, couples sunbathing and reading on the other half of the lawn — and back down, finding the Roman mosaic with no difficulty; then a pretty little church I don't think I'd ever seen, behind S. Francesco ai Prati — this latter itself totally scaffolded up and very busy with noisy restoration, major work.

By good luck the beauti­ful church of S. Bernardino, only briefly seen in the evening once many years ago, not under any kind of scaffolding. Closed but the façade's the game here, a lovely elegant work; lawn crowded with students and picnickers: 10‑month old golden retriever puppy named Lapo, beauti­fully behaved all thru my half-hour photo shoot: but when I asked permission to play with him, he livened up alright! I miss Pliny.

[image ALT: A stone carving, extending over two contiguous horizon blocks, executed very finely with much detail, showing what appears to be the devil leaping from a fenced-in enclosure amid flames; he faces to our left, where a group of a dozen people seem to be consumed by these flames; behind him, to our right, another group of about a dozen people, poisedly seated in two ranks. Behind them, toward the center, a man with a halo stands, raising his right arm in what looks like exhortation. It is a detail of the façade of the church of S. Bernardino in Perugia, Umbria (central Italy).]

Agostino Duccio's prominent signature in the center of the façade:
opvs Avgvstini Florentini lapicidaeº
Work of the stonecutter Augustinus of Florence.

The story told is an episode of the preaching of S. Bernardino.

A slow meander up various streets I'd never been on before, the attractive church and SMOM commandery of St. Luke, equally attractive church of SS. Stephen and Valentine; spotted blocks of Roman travertine in a few places, including in the corners of S. Agata (plaque there commemorating a man who served as the church's pastor from 1909 to 1975), wound up on the Corso at 4:30 — poked around a bit more and quietly made my way down to the 17:31 train, and home by 18:20, with no foot or knee problem though still being careful. Stayed home, more tagliatelle with another inimitable ersatz sauce, actually this one quite good: oil, garlic a minute, then added salsa piccantina; radicchio broiled; lettuce salad with capers; a blueberry yogurt. Now a grappa: it's 9:20.

Notes in the Diary:

1 The very next day I walked in to do my shopping, the first word out of Angelo's mouth was "Pertinax". Much more plausible (but why does Pietralunga make no reference to him? I'll still need to check!)

Later Note: for the whole question of Pertinax' birthplace, see my note to the Historia Augusta, Pert. 1.2.

2 the only church where I (eventually) saw such a prohibition: also the only church selling post-cards of itself — except to top it off, the automatic dispenser was out of order. . . .

Later Notes:

a Antonio Alpini: Pietralunga dalle origini alle soglie del terzo millennio (1262pp, Delta Grafica srl, Città di Castello, 2000).

b Castelfranco may not be a frazione: sources differ and I've been unable to sort it out.

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Page updated: 7 Dec 20