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Saturday 20 March 2004

7:10 A.M., waking up, warm bed in an at my request unheated apartment — spotless, gleaming — at the agriturismo Le Fornaci in Lisciano Niccone.

Study and mental preparation very curious; like I told everyone at SlowTrav, I go thru the most detailed investigations and tons of reading, then throw all the planning away and see what happens: often, usually, with the best results. In this case I'd examined minutely the road from Umbertide to Lisciano and from there the various possibilities of reconnecting with the train network — and never once did it occur to me to do what I suddenly decided to do as I was taking my bath yesterday morning: to do it in the opposite direction; which is what I'm doing. By starting from the train station at Tuoro, sleeping at Lisciano, then walking on to Umbertide I've avoided the problems of the exact timing required to connect with the rail schedule, plus do the easier if longer part of the walk on the second day, which is always better: from here on in to Umbertide, I'll be following the Niccone river and it should be pretty much on the flat.

So yesterday morning at 10:30 (train out of Umbertide 0854, change at PSG for Terontola: 1E85 + 2E85) I found myself at Tuoro, the large caffé still open, curious in so small a station — didn't go in this time — and, after a stop at a supermarket (plain cheese pizza, chunk of Taleggio 140 g), was on my way. Didn't realize what a hill right behind Tuoro: up for 7 km, although not a hard climb. Foggy in the middle distance. Glad I did this little walk, since far better than my previous walk in the area — the plan and Tuoro itself — here I got an idea of what the battle must have been like: in fact I kept on visualizing elephants, although there were rather few I think that made it down here. Up on my hill, it was easy to imagine thousands of Carthaginians creeping up concealed in the woods, the Romans down below in the fog, then waves of whooping warriors falling on them from this natural theater (and a few elephants), them stuck nowhere to go down in the plain.

My cellphone rang, Judith Greenwood — I had no idea she lived near Città di Castello, somehow I'd got the impression she lived in the Marche — chatty conversation would I come have lunch or dinner with her and some friends one of these days and we have a date to see the bridge at Apecchio, to which she added the bronzes at Pergola; me delighted of course, I'll bring the Amarone. I crossed over into the territory of Lisciano while we were on the phone, then arrived at the top of the hill — large nondescript modern houses, the frazione of Gosparini — and down the other side, the first of many wide swooping curves and even a guard-rail — and we were cut off. (When I got to Lisciano I eventually called back to check we'd actually finished our conversation.)

The road down to Lisciano — and Mercatale, as the road markers kept on reminding me — quite empty: the very occasional car but mostly I mean no houses either near the road nor on the facing hills to my left; just black with trees. Still no leaves, yet with all the flowers now in bloom (wild primroses, violets, forget‑me-nots; cherry and/or almond trees, maybe some apple trees; quince, daffodil, dandelion, muscari, and one of my green-flowered friends).

Five bicyclists: the first two, together, chatting away in English with British accents, about the technique of pedalling; teammates, one, one, and one, variously struggling — Boobykins encouraging them all, they didn't have far to go in fact, maybe a mile.

Then thru the trees on the left, an apparition — a castle that at first I thought might be Lisciano, but no memory of any castle in Lisciano — it turned out to be Pierle: huge square tower, maybe ten stories tall, large walls, now merely imposing but back when it counted it must have been terrifying.

[image ALT: Seen thru a screen of tree branches, still bare at the end of winter, a truly massive castle, a roughly square block with walls 5 to 8 m tall and a square tower some 25 m in height above them, huddled at the foot of which sit a couple dozen low stone houses. It is a view of the village and castle of Pierle in Tuscany (central Italy).]

The Tuscan village of Pierle, from the road between Tuoro and Lisciano.

Around a bend, ah! Lisciano. Well, no: Mercatale, small place sprawling along a couple of roads, firmly in the valley; Lisciano was tucked away behind a curve to my right, and I came on it suddenly. It's a small fairly prosperous-looking place with, that I've seen so far, no old center: the center of town seems to be the wide piazza with the Monumento ai Caduti in the middle, an obelisk with dozens of names of war dead — for so small a place. A pair of bars, a few agriturismi scattered in and around town, signposted but looked like they'd lead me right back out of town; I stumbled on the Municipio, and by good luck — it was 2 P.M. — found a woman inside who opened a window and hailed a passing truck, Valentino can you do something for this guy? Sure, and in fact the agriturismo Le Fornaci just 250 yards away, his daughter Chiara — very pretty, quiet, much like her great namesake I like to think — large modern apartment, 25E a night, no please don't turn the heat on just for me; passport, sign things — and off again, a beeline to Pierle, feeling guilty since after all not only it's in Tuscany but there is a castello di Lisciano (up on a hill over­looking Le Fornaci, maybe only 2½ km away, looking rather like a monastery instead of a castle) — so it's a bit like running off on a date with the neighbor's wife rather than my own, but the magnetic attraction was just too much.

Cool but I left my jacket in my room, as well as anything not strictly necessary; across the stream into Tuscany and Mercatale (a frazione of Cortona 16+ km away), turn left to Pierle, total distance from Le Fornaci 4 km. Pierle heavily veiled in fog, the cloud coming over the twin round summits behind it; small climb into town, maybe 150 people live there, and the added bonus of a beauti­ful little Romanesque church, S. Biagio, patron saint of interpreters and throat affections — now that I was actually in the fog enveloping Pierle, I was pretty cold at times and hoped he'd take care of me, felt foolhardy.

[image ALT: A low single-story Romanesque church of irregular courses of small stone masonry with a tile roof pitched at about 30 degrees and a flat panel-type belfry of the kind known as a 'campanile a vela' with two arches under which hang the bells. It sits in a small hollow of grass framed by five pine trees, against a backdrop of tall hills, and we are seeing it from the rear, which forms a typical shell-shaped apse. It is a view of the church of S. Biagio in Pierle, Tuscany (central Italy).]

The church of S. Biagio di Pierle.

Quiet walk around town and the 4 km back home; walked into the apartment and very suddenly, inexplicably — it was about 5 P.M. — I went to bed and slept for over two hours; my feet hurt rather bad, but at least the legs were fine and I only had one slight twinge in the knee just out of Tuoro, otherwise I'm fine.

Needless to say, I didn't sleep thru the morning at all, but woke up at 7:45 P.M., feeling very gummy; so thought I'd take a hot bath, then go back to bed. That, however, wasn't remotely what happened.

The hot water didn't work: gorgeous princely gleaming bathroom — but no matter what I did, waiting, reversing the taps, trying buttons in various places in the apartment, nothing doing; and it actually pushed me to assert myself (sort of): expecting to be back in two or three minutes, I threw on a minimum of clothes and trekked over to the owners' house to ask what one of us was doing wrong and how do I take a desperately needed bath — but got to the house and saw not a crack of light and I wasn't about to poke around in their garden in the dark; so Booby's idea of Plan B, go to the nearby pizzeria, see if they can dredge up my hosts' cellphone number. This cost me money: 23E50 finally, since I can't waltz into an innocent restaurant and make demands that have nothing to do with them; so perforce I sat down and ate, but told kind young waitress what the problem really was, who came back in three minutes and told me all solved, in fact they were home, and that they'd light the boiler, oops. Started wending my way thru dinner (primo: ravioli al sugo; pizza ai 4 formaggi, in which the blue took over and annihilated the other three; tartufo bianco affogato alla grappa; tip for special assistance) — while I was eating, a woman, possibly selling flowers from table to table, stopped at mine — I stared frozenly at my plate — horrors, inexplicably I'd failed to recognize Chiara, who'd thrown on a coat and come to the restaurant to help, not having understood what the problem was. Mortified, leap to feet, apologize, thank, finish eating after being reassured it would be OK when I got back; as indeed it was. Hot bath and I was clean enough to go to sleep; but lost maybe an hour getting to sleep feeling awful about mixup; what started with me wishing to cause very little disturbance did much the contrary, with a nasty gaffe thrown in for good measure.

And so to sleep.

This morning, up at 7 something, off to same pizzeria-caffé-bar for breakfast: 2 cappuccini, 2 cornetti, wrote diary at little table, repacked, paid my hosts at 9 or so (still Chiara who by then must surely have seen quite enough of me but you could never tell by looking at her — me still feeling like a wretch), and after a final glance around town left for home; Chiara told me the Castello di Lisciano is at its best seen lit up at night from far away (and it is a beauti­ful beacon over the town way up there on its hill), since only half of it is lived in and taken care of.

Mercatale, the S half of which I'd walked thru yesterday on my way to Pierle, this morning I walked thru the N half. Judith, when I asked her why Mercatale so prominent on the Web, said it was because of a restaurant once dynamite for home cooking, Mimmi's — but Mimmi herself retired and much less good: confirmed by Chiara. Otherwise Mercatale is really not much of a place at all; nor is the uneuphoniously named Mengaccini not more than 1½ km away. Landscape a bit blah — flat, widening valley, tow-lane road with some traffic; weather wavering between windbreaker and T‑shirt.

Another bit, and a sign for the church of S. Donnino, up the hill maybe 700 m on my left (to my right, the flood plain of the Niccone which though separating Tuscany and Umbria is a rather small stream). The current church of S. Donnino built in the 1530's and renamed at the time S. Maria Assunta, but, rather exceptionally, took its former name again in the 18c: usually when the saint loses out to Mary under pretty much any invocation, 's done for —

[image ALT: A somewhat taller than cubical two-story building of rough stone masonry, windowless except for a 1‑meter-wide circular window almost at the top of the façade. Beneath that window, the circular-arched door is surmounted by a blank pediment. A small annex juts out on the left toward the back of the building, with another arched door, although with no pediment. The building sits on a single-lane roughly-paved road in the countryside; very near it on the right, a tall pine tree; somewhat farther away, on the left, across the road, a farmhouse. It is the church of S. Donnino near S. Andrea di Sorbello in Tuscany (central Italy).]
The church of S. Donnino (Tuscany).

S. Andrea di Sorbello a tiny hamlet, basically a large farm courtyard; the castle somewhere on a hill above it. Pit stop along the way at an alimentari along the road: bottle of water and a panino alla mortadella under a tree.

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