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Sunday 21 March 2004

Resuming yesterday's truncated account — all of a sudden I got very sleepy and just stopped writing, and in fact fell asleep instantly, don't remember so much as a minute after I switched the light off.)

Tired as I was last night, I notice I already started to tangle things up, putting my lunch stop after S. Andrea, it was a good 2 or 3 km before; and altogether skipping my experience of Reschio: rather, more correctly, blocking it out. . . .

On my right, against the overcast sky, a finger of hill with a line of pines and cypresses on the crest, a small castle; rather proud of myself at the time for correctly identifying it, with the aid of neither sign nor map, as Reschio. A side road takes you up there easily enough, although a large sign, "Castello di Reschio | exclusive affiliate of Christie's Great Estates" (presumably the same Christie's that was, if I remember right, actually convicted of collusion and price-fixing a few years back) didn't bode well. Still, I went and looked, leaving my 1½‑liter bottle of water at the bridge over the Niccone, no point in lugging an extra 3 pounds up and down a hill.

The castle is larger than it first looked from the road, and from the adjacent hill is postcard-handsome. Reschio and its immediate environs, two vocaboli Brusceto and Grugliano, seem to be part of a single private complex; as I expected by now, a side entrance to the castle — wide shallow grass-stepped staircase — and the main entrance were posted Private Property No Admittance: still, there was a little sign "Ufficio" leading to the top of a neighboring rump of hill, why not go up there and see what the place is about, maybe historical info, a website, a restaurant, who knows.

Other than the very good view of the castle though — thus glad I went — nothing. An office: closed; I walked around it, and seeing no one, left — and halfway down the strada bianca towards the castle, a hullaballoo behind me, which I ignored at first, then thought after all someone might be calling me, and I turned around; and sure enough some man in the middle of the road near the office was shouting at me "Ho, capo!" what do you want? Me: I just wandered up here if there might be any information. Him: "Niente informazione oggi: lunedì!" and me, OK, thought so, 'bye. Not a total loss, since now I know how to hail a stranger whose name one doesn't know. . . . A bit strange though to be told no information today but Monday.​a

At the foot of the hill, picked up my bottle of water, then S. Andrea di Sorbello

[image ALT: Two-thirds of the photo is occupied by a wide expanse of asphalt pavement, a sort of long road-like parking lot, about 15 meters wide, leading from the foreground to a very plain stuccoed 2‑story church with a pedimented roof and a slightly taller square belfry on the left. On the right, a row of five leafless trees, with one or two more barely visible near the church. On the left a long low decrepit stuccoed building mostly under pipe scaffolding. A single car is parked near the church, looking very small. It is the dismal village of S. Andrea di Sorbello (Tuscany).]

The piazza of S. Andrea di Sorbello (Tuscany); almost all the town, in fact.

then the medium-dull but not unpleasant walk to Niccone and home; reaching the Girasoli di S. Andrea place with the misleading name — much closer to Niccone, and within the commune of Umbertide of course whereas S. Andrea is a frazione of Cortona (as is Mercatale, which I'd thought was its own comune, but no) — and thus closing a loop. A couple more kilometers and I was back at the church of Niccone with the mimosa; except this time better informed: Chiara told me there was a library in the annex, with 4000 volumes and people who knew local history and are interested in such things. Fully expecting the place to be closed, I found a sign on the door, very limited opening hours, weekends: Saturday 3‑5 P.M. My cellphone said it was 3:10, I knocked; yes, open.

A small square room with shelves of books, quite high up the walls, also videotapes; a long table in the center of the room, seated at it a young woman boning up on the French Revolution for an exam, Emanuela; the older woman, maybe 60, who'd let me in, whose name is Edda, seems to be the guiding light behind the lending library, started about a year and a half ago (when I got back here, Angelo didn't know about it: the news came to him via an American tourist . . .) with a core of books the church had, to which Edda added her own collection as she moved from a large casolare in the country into town in Umbertide; and a number of volunteers to staff the place, among whom the man Chiara'd mentioned to me as being the Roman buff, Stefano Genghini.

Well I introduced myself and jabbered about Umbria and walking around and old stones, and Edda — calling it a parenthesis but in fact very much the point of what both they (the group has a good name: I Samaritani) and I are about in our several ways — told me of so much destruction and abandonment of cultural heritage here in Umbria. She moved here in 1969 from her native Trentino and never looked back, but has seen so much vanish! confirming my own increasing impressions that even since my first contact with Umbria in 1993, the landscape is changing fast, all these wonder­ful old stone casolari I see collapsing and rotting away as their owners, rather than fix and restore, build a tawdry plastered villa fifty yards away — immediately of course you realize how much cheaper it is to build fresh, and for vastly more convenient results, than laboriously convert the old, which, in addition, are often far too large for the modern family if just right for the patriarchal clan of 20 or more they were designed for. Still, Edda would have none of my devil's advocate argument, sweeping it away with the much more sympathetic case histories of various places in the neighborhood: the most dramatic of which as she told it, a beauti­ful Renaissance stone archway not far from Niccone (the impression I got was somewhere back along the road I'd just come), within sight of her own then house, that she'd always look at with pleasure as she drove by — one morning, from the day before, it had utterly vanished: she drove over there and gave her near-neighbors a piece of her mind, how (and why) could they possibly have done that?? Fortunately they hadn't torn it down, merely plastering over it and turning it into a banal wall. Emanuela, also, told me of some people whose pigsty had wall paintings that someone found out about and thought they might be Etruscan (the bugaboos these parts — but whatever they were, they were old and worth saving); when this knowledgeable person next went, they'd been destroyed by the owners — and I immediately chimed in, yes, to avoid having the Soprintendenza on their backs: I've heard this so many times now, including the persistent rumors of the mosaics destroyed a few years ago in the borgo of Spello, when workers building a new housing development pickaxed their way into some Roman mosaics and the simplest thing to do was to destroy them and shut up.

Mind you, from the very nature of such stories — people who don't want things to be found out, it may also be that these are for the most part urban legends; they have the earmarks of them, especially the lack of specifics and the somewhat numinous veil — but some, at least, must surely be true; and Walter back in Spello again, was actually a first-hand witness to something like this himself, I remember him telling me of digging up little mosaic tesserae as play when he was a young child.

Anyhow, Edda got on the horn and called Mr. Genghini, who by and by joined us at the library; I'd been expecting a very young man mostly because Chiara back in Lisciano is a very young woman: he turned out to be a man more or less my age with a flourishing crop of dark hair — ormai tonsured Boobykins appalling photo of whom has now migrated onto the pages of SlowTrav, now notices hair. . . . — and an intense reflective manner about him; says I should see the tomb at Faggeto, and gave me further, clearer instructions for finding it.​b Also dimly aware of possible Etruscan stuff as mentioned by Angelo, but not sure where this might be —

As expected, once I connected with I Samaritani, I'd have a bond with them (to say nothing of lovely 14‑year‑old boxer named Pilú, Edda's sweetheart, somewhat disconsolately circling round and round in the office: I'd inadvertently pulled up a folding chair and encroached on his mat —); Edda is thinking of having me over to dinner with some friends of hers, and we exchanged phone numbers — leaving me flattered and inadequate-feeling, with a short supply of gifts to share of my own; this is a markedly different stay than all my preceding, even more social (to the point where in an hour or two I'm going to have to sit down and think out my engagements and commitments — Franco, Karen F in Castello, Karen B in Santarcangelo di Romagna, Judith also in Castello, Barb & Art in S. Venanzo, my pals in Pistrino, the Rossi-Corvi family in Fossato and Fabriano, Gloria in Civitella-Paganico, Jona and Marco in Rome, the massèd hordes of Migianella de' Marchesi, Maria-Cristina in Gaiche, my lunch in Chioggia, Jo Anne Haynes at "Casa d'Oliva" 10‑23 April, maybe Carlo Valdameri in Rimini; and others — and now I Samaritani di Niccone with whom I have such a natural bond). This combines rather poorly with my straitened finances — which latter in fact combine ill with just about everything: I've been here nearly a month and only been out of Umbria really once, my 2 days in Rome: slithering across the Niccone River into Tuscany hardly counts.

So we sat talking for a couple of hours, and they closed shop at 5 — Stefanía the young president of the Samaritani, within a few weeks or months of taking her bar exam if I understood rightly, and Don Graziano the parish priest, a lively good presence, helping close the building; and Edda on her way to an art exhibit at the Rocca, did I want to tag along? Not to the exhibit, but I'd love the ride: had enough walking for the day and that road between Niccone and Umbertide not the greatest; happily dropped off in Piazza XXV Aprile. A bit tired but feet didn't hurt or anything: so it's just taking a while to get my legs back.

Quick trip to supermarket — catfood, limoncello — and to Angelo's — milk, bread, yogurt; photos, CD's; laundry, etc.; dinner — pasta, garlic, rosso di Conero 4E50 the bottle, oddly enough bottled in Castelplanio: and then the arrival at 8:30 of the mythical Irene! at last, per our appointment.

An elegant woman, we sat at the kitchen table and talked electric bills (about 25E a month), gas bills (250E a month in season, and just like in the States, tax heaped on tax, about 55% of the bill is one kind of tax or another), mailbox key (lost by a previous tenant, we make do with coat hangers) — but I asked, where do I buy a mailbox, do I need a permit, etc.? Via Grilli 100 m from the house, and no. And what about the police papers? We squinted at them together — she didn't know Ann's birthdate any more than I do, and said I should go talk to the police, [. . .], this is absurd; OK —

Cats: the one I saw with the half-eaten face, that I've not so much as seen since, let alone been able to catch — she's as much at a loss as I am; both cats, she said, were adults in 1990 — Big White surely not, by my guess about 8 or 9 — still, very painful to think of the other in such bad shape (although she didn't seem to be in pain, but so very hard to tell with cats).

I should open windows to clear any moldiness; the house much safer now than it was, with bars on windows: me, still scared to do so.

Among the chat, she said she'd lived many years in Montepulciano and her children miss the place a lot, you know how it is when you grow up with something; I don't know what got into me, but what came naturally to mind, that I shared with her, was how well I understood it, when I was six I was adopted by a family of vultures (and my whole story of the vultures in Veracruz and my consequent fondness for vultures) — it wasn't until 80% of my way into this completely unselfconscious performance that I suddenly saw how she'd been looking at me. . . . At first surely it's his Italian, what does he mean with these avvoltoi — then as I vultured my way thru what after these 50 years I merely consider after all a mildly interesting piece of my past, I could see it: dear me, these Americans, these artist types, they're all like that. . . . (Booby by this time getting into the swing of his account, waving his arms about, doing imitations of himself and his predator friends rummaging in garbage cans, explaining patiently to her how my mother was disapproving — rhetorical question to which she was forced to nod her assent, "E lei, vorrebbe che i figli giocassero con gli avvoltoi?" a sentence only the most demented constructor of grammar books should, in the normal course of things, ever have come up with. . . .) Our business all transacted, she left very shortly afterwards . . . I've laughed several times since over it all 'til the tears run down my cheeks —

Today, the unexpected: I never got out of my pajamas, stayed home all day, read, wrote, plotted more tramplings thru the landscape. The weather looked beastly, it's Sunday, train schedules don't really take you anywhere, and no virtue in spending money to go, say, to Terni for 4 hours with 2 or 3 more hours waiting at PSG. Good lunch of pasta, my best tomato sauce yet; this morning watched a Formula Uno race in Malaysia, in its entirety: I'd never dream of doing such a thing back home, but it's not the first time I've done it in Italy. (Schumi won, of course.)

Then I made arrangements with Karen in Santarcangelo, current plans are for me to show up there on Friday evening, and leave Monday morning: she and Vincenzo will actually drive me to Brisighella, but I'll take them out to a good restaurant of their choice — a lot of sweet people out there, hey them don't know me from Adam (must not tell them vulture stories, though) —

Related planning (my original plan had been to walk from Marsciano to Città della Pieve stazione Tue-Fri); but this not practical on many grounds now: (1) weather may be bad this week, and I can't consider sleeping outdoors, per Mariella; (2) the train schedules just will not get me from Città della Pieve to Sant' Arcangelo di Romagna without horrific dislocations and eventually a night in a hotel somewhere; (3) between S. Venanzo and Città della Pieve, very remote, unable to find more than one agriturismo — they all seem to be in Ospedaletto or Ripalvella, no use to a walker going to Monte­gabbione — except one in Pornello, whose phone (this was the clincher) did not answer. I cut the 4‑day walk into a daytrip (train right to Marsciano, walk to S. Venanzo and back by 2 different routes) and the other 3 comuni (Monte­gabbione, Monte­leone, Città) can be made to hang together as a walk from Chiusi to Fabro with only one night hotel in Città: over the 2 new walks then, only one night hotel instead of the 3 originally planned; and only a small sacrifice of logic or aesthetics to pay for the considerable savings in cash.

Tomorrow haven't yet decided; if the weather looks good, Trevi de Planu is a possibility although I haven't read enough of the book yet. At any rate I feel perfectly relaxed at the end of this lazy day, and recouped the "lost" day by turning a 4‑day hike into two hikes totalling 3 days: no virtue in doing remote stretches of nowhere, it's not like I was a nature buff after all.

And of course today I spent not one cent.

Later Notes:

a When I told this story a few days later at dinner with some new friends from Umbertide, this line caused merriment, a bit to my surprise, actually; so apparently it's not just me.

The diary, by the way, is firmly tongue in cheek: no, "Ho, capo!" is not a polite way of calling an unknown person on the street, although it will do in an emergency; an American equivalent would be "Hey, you!" The lower-class holler and the poor public relations of "Go away, although I'm in charge here, I won't tell you anything until Monday" was, however, at such odds with the genteelism of "exclusive affiliate of Christie's Great Estates" that I couldn't resist recording it all.

b I eventually did see the Etruscan tomb at Faggeto, which is definitely both worth a visit and very hard to find; and must record myself here as very grateful to Mr. Genghini.

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