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Tuesday 23 March 2004

Gaifana, 8:46 A.M., my train just pulled out after maybe 5 minutes stop —

Yesterday it was supposed to rain, and me with plans to walk Trevi de Planu; not good to be walking rural floodplain in sopping rain: looked at train schedules and went to Assisi instead, since despite having been there I think four times, I still don't know the town well.

Not the earliest train — for some reason despite waking up just before 6 I was a slow starter, leaving Umbertide by the 0945(7) hopped off the train at S. Maria degli Angeli at 1030, and this time decided to walk into town, which I'd never done from there.

Well this is Assisi, no sooner you get 300 yards from the station, strange things begin to happen: clusters of young people sitting on the ground sketching trees, houses, hills — never see this type of thing anywhere else in Umbria.

My walk up into town, according to the TCI 4.7 km, but surely not more than 2 km; I think the difference is accounted for by the TCI being the 1976 edition, and now a good small road then a bran-new pedestrian track, built for the Giubileo I suspect, is a straight line cutting across the car switchbacks. This pedestrian way is paved partly in brick, each brick with someone's name and town, surely donors: almost all Italian of course but I spotted one person in Tirana and one couple in Florida.

Nothing particular happened to me in Assisi; I wandered around and went into whatever was open, all churches this time: starting with S. Pietro then a longish walk up to S. Maria Maggiore — more convents than you can shake a stick at, of course, but now that government is secular it makes you wonder about the tax base. Via Borgo S. Pietro, a convent of Clarisses Françaises S. Coletta, which I duly took a picture of although not really of any interest, but in honor of my mother as it were — who if she were living, couldn't have cared less. Benedictine nuns' convent of S. Giuseppe with a huge, impressive enclosing wall. S. Maria Maggiore I remember having been in before, but a good building.

A few yards past S. Maria Maggiore, a good frescoed alcove out onto the street — quite a few of these thruout town, which is the first time that registered — although I actually wondered whether it might be fake, but it was just too good; a closer look and it was attached to a Residenza d'epoca S. Crispino, so I went in, thinking maybe a bit more information, or the website to link to should those frescoes make it onto my own site in the fullness of time: and a young woman popped out of nowhere, named Isabella, all eager to show me a couple of suites (and confirming that the frescoes are old, but very recently restored: accounting for my gut about them). She did well, mixing two very nice apartments with the garden of one and the splendid balcony views of the other, making for some of my best photos of Assisi, which will surely result in the appropriate links and good publicity for them.

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the church of S. Chiara as seen from the Residenza d'epoca S. Crispino.

By now the churches were closing; I sat on a step in a little street — almost no traffic, foot or car — as soon as you get away from the Basilica and its approaches, Assisi pretty much like any place else — and ate most of my emergency sausage, and the rest of my torta di Pasqua; then ambled up to S. Rufino and finally after all these times took a good look at the façade: the camera at times seems silly, but you take 40 careful views of something, carefully composed, in some kind of order, captioned and occasionally annotated, and it'll fix it in the mind, even if God forbid I lose the photos: another advantage of the new unlimited "film"; right this minute, 24h later (writing in my hotel room in Macerata at 9:20 P.M.), I can still see the whole façade of the church quite clearly and in rather great detail, lodged in my memory — at least for now.

Once the lunch hour was past so it didn't look like I was trying to invite myself to lunch, I found Brigolante's number — helpful employee of the municipio holding down the fort — and called Rebecca from the piazza, who said 5 P.M. please at the Porta Nuova, we'll have coffee somewhere.

Went back towards the Basilica; but always something "new", this time a tiny square oratorio dei Pellegrini — door half open on the street, never does any harm to peer in — that I don't remember even knowing about — glassed in and locked, but a beauti­ful square room frescoed mostly by Mezzastris:​a I didn't realize he was that good. One of the frescoes, a miracle credited in the late Middle Ages to Anthony Abbot, a weird story about camels — from the looks of the elegant sweet huddle of camels in the fresco I have a feeling Mezzastris never saw one in his life —

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Mezzastris' camels
(photographed on the slant thru a glass door, unfortunately).

The basilica looked unchanged since my last visit before the earthquake: except for Cimabue's vault, now a glaring white; a card near the altar states that it'll be put back together. I don't believe a word of it, but at some level they have to pretend. Absolutely no way those hundred thousand bits of plaster — to say nothing of all the unrecoverable dust long gone in the wind — can be turned back into a Cimabue.

In the lower church — same overwhelming space, same reaction — an odd thing happened: in one of the chapels under the nave of the upper church, the raised one on the W side, there was a series of modern bronze squares representing the life of Christ by some modern artist (most of them not very good, but that's neither here nor there), separate panels then mounted on a background of lucite or something like that — and two of 'em are installed backwards: the Nativity is followed by the Presentation in the Temple — and then by the Epiphany — then the Flight into Egypt etc. Pointless telling one of the guards (curiously, they wear their hats in church), it'd just be like the custode in the little museum of Rieti — so I collared a friar that appeared out of a side door and therefore must have something to do with the place, not a visitor — dragged him to the work, showed him the inverted pieces, and then told him I'd done my part. . . .

Back to the other end of town towards the Porta Nuova, with a pit stop inside S. Chiara now open; almost all of it roped off, but she has a crypt too and her own relics chapel (with more of Francis's clothing as well as hers, interestingly): it's modern, ugly, and empty.

Got to the Porta Nuova at about 20 to 5, sat on a park bench and caught up on my photo log; beep — Rebecca in a dark blue Land Rover — much younger than what I'd thought, and looks younger still — and off to a pastry shop caffé/bar in S. Maria degli Angeli, Lollini's I think but Rebecca says everybody just calls it "ex-Harry's Bar". We sat and talked about all kinds of things for nearly 2 hours: she had a spremuta, I had a cappuccino and two pastries (unexpectedly good) then a spremuta myself. Up to pay and go, but Rebecca was insistent and I was embarrassed: to the station, 18:35, and off I went — home with no problem, and slept.

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Assisi: a boy walking his dog.

In fact, the time I saved from no dinner last night I used to plan; and in view of the expected weather, no way I was going to walk some relatively remote countryside today: so a careful look at my project list and at the train schedules, and here I am in Macerata.

Alarm clock 5:15 but woke up on my own at 4:50; train out of Umbertide at 6:05, then out of PSG to Foligno, then out of Foligno to Fabriano, then finally the fourth train of the morning from Fabriano, here by around 11:30 and the whole thing for 9E75.

I'd forgotten how pretty the country is between Cerreto d'Esi (town excluded) and Tolentino (again, town excluded): like Umbria except, right now at any rate, much greener — fewer forests — and much softer hills. Fewer tiny towns perched on hills, much more scattered houses, almost all of them modern but still looks good. I experimented with taking pictures from the train, and out of maybe a dozen shots, most were quite good (much to my surprise). It's beauti­ful walking country, makes me regret I just don't have the time to spend say 10 days in the area; but maybe I can manage Matélica, working it in maybe with the Pióraco diverticulum, as good an excuse as any. . . .

Macerata itself, something like what I expected: better in some ways — not as dull as the guidebooks unanimously make it sound — and not as good in others: not really that markedly cleaner and more spacious than other Italian cities as those same guidebooks again. A lot of brick, which isn't great; no single extraordinary wonder; and a lot of 16c‑18c, not my taste: but by the same token, a unified feel to it and overall the impression is pleasant. If I luck out, I'll have good weather tomorrow for my walk to Treia; right now I'm projecting a 3‑hour walk to Treia, the rest of the day there and stay the night, then a rather zippier walk back to the railroad line at Sforzacosta where I have to be by about 13h30 (last possible train at 13:48 to make the 19:43 home out of PSG). Who knows what'll happen, of course.

I took myself out to lunch today; not really, but at 2:20 I was hungry and it was raining (maybe half an hour, but it poured and I was getting rather wet): I dived into the first place that looked OK, a smoke-filled student hangout, a place to do drinking with a bit of food — I did the reverse, and most unexpectedly had a rather good meal, and it was certainly cheap. Bar Firenze, v. della Vecchia Pescheria just a block from S. Paolo: gnocchetti alle spinaci A-, tortellini alla norcina B+, panna cotta of the house, a glass of white that by itself was negligible but with the food was actually pretty good, and the whole thing for 12E. The owner a young man working the bar and proud of his place; my waitress Giovanna (from Foggia so not quite a marchigiana yet); and the cook Nélide by the end of my meal came out and sat a bit. Good people, good food, good price, happy Booby.

Many of the churches in town, including unfortunately the one I really wanted to see, the Jesuit-interiored S. Giovanni, in heavy restauro (apparently the 1997 earthquake did damage even this far away); but the museum, right next to S. Giovanni, free and has an unusual section: of 17c-early 20c carriages, with a young woman — doing her civil service — a good guide; another unexpected enjoyment, since not the kind of thing I know much about nor am too interested in normally, but I may have spent an hour in there, almost all of it in the carriages. Three or four small cases of prehistoric, Picene and Roman antiquities, unlabelled but fairly easy stuff to identify: didn't spot anything much, the good stuff from Urbs Salvia and Helvia Recina apparently got carted off to Ancona (where I don't remember seeing it) —

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Although Macerata's Museo delle Carrozze has a beauti­ful collection of carriages used by noble houses, the most moving item is surely this World War I stretcher cart. Thousands of these were pushed by fellow-soldiers over the rough terrain of hundreds of battlefields.

Also at the end of my day, after lunch before the museum which was pretty much it for the day, a long stop at the Palazzo Comunale with a pleasant collection of Roman inscriptions (and one fragmentary Etruscan cinerary urn, also inscribed); the best inscription was the small tombstone of an "incomparable wife with whom I lived 40 years": I'm a patsy for that type of inscription. . . .

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You didn't really think that I'd let you escape an inscription, did you? (Notice on the other hand that zipping thru all those inscriptions, I got this one a bit wrong at the time. I correct that here.)

D · M
C(um) · Q(uo) · V(ixit) · A(nnis) · XXXX
B · M

To the Shades, in memory of Marcus Tedius Sabinus: Decimia Sabina to her incomparable husband, with whom she lived forty years, and who well deserves this honor.

Hotel Lauri quite convenient in the center, 2 stars but you could have fooled me, in all respects 3 except the awkward and tiny reception area and hospital-like hallways — but a pleasant room, a nice bathroom, and all that at 33E; I hope I have equal good luck in Treia (or wherever I am tomorrow night).

Later Note:

a A photo of the facing wall has made it onto my site elsewhere: the fresco illustrates the miracle of the cooked rooster told in chapter 8 of Corrado Ricci's Umbria Santa.

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