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Saturday 27 March 2004

OK, even sitting on my next-to‑last train of the day, I couldn't predict where I'd finally get off. After a call to Vincenzo — my strike-induced late arrival and the regular train schedules conspired to make both Savignano and Santarcangelo impossible arrival points, thus a phone call needed — the unexpected instructions to get off at Riccione, the small sweet-looking station of which I've seen by now so many times in and out of Rimini; so technically I've been to Riccione, if for all of one minute at night, since Vincenzo recognized me instantly from my description (American, not much hair, and a general air of being lost) and his car was not a block away. Stop at a supermarket, then driving over some rather busy highways, then [. . .] a smaller road, up a little hill, and a large comfortable house on a hill with a wide view including, fa­cing, the first hills of the Feltria (with all that, I'm not really too sure where I am.)

Dinner, kitchen, wonderful-smelling focaccia, bruschetta ai funghi, some large tubular pasta (maybe the bambolotti of Liz and Checco fame) carbonara — putting completely to rest my residual idea from somewhere that pancetta had to be a bit rancid to be right — I must have fallen on a series of mediocre restaurants when I formed that notion; anyhow, a good meal, with a choice of wines (a red Lambrusco spumante, a white from Locorotondo, so although I will probably not have gone there on this trip, I'll at least have drunk their wine), a cookie — whole plate of course but Booby uncharacteristically not that hungry, although I did start with a larger breakfast than usual, plus those 2 large pastries in Perugia — and some very good nocino branded Nucilli.

Conversation various things, bit of personal history, bits of SlowTrav — I'd forgot, but Karen reminded me a thread on "Bill Thayer sightings" now out there — and somehow a two‑ships-in‑the-night situation when Vincenzo and I camped firmly on opposite sides of a line on the French revolution, in which I ascribed half the ills of the modern world to the French Revolution (including the firebombing of Dresden and the bombing of Hiroshima: how very French of me!!) and Vincenzo concluding by saying "Io sono un figlio della Rivoluzione Francese"; as indeed we all are, I fear. Came away from this exchange of course feeling somewhat embarrassed (also out of my league, since Vincenzo has a degree in philosophy). By good fortune though I could truthfully volunteer that Voltaire was a remarkable man and one of my favorite writers.

And so to bed; I think I understand there is a Program for Bill, the first item of which a visit today — unless sopping rain — to Cervia; I didn't realize the Etruscan town was actually extant and visitable. Maybe an exhibit in Rimini — if so should call Carlo — and my only fixed points are the fool bridge in Savignano (Angelo in Umbertide doesn't believe it any more than I do to be the Rubicon of Caesar, but this time I think on bad grounds: he'd like it to be the larger Metauro, but that's after Rimini), and, to a lesser extent, especially if the weather is bad, Brisighella.

5:30 and back at Karen and Vincenzo's house after an interesting day: the quite un-Etruscan salt flats of Cervia, the cemetery of Cesenatico then its fishing port, the town of Santarcangelo di Romagna; the house itself, though in the comune, is 7 km SW of the town proper, in the frazione of Ciola Corniale.

8:30 or just past, the three of us were in the car on our way to Cervia, or more precisely when we got there, in a table-flat piece of wetland seemingly in the middle of nowhere about 2 km inland — hanging around near what to my untrained eye looked like a small industrial facility on a decrepit canal lined with a few small fishing huts, with curious net contraptions hanging from hooks a few feet above the water: I have no real idea of what those were, either. At any rate, it looked like the ideal place to drop off a bag of ransom money; but in a few minutes, a small crew of people appeared — Vincenzo a pal of someone, and he'd made a special appointment — to tour us thru the Stazione Saline di Cervia of the Parco del Delta del Po; which officially opens to the public only in May I believe, so this was an anteprima, a special preview for us, a dry run for them — and turned out to be a very pleasant and interesting outing, although I'da hardly imagined it from an advance description of it.

[image ALT: A wide expanse of water, dotted with round islets about the size of a serving platter and with a thin strip of land crossing it, maybe two meters wide at the most, from left to right across the photo, and in the far background a low shore on which can be seen, just barely, a multi-story building. These are the salt flats of Cérvia in Emilia-Romagna, Italy. The islets are artificial, and serve as nesting places for seagulls. The flats are described in some detail in the textt of this webpage.]

The salt flats of Cérvia. The building in the distance is the hotel mentioned in the diary.

One of the upper managers of the project, possibly the top man of this particular station, a man named Vittorio battling a cold, gave us a good orientation to the salt flats: history, salt production, natural reserve (focusing on birds). I had no idea a saltpan could be so complex: my idea was let sea water in, then closed the gates, let the water evaporate, then cart off the salt — nothing like that at all. The 835 hectares are cordoned off from the rest of the area by a perimeter canal some 14 km long, which among other more obvious functions serves as a barrier against fresh water: and within that, the whole surface, now a single unit of 9 lagoons but formerly 150 separate family-worked holdings, is a carefully designed course of water channelled and force-pumped into pans of greater and greater salinity, the raw salt water coming in via the canal at Milano Marittima at 3° Baumé and the salt precipitating at 27° Baumé, then mechanically harvested, packed — with a residual humidity of 2% quite unlike rock salt or artificially dried sea salt, it has to be packed in plastic else it'll corrode the boxes, also clump — and sold as a specialty salt, for which it is hoped that a DOC will eventually be created, but so far no DOC's yet for products not strictly agricultural. Because Cervia is so far N, the precipitation occurs slowly and can thus be controlled so that only the first fraction of mineral chlorides precipitates, which by good fortune is the sodium; since it's the oligominerals (magnesium, potassium, etc.) that give the sharper taste to sea salt, Cervia's salt is "sweet"; and in fact there are people experimenting with making salted chocolate with it, of all things.

The wetlands are very low-key industry, so can also form a natural preserve: various species of gulls (every evening about 20,000 gulls roost in the northern sector of the flats, but during the day many of them go as far as Milan and Liguria, finding it now easier to scavenge human wastes inland than to go fish in the Adriatic), flamingoes that migrate to Camargue and S Italy but also the much closer lagoons of Comacchio, the elegant and very aptly named cavaliere d'Italia, looking like an academician at a reception in honor say of the Belgian prime minister — stuffed in a case, Himantropus himantropus;​a etc. The bird part of our orientation by an earnest young man named Andrea who had to be gently reeled back in else we'd have been submerged in the particularities of all these birds — the man liked his birds — as with any enthusiasm, it communicated.

After this, and a gander (oops) at the rooms of the new learning center, pitched to kids mostly, not quite open, we all stepped — very carefully — into a rowboat: six of us plus the man in charge, Angelino, at the stern, steering; an almost noiseless motor, intentionally not to drive away any birds. Very very slow progress along the perimeter canal, boat very low in the water (Angelino said we were at maximum load) and unstable, tipping to either side and wobbling. Only a foot or so of water, but full of algae and it didn't look inviting, especially with camera. Normally there's no algae in the flats, but repairs this winter have caused the closing of the sea intake canal, so that the water is much less salt than usual, fed by rain; and in fact it was the algae that were clogging up the engine — we walked back from a bird observation hut. Issued binoculars, but just two species of seagulls: we watched a little mating display on one of the hundreds of artificial islands (couple of feet long) prepared for the birds to build their nests — not too success­ful, she wandered off — and left, with bags of complimentary salt, informational literature, etc. I would never have chosen such an outing, but it was fascinating: Cervia is already in Ravenna province, and these wetlands are thus part of the mucky landscape that I always malign when people ask me about visiting Ravenna and its famous churches, so it's really very odd that, a few kilometers from the jewels of Ravenna, I will not have seen them — I had no plans to, just not the time for it — but instead spent half a day looking at the muck: and enjoying it. Cervia, the old town, occupied a place in the middle of this swamp, but in 1693 to 1712 was completely dismantled and the stones carted off to be used on the coast to build the new town; but its location prominently marked by a single tall concrete building with a sign HOTEL. One of our guides, asked what's the appeal of a hotel there for gosh sakes? said that the rooms tended to be rented by the hour — but he knew this only by hearsay, of course.

[image ALT: A waterway, about five meters wide, of very still water, with occasional clumps of scum floating on it, from the foreground of the photo to the background, with high brush on its right bank and lower vegetation on the left, as well as a line of tall electric poles. It is a view of a peripheral canal of the salines of Cérvia, from a boat on it. The flats are described in some detail in the textt of this webpage.]

Saline di Cervia: the peripheral canal, from rowboat level.

Vincenzo thought lunch in Cesenatico would be nice, as it was: an attractive fishing port, big covered fish market where he bought dinner a large orange bearded fish called in standard Italian a gallinella — language can be utterly mysterious, looked nothing remotely like a small chicken, and surely it doesn't cluck or cackle — but that he knows from his native Sorrento peninsula as a coccio (he says from cotto, red brick — that, at least, does make sense).

We had lunch at a piadina place (Piadina della Titti) near the theater on the other side of the canal from the market: a bridge of course, but several blocks away, so we crossed the 20‑meter stretch of water (0E30 per adult, 0E15 per child) on a mechanized pedestrian ferry, a platform that reels itself back and forth across the water along submerged cables, guided by a driver in a glassed-in cab: never seen anything like it anywhere.

[image ALT: A close‑up view of a small fishing boat in a busy fishing port: a dozen other boats can be seen in the background; this boat's prow is prominently marked with two stylized eyes.]

In the port of Cesenatico, the so‑called Eye of Horus
protects a fishing boat against the evil eye.

The piadina place, I finally had an authentic one — behind the endless rewarmed fastfood of all those thousands of caffés across Italy there's a regional romagnolo specialty, made fresh: it's a meal, a somewhat crisp flat bread, two of them made into a sammich — I had a classic one, although dozens of fillings on the menu — fresh ham, a bit of tomatoes and something green, and a white cheese, something like cream cheese, called casatella; was good. We stopped at a second place for coffee — I had a cappuccino and a curious acquavita di arancia which probably also had vanilla in it, not bad.

I see I've skipped a stop at the cemetery of Cesenatico, which we didn't even have to go looking for, presenting itself to us as Vincenzo drove in. He stayed in the car — he said he'd just get choked up — and Karen and I went to find the grave of Marco Pantani poor kid.​b

Well Cesenatico is a big place, and the cemetery, in addition to family tombs, is several hundred yards of walls and loculi, in five rows; all I knew was that we weren't looking at the top or bottom row, and that the basic color was white; Karen sensibly figured there'd be unusual masses of flowers, which turned out to be true. We wandered thru several blocks of these walls bright with color and scented with that mix of mostly fresh flowers — about 5 minutes until we saw two bicyclists, in gear and with bicycles; at first we followed them, but they too were in fact lost and stopped a cemetery employee for directions. Germans, their Italian was minimal, but I led us all there. There was a little knot of people, a mass of flowers on the ground, all very sad poor guy, lonely and not finally too bright; plus of course people love him now, but despite the "Pirata" fans and the media and all, the people near him — or rather, there weren't any.

[image ALT: A view of a group of identical square stone recesses, each of them about 75 cm on a side, handsomely finished and most of them filled with flowers and electric votive lights; in five rows and clearly continuing off-camera right. A large mass of flowers lies on the floor in front of them. It is the gravesite of bicyclist Marco Pantani in Cesenatico, Emilia-Romagna, Italy.]

[image ALT: A square plaque about 75 cm on a side, carved with a small central cross and including two photographs, one the same size as the cross, under which a votive candle sits in a holder. It is inscribed 'MARCO PANTANI' and a pair of dates not readable in this photo. It is the grave marker of bicyclist Marco Pantani in Cesenatico, Emilia-Romagna, Italy.]

Marco Pantani
13 Jan 1970 – 14 Feb 2004

After Cesenatico, we went home via Vincenzo's workplace — a huge modern industrial park, mostly windowless buildings but his office does have a window thank goodness — and the nominal reason for this excursion in the first place, that bridge at Savignano.

Well, they have a bridge, and it's undoubtedly Roman, although in poor shape (worse than I thought: I knew it'd been much restored, but none of the arches is intact, the Roman blocks having been reassembled in a modern concrete matrix, at least one of the piles completely reconstructed of modern stone, neat courses of small squared blocks, and the entire roadbed and coping quite new — if attractive); and they have a monumental statue of Julius Caesar at one end; but the river is so small — it can be jumped across — that surely most of the ten or twenty parallel fiumicciatoli (the word for the day) within a very few miles of here, all N of Rimini, can be no smaller: thus there can be no claim of preëminence for this particular one that it should have been the border between Gaul and Italy; if this was the border, it's not because of the size of the stream. Vincenzo suggested the Rubicon might have been the Marecchia, which does become an appealing idea, although surely if it had been that close to Ariminum, the N edge of which was practically on the (now) Marecchia, at least one of the authors would have told us so. At any rate, having now seen the Rubicone, I'm even less convinced than before that it has to be the Rubicon.

[image ALT: A small bridge of stone blocks, comprising three round arches, the central arch of which spans a rivulet not more than about a meter wide. The bridge itself is about two meters wide. It is a Roman bridge, heavily reconstructed, over the Rubicone River in Emilia-Romagna, Italy.]

The Roman bridge of Savignano sul Rubicone.

Finally from Savignano to Sant' Arcangelo proper, where I hadn't actually been yet, and a slow wander up to the Campanun (15c or so, though much restored), around back behind the Rocca Malatestiana and down again to the main square​1 (fountain, arch in honor of Pope Clement XIV) and car and home, to eat the famous gallinella — truly excellent, sauce of I‑don't-know‑what and I‑didn't-ask, sopped up with Karen's focaccia, the best I've had so far in Italy, although she of course isn't completely happy with it. To bed, late.

Note in the Diary:

1 the piazza Ganganelli.

Later Notes:

a So the label, from my careful notes, and so also a few bird sites; but the proper name seems to be Himantopus himantopus.

b Marco Pantani was one of Italy's bicycling greats, who died suddenly, apparently of a drug overdose, in 2004.

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Page updated: 7 Dec 20