Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail: Bill Thayer 
[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

Wednesday 3 March 2004

Yesterday a rather slow day finally; slow breakfast with the morning news, threw on my best clothes to go to the Comune and make my appointment, just in case I wound up seeing the mayor immediately — Angelo at the alimentari asked me if I was getting married, so I guess I look OK.

The phone saga, at last, ended in victory. When I woke up, I had "nessuna rete" on the old card, so per instructions I put in the new, which insisted I needed to insert a card: I took it out, put in the old, and now it too told me I had no card; I did this several times and in the store Angelo solved the problem: you have to turn the phone off when you do this — and presto, I have a phone.

At the mayor's office, Mrs. Mariolina (Cipriani) said not today, but I'll phone you with the appointment (which sure enough she did, a voicemail on the phone: for 10:45 this morning). Then I got on the phone, first to Irene, getting her husband — she still hasn't got back to me, although I certainly didn't make anything sound urgent: on the other hand I do have to fill out the police paperwork, also it would be nice to find an adapter for my camera battery recharger, since I'm now on my first spare as of yesterday afternoon.

Also called Karen Fronduti — quite American-sounding, and mystery cleared up, she's a Fronduti of Città di Castello, only distantly related to those here, some of which she once met here, in the clothing business. I'll probably go to Castello (the local shorthand for Città di Castello) next week and say hello. I asked her to pass back to Ann my good news about the house and the cats, since they're in frequent e‑mail contact. At around 5 P.M. here, when it was a decent time in the States, I did call James and then Ann, in the latter case getting their answering machine.

So after the alimentari (eggs, wine, honey, grappa, bananas) and the phone calls, off I went, crossing the Tiber under clearing skies though still pretty cool; first stop a visit, what visit one can, of S. Francesco. The church is in total interior reconstruction: a big space, very wide tall nave with metal scaffolding down both sides and spotlights, and at least two or three workers doing things up there; a single side aisle, some huge oil paintings over altars shrouded in plastic sheeting, a few bits of frescoes — a St. Paul and a St. Christopher I think fairly damaged and cast over with plaster dust — and an apsidalº chapel which will be beauti­ful when the church is cleaned up again.

Pit stop at the caffé in Piazza Gramsci (the train station square): cappuccino and a small square of poisonously green marzipan-covered génoise, 1E90; and on my way at around 11:30, to Montecorona, with the idea maybe of seeing the abbey then up the hill to the Eremo, back down and around to S. Giuliana and Ascagnano.

First surprise on nearing the still unseen Badia, after about 2 km of asphalted pedestrian and bike path along the main drag to Perugia thru a zone of mid-to‑light industry, one of these innumerable roadside shrines, except this one dated 1480, and a nice fresco of Mother and Child, under glass now and the whole edicola propped up with a couple of two‑by‑fours.

[image ALT: Part of a fresco, seen from below at a sharp oblique angle, of the Madonna and Child. She sits on a wooden throne, behind which on either side a praying angel. It is a detail of a wayside shrine near Umbertide, Umbria (central Italy).]

Madonnina across from the Podere Palazzo Rosa, at Badia di Umbertide. (Considerably fuller information in my somewhat more formal webpage here.)

A bit further (road signs gave out, but followed a sign "Ristorante l'Abbazia"), nice wide fields and an attractive Umbrian farmhouse — then realized that away from this farmhouse that appealed to me, on the other side of the road and farther away, unfortunately S and thus against the sun, the Badia itself.

At the abbey complex itself, round and round — lots of little side doors looking very closed — then into an annex and surfacing inside the restaurant by a back door whose front door I'd avoided. Nothing like walking into a restaurant at around lunchtime to tell them you're not eating (at least not yet, the place was empty as it was 12:30) but please, how do I get into the church? Maître d' tumbling all over himself to be helpful, it's open, two of those side doors I'd skipped: it's a regular parish church (which wouldn't prevent it from being quite closed, mind you).

Well not those doors, but another: into the crypt, a beauti­ful pillar-forested Romanesque space, many if not all the columns and capitals spolia of Roman stuff — I wonder what and where? — with some of the vaults painted, probably no earlier than the 18c, but quite pretty. Camera quite wonder­ful, way better than I'd thought, taking good photographs in very dim light; I used the church as a place to experiment with flash versus no flash, camera settings etc.: turns out that most of the time by far the best results are no flash, and if it tells me anything slower than say ⅙ of a second, just pump up the ISO and I get good steady pictures with good detail — whereas the flash significantly alters the colors, and for carved stone flattens it out and whitens it so badly as to give me those photos I have from previous years, washed out and not useful; I'm pleased as punch with this camera.

[image ALT: A crypt-like space with three aisles of vaults springing from pillars; a long narrow carpet extends to the background, where there is an altar. It is a view of the interior of the lower church of the abbey of S. Salvatore di Montecorona, near Umbertide, Umbria (central Italy).]

S. Salvatore di Montecorona: the lower church.

Upstairs a large space in the Lombard layout with raised presbytery, frescoed triumphal arch (an Annunciation like in S. Claudio in Spello, except less well preserved and probably not really restored yet).

About 1h15 later I reëmerged, nearly 2 P.M. — lunch felt like a good idea (I'd scanned the menu and it looked reasonable) so lunch it was al Ristorante L'Abbazia,​1 in a large pleasant brick-vaulted room, probably 17c: the day's menu 16E00 ('Mpastonata ai fagioli con puntarelle di maiale e il loro sugo — three balls of polenta in a good tomato sauce with bits of pork, B+; filetto di suino alle prugne con cipolline in agrodolce — three thin slices of rolled pork with a dab of prune in the center, and next to them the said pearl onions, C+ since the mix, though standard enough and could have been very good, never blended nor sharply played off each other — not thought thru and needs work) although I was hungry and preceded that by a zuppa di ceci e di castagne, solid B+; olive oil for adding as I liked — not Trevi by any means: although not bad it was a bit sharp. With this a small glass of red — perfect for the middle of the day and walking — I think the label was Fontanella, an IGT Umbria bottled by Gorelli? in Perugia, OK. Dessert also added, eager maître d' surprised me with a tris — tiramisú of the house (B), chantilly ai frutti di bosco (A-), and "semifreddo di 'crescionda' al brodo di gallina con salsa al cioccolato" absurd nomenclature of which — yes, that's chicken broth in there, quite undetectable, I tried — conceals a gummy brownie even to the slight crust (B+ despite itself). Coffee and out the door for 26E00 service included, although not before palavers at the door, mostly with distinguished old gentleman, Prof. Gervasio Celestini, retired maths professor, CEO of the large chain (SAI) of similar restaurants and agriturismi in Umbria and Tuscany, and sits on the board of some cultural organization, didn't quite catch what,​a for the comprensorio altotiberino: who in addition to being a distinguished regional figure also erudite I think well outside his mathematical field, despite low-key about it; he tipped me off to another useful place to spend time in PSG, a large bookstore, logically called Libreria Grande, with important selection of books on Umbria down to the monograph level. (I'll have to go look but don't have any money, and really don't need to be carrying more books in Suitcase.)

Unevent­ful walk back starting at exactly 4:00 — bells at Montecorona — and ending at exactly 5:00 — bells of S. Giovanni as I crossed the Reggia here (these latter taped); not that the 4 km takes an hour, but that I spent fifteen minutes visiting the modern church of Cristo Risorto (which with the Collegiata and S. Maria della Pietà is the third active church in the parish), which is one of the more success­ful modern churches I've seen, good iconography all centered on the resurrection: I especially liked the Escher-like bas-reliefs on either side of the main door, where the skeletons of fish gradually turn into live fishes then into doves ascending — and in the center of one of the fish, a little man: a beauti­ful representation of Jonah in the whale and a wonder­ful explanation of scripture, rich in associations; Booby liked it.

[image ALT: The exterior of a modern concrete and glass church with something of the lines of the Sydney Opera House. The belfry is separate, at a distance of a few meters. The whole sits on a platform raised above the street level in a rather empty modern neighborhood; the platform is accessed by stairs and a long gradual ramp. It is a view of the Church of Cristo Risorto in Umbertide, Umbria (central Italy).]

Church of Cristo Risorto, Umbertide.

Last item of the evening, after my phone calls to the States, checking with the Libreria Gulliver in the v. Cibo just off the piazza, and sure enough they had succeeded in finding a single-volume TCI Atlanta Strada, 1:225.000, better than my Deagostini at home except for slicing places down the center binding (looseleaf by the way so it lies flat, but that too is just a bit worrisome). Young man at desk, the husband of the woman I saw the other day, seemed faintly amused at voluble Bubichino scorching the Italian language and interested in maps — They have the local IGM maps, Umbertide (W, includes 90% of the comune and on to Lisciano and then some) and Gubbio (E), Umbertide itself being on the line; at 15E a pop. If I bought either one, the first thing I'd do would be to photocopy segments to put in my camera bag for the day's walks; I'll consider the expense. Did buy a 1:100.000 map of the Valle d'Aosta, an Umbrian cookbook, and a yellow highlighter total 33E70. Spent a lot money yesterday; today I hope I can spend none at all. Notice happily that this morning the euro was below $1.22 (a drop of 2p since yesterday, there was murmuring a few days ago about the European Central Bank, maybe they did something).

OK, 9:40, time to get in gear.

(While the pasta is cooking for lunch — trying to make the best use of my time, so far I get a B- as long as I'm grading people)

Got to the comune at 10:35 — the piazza filled with the Wednesday market, mostly fresh fruit and vegetables — made myself known and sat down: or rather, immediately got up and after asking if it was OK, photographed the waiting room, the 17c ceiling, the 16‑18c portraits, of matching size over the centuries, and all very somber and official.

At around 10:55 they sent me in to see the mayor, Dr. Gianfranco Becchetti, in his equally frescoed beauti­ful office. Florid-complexioned man with glasses, probably five to ten years younger than me, who seemed actually to be interested in what I'm doing here — I told him right off that I hoped I was affording him five minutes of relative rest, since I had absolutely nothing to ask for, and needed nothing, just a courtesy call since after all I'm going to be living here for three months, basically their guest, plus he might find it useful to know what I was doing here. He started by asking me my profession, and when I told him that by profession I was a technical interpreter specializing in metalmeccanica et sim., I right away learned that they make the pedals for Ferrari's here, not only fabricate but much of the design process as well, which is interesting; then I told him I was embarking on my second childhood (!) the way Americans so often do, heading back to what fascinated me as a young man: antiquity, Roman roads, old stones etc.

I showed him the Umbertide and Umbria pages of Tentacle-Baby, and the places in the TCI Umbria and in the Deagostini where each one gives the wrong date for the name of Umbertide (instead of 1863, the TCI has "1683", a simple typo of course; amusingly, the Deagostini builds on the mistake, with "1638" — showing that they grabbed it from the TCI (without checking) then made their own further transposition error!) Told him I hope to be more careful and accurate.

Much to my surprise, he gave me a copy of "Umbertide nel secolo XIX" by Renato Codovini and Roberto Sciurpa, published by the Comune itself, 500pp of book with a most handsome cover showing the cattle and sheep market just below the Rocca where there is now a parking lot — mostly Chianine — and explained that for Umbertide the 19c was the important century in so many ways; behind his desk, framed, a note from King Vittorio Emanuele (II) to the town of Umbertide, signed 1863.

And off I went with the Mayor's permission as well to photograph the Sala della Giunta and the Sala del Consiglio on my own; and his injunction to come back and see him before I left.

I did do a little photoshoot of the handsome Sala del Consiglio and the adjacent smaller rectangular room connecting it with the Mayor's office; the Giunta, however, went into session as I left — Wednesday is market on the piazza, Giunta in the Comune — but I have a rain check.

Can't believe this is the same Booby who sits in his office in Chicago pretty much of a recluse, scared to leave the house and very unkeen on talking to people —

By now it was 11:45: no doing of mine, since I was completely prepared to leave after 5 minutes, but His Honor asked me questions, toured me thru the suite of historic rooms, gave me a little primer on the history of the town center — apparently my characterization of the Reggia on my site as it now stands, for example, is not quite as much of a mistake as I thought after 2 days here: though the river channel the way it is now is not medieval nor a moat, in fact the Reggia used to pass right at the foot of the walls, most of which were demolished in the 19c, and the centro storico was indeed encircled by Tiber and Reggia and moat; the Reggia gradually being moved to where she is now.

Home, lunch: pasta, olive oil, garlic, a few olives, a bit of bread and cheese.

Left the house again at around 1:10, not certain, as usual, where I was going, thinking maybe Polgeto and Romeggio; but I didn't see any unambiguous sign for anything that way on the northward road to Castello, and that road does go to Niccone, so would you believe I finally got to Niccone today: hardly much of a place, at least from an art and old stones standpoint, since it's quite vibrant, houses prosperous, large grade school. A church of maybe 1940?, S. Maria del Carmelo, that looks better to the camera than to the eye — concrete — providing me with the icon for the town; and from there off to find Montemigiano.

First man I asked, scowled, muttered something half under his breath and turned his back on me, the first time that's ever happened to me: seemed deranged poor guy. Second man tried very kindly to be helpful, but in a North African accent confessed he had no idea and did I know what it might be near? Third was the charm, although I then misinterpreted his instructions, realizing it not too too late, only about 500 m past the turnoff; I checked at the office and sales point for I Girasoli di Sant' Andrea, producers and sellers not of sunflower anything (that I could see) but of wine, with vineyards across the road in neat numbered plots of long quincuncial rows of concrete stakes. All this on the road to Mercatale (about 15 km from Niccone) which I retraced the 500 m then to head N uphill: I'd spotted a nice stone belfry with an attached hamlet, and had wondered if that was it; it was. Hill not long, but fairly steep, a bit of a sweat, meno male; and into Borgo Montemigiano.

[image ALT: A flock of about 40 sheep, a half dozen of whom are lambs, staring at the camera against a landscape of well-nibbled meadow and distant hills.]

On a cold winter afternoon, a flock of sheep, looking at me
and at something else.

The place is spotless and all stone, basically a single street roughly two blocks long with immaculately rehabbed houses most of them with matching window curtains or shades. A woman just leaving by car, pounced on her before she did — no other sign of life — asked her if she knew a Signorina Deborah; she said that rang no bells, but all Americans here, maybe her husband would know, he'd be out back, and she left.

Well I don't like to bug people nor extract them from their houses like a first course of snails, so gingerly tiptoed near house, saw noone, and made to leave town, halfway out in fact when a man emerged, not much older than me: pounced again. We talked a bit, then he dashed into the house — I've absolutely got to do something, he said — and 20 seconds later wouldn't I come around the back, I'm cooking greens, do it outdoors, you know how they stink up a house; I yammered a bit, he told me how the town came to be — finally inviting me in for coffee, OK, delighted thank you — how he was born here but the rest of the houses (except for his own where we were sitting) had fallen into ruin, but an Italian orchestra conductor, orchestra in Denver, Colorado, bought it all up, restored it and sold out parcels apparently as timeshares, so each house has multiple owners, all American and most of them from Colorado: nobody here yet. (Today was the first perfectly beauti­ful day since I got here, 90% sunny, not too cold either; I can well understand how Coloradans might prefer, snow for snow, to take it on the chin in Aspen rather than in the Altotiberino.)

Edged myself out the door not wishing to wear out my welcome; my host Angelo made me copy out my site address, I also gave him my local coördinates you never know, petted his two pretty dogs again (matching set of low-slung little blackies, one larger and pushier, the other very affectionate), and, telling him I'd likely see him again in May quando viene la Signorina Deborah, we parted.

[image ALT: A small town, dominated by a tall square tower and a large octagonal church, seen thru the trees bordering a river. It is a view of the Tiber River and Umbertide, Umbria (central Italy).]
The Tiber River and Umbertide.

Eventless walk back home, not a single real stop, although about 2 km by road from Umbertide I had the presence of mind to recognize a beauti­ful photograph, the Rocca and S. Maria della Reggia close together by a trick of perspective with a very rural Tiber snaking towards them — all of it an artifact of perspective and a power­ful telephoto but I was right, out of an otherwise rather average landscape at that particular point I picked a beauty of a photo. The walk home took 1h10m; total mileage for the day, estimated 8 km out, 7 km back, so 15. Am starting to hurt less; and a pleasant surprise this evening, not sure it'll last of course: a trick knee (nasty novelty for me) that started about 3 days before I left Chicago and was rather bad in the constant staircases in this house — the Vertical Villa, a previous denizen called it in the house's logbook that I just looked at this evening — suddenly after dinner I went up the stairs with not a trace of discomfort. I hope I get rid of it permanently, of course, since I really have to start walking soon.

Dinner, not too hungry, so odds and ends: radicchio, bit of bread with last salsa primavera, small glass of red, dab of Tufino, 2 bananas for the potassium plus they're starting to go.

Burned my second CD tonite; first was last nite, very easy, they check, etc.

Tomorrow, Rome; train at 0705, simple changes put me at Termini around 1115. I just called Dean, but no answer. Now a little glass of grappa, hope my clothes (washed this afternoon) dry in time for tomorrow's departure, read a bit of Umbertide nel secolo XIX, and to sleep.

Note in the Diary:

1 tel. (075) 941.18.10

Later Note:

a Confesercenti Regionale dell' Umbria.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 7 Dec 20