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Wednesday 31 March 2004

The 0945 train to PSG just leaving Umbertide, eventually today to Terni; catching up.

All my trains Monday were on time until somewhere between Fabriano and Fossato, when there was a slippage of about 11 minutes; not much, but enough to make me miss the cross-train to Perugia by 4 minutes — the train goes on to Florence, you'd think it've wote. Still, not much harm done and I was home by 5 something, time enough to stock up at Angelo's: Angelo not there, and glad to see Arianna holding down the fort, since she'd been knocked out for a week by a toothache with several visits to the dentist.

Among my purchases, radicchio, about which Arianna and I'd talked a few weeks back: I'd told her I roasted it; she'd said she'd heard of that but had never even had any — so when I made mine, my frequent antipasto in the Vertical Villa and the great luxury of the trip, I crossed the piazza back to the alimentari with a demitasse saucer of the stuff and a fork: no customers in the store, she tried it, liked it, confessed she hadn't been grabbed by the idea, and asked me for the recipe . . . the sheer chutzpah of me giving lessons in Italian cooking to the owner of an Umbrian alimentari not lost on me, but that's never stopped me before.

Monday was gorgeous weather — blue cloudless skies — and totally wasted, spent the day on 5 trains and loitering in train stations. Yesterday was, according to various TV channels, supposed to pour buckets around here, but it really didn't look like it, and I decided, correctly as it turned out, to do a Circle One walk: train S one stop (2 counting Badia, but most of the time it's a runthru) to Pierantonio, walk W to Pantano, see if I can find the Etruscan tomb near Faggeto, then N home; depending on what I did exactly, 25 to 34 km: time to get back to some serious walking and to my Umbrian explorations.

Same 0945 train then — despite naturally waking up at 6-ish here, I'm increasingly stiff in the morning, and loll around at breakfast and watch the news on 2 or 3 channels — rather different — and a leisurely bath and so on and the earlier trains require firm and specific intention.

So I finally set foot in Pierantonio; to which there's less than meets the eye. Prominent on maps, looks big from the train, but a small place pretty much stretched along a single street, which parallel to the tracks produces that impression. I was even unable to find a church: a bell-tower capped with a cross, but not, that I could see, connected to a church. I did poke around town, although only on the W side of the tracks — but from the N to the S edge, no church.​a

Now the maps show two roads out of Pierantonio, one smaller to the S, the other bright yellow the main one; I of course headed for the S road, but checking as I always do to make sure I'm on the right one before launching off on miles and miles of no people to ask, I was told no, no, and sent off to the other; ditto at a caffé (cappuccino and pasta and actually left without paying — I'd been wondering when this was going to happen — but caught myself 50 yards out the door); thus passed thru the center of town twice: small market underway, and read the public bulletin-board, half of which was given over to photographs of illegal garbage dumps, a problem thruout Umbria, although it seems to be slightly less bad this year than in previous trips (maybe because this time my walks in the countryside are in less populated areas).

First stop, Ascagnano: small castle as per the handsome brochure put out jointly by the comuni of Lisciano and Umbertide. Mind you, I'd already been warned in Pierantonio that it was private property and I'd see nothing; which was true. I stopped at a nearby farmhouse, or rather at a farmhouse that, from the half-dozen cars in front of it, looked like it might be a business. It was, and the very pleasant receptionist told me yes, very private, and this in fact is the offices of the Ascagnano horse breeding concern, no, no website, no brochure; English racehorses.

OK; back a few hundred meters to the main road, a bit traffickier than I'da liked, but pretty: wide sweeping arc around bright green field followed by a tortuous and slightly rising passageway thru the hills not quite mountains, with a pretty stone manor at one point, almost certainly medieval, a wilder patch what's this? a stunning battlemented castle appeared suddenly round a bend, clean nearly white stone, almost Disneyland effect partly wiped out by giant yellow crane towering over it: crane must be the national bird of Umbria, Monday on the train I counted 4 over Spello. Behind the castle, a golf course — telltale sand traps, a bit unexpected.

[image ALT: A very large cubical 4‑story medieval castle with a square tower on the right one story taller, and separated by a few feet to the left, a 2‑story church with its projecting belfry. Over the whole, which includes various small outbuildings, retaining walls, etc., towers a gigantic crane. It is the castle of Antognolla near Umbertide, Umbria (central Italy), undergoing restoration or construction in 2004.]
Castle under construction.​b

Pantano/S. Giovanni del Pantano, in the comune of Perugia, I'm still not sure there might not be two places, one by each name; at any rate the place at the crossroads that I walked thru is S. Giovanni del Pantano. It's not big, maybe 100 inhabitants, in a bit of a clearing where the valley opens up, with three roads: the one from Pierantonio; the one to Corciano to my left; back to Umbertide to my right. The landmark is the church, stone, plaques and inscriptions of some interest, closed of course; on an upper terrace of an attached block of house, a woman beating rugs and putting laundry out to dry; at the foot of the belfry, a small orange bus, resting a few minutes at its turnaround. I asked the young woman driving the bus — crossword puzzles — how to get to Faggeto (since that's the road from which the Etruscan tomb can be found, supposedly), but the very name of the place, to her amusement and mine since after all I was the foreigner and she the transportation professional, quite unknown to her. So I hollered up a chiedo scusa to the woman doing her housework, and she knew pretty much, including about the Etruscan tomb. Thank you ma'am, followed directions, and within eight minutes I was lost, by good luck standing in front of a house with car at lunchtime — I actually rang the bell and, as very much as I dislike to do and almost never do, rousted husband and wife from their lunch: I was only very slightly off, had very slightly misunderstood the instructions, which were good. (From the road to Umbertide, after maybe 100 m, the very first road to the left, rising, with a couple of signs for an agriturismo or something of the sort; then some distance and "ad un certo punto" un bivio, a sinistra; again "ad un certo punto" a bivio, a destra; after which, a wood, an abandoned house, and the tomb "accanto".)

[image ALT: A village, sited at the approach to a pass between a low hill on the left and a steeper, taller rock cliff on the right; it has about 12 three- and four-story buildings, including a brick church with a square belfry. It is S. Giovanni del Pantano, near Perugia, Umbria (central Italy).]

Looking back at S. Giovanni del Pantano from the W (near the cemetery).

Headed off to follow this route; unfortunately the first crossroads, the left road was marked in no uncertain terms, no admittance, keep out, this means you: being American, I take this sort of thing seriously, and figured noone could have meant this turn, since not really a choice. A bit more — OK weather, pleasant landscape, no traffic at all — and I found a small road to the right that led to an abandoned house in a wood; took it, of course, reasoning that I must have taken the first road left after all without noticing it, and this was the second road, the one to the right. The house, very abandoned, was an attractive one, and might have been a convent once since there was a metal cross still on top of the roof; from it, in the distance (in the wrong direction) a castle — walked very carefully all around this house and looked "accanto" and even walked maybe 200 m of the road, but it was looking less and less Etruscan so to speak; conceding defeat, the 2 km or so back to the road to Umbertide.

The remaining 14 km,​c nothing much to report, other than about the first mile a conversation with a young man doing things to his house; said he was Venetian, Titian-red hair in flowing locks certainly went with that; eventually offered me a ride to Umbertide! which I declined with my usual "S'impara un paese colle gambe" but chalk another one up to generosity in these parts.

The road from S. Giovanni del Pantano goes thru no other town before reaching Umbertide, but it's an easy one and very little traffic, mostly a few trucks loaded up with gravel from one of several gravel pits along the way. And speaking of generosity, I stopped at one thinking I might refill my water bottle; no running water, but the man in the office gave me a 1½-liter bottle of the stuff, no, please, you don't owe me anything: thank you very much and — the guy was wearing overalls prominently marked "Scorpioni" — the inevitable boobyism, non sapevo che gli scorpioni fossero tanto gentili — I'm getting sententious in my old age —

Home at 5:45 bells; feet hurt a bit, but otherwise fine; I estimate my mileage at 29 km. Three drops of rain, quite literally, near the Badia, but then nothing. Putzed around in the house maybe half an hour, feeding Mr. White, indoors if you please, after which he settled on the couch and winked at me the way they do; downloaded photos to computer, etc.; then stepped out again, rested, to go find Simona then Angelo to see where I'd been, including the "Achtung! Nicht einkommen or you'll be very sorry" signs at the road I wanted to take; wonder­ful things these digital cameras: my instinct had been right, Simona telling me yes that's exactly where you should have turned, it's just two guys training dogs, anyone with two bucks can buy signs, this is Italy, noone pays any attention. She then gave me a very thorough, detailed, explicit set of instructions and descriptions for finding the tomb.

Angelo said why no that's not right at all, you should have been at S. Bartolomeo de' Fossi; I had the presence of mind, for once, to ask him to describe the tomb — and it's absolutely clear, not the same one: Angelo's is under­ground, Simona's is an aboveground free-standing stone structure with a stone door, still on its original hinges (whence the great interest of it); told each of them they'd benefit from getting together on this stuff — ci vuole un Americano —​d

So, despite the apparent failure of the day, feeling happy with myself, decided to take myself out to the Capponi: but to eat Sicilian, as advised last time. I did, and had a good meal, a B+.

Later Notes:

a one of my most puzzling lapses in years; see my page on the church of S. Paterniano, with photos. In the next paragraph mind you, I walk out of a caffé without paying, so I was in full form that morning.

b why I didn't give its name, who knows: at any rate, it's the castle of Antognolla (marked on maps as Antognola). I've since been told by a knowledgeable source that in fact the battlements are quite new, a fabrication of the current owners.

Amusingly, the International Herald Tribune, in an article on prostitution dated May 25, 2004, mentions that "So many Nigerian girls recently lined the approach road to the 13th‑century castle of Antognolla, said Antonietta Confalonieri, a local attorney, that investors interested in turning it into a luxury hotel took fright." For the record, walking that road on a cold grey day in March, I saw no whores and no investors.

In March 2008, the castle and its grounds opened as a very attractive golf course.

c Again inexplicably, the diary skips over that castle in the distance, no more than 500 m off my path back. I walked to it and looked at it inside and out; it's attractive and looks like it was a fairly important place when it was built. The young Venetian man the diary mentions told me it's locally referred to as the "castello del Vescovo", the bishop's castle, or the "castello del Cardinale". Here's a picture of it:

[image ALT: A small and very ruined stone castle, partly overgrown and invaded by vines and trees, with its 3‑story square tower on the right, against a landscape of mostly leafless trees. It is the Castello del Vescovo, not far from Umbertide, Umbria (central Italy).]

Approaching Castello del Vescovo from the W.

d I finally sorted this out back home in Chicago. The tomb reported by Angelo is indeed near S. Bartolomeo de' Fossi, at a place called Casa Sagraia: it's a chamber tomb minus its roof — in sum, a hole in the ground — and I didn't see it. The tomb reported by Simona is in an area behind S. Giovanni del Pantano called Faggeto ("beech forest"): it's a sort of stone sentry-box complete with a hinged stone door, and is thus of exceptional interest; I eventually did see it, and if I had to see just one of them, I lucked out, as it happens, and saw the right one. The pages, with 15 photos, are now onsite.

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