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Monday 8 March 2004

Today was supposed to be bestial weather, with snow in central Italy as low as 200 m and in spots on the coasts (and in fact last night it actually snew here outside my window, big gloppy clumps falling mixed with rain), so it wasn't a day to find myself out in the countryside miles from anywhere: I set out for Città di Castello by the 9:06 train, a twenty-six minute trip; and wandered around the place until I'd had enough — I like it even less now than I did in gorgeous weather with Peter and June seven years ago — and left at 2:08, back home at 2:45 (3E30).

Castello's not that bad, really: the old center is much larger than that of Umbertide, maybe four times as large — but a lot of brick plus what stone there is is that sandstone I guess it is that wears so poorly, so that buildings built good only 250 years ago are spalled and decrepit. They also seem to have gone thru a period of Jacobinism — almost every coat of arms in town appears to have been intentionally defaced. The Jacobinism if any (I have no real idea of the town's history) is understandable: endless convents and churches everywhere, although at least one dates to after the Regno d'Italia. Morose Booby doggedly doing morose streets under morose weather; and, to be fair, being rewarded: one door I tried, a convent of "Clarisse Urbaniste" which inevitably suggested town planning and I can't rid myself of the idea but must surely have something to do instead with one of the Popes Urban: the uncloistered entrance room had some good frescoes though pretty damaged; and not far from there I fell on what appears to be the last remnants of (labelled: commemorative plaque, 1993) the Synagogue, merely "1390‑1592" — no explanation what happened in 1592 but I have a feeling I don't want to know.

Most of my time then, spent seeing things I'd not seen in my brief pass thru in 1997; but I went back to the Palazzo Comunale, now that I have almost unlimited "film" plus a much better camera, and re-shot some inscriptions already on my site, but also photographed almost everything else in that room: unfortunately a number of the better Roman inscriptions are under the windows and thus very strongly backlit, still very difficult to capture.

While I was in the main room, I think it's the Sala del Consiglio, some people were assembling in a neighboring room: I peeked, and an efficient-looking woman of about 40 said hi, I'm the mayor and we're going to have a meeting in here (the Sala della Giunta) in a second but do take a peek; thank you Madam Mayor and a huge canvas, as she herself volunteered, not very good, of St. Lawrence being affixed to his grill — click, out.​a

[image ALT: An oil painting of a crowded scene in a tall vaulted hall: a near-naked man is being placed on a bed-like grill, while a seated robed man on a dais at the far right motions with his right arm, attendants prepare a fire, a group of a dozen people look on, and a naked angel gesticulates from up near the ceiling. It is a painting of the martyrdom of St. Laurence in the Town Hall of Città di Castello, Umbria (central Italy).]
Town Hall of Città di Castello: Martyrdom of S. Lawrence
by Vincenzo Barboni, a native of the city (1802‑1859).

Further good luck in the adjacent Duomo. The side entrance to the crypt was open, as appears to be the practice, and I'd been in there last time and remembered some of it; but as I was minding my own business quietly a large rather noisy group of Italians came swinging thru and a sacristan opened them the upper church (up a very narrow stairway), which I'd not seen: I of course mingled with the group. As I've been noticing a few times recently, as in the Sala Comunale of Corciano, most Italian visitors don't look, they talk to the guide or caretaker (although with practice one can get a good impressionistic sense of things that way). The upstairs of the Duomo is, well, large. Nothing particularly old, nothing terribly good; the dome and the ceiling of the choir is pleasant in a decorative way, especially considering how very large they are.

[image ALT: An upward view of the dome of the cathedral of Città di Castello, Umbria (central Italy). It is circular with a central circular window, and ten square windows around the drum of the vault; and frescoed with dimly distinguishable Christian allegorical subjects.]

The dome of the cathedral of Città di Castello.
The fresco work is by Tommaso Conca (1792).

At any rate I now have a far better idea of Città di Castello; and I got a spot of shopping done, as well: the post office was open (since my arrival the first post office I'd seen), letters for the US up to 20g (i.e., if I wish, two folded sheets of the type I bought the other day, making an 8pp. letter) for 0E80. Mailed James's, in my camera bag just waiting for the first post office, and bought 10 more 60+20c pairs of stamps.

Also before my train, found a supermarket open a couple blocks N of the station: bananas, yogurt, and COOP's potato gnocchi 500 g in a plastic bag, on a good sale; total 3E77, with bananas about $2/lb.

This still left me twenty-plus minutes at the station to kill; I caved in and sat down, a cappuccino and an apple-filled pasta, 1E80. Eventless train ride back, this particular run ends in Umbertide and full mostly of teenage boys. All day low to very low clouds, in the morning fogs at 350 meters, i.e. only about a hundred meters high at Umbertide; but no rain and not very cold.

Back home, transferred photographs and burnt a CD; made lunch of gnocchi, tomato sauce (just tomatoes, oil, garlic: surprisingly sweet, and I need to set some basil at least), salad, yogurt.

Went out again at just past four, to my alimentari to get limoncello and pear juice (7E50); long conversation with Angelo who I know now was born in 1957 — dramatic account of his extremely serious illness at age 3½, surprisingly interesting — accounts of illnesses usually are not (as I must strive to keep in mind as I slither into decrepitude slowly yielding to whatever malfunction will kill me); but also a ruin Angelo believes to be Etruscan, complete with what sounded like good instructions for finding it; insights into life in the Italian army at the peak of the Brigate Rosse when he was serving; medieval history of the hospital tradition of Umbertide: and Angelo is not exceptional — imagine a small-town grocer in Illinois knowing our history that well!! Angelo presented me with — Suitcase . . . . — a book: Umbertide, L'Opera di Francesco Mavarelli (whose palazzo I overlook from this house by the way, across the way near the Piazza S. Francesco if I got it right), which is for the most part a reprint of his two works (he died very young, blew his brains out a few months after marrying): Notizie Storiche e Laudi della Compagnia di Disciplinati di S. Maria Nuova e S. Croce nella Terra di Fratta, 1899; and Dell' Arte de' Fabbri nella Terra di Fratta, 1903.​b Endless Umbrian generosity.

Finally — despite appearances, the day's been productive — my blue felt pens down to one, I went scouring about for them, the nice young man at the Libreria Gulliver gave me the clearest instructions for a large commercial stationer's Buffetti, in which he managed not to mention that they're a block from Cristo Risorto. I walked out there, and lo! they had about two dozen: I bought six, or rather — Umbrian generosity or quantity discount? — bought five and was given the sixth, pleasant woman of about my age behind the counter, my guess one of the owners; I told here that just before I go back to the States I'll swing by and buy a good supply from her since they can no longer be found at all in Chicago.

Home, the tail end of a quiz show I rather enjoy ("Passa Parola" on channel 5 — I never get the Italian popular songs, soccer or politics, but get a lot of the rest and learn some interesting words too), two yogurts, bed with a bit of limoncello.

Forgot to mention the parish priest Don Pietro again at the alimentari, who'd gone and poked around on my site, and wondered how to access — of all things — Vitruvius; and, in piazzetta, leaning out of her car, Simona of the tabaccaio on piazza Matteotti, with beauti­ful liver-spotted setter Teddy, we'd talked a few days ago about long walks in the area, and she too believes she's seen something Etruscan, in a forest near Pantano: and somehow I trust her intuition (not certain yet about Angelo's) — so stuff to do; to say nothing of reading all these books people are giving me. I do intend to have absorbed enough of each to demonstrate to the parties concerned that I've read them — plus of course each is of definite interest in itself: the third, can't remember whether I'd mentioned it in this diary yet, was Trevi de planu (Arte, storia, natura, usanze e tradizioni della valle trevana) which I finally cracked last nite, to find in the introduction:

"Un' idea importante proposta da Franco Spellani nell' ambito dell' attività dell' Associazione Pro Trevi, alla quale abbiamo aderito con entusiasmo.

"Ringraziamo, quindi, la Pro Trevi per l'occasione che ci ha offerto, con una menzione speciale per il Presidente, Dr. Luigi Andreani, e per i Vice-Presidenti — nonché carissimi amici — Sandro Verzari e Franco Spellani. Per quest' ultimo, evidenziamo, in particolare, come, lavorando insieme per portare avanti la sua idea, sia diventato a pieno titolo coautore di questo volume."

and in the very first few pages that follow, an approach to the basic question determining the Via Flaminia in these parts: exactly what was the altitude above sea-level of the Lacus Umber? They settle on a consensus figure of 219 m. (In fact the first thing in the book was a fold-out map, and before reading anything I spent ten minutes looking at it, wondering about that, and concluded tentatively 221 m). So Franco once again has read me very well. . . . I think this week or next I should go over there and walk the area, book in hand but after reading thru it first.

Karen Fronduti called a couple hours ago: 4 P.M. no longer tomorrow but now Wednesday. Time to plan tomorrow's excitements and go to sleep; it's 8:55 already.

Later Notes:

a Those of you who've read E. F. Benson will remember Lucia dropping in on Duchess Poppy and taking a few photos: this is nothing like that, of course.

b The first of these two monographs, the Notizie Storiche e Laudi, is now onsite.

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