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Tuesday 13 April 2004

Sunday evening in view of the weather predictions — cold rain Monday but improving by Tuesday and Wednesday — and the need to take the occasional hot shower or bath, I decided to go on a 2‑day excursion wherever the holiday train schedule would take me with the least difficulty: in practice, PSG yesterday morning and a quick change to the Florence line to Arezzo; with the idea of staying overnight in Arezzo, then walking the 27 km to Anghiari if the weather were good, and Wednesday morning I have a sort of phone appointment with Ann's friend Karen who wants to drive me somewhere, though not early in the day: I'll call her this evening and see what she has in mind.

So, yesterday morning, 11:00 sharp, train arrived on time in Arezzo — kept company by a pair of Irish, possibly brother and sister (since he a priest), on a day trip to Florence and worrying unduly, as people will, about finding things, train schedules etc. Overcast, cold, light rain; at the train station, an APT with a sharp young woman who was quite able to shift gears when I asked the Duomo, not S. Francesco, but the old one:​a she said no one asked about that one, but she knew where to send me — a few hundred meters away, but in a sort of different world, since on the back side of the train tracks, and almost all of Arezzo is on the front side.

A depressing hour ensued, in which I found myself a hotel, 2‑star, the Astoria right in the v. Guido Monaco — glum, viewless, 1965 YMCA but it had a shower and the sheets were clean — then went hunting for the scant remains of the old cathedral in the park of the Colle del Pionte. Barely the ground plan, but a small church nearby with a plaque quoting a 16c author who describes how unhappy the people were when they started to wreck the old Duomo, and how he hoped God would forgive those who'd made the decision to destroy it.

[image ALT: A small grassy area with the chaotic low stone foundations of an old building. It is the ruins of the old cathedral of Arezzo in Tuscany (central Italy).]

The old duomo of Arezzo, destroyed in 1561 by order of Cosimo I.
The church is being excavated, if rather desultorily, and is fenced off: this is a partial view.

Getting back to the Right Side Of The Tracks, by a different route, not at all easy, and long, but via a university park and some areas under construction I eventually made it back into the center of town; by which time I was hungry and it was lunch time, and by sniffing my way around I bumbled into Il Saraceno, where I had one of the better meals of this trip: the place was packed, too.

I decided to give the rebollita another crack (plus the weather was perfect for a heavy soup), and had something that put the other one now years ago with James to shame, very good, as A; then some kind of little spinach-stuffed pasta in a truffle sauce, that too an A; a (large) portion of cinghiale con polenta, the polenta very good, very light, and the boar though in a tomato sauce, with pine nuts and juniper berries — a bit too salty but still a B; and a "Catalan cream", a sort of crème brûlée without the brûlée, rich but soothing after the cinghiale (which also had a fair amount of hot pepper in it); all in all an A-. Wide menu, good service despite the crowds, and although I only had a half-bottle almost pro forma, of Villa Banfi Chianti, a vast wine selection available: if I'm ever stuck in Arezzo again, a place to go.

And stuck is what I felt; I walked this ultimately excessive meal off very slowly towards the Borgo S. Croce and its church, then up around S. Nicolò to the Prato (the gardens behind the Duomo) with its hideous monument to Petrarch — which included a sample of just about every style: heroic nudes, medieval men in armor, neo-Renaissance kitsch, a bas-relief of a Madonna and Child, and various inscriptions, including ROMA CAPVT MVNDI (Wolfie had a slot as well) — then thru the Duomo, lots of Italians doing Pasquetta, finally S. Maria della Pieve and back to my hotel, where I fell asleep a first time immediately around 4:30, then a second time around 10 after watching some of the news and a few minutes of 102 Dalmatians, curiously titled "La Carica dei 102": the only thing worse than Glenn Close as a frosted cake was Glenn Close as a frosted cake jabbering Italian.

This morning, after yet another shower, I got to the same helpful APT, which gave me good information on the bus to Anghiari (9:50, arriving 10:36); and where to take it — a bus turnaround about half a block from the station, to the left as you look outwards — and had a breakfast of a cappuccino and two exceptionally good cornetti, like good French croissants, buttery, flaky, not sweet.

Bus ride thru beauti­ful country,​b no actual rain but the constant threat of it: the weather reports this morning full of black storm clouds and thunderbolts so I forwent my walk; and Anghiari at the other end an unexpected delight, starting with a fairly good hotel room at the Hotel Meridiana.

[image ALT: missingALT]

View of Anghiari.

The town has managed to tread the careful line between tourism and a live place; it's mostly late medieval on one hill, with fairly modern livable extensions along various roads. Most of the churches were open, and though none is astonishing in any way, they're all worth a look — and the Palazzo Comunale, referred to here as the Palazzo Pretorio, has a whole ground floor of frescoes including a "Cappella del Tribunale" with a whole assortment of nicely restored stuff, late 15c mostly I think.

[image ALT: missingALT]

The Palazzo Pretorio of Anghiari:
most of the little Cappella del Tribunale.

The Museo Statale Taglieschi (in the palazzo by the name of that noble house), 2E and no photography, full of interesting stuff, and deceptively large, too. My guide, a woman slightly younger than me, a good guide but quite lost when it came to Latin, quite surprised that the lone ancient Roman inscription was, no, not some undecipherable mystery — the tombstone of a sevir, presumably Augustalis. An interesting stone map of the republic of Cospaia, and an inscription that I thought was still in situ over either the church or the castello (I forget which) in Cospaia itself. I'll know tomorrow maybe.​c

I got out of this surprisingly interesting museum at 1 P.M., my only regret that I couldn't take these 3 photographs; and found myself a hole in the wall to eat: a good meal, too. Zuppa all' orzo, a slice of pizza with mixed vegetables, a bit of gratinéed tomatoes, ditto fennel, a half of local white, and a tartufo bianco affogato al Grand Marnier.

My post-prandial somehow took me out of town on the road to Ponte della Piera, at one point I even thought I might actually go there, but uncertain weather, a spot of drizzle at exactly the wrong time — since in fact it did not really rain — and after 1.5 km out I turned back: beauti­ful countryside though.

Sat a bit in my room, caught up with diary, then settled for the easiest thing for dinner, eating in the hotel's basement restaurant, an average but not unpleasant meal: ravioli, then some rather good strips of steak with a lot of rugola, artichokes, fries; a cheese plate (scamorza, smoked; parmesan with chestnut honey, good; pecorino with fig jam, also good); finally a dessert said to be an Umbrian Easter specialty, called cimiglia — damp kermes'd cake, nobody ever said Umbrian desserts were particularly good —. To bed, slept immediately.

Later Notes:

a This may confuse some — the current Duomo is in fact not S. Francesco either — because it telescopes what we actually said.

Me: Can you tell me where the old Duomo is?

Young lady at desk (knowing that the Duomo is S. Donato, formerly S. Pietro, but also knowing that most tourists are merely in a hurry to see the "famous" thing, a cycle of frescoes in S. Francesco): S. Francesco —

Me (interrupting): No, not S. Francesco, but the very old church, now demolished, that Guido would have known.

Young lady (not missing a beat): Ah! Very few people ask about that; you want to cross behind the railroad, to the Colle del Pionte. . . .

b Oddly, I failed to mention one of the more striking sights along the way: a perfectly maintained baseball diamond, bleachers and everything. Although now on the Web I find a baseball park just outside of Arezzo, home to the Baseball Softball Club Arezzo, the one I saw was well out in the country, more than halfway to Anghiari if I remember correctly.

c Yes; see, logically enough, the next entry.

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