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Wednesday 14 April 2004

Today I had a date with Karen Fronduti, who seems really to have thought it fun to squire me around in places I'd find tough to get to: so to keep it simple for both of us, she picked me up at my hotel at 9:30.

We covered a lot of ground, but because mostly minor places, it didn't feel too much like ZoomTravel. I was wedded to no particular thing or place, but was glad we got to Caprese Michelangelo, also to Cospaia.

We started by peering at the Lago di Montedoglio from various places, an attractive artificial lake only about 10 years old, apparently created to ensure the increased water needs of the larger towns in the area, Arezzo and Città di Castello (this may be altogether wrong). Although it submerged a few beauti­ful bits of Roman bridge — Karen at a pitstop at her apartment at the end of the day showed me a book that had good photos of the now submerged stuff — the lake is beauti­ful. We stopped at a 1921 church in a "neo-byzantine" style, S. Maria della Pace at Sigliano, quite handsome, and already falling into ruin; we then backtracked to find the turnoff for Caprese; with a brief stop at a place called Manzi, a little chapel, very likely 19c but so hard to tell.

[image ALT: A stone church sitting on a low grassy rise. We see it from the back, a semicircular apse surmounted by a central cylindrical tower with a dozen or more arched windows; to the right and somewhat further in the background, a pencil-shipped belfry, the two stories of which (just below the pointed slate roof) are of brick and consist mostly of the wide archways to release the sound of the bell. It is the church of S. Maria della Pace, in Sigliano, Tuscany.]

S. Maria della Pace, in Sigliano (a frazione of Pieve S. Stefano)

Caprese Michelangelo is a walled castle compound with a stone house in the middle of it: Michelangelo was born there, so they saved the house. There's a projection room with a (loud) audiovisual presentation looping endlessly, and a few mildly interesting 18c maps of the town in a glass case: plus a single original picture, a very beauti­ful triptych by a 15c Camaldolese monk, who later made it to abbot. Other parts of the semi-ruined castle complex have modern sculpture, a room of plaster casts of Michelangelo sculptures, and some material on a 19c astronomer named Santini: all of this is the merest window dressing, though; the only real interest of the place is to see where Michelangelo was born, and the place itself is attractive.

[image ALT: A midsize two-story stone house, the main entrance to which is on the upper floor, accessed by a narrow staircase at one end of the building; that upper floor has three arched windows, and the ground floor has an arched door roughly the same size as them, and three irregularly placed much smaller square windows. It is the birth house of Michelangelo, in Caprese Michelangelo, Tuscany.]

The birthplace of Michelangelo.

Lunch in Anghiari, a good meal at the restaurant that had been recommended to me yesterday, called La Nena: Karen had a zuppa di pane, I had grilled meats, a sformato (vegetable timbale, very good); we didn't linger, but pressed on to Cospaia. . . . This last, as expected, of no interest at all — were it not that it was after all Cospaia: very hard to imagine the tiny strip of land staying independent for just short of 400 years! The inscription I saw in the museum of Anghiari seems to have been the original, now replaced by a 1920's-looking inscription, a disappointment.

[image ALT: A rectangular pond, partly obscured by a tall pine, with low hills rising behind it into the background. It is surround by plowed fields, woods, and vegetable gardens. It is near Cospaia, in Umbria.]

For nearly 400 years (1440‑1826), the hamlet of Cospaia and some surrounding fields were an independent nation of sorts: much smaller than Monaco — about the size of Vatican City — it lived off smuggling and tobacco. Peter Ustinov (in The Mouse That Roared) would have felt right at home; for the detailed story and more photos, see my webpage.

In this photo taken from the village itself, the top of the hill across from us is already no longer within the territory of the Republic of Cospaia; and I'm not sure about the pond.

Speaking of disappointments, Colle Plinio: Karen is quite mesmerised by the place, and up to a point it was infectious — I admit I'm now curious to go back and reread Pliny's letter, which I once read but have absolutely zero memory of — but finally it's a few shapeless rocks dug up in a field and fenced in: Karen restated a consensus I've seen elsewhere, that Pliny's villa is in fact a bit higher up in a grove under the villa of the Cappelletti family — rumors of mosaics and stuff there, but they've never given permission for digs: for which I can hardly blame them.​a

And with that, and aforesaid pitstop at her apartment, Karen drove me back home; during which it surfaced that my hot water problems had been enough to spark e‑mails with Ann and calls to a plumber — at which point I told Karen about my third strike on the hot water; and arriving here, who but Irene, poking around in another house near Ann's — upshot is that tomorrow, whether I'm in or not (and I don't expect to be), that poor heater guy will be back: plumber refuses to deal with the situation, saying that water just doesn't disappear — my worry would be that the leak really does exist and that it's going into a wall somewhere —

Later Note:

a Excavations have continued, and brick stamps have been found making it virtually certain that this was indeed Pliny the Younger's Tuscan villa: for full details, and some photos as well, see the excellent page at Key to Umbria.

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