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Friday 16 April 2004

Hmm, and I forgot to mention in the last entry that on our way to Cospaia after lunch we stopped, quite some time too, in Monterchi, walking it pretty thoroughly, and seeing the obligatory tourist idol: here, a detached fresco by Piero della Francesca, of a pregnant Mary loosening a few buttons of her dress with an odd gesture; an unpleasant painting, though mostly because it was in an arched niche in which the composition made sense, but is now hanging flat inside a glass case. The entrance to this costs 3E10 per person, for which you get to look at this one fresco, and if inclined, read an exhibit about how it was restored; and there is an audiovisual thing as well: overkill, but it pays for the restoration — although the fresco doesn't even seem to have been in bad shape, just exposed to the eventual theft.

[image ALT: A painting of a haloed pregnant woman, standing against a quilted backdrop, with her right hand on her belly; an angel on either side pulls away a curtain. It is a fresco of the Madonna del Parto (the pregnant Madonna), by Piero della Francesca, in Monterchi, Tuscany (central Italy).]

Monterchi (Tuscany):
the Madonna del Parto, by Piero della Francesca.

Monterchi itself has a couple of streets, but was bombed in World War I, and much of the fabric of the town, if any, is hiding under 20c stucco.

Even more peculiarly, I didn't mention the highlight of the day, 2 arches of a bridge in the middle of a field near Sorci d'Anghiari — a very flat field next to a stream, obviously a flood plain, and the current banks of the stream are artificial, raised at least a couple feet — that Karen thought some said it was Roman. We trudged out into the field to it — the mud fairly dry — and inspected it very carefully: I saw no sign whatever that it might be Roman, from the brick arches to the rough masonry of small irregular stones drowned in thick mortar; my guess is 17c, with repairs as recent as late 19c or even 20c. It's nevertheless an attractive bridge and I hope people take care of it: there's a dangerously large tree growing too close to it —

[image ALT: A wide very flat plowed field, against a far backdrop of low hills; in the middle of the field completely isolated, a mostly buried two-arch bridge overgrown with weeds and even a 5‑meter-tall tree.]

Bridge at Sorci.

When we stopped at Karen's apartment, Karen dug out a book, a sort of quick sourcebook of "Roman and non-Roman" monuments of the Altotiberino, in which the author merely recorded that someone in 1930 called it Roman, and that in 1989 an investigation had been undertaken around it but with no finds: the author — kicking myself for not writing down the reference — says "attribuzione incerta".

(There: now I've caught up on our scattered excursion; one of the problems with seeing an area in a car, you hop around and there's no real guiding thread to hang everything on!)

At the end of the day, exhausted although I didn't do a blessed thing, but the nerves —

Yesterday was simple, and on the surface, rather similar to Wednesday's outing with Karen: I went places in a car, having been picked up and returned home. In fact it was quite different.

Jo Anne and her husband Cleve were early at the Bar Mary where we'd agreed to meet at 10; they weren't sitting at a table as I'd hoped they would — the whole idea was for the convenience of it — but sorta wandering around; still, I had a tiny spot of shopping and it was 9:50: got my parmesan at Angelo's then introduced myself. . . .

And off to Fossato di Vico. They'd already cased out the place almost on arriving, in the rain; yesterday was "fine weather", or what has passed for such one day out of ten: it didn't rain, and here and there thru the clouds a patch of blue; good enough. They'd gone by the Gubbio route; I took 'em the long way, via Montone to Gubbio, then behind via Scheggia, which is much prettier.

I stopped us at Purello on the off chance the church might be open and they might see [. . .] It wasn't and they didn't, but on the walk up to the church I noticed a doorbell name Rogo, the last name of Jo Anne's grandmother (the source of the whole trip for them, genealogical inquiries etc.), so I rang the bell on the off chance we'd get a lead. Niente, they said they was unrelated to any other Rogo; but Rogo did in fact turn out to be a name from Purello, even now: our next stop was at the comune in Fossato Alto, and the earnest young man in the anagrafe office took down the register for the year 1871, and zilch Agostina (Rogo or any other last name) born in 1871 despite Jo Anne's xeroxed Italian document stating 17 Jun 71, Fossato di Vico; but our young man said yes Rogo is a Purello name, there's still quite a few of them there.

We found Don Angelo's house (13, v. Mazzini) and got his phone number, but he wasn't in; I took 'em to the Barba dei Priori, which a year ago was bought by a new family — a woman who'd waitressed here now owns it — and renamed La Corte dell' Oca. It's not quite as cheap as it was, and a definite notch less good, but still a B: the antipasto platter was good and rather impressive, including some kind of hot soft runny cheese with truffles in it, also fried eggs (which in all these years I'd never seen on an antipasto plate, although admittedly I tend to skip the antipasto). A bottle of Arquata Adanti, Cleve liked it. It ran the three of us 60E; they insisted on hosting me — I'm glad I took us somewhere cheapish.

From there back to Purello in the hopes of talking with the priest there, who has separate church records: but (going to bug some poor guy in his garden) we found out that the guy caught a horrific flu a coupla days ago, sounds very much like what I had, and is flat on his back. I wandered us out to the Madonna della Ghea — this was my quiet little reward since I'd never actually seen the church — which was closed of course but is mostly the outside anyway; also a pair of fairly large windows gave us views of the inside, which ain't much. We also circled round and round until we found the little Roman bridge over the Riga: I found it much cleaned up, more readable and no nettles, and signposted recently, monikered "Ponte S. Giovanni — 1s av. JC", all of which is news to me: who knows, it may even be true.

[image ALT: A nearly square one-story stuccoed building with a continuous arcaded portico in the visible part, 5 arches along the front, 6 along the side. A slightly projecting gabled roof capped by a small cross, and in the rear, a two-story square belfry identify it as a church. It is the church of the Madonna della Ghea near Fossato di Vico, Umbria (central Italy).]

The church of the Madonna della Ghea near Fossato di Vico.

Back up to Fossato; Don Angelo doing the evening devotions apparently (although we went to S. Sebastiano, which would have been the main church when Jo Anne's grandmother was a young girl, and saw and heard nothing) — we left for Umbertide, the main road they knew, although I couldn't resist pulling us over at Camporeggiano in the hope that it would be open, since after all I'd heard it's regularly open; instead we found that it was closed, closed, closed, for restoration: although that, as often, merely meant that a mess had been made, some rotting signs put up, and everything was blocked off with fences, plastic tape, etc. God knows how long it'll stay that way; but right now, it's dead closed.

And they dropped me off Piazza XXV Aprile; I made sure they had all the information I'd picked up — there's a book, for example, on emigration from Fossato to the Americas, sold at the giornalaio at the station which — they really didn't have much luck — closes on Thursday — and then I disappeared into my 4‑story medieval hole with the hot water problems.

The hot water guy had been there (as I knew he would be) while I was gone, and it appeared to work: the burner lit up — for all of two seconds — then turned off. . . . So what, I reignored it, the simplest thing for my nerves.

A phone message from Edda; I called, she had salsa verde for me, and offered to drop it off: instead, I walked over and picked it up myself. During our social call — she sat me down and did the hostess thing, although I'm sure she had better to do — I petted Pilú (a very sweet dog) — I learned the word "marpione": Edda, a very good psychologist, said that's what I was when I went and saw the mayor — of which I had suspicions myself — Lord knows how one translates that, but she was 100% on target, ho fatto una marpionata al sindaco. . . . The salsa verde will force me to change my diet a bit: I'd thought tongue (al Ristorante Umbria a Todi) of course, but she said fish or potatoes too; I haven't been eating any of these three, but am looking forward to it —

And to bed.

Today, rain, nerves, a bit of expense, but finally it was alright. The weather report, as usual, was bad, and the sky this morning completely overcast and threatening rain, but I can't sit on my ass and do nothing this whole trip, so I made up my mind to go on my Valfabbrica walk, from Assisi/S. Maria degli Angeli to Valfabbrica, then probably not to Gubbio but to Gualdo instead and from there tomorrow afternoon make my way back home.

Train out of Umbertide at 1247, with two-minute change at PSG; and the schedules actually worked and I was in S. Maria degli Angeli at 1:35 P.M., light drizzle. Before walking up the hill to Assisi — from where the road, not very long, about 15 km to Valfabbrica — I went and peered at S. Maria degli Angeli again, mostly with the idea of taking photographs I don't have: but apparently the reason I don't have photos is that photography is forbidden. So I followed the channelled circuit thru the church then reëmerged to find outright rain.

I did walk up to the Porta S. Pietro, and stayed dry under the parka I bought last night in Umbertide (which folds up into itself as a marsupio, a clever idea): but hardly enjoyed it, and it seemed pointless to go on like this more than a dozen km to Valfabbrica running the risk of another 'flu and more lost days. At the Assisi information office when I told them I wanted to get to Valfabbrica — where I had a hotel reservation made this morning — their first reaction was to laugh at me, and their second to tell me Valfabbrica wasn't worth seeing; once we got past that, they came up with a bus leaving piazza Matteotti at 1705, then a 1h20m wait in Pianello to catch the last bus from Perugia, arriving me in Valfabbrica at 7:00 past — a pointless exercise, to go there to get there in the dark, and very likely (in view of the continued horrible weather reports) to leave straightway in the early morning. I took a cab, it cost me 30E.

Arrived at my hotel (nameless in the phone directory, and I only learned its name when I saw it, the Villa Verde) at 3, gave them my passport, borrowed an umbrella, and out immediately to see what there is to Valfabbrica. About an hour later I was back at my hotel, having seen three churches mostly modern, and some attractive bits of medieval tower and a pair of good 16c and 17c inscriptions; pumping my hotel keeper I found that the thing to see is the Romanesque church by the cemetery about 600 m or so from the hotel: and still armed with that umbrella I went out there and by good luck the key was in the door — and there was a neighbor who knew how the key worked — and there were a pair of frescoes, among several, that were definitely worth seeing, especially a very beauti­ful Cristo Morto, a Deposition (a fairly rare theme in Umbria). Valfabbrica is in fact a nice little place, if not much, but pity I'm slogging thru it in the rain.

[image ALT: A wall painting depicting the nude boy of a haloed man laid out on a table draped with a patterned cloth. Several people and angels weep over him. It is a Deposition of Christ at the abbey church of S. Maria in Valfabbrica, Umbria (central Italy).]

Pieve S. Maria di Valfabbrica (also, locally: the Badia), Deposition of Christ.

Dinner at the hotel at 7:30, a very plain and rather small meal, but not bad: a small plate of fettucini in tomato sauce, a veal chop, a lettuce salad, a commercial tiramisú; a half liter of white — I wanted a large meal, also a good bottle of wine, got neither but 'ts OK, I'm too fat anyway. To bed at 8:15, wrote diary, fielded a call from Karen — who seems to have been a bit worried about me maybe being on the road in this weather — and now it's 9:30 (church bells ringing) and I'm going to sleep. I think there's a bus back to Perugia at 0830 tomorrow; I suspect I'll go on to some other place rather than waste a day going back to Umbertide.

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