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Friday 30 April 2004

(Part 1 of 2)

Now four days to catch up on; fortunately, the first three are relatively fast I think to write up: Monday thru Wednesday my excursion to Porano combined with a circular walk from and to Allerona Scalo, thru Ficulle and Allerona — thus knocking down my remaining comuni to 4. Yesterday was a different animal, a pleasant car trip with Karen to Otricoli.

(Right now, I'm on the bus leaving Perugia Piazza Partigiani for Todi, 11:50 with arrival at 1315. Remains to be seen whether I can write in a moving bus — usually that makes me quite sick.)

I'd organized my Ficulle-Allerona walk, several weeks ago, because of train schedules and the availability of hotels (in Fabro Scalo but not Allerona Scalo), as two unequal halves, the shorter from the station (very limited schedules, most trains don't stop in Allerona, putting me there at 1:45 P.M. at the earliest) to Fabro Scalo and a hotel and the next day from there the longer half since I could leave much earlier, with my last possible train out of Allerona Scalo at 1642.

My visit to Porano, though, I'd put myself thru all kinds of hoops, but had never figured out how to do in a single day since I had to get to and from Orvieto from Umbertide (involving 3 trains each way) sandwiched around the walk to and from Porano from Orvieto Scalo (16 km) plus of course actually seeing Porano; so it looked like 2 days, plus with hotel difficulties, since there are no hotels or agriturismi in or reasonably close to Porano; and Orvieto hotels are expensive plus I'd still have to walk 16 km and visit Porano in half a day.

Three days of predicted probable good weather got me though to come up with the solution: gamble on finding a room in Porano, then, Day 2, walk to Orvieto Scalo and take the 8‑minute train to Allerona, and from there do my Ficulle-Allerona walk — thus doing my 3 comuni in 3 days not 4.

The whole thing did work out, making me feel like a great genius; although not the most interesting three days: but then that I expected.

Luxuriously I left Umbertide after midday, the schedules giving me good tight connections at PSG and at Terontola; then only 8 km walk from Orvieto Scalo to Porano. I'd expected a walk of nothing much, but this is Umbria after all, and I had two surprises. The first was the abbey of SS. Severo e Martirio,º which I'd seen of course from far away every time I'd been to Orvieto, but never visited: this time I really saw it. It's private property, belonging to a posh hotel La Badia; I checked with the front desk and it was fine by them, and the church was open too: and as almost always, there was stuff: frescoes, sculpture, etc. The most interesting thing I saw, if it's what I think it was — and I haven't been able to come up with any other idea than the obvious — is a little shelf by the door of a sort of annex to the main church (possibly a chapter house?), with under it quite clear, even if surely restored, the word PANE: suggesting that as the religious filed out of there, somewhat in the way in a normal church you cross yourself with holy water, they shared bread; there's something like that, a bread-sharing that is not communion, at the end of the Russian Orthodox service even today.

[image ALT: A gentle hill forested in a mix of deciduous trees, pines and cypresses, and the foreground somewhat clearer but planted with young trees; from the middle of the woods can be partly seen an old stone building and, prominently, a twelve-sided crenellated tower. It is a view of the abbey of SS. Severo e Martirio, about 2 km from Orvieto, Umbria (central Italy).]

The abbey of SS. Severo e Martirio, about 2 km from Orvieto.

The second surprise was that the road to Porano rises almost immediately and thus gives you a good view of the whole city of Orvieto from the side (click, click).

From there to Porano, a pleasant walk thru for the most part gently rolling landscape, farmland: Porano itself pops into view from about two and a half kilometers away, on top a small hill at the other end of a circular basin, quite pretty; the basin that is: Porano is, despite walls and a round tower from this side, a bit shapeless, a compact brown Umbrian huddle — but the general effect is still good.

Into Porano at about 4; my first concern was to see were I could find a room for the night — and I lucked out, although it felt iffy for a while: on entering the walled part of the town, right away I stumbled across the only restaurant, the Osteria Boccone del Prete, which was the key to the solution. Closed of course at that hour, and as it turned out, also closed because it was Monday, but they listed their phone number on their street sign, so I called; there ensued a rather protracted bit of lunacy, in which I spoke with persons unknown about unknown accommodations that after all weren't supposed to exist, at an unknown price — and at the other end, she didn't speak very good Italian because she was Russian, so I inflicted my Russian on her and we navigated the conversation, with a very poor phone connection (my cellphone in Porano usually declared "Nessuna Rete"), in a mix of Italian and Russian of very varying quality . . . then Nina opened the door of the restaurant: we'd been 15 feet apart thruout.

The upshot of it all — with a couple of phone calls by Nina to her boss Antonella, and leaving a door open for me pending a key, and the two of us looking at a water heater unable for the life of us to figure out how it turned on so calling on an electrician who was working on the restaurant — was that I had not only a room, but a 4‑room apartment, with a very good bathroom and what looked like a nice kitchen, for 60E: a bit high, but not considering (a) that it was a full apartment, (b) that it wasn't really ready to be let and they were doing me a favor, and (c) the alternative: peer at Porano for an hour then walk back to Orvieto and some hotel room that probably would have been at least as much if not more.

For dinner Nina told me there was a pizzeria about 2.5 km away in the "centro nuovo", a large clump of very rectangular houses on the other arm of the U-shaped hill facing us across a little valley; several locals shortly after, though, told me they too closed on Mondays: so I forwent the centro nuovo to spend my last daylight on finding the nearby Etruscan tomb of the Hescanas family (frescoes now moved to the museum of Orvieto where I remember seeing them, but who knows what the actual tomb might be like), and made a note to be back before 8 when the alimentari closed: and so off Hescanasward.

About 500 m, and a striking para-medieval castle, all of it private property: Castelrubello that I'd noted on my maps long ago but didn't realize was anything; and indeed I'm not too sure it is: but at least it's quite honest about it, the battlements struck just about the right note, and an archway was clearly dated 1909. The whole quite attractive. Two men walking along the road, probably in their sixties, one of them said gosh there's a guy photographing the castle — so I showed them they too were in the photo; turned out to be the marchese who owns the castle and his gardener, straight out of an English novel, going the rounds of the property.

[image ALT: A 2‑lane country road leading into the background and somewhat to the left; along the right side, a compound of stone buildings that include a church belfry and a small crenellated tower, and a single parasol pine taller than either. It is a view of Castelrubello di Porano, Umbria (central Italy).]
Castelrubello di Porano:
now, in part, a luxury apartment rental and conference center.

Another kilometer or so, and a prominent sign pointing to the left of the road: Hescanas; no sign at all, but in an escarpment behind a field 50 yards to my right, at least 3 what looked like Etruscan tombs: I went and looked at Hescanas — an insalubrious small cave that is no longer of the least interest (click click anyway in case I missed something) — then back to the road, where I'd spotted a second sign, "Settecamini" and I remembered there were two Etruscan tombs there (but how far?): when two young men, one with a camera, came ambling past — my guiding angels,​1 I felt just like Tamino being led by the three young boys, who knew the road and had been to the Settecamini tombs, about 1 km away, and who further told me there was a very good view of Orvieto from there. They were going that way, so I tagged along, vintage Booby, too: I managed to chew them out (if very gently, mind you) for walking right past the Etruscan tombs, then to pretend I was some kind of an expert while saying I wasn't — and all this of course while it was they who were guiding me, not vice-versa.

At the Golini Tombs, the great good surprise that that's the place from which you get the classic gorgeous view of Orvieto: we looked at two Golini tombs, quite closed with padlocked iron doors, but long modern tufa-block corridors set up leading to each, giving a good feel maybe for a corridor tomb, se non è vero è ben trovato in sum. My two angels then, having done their work, left me there and walked back to Orvieto; and — in the absence of anything compelling elsewhere — I stayed there for about two hours, watching the light start to turn golden and the gables of the Duomo finally glint from the sun: an exercise in patience especially as it was getting quite cool; I left probably before I absolutely should have, the light still not as red as it must have got maybe 20 minutes later, but at 7:15 past and me with no food and the alimentari in Porano closing at 8.

[image ALT: missingALT]
The classic view of the butte of Orvieto.

I just made it: 4 yogurts, with tangerines, a liter bottle of beer, a pack of tagliatelle, a small can of tomatoes, and back to the apartment to prepare tasty little dinner — where I found no bottle opener, and worse, not a single pot to boil up my pasta: KOing any dinner. Yogurt and tangerines don't feed a soul, but I ate them, went to bed hungry but fortunately also for some reason very tired and sleepy (only 15 km total if that), so fell asleep immediately.

At 2:30 I woke up starving. . . . Time to break out the Salsiccia d'Emergenza I now always carry in my camera bag: ate large pepper sausage propped up on my pillows, and back to sleep 'til 8 or so.

And at 8 damned if I didn't laze around for nearly two hours, just no get‑up-and‑go at all; left the house at not quite ten, leaving the beer in the fridge, but carrying the can of tomatoes and the pasta asciutta in a plastic bag: which I succeeded in bringing safely home to Umbertide two days and 56 km later.

[image ALT: missingALT]
The town hall of Porano.

Porano is not only not a granché, it's one of the piccolo-er che's in Umbria: leaving aside the Etruscan tombs, Castelrubello, the eye-popping view of Orvieto, and the abbey of S. Severo — all of which I'm glad I saw and none of which I would have seen without my Porano excursion — there is less to see in the actual town of Porano (which as Umbrian towns go, is also less photogenic than most) than in any other comune I can think of except Attigliano. Still I did my rounds, bearded people in the comune, and took a few pictures; then left about ten to eleven, a bit ahead of schedule, exceptionally opting for a straight return along the exact same road that I came in by: and was thus in Orvieto Scalo in plenty of time for my 1338 train to Allerona, even stopping at an alimentari to restock on Emergency Sausage, and they insisted on giving me a bottle opener when I tried to buy one: so now I have a bottle opener in my camera bag along with the soap, socks, sausage, toilet paper, parka, maps, toothbrush, pens, sugar, underwear, socks,º guidebook, batteries, razor blades, recharger, flashcards. . . .

Note in the Diary:

1 Tommy from Colorado, Joseph from California, doing a 4‑month stint of art history in Orvieto as part of a program with Gordon College, Boston.

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