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Friday 30 April 2004

(Part 2 of 2)

The train was on time (not that I cared) and at Allerona Scalo eight minutes later off I went to conquer the world, for my second walk of the day, 20 km. Allerona Scalo itself, or at least what I saw of it S of the station as I found my road to Sala, is nothing much, although two open restaurants in a block (maybe even three). Up to Sala was an exercise in up a small hill, back down it to cross over the A1 interstate, then up a much larger one; landscape fairly dull, though with olive trees and as you approach Sala the vines start, if fewer than I'd have thought.

Sala is the castle — private property, took a very quick peek at the courtyard — and a small block of houses, and that's it; a modern church about 300 m before that. After Sala more walking, but again not much to see until you hit Ficulle, on the other side of the Valico di M. Nibbio 544 m according to the maps and books, 574 m according to the road sign: a surprisingly low elevation considering the steady climb for so many miles, although it's a gradual and painless climb.

[image ALT: A large complex of 3‑story stone buildings with tile roofs, forming a cloister-like square about 60 meters on a side, with an oversized cylindrical tower, crenelated and machicolated with a covered watch walk, at one corner, a more ordinary cylindrical tower at another corner, and a small belfry of the type known as 'campanile a vela' barely peeking over the rest. It is set in a small valley delimited at the far end by a line of cypresses then a tall hill rises from there. It is a view of the castle of Sala, near Ficulle in Umbria (central Italy).]

The castle of Sala: property of the Antinori wine concern, it's home to a regionally famous dessert wine, Muffato della Sala.

Ficulle, approached from Sala, is a long straight modern street starting with the 17c church of the Maestà in a pretty little park; and about midway between the Maestà and the medieval knot at the end of the straightway, a medieval church called S. Maria Vecchia: closed of course, but was duly photographing it when passed by apparently also vacationing Italians who strolled by with baby, watched me do the photo thing, and murmured "1950" because sure enough the threshold was dated 1950, a restoration for the Holy Year — completely incapable of seeing the church was old . . . so it's not only us Americans.

A bit further along this pike, I somehow started chatting with a group of old ladies sitting out on the sidewalk, and telling them yes I walk around and look at things — and one of them pipes up (as they all tell me what I should see in town) that she's the one with the key to S. Maria Vecchia, would I be interested to look? Delighted, I'll give you a big hug for that! and back to the church with the key; my "1950" friends missed out on beauti­ful medieval frescoes, a handsome church, and a Roman inscription INVICTO SOLI — Mithras (or something like him) in Ficulle! And when I got back to my people, I did kiss my 78‑year‑old friend on both cheeks and took a photo of them all; then off to see the rest of the town: which, after the old church, was a bit of a disappointment, since though the centro storico is medieval and partly walled and there's that handsome tower, the churches are recent (16c, 17c), and they've been too busy making Muffato and Orvieto Classico — Ficulle feels prosperous — to do the Assisi or Montone number on their streets and return them to their doubtless underlying medieval state: so it's all plaster and stucco and a sort of gritty feel to it; still, all in all, pleasant and beauti­ful views on almost every side.

[image ALT: A close-up of a stone capital on the exterior of a building: it is carved with four stylized fern fronds. It is a 13th‑century capital on the façade of the church of S. Maria Vecchia in Ficulle, Umbria (central Italy).]

13c capital on the door of S. Maria Vecchia, Ficulle.

And with that, out of town and down to Fabro Scalo and my hotel: a slight rise actually to the nearby suburb of S. Cristoforo, now starting to merge with Ficulle; then winding downhill, not much traffic, cool, good weather; starting to recognize more and more, of course, the closer I got to the train station — and from there, sort of like coming home, I know the way, and the first time, I think, that I've ever come back to a hotel in Umbria for a second stay, rather looking forward to it.

But they say you can't go back; and boy, did I not. Arrived at the Bettola del Buttero, to be met by an unpleasant bureaucrat, who for the first time ever in all my many months in Italy, insisted on keeping my passport overnight — and I equally insisted on not; the difference was I was polite, almost apologetic, even when I eventually got angry and had grabbed it back and was heading to the door to go to one of the two other hotels: Saying how I'd been looking forward to coming back and how sad I was to be treated this way — but my little creep was sarcastic several times: but he finally backed down and took a xerox copy and when I came down after my shower I got my passport back. A young woman also working at the hotel did a good deal to unruffling me, but my hands had shaken for ten minutes — though not much, and had it been as recently as 3 years ago, it've been for several hours, so I'm apparently much better now — and the damage was done. Without the pleasant young woman I was all set to go have dinner at the Focolare just 100 m away; but now sheeplike I opted for the Bettola's restaurant, where in fact I was recognized by my waiter from 4 years ago (who looked, I'm sorry to say, only 30% familiar — I wish I weren't such a cold fish); and no sooner sat down at a table than joined at the adjacent touching table by a couple from Città della Pieve: conversation with them about all kinds of things made 80% of the meal and turned dinner into something pleasant. I had a plate of ravioli (somewhat gummy) and "agnello": like Rosanna, this was lamb on a plate, not even the customary lemon; unlike Rosanna, it was average. Tozzetti con vin santo, equally average. Coffee. 30E; C+.

To bed, very tired, and still not feeling great about the hotel.

Next morning, made it out of the hotel shortly after 8, but not without one final unhappiness which nailed the coffin shut on the Bietola Buttata: the bill came to 75E; and regardless of what the dollar is at now, I can't imagine I paid 145 ML a night in 2000: the price, to top off the unpleasantness of having to fight a hotelkeeper (it was almost as bad as being in France), was extortionate. There are in fact still things I haven't seen in the area — pieces of Roman road, connected with the Cassia, 3 km NW of Ficulle for example near the Piste — but I won't be planning with this particular hotel in mind any more. And it really is sad, because I'd so liked it in 2000.

A bar in Colonnetta, on the via Osteriaccia, set me straight as to directions: the highway signs send you to Allerona and L'Osteriaccia via that street, although my maps said go thru Fabro Alto — yet the very name of the street — but the bartender (breakfast, plus 2 tramezzini for lunch, into the plastic bag along with the tagliatelle) said no, you were right the first time, go thru Fabro.

And I did, and we were all correct. Fabro, I found "my" bar totally repainted: not a success, but certainly visible. . . . Then thru the little town, not quite a town, the W arm of Fabro where I took those beauti­ful pictures last time; but this time, 9:20 A.M. and no one around, although I recognized both places —

[image ALT: The exterior of a small bar, with two plastic tables outdoors with their eight chairs. The façade of the bar is painted to look like stone masonry, again which two cartoon-style men are also painted, shaking hands. It is the Blu Bar in Fabro, Umbria (central Italy).]

The bar I'd remembered from September 2000 (photo) is now under different management.

The walk to Allerona was somewhat quicker than I thought it would be; there was hardly anything to see, so I just walked. Up for 2 km from Scalo to Fabro, 5.5 km from there to l'Osteriaccia, which appears to be merely an intersection with a single house (my bartender had also warned me: no supplies until Allerona; and he was right), then about 6 km to the top of the climb, past S. Pietro Aquaeortus, then 8 km down from the thru the park and picnic area of Villalba to Allerona, then 6.5 km to the station.

The landscape, for Umbria, is desolate. It's green alright, but very few houses, almost none near the road, no castelli, no churches on the tops of hills; lots of trees: olive, yielding to pine and oak. The curious denuded hills behind Fabro are an anomaly, but a striking one, visible from quite far away against the otherwise green background.

S. Pietro Aquaeortus — well, I was gulled by the agriturismo by that name at about 3 km from L'Osteriaccia, to the point of wandering around it and taking a couple of pictures, with the permission of course of people working there, who volunteered that the owners were people from Milan, and that this year, due to "bureaucracy" it was going to be closed thru the season; I bet their characterization was accurate, too. The woman (husband and wife team) told me that S. Pietro Acquaeortus (and here I spell it the way the agriturismo does) owes its name to no source (aquae ortus, as I sought confirmation) but rather to "acqua e orti", "pomodori, ecc." . . . no sign of any kind of garden agriculture ever in the area, which given its remoteness and low population density also seems very unlikely, and I view that as a popular etymology.

About 500 m later, S. Pietro Aquaeortus hove into sight: ruined, alas; quite uninhabited surely for a good dozen years if not considerably more. A pity, because a pretty place (and I found the "ortus" not a spring, but a big outpouring of water right there, but the spring higher up); and I'd hoped to find something nice seein' it's the westernmost town in Umbria. It's now irretrievably paired in my mind with Castelluccio, the easternmost, which is equally sad though in a different way.​a

[image ALT: A group of five or six ruined two- to three-story plaster and brick buildings, the one in front prominent for three arches on the ground floor; in a scenery overgrown with weeds and brambles. It is a partial view of the abandoned hamlet of S. Pietro Aquaeortus in Umbria (central Italy).]

The abandoned village of S. Pietro Aquaeortus, or roughly half of it anyway.

Villalba, a bit after that, a large pine forest with tables and barbecue pits, beverage shacks and at least one bocciodromo, for maybe a mile along the road, with signposted "nature trails" etc., beauti­fully cared for. My bartender in Colonnetta measured the distance to Allerona Scalo as "17 km to Villalba, 10 km from there to Allerona — the upper town is before that"; and indeed that makes the best geographical sense, and like many of these places (including Fossato di Vico, Citerna, Fabro) Allerona Scalo is far more active and populated than its parent the upper town.

Allerona, I got to about fifteen minutes later than schedule; I'd taken on 4 bottles of Gatorade — two liters — at my bar in Fabro, and every 5 km I'd drink one, whether I was thirsty or very thirsty — weather in fact near perfect, warm when the sun wasn't under a cloud, otherwise cool; light breezes — and at 5 km from Allerona comune I ate my tramezzini and an Orvietan banana. A blister developing under the big toe of my right foot, but has resorbed in the now 2 days of rest since my walk; it was touch and go though on the last few miles down out of Allerona to the station.

Allerona again not a gran ché: less to it than to Ficulle though more than to Porano. It sits on a fairly sudden hill: after miles of descent here I had to trudge up 800 m of fairly stiff gradient. It has a 19c church in a sort of Gothic Revival, that's really not bad at all, I liked it.

[image ALT: A small two-story octagonal church of irregular stone and rubble masonry. One side, which serves as the façade, is entered by a rectangular door edged in brick; very close above it, a window of the same type, not much smaller. A narrow annex on the right has a door smaller than either, and somewhat in the background, a two-arched open belfry, with its bells, of the type known as a 'campanile a vela'. It is a view of the church of the Madonna dell' Acqua in Allerona, Umbria (central Italy).]

Allerona: the 15c church of the Madonna dell' Acqua.​b

I spent maybe half my time, well not quite, sitting in the bar of Allerona drinking 4 aranciate amare and ate an ice cream bar: bartender moved out of Rome years ago, just too noisy, busy, dirty, and unhealthy for him. He is, as he puts it, nearly a priest; with years of seminary and Aramaic and stuff. I'm a simultaneous interpreter of French with years of practice in mechanical engineering vel sim. and an earlier background in astronautics sort of — life does odd things to us.

At this bar, another customer walks in — coat and tie yet, kinda rare in these parts — and we talk cameras: he too has a Canon 300D, he too loves it; he buys me an aranciata and walks out: what can one do about all this generosity? Karen thinks I may have changed somehow; I think maybe it's (in part) the economy — Italy undoubtedly more prosperous than in 2000, a quantum leap — but neither of these are satisfactory explanations. Still, this stay in Umbria — right from the very start [. . .] has been marked by the most extraordinary and continued generosity all around me.

The walk from Allerona (oh I poked around the streets, and there are churches — closed — that I bet have stuff, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn of Etruscan and Roman remains, and — this is Umbria after all, and some storico del paese out there has tons of information — but I saw nothing much; and I notice that the TCI Umbria, bless their not quite infallible souls, fails so much as to mention Allerona!) down to the station was a bit dull, although beauti­ful in spots, with views of Monterubiaglio and the distant Orvieto, Duomo clearly readable from all this way; but mostly (a) warmer; (b) foot, blister, worry; (c) train schedule, worry: last train at 1642 to get me home, and no hotels in Allerona Scalo — plus two train lines weaving around each other here, the EuroStar line on stilts over all of Scalo, and the other one, mine, invisible behind it, with me wondering exactly where it is and whether all my distance information (bartenders, maps, etc.) is right. It was, and I was at the station at 1623, having walked thru the N part of Allerona Scalo that I didn't do the day before: there's about 3 times as much of it.

Train, rest, stare into space, alimentari, Angelo chat, eat — avocados, gorgonzola, yogurt — bed, quite exhausted.

Later Notes:

a Happily, in 2012, I noticed a reclamation project underway; it has been followed thru, and the old ruined hamlet is now unrecognizable: see its website.

b What the diary doesn't report is that as I approached this small church on the outskirts of town, there was a van parked right in front of her which would have ruined just about every possible photograph; that (I can't remember ever having done such a thing) I actually went and found the man it belonged to and asked him if he would mind very much moving it just a few feet, since this may be the only time in my life I ever see this church; and that when he did, very kindly — after all, he was busy working on a neighboring house — I told him I had nothing against vans, and promised him I'd thank him online; so

[image ALT: A photograph of the identifying and advertising print on the side of a van. It reads: 'IMPRESA PULIZIE | Mario Caldarini | ORVIETO — TR — Tel. 0763.342170 — 330.310378']

with my thanks to Mario Calderini's housecleaning service in Orvieto
(tel. 0763.342170 and 330.310378).

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Page updated: 18 Jul 23