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Saturday 1 May 2004

(On train waiting to leave Umbertide for PSG and then, I think, S. Maria degli Angeli and parts strictly speaking unknown, but probably to Bastardo via Bevagna — I'll know about an hour from now!)

Thursday was given over to a happy suggestion of Karen's, that we go see Ocriculum together; I'd been, she not: but I sort of zoomed thru both Otricoli and the digs, back in 98, and I embraced her idea, since — and in fact that's what happened — I'd have a much clearer idea (to say nothing of better photos) of it all by going back. By a happy piece of thinking, also, it occurred to me that this would be my one opportunity to go back to the Madonna dei Bagni, which is very convenient to the interstate that we'd be taking anyway.

So at 9:08, under iffy weather, mostly cloudy, we left the Piazza XXV Aprile and zoomed down the highway, which, from somewhere around Todi southwards, at least, I don't think I'd ever done. We exited at Deruta and I knew the road to the Madonna dei Bagni perfectly since I'd just done it on foot a few weeks ago. We got to the church well within the normal posted morning opening hours and found a hand-written sign: open at 1 P.M. Sometimes you can't win for losing, by now I just laughed and we got back on our road, exiting early at Terni and threading our way as a result, slowly, thru the ugly industrial areas of the conca Ternana — reminding me exactly why I haven't done it on foot; then thru Narni, right thru the main piazza, and onto the Flaminia out the other end — yet another road I've done on foot of course — to Otricoli, where we walked up the main drag under increasingly dubious skies, even a couple of drops and an old man telling his grandson maybe to run inside before the rain came.

Palazzo Comunale, inscriptions: a small selection but varied enough to serve as an epigraphy primer; the one under the column in the middle of the courtyard in such bad shape that Boobykins demonstrated just how not good an epigrapher he is. . . .

Up the street and first nice surprise of the day: an open church, when on my former mad dash thru the town everything had been closed. Not much of a church, one of these 17c or 18c holes in the wall — but whoa, this wasn't the usual S. Giuseppe, but S. Giuseppe di Leonessa: here I came off like grand expert, since my wish to see Leonessa has by now firmly lodged his story in my mind and I rattled it off to Karen, also clicking wildly; for some reason some of these off-the‑wall 18c saints​a I identify with easily (the main one being St. Benoît Labre, of course) —

More street, drops of rain, and Roman spolia — to even nicer surprise, the parrocchiale was open (now S. Maria Annunziata but surely once S. Vittore).​b And again, the unprepossessing, if in this case mildly attractive, outside said nothing at all about the inside: this is Otricoli, and there are Roman foundations, large chunks of what appear to be Roman or even pre-Roman wall in the basement; then a sort of crypt, a bedroom-sized place with an altar at one end and a modern wooden closet at the other, glass-fronted, inscribed OSSA MARTYRUM — but inside it no bones, rather boxes of archaeological débris (it locked). About 40 old skulls, though, neatly stacked along the dexter wall; some inscriptions, of varying age but all containing more or less the same information, providing the key: in the 16c some bones were found down by the Tiber, and it was decided to move them here, where they will await the resurrection and the decision of God himself as to whether they were martyrs or not. This century now judges them less worthy of being kept under lock and key than the theftable archaeological stuff; larger quantities of débris, loosely sorted into crates, stacked up against the fourth wall.

[image ALT: Various débris against an indoors wall. Most of it is storeroom-type stuff: plastic crates, electrical cables, lumber, plastic water bottles, etc.; but neatly stacked up against the wall, a collection of some 40 human skulls.]

— Forty people, once real men and women like you and me. —

Feeling a bit guilty about this long diversion into Otricoli when after all Karen really wanted to see the ruins of Ocriculum, but said nothing. Further, quite irrational, guilt at eating lunch, but we were hungry and it had been Karen's decision not to pack sammiches which I'da gladly done: we ate as quickly as we could, tagliatelle with peas and pancetta and cream, pretty good; a bit of contorno, and in my case a panna cotta. The carafe red was surprisingly good, we had a half-carafe then another, while the weather threatened but never delivered.

Finally — I think I'm reading Karen's mind a bit, she actually likes excavations — out of Otricoli and down to Ocriculum, with a 60‑second pitstop at the tiny chapel I like so much on the way S.

Ocriculum has been cleaned up since my visit in 1998; but not intrusively, and they're not fencing it in or charging admission. They've put up railings, there's a drink concession at the entrance, with a playlot for small children — an excellent idea: grandma and the small kids with the rocking-horses and a stiff whiskey-and‑soda (at least that would have been my grandmother), the middle-agers traipse thru the ruins; as Karen and I did, with no rain, for a couple of hours. It was muggy and in most places the nettles haven't been cleared, but we were thorough and saw everything. There has been no further digging, that I could see, since 1998; but lots of good informational panels, that's one thing the Soprintendenze do very well.

[image ALT: A large ruined wall, mostly comprising small lozenge-shaped stone blocks, with a woman in front of it pointing to them. It is an example of the Roman technique known as opus reticulatum, at the theatre of Ocriculum, Umbria (central Italy).]

Opus reticulatum in one of the vomitoria of the theater of Ocriculum; Karen for scale, of course.

From there to the famous Roman parking lot at the top of the town; a bit less than my memories of the place, I seem to remember some sculpted friezes and so on; still, the walls are said to be 4c B.C.: and curiously, which I hadn't noticed before, for some reason — beats me what it could be — the very same blocks of tufa and ochre on one side and quite grey on the other.

And from there back home to Castello, dropping me off at Umbertide: Karen had choir rehearsal at 9 and was targeting 7:30 for getting back home. So we zoomed up the interstate, but Karen insisted we exit at the Madonna dei Bagni — heh-heh, we couldn't: road work, no exit northward; damned if she didn't exit at the next, and turn round and head back . . . far over and above the call of duty, plus Booby by now just enjoying it all: when you're not meant to do something, well, you just won't do it — except, arriving at the Madonna dei Bagni, we found it open: four's the charm.

[image ALT: The interior of a small church, on most of the visible walls and pillars of which are to be seen a large collection of rectangular majolica plaques. It is the sanctuary of the Madonna dei Bagni, near Deruta, Umbria (central Italy).]

[image ALT: A rectangular plaque of Deruta majolica. It is an ex‑voto in the church of the Madonna dei Bagni near Deruta, Umbria (central Italy).]

One of the most recent ex‑votos in the church: given by the guards and custodians of the church itself, 2003.

The church is very beauti­ful, even if about 30‑40% of the old plaques are gone; they'd actually stolen every single one, but most of them were recovered. A surprisingly high proportion of the plaques were/are of the 17c; then, as far as I could tell, a trough, and in the 20c it picked up again, whether real devotion or the self-conscious realization that one's ex‑voto would wind up being seen by thousands of visitors —

My nun (one of them) was there and recognized me; about 5 or 10 minutes of gabble was the reward of this, Karen champing at the bit a little I think — I impulsively gave her a big hug when we got out: such persistence to make me happy (which it did, a beauti­ful and interesting place, giving you an insight into "industrial" and domestic accidents of the 17c, also as Karen pointed out, their self-image back then.)

And with that — a sort of miniature dream realized — tearing up the highway to Umbertide; at km 100.5 or so, a metal fruit crate on the highway, cars and trucks swerving to avoid it, and this with night coming on: I went straight to the Carabinieri in piazza Matteotti and told them about it, and I think they actually did something about it, at any rate my carabiniere told me I done right to report it, and headed immediately in to his office, presumably to call the highway patrol.

Friday another low-key (read: non-walking) day. The weather was supposed to be iffy, and Saturday-Sunday I was going to be in Gaiche with Maria-Cristina and her family: so it was a single-day slot, and preferably not way out in the countryside getting rone on; I went to Todi.

Now having lived in Todi for 2 months and been back a few times, you'd think I'd know the place backwards and forwards — but of course, I don't: for one thing, my 1994 stay I had no idea what I'd turn my trip(s) to Umbria into, and in fact I didn't make that much of an effort to see Todi, spending instead most of my time doing all the environs; which turned out to be the right decision, too.

So Todi it was; I took the train to Perugia S. Anna and there with about ten minutes to spare caught the bus, 1155, from Piazza dei Partigiani, arrival 1315 Todi Jacopone: bus wound its way around everything it possibly could, Torgiano, Deruta and every conceivable backwater —

And as soon as I got there, I decided to give the Umbria another chance; which was a good idea, nel complessivo this time they got an A- from me: not the powerhouse of Umbrian gastronomy they were when Sabatino was running the show, but better than last time. Mind you the service is quite perfunctory: the beauti­ful balcony still there, 1:30 P.M., three tables, but I was by myself; the grandson, after checking with his dad who runs the dining-room, came back with a big smile and eager to please, to tell me that "Non è possibile" (pour mémoire, the three tables by the balcony stayed untenanted thruout). Another example: when, having ordered, I asked for "consiglio" on the wine, what I got was a listing of the (two) reds available in half bottles — yet I may well have come back the day after and the other half of a full bottle could have been kept for me (as in fact I often do if I find a good restaurant for 2 days), or I might well have drunk a full bottle, or even half, leaving the rest, to have a better wine: energy, enthusiasm, love of wine, or just plain salesman­ship would have been pleasant here, invece, family-owned though it is, they're just doing a job and I suppose see so many tourists. Still, a big difference from the old Umbria.

The meal itself: tagliatelle al tartufo (scorzone), a bit oily but good, B; pernice alla salvia, tamed down from what it used to be, here again very likely for the foreign tourist market, needed a bit more sage, on the other hand not salty, which is tricky with this kind of recipe since it involves a reduction, A-; carciofi fritti, A-; valeriana ai noci, nice to have on the menu. For dessert I had the tozzetti al vin santo, B; and wine they wound up uncorking a rosso di Monte­falco (choice of Antonelli and Rocca di Fabbri: the latter since I'd just walked thru the place) and I had a large glass — it's a bit better than the Antonelli, I think.

After this subdued lunch, I wandered around Todi, or at least that's what it would have looked like to someone else; in fact I had my little program, and nailed it: get good pictures to replace or supplement my 1994 photos, and see if I could get into S. Maria in Camuccia — which after all these years, turned out disappointing,​c though a nice 12c statue of the Madonna col Bambino (this is the church James calls S. Maria Chiusa). So I saw none of the top attractions of Todi (the Duomo, S. Fortunato, the Consolazione, the Nicchioni) although of course I saw all four, in a loose sense, walking by them.

My main walk was back to the Porta Perugina; S. Prassede and S. Eligi closed, of course, but the surprise of the day as I was looking at a dirty takeoff of the Michelangelo Pietà in the via S. Biagio: a convent — Monastero della Santissima Annunziata — doorbells, "diurno" and "notturno"; while I was pondering what might have happened to the church of S. Biagio and taking photos, briskly walking woman in a business suit steps up to these bells (although I had to point them out to her) and is greeted by a nun, then a thoroughly businesslike conversation about having reserved rooms, letti matrimoniali, etc.; at this point Booby's hunting instincts, no longer quashed by concerns for the eremitical or monastic life, come to the fore, and I peer into the reception hall, and little by little get a grand tour of the place by Suor Ivana, late fifties, glasses, a gentle manner about her but also an open one, the right person in the right monastery, so to speak: her order, the Suore di S. Maria Reparatrici,​1 seems to be not casually, as some are, but intentionally given over to works of hospitality and what one might call mild therapy; hotels with options of religious conferences, spiritual direction, etc. The monastery is quite large — you could never tell from the unprepossessing front door — and includes at least 3 churches or chapels. The main church, very brief look, since Nones seemed to be about to start, baroque but so clean it looked modern; the actual church of S. Biagio doesn't still exist as a church: it's a pleasant large salon with works of religious art, which Suor Ivana was careful to point out, had been bought and brought here; a third much smaller chapel has a beauti­ful Crucifixion that their own booklet finds similar to one (less good) in Todi's Duomo, but that to me is closer to the one by L'Alunno in the Cappella Tega. The good sisters not exactly encouraging photography, but a photo of this Crucifixion, senza flash, may turn out — and if so Sister Ivana wants a print. . . .

[image ALT: A small painting of the Crucifixion with the Virgin Mary and St. John, and four small angels flying in the background.]

Monastery of the SS. Annunziata, Todi: Crucifixion.

My photograph by kind permission.

Another surprise to Todi 2004 was that they seem to have decided to forget about the "Roman amphitheater". The slight and to me dubious remnants of something back there have been cleared away or masked, all reference to the amphitheater seems to have been dropped, and instead of a locked fence with a few stones, there is now an attractive brick-paved belvedere (as if Todi needed one more belvedere!).​d

A surprise of a different order: I had firmly in my head the time of the Todi-Perugia bus for my return, 1820; 'cept it was the wrong time: not the departure from Todi but the arrival in Perugia. I suddenly realized it about 20 minutes after the bus left, while I was at S. Ilario (closed, of course); making the best beeline I could to the tourist office, I found no harm had been done: Linea C bus down to the train station at 6, train at 6:16 — and got back home eventlessly.

Note in the Diary:

1 this isn't quite right, but I'm writing on a train and the literature she gave me is back at home in Umbertide.

Later Notes: one vowel off — Suore di S. Maria Riparatrici, part of the Union of Servites of Mary.

Later Notes:

a A curious slip, considering; although he was canonized in 1736, St. Joseph of Leonessa's dates are 1556‑1612. I finally saw Leonessa about a week after this entry, a most beauti­ful place: see May 9 (and 10).

b An understandable guess, but off the mark. S. Vittore is the patron saint of Otricoli, but his church is half a mile off, in Poggio, and I haven't seen it yet. For the details, see my page on this crypt, for once a fully developed little site.

c A failure of sight here: among the things I failed to see was a 4c paleochristian altar table, and an entire church! The church I did see is only one of two on the spot, the other, earlier, Romanesque church, lying underneath it with its frescoes; not a mere crypt, but another entire church that preceded the 14c building. Now it's very possible the access, no doubt discreet, was a firmly locked and un-signposted door; but reading ahead of time, which I usually refuse to do, would have prevented this, or even nabbing a sacristan and asking them "What am I not seeing?"

Another failure of sight is due to my ignorance with respect to painting, especially post-medieval. S. Maria in Camuccia contains several artworks of the 16c and 17c that are said to be worth seeing. Here, then, I'm sure my eyes skimmed over them — I know they did: my general photographs of the church interior show some of them — but I didn't actually see them. Visitors, take heed! You've spent all that time, effort and money to travel somewhere, so see what you're seeing. . . .

d Todi's Roman amphitheater has not in the least been "deaccessioned"; I confused the little space near the Porta Perugina with the one near the Porta Romana. The apparent amphitheatre (which requires a good deal of either imagination or scholar­ship to make out) is next to the Porta Romana at the S end of the city, and I was looking at the far N end.

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