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Saturday 15 May

I'd nearly caught up — but several days running, too tired to write, here we go again!

Wednesday 12 I woke up at 4:55, since it was my day in Rome at the American Academy courtesy Norman Roberson (pron. Row-berson; I knew there was no "t" and had been actually practicing pronouncing Rober(t)son the usual way but making sure he would, when I spoke to him on the phone a few days earlier, hear that I wasn't putting in that "t". . . .); courtesy the perfect word too, not only he never corrected me in the matter of his name, but treated me like royalty, squired me around — this was not work, it was his day off — for hours, introduced me to a spectrum of people, nudged people into letting me know they used my site (one young woman recognized my name, another couple of people clearly used the site but with no name attached — quite equally gratifying, the main thing is that I should be useful — and one man didn't know me from Adam but talking about something or other mentioned happily that someone had put Huelsen online — which was me), fed me, encouraged me to consider applying for a visitor­ship, gave me bus tickets, and accompanied me right to the proper bus back to Termini.​a

All that telescopes a day in which my 0654 Eurostar ran slower and slower until they purged us off one to another in Foligno, due to arrive in Rome at 0930 instead of 0846, and got there at 0942: since in theory we get reimbursed 50% for this, they might as well turn off the air-conditioning — all asweat by the time we hit Termini. I'd said 0930 in case of just such a delay, so was not too late: Norm met me at Track 10 as planned, then train to Trastevere, then bus to the Academy. A beauti­ful place, of which (and therefore of the other national academies) I now have a much clearer idea: they're essentially Carthusian monasteries, with people given brief stays (a few months, visitors) or longer, with housing (three years, Fellows) on the grounds, and individual 'cells' suited to their needs: spaces for sculptors, architects, writers, etc. I was much taken by (read: jealous of!) a young architecture team, man and wife Joe Ragsdale and Lorinda Brouwer, airy studio on the roof of the main building — no view of Soracte, masked alas by trees; gorgeous view of the City though — working on matching up the monuments of Rome with the quarries their stone came from: wonder­ful work, mix of outdoors all over the Lazio and Roman monuments in town, enthusiasm and meticulous detail; a grand jigsaw puzzle and me loving stone as I do! sigh.

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The central cloister of the American Academy in Rome.

My photograph by kind permission.

The central cloister full of inscriptions (unconnected with the Academy except some years ago a "truckload" bought by a donor, put up on the walls, apparently not yet in the CIL! but just now being catalogued: Boobykins had a marked tendency, almost like one of those balls attached to a paddle by an elastic, to gravitate back to the inscriptions, several of them interesting — I caught myself at it and found it funny. . . .

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Here's one of them: the tomb of a group of former slaves. I like it because I've never seen another inscription where the lines are straight but fan out. Maybe the last name was added later; he's the only one the length of whose life is indicated.

My photograph by kind permission.

Lunch commensal, maybe 20 of us, staff, Fellows, visitors: me across from my Vergil (who actually surprised me by looking very much like Hemingway — on the phone, a very young voice), to my left Paolo a member of the library staff — Norm had taken me thru some of it, now 130,000 volumes and a topography section to die for — to my right a most distinguished scholar, author of a monumental study of Trajan's Forum, James Packard whose name I, being no scholar, did merely only recognize. He was concerned, as a lot of people are, self included, about education; feeling the downtrend was due to the current president — although what he said was "It's hard to believe one man could have [caused the decline all by himself]": I nearly said "Yes, it is" but bit my tongue, after all I was a guest —

At any rate, my tour thru the Academy was interesting and of course terrifying: just walking thru the library, let alone listening to these people with their different well-honed skills, produced at least the immediate reaction of making me want to drop all the Roman stuff immediately! (although not the Umbrian, where I'm gradually beginning to have some kind of qualifications). And thus back to Umbertide only slightly less mystified than before. . . .

Norm's #75 bus took 25 minutes to get to the base of the via Cavour, and would have taken a few minutes longer to get me to the station; but since I had my ticket and over half an hour to spare, rather than sit in the station I got off at the cross-street for S. Martino dei Monti (closed) and wandered to Termini shooting a few pix here and there; the scaffolding is off the arch of Gallienus now, that was about it. Home, the usual housekeeping, photo dumping, etc. and to bed pooped.

Thursday 13 another gear shift, the day long marked in my calendar as my chance to see the bicyclists of the Giro d'Italia whiz by, and in Umbria too: their route from Arezzo to Marsciano thru Bastardo and on to Spoleto; and Carol McMurtrie from SlowTrav and I had made tentative plans to do a tour towards Spoleto, with maybe a gander at the Giro. A pair of phone calls after she got to Umbria (staying at Brigolante) and we were go, though with no program, she sounded a bit vague, but said she and her husband John would be interested in Romanesque churches, so I put together an itinerary for the day involving as little driving as possible, and with a progression from the small to the very important more or less along a natural route, with lunch in Trevi; starting with me getting to S. Maria degli Angeli by train arriving 0946.

The day turned out to be one of the highlights of my stay, even if only one stop — our very first — was new to me; but they're delight­ful people, smiling from some inner reserve and with a gentle view of the world as far as I could tell (in sum here too, although in a much different way than the day before at the Academy in Rome, I had the feeling I'd missed the boat, but it wasn't unpleasant, rather glad someone else has caught it!) — and the day passed all too quickly. I trooped 'em thru Limigiano (where I'd never been: the church of S. Michele not too easy to read, not extraordinary either, but some good details), the little shrine at Pian d'Arca, then — getting slightly lost — to S. Angelo Sconcoloº (with a surprise unidentified chapel on the road between Bevagna and Torre del Colle): S. Angelo, like an idiot I had us all do a patch of muddy field when it turned out, I'd forgot, we could have more or less seen as much by going around the other way — a few minutes scraping off our shoes; then Pieve S. Gregorio, as beauti­ful as ever, and Carol reading inscriptions assisted by maieutic Booby which by the end of day got to be a game between us — lunch at 1 at Il Terziere since the weather, which had started uncertain, continued to clear (Plan A, the rain plan, had been Maggiolini). A B+ meal by my standards — bruschetta bianca, tagliatelle, salsicce di Trevi, no dessert; Sagrantino Adanti — Carol had gnocchi al Sagrantino, sauce terrific, gnocchi pasty (noone ever said gnocchi were easy), John had a filetto ai funghi that looked very good —

[image ALT: A detail of some particularly vivid medieval high-relief sculpture on the archivolt of a small door, depicting a stylized lion cub with a grapevine issuing from its mouth, in which he also entwines his tail. Inscribed 'Catulus leoni', the carving is on the façade of the church of Pieve S. Gregorio near Castelritalid, Umbria (central Italy).]

CATVLVS LEONI: a lion cub.

Then to S. Pietro in Bovara with its inscription which is inadvertently funny I think, "cui vitam eternam tribuat — supernam", please, dotting the I's . . . to the Tempietto, more inscription for Carol, and me each time I see it I get more and more convinced it's early rather than late; to Spoleto, traffic all asnarl but not too hard to get to the cemetery, if from the far end so uncertain Booby leading us doubtfully to the church: helicopters, but never did see a single cyclist,​b the stage ending, from all indications, while we were there; the tunnel to S. Pietro: like at Bovara, Pieve S. Gregorio and S. Salvatore, I reshot everything now that I have unlimited "film". They'd not seen the aqueduct; John, fascinated by engineering works, drove there and peered at it from the E tower — then to Trevi again, where we sat quietly outside at the caffé in piazza Garibaldi: uncharacteristically, I had a beer.

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Tempietto del Clitunno: apsidal pediment.

They then drove me back home to Umbertide, another sit, indoors in the rather gritty Bar Mary; they hit the road again just on 8 P.M., and I hope they had as good a time as I did. Home, hit the sack after a couple of yogurts.

Later Notes:

a Norm Roberson died on May 29, 2008. My experience of him was far from unique, according to an obituary article to be found for a while on The Roman Forum — News and Views about Rome; a different obituary can be found at the Society of Fellows, American Academy in Rome.

b This isn't strictly true; on returning to Trevi we spotted two members of the Gerolsteiner team taking in the sights; no doubt they'd seen the rather striking city on its hill as they raced into Spoleto, or maybe their team manager, savvier than some, knew Trevi is an excellent place to eat. Otherwise, this was my view of the race:

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Epilogue, with Trevi in the background.

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Page updated: 23 Feb 22