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Tuesday 25 May 2004

My last few hours in Italy; on the Eurostar just whaz thru Nera Montoro, so only a few yards of Umbria left — although in fact to me the gate of Umbria is the Roman bridge at Narni; amazing the train would go under an arch of it even now —

Saturday 22 should have been eventless, just a sequence of trains and buses — but —

The 0710 bus, no problem; high school kids, then more in the Borgo, then more in Passo di Treia, until we were packed; then on the road to Macerata, the bus ahead of us broke down, we took all of them on, and it was really packed. At Macerata, my bus was supposed to get me straight to the station; on the other hand now he had to go back and rescue the other bus, so I wound up walking about half a mile, rolling my suitcase — descent fortunately — and wondering just how much rolling before the wheels wear down, break or fall off like they eventually do — worried about today in Rome, in fact; but everything fine.

At Macerata I discovered that I'd have a 3‑hour layover in Fabriano, so I immediately called the Corvi's and Carla said how good to hear from you, let's have lunch at home, we hadn't dared call you, you sounded so busy; me: I hadn't dared call, didn't want to intrude in view of your Mom's health. Carla: but take a later train out of Fabriano so we can have a longer lunch; and me back to the ticket window now with firmer plans, the 4:04 P.M. EuroStar out of Fabriano.

Train trip thru the Macerateseº beauti­ful as always; I'll have to do the Nocera-Pioraco branch of the Flaminia next time, twice now I've failed to (but I eventually do get around to these things, witness Chioggia after 10 years!). Fabriano on time at 10:25 and Carla at the station, immediately telling me hey you've got to see Fabriano! since she knew that I'd never found the city free of scaffolding — and off we went, parking in front of their apartment building, which isn't far from the centro storico, and walking into town.

Very busy centro: an Infiorata being prepared, the closest I've ever got to seeing one; the Loggia set up with about 20 stands of agricultural products, sausages etc. A wedding about to get underway at the Oratorio della Carità, a large nearly cubical room with 16c frescoes that I'd not so much as heard of let alone seen; Carla met a woman there that she knew, who works for the Comune I think, and who let us into the Palazzo Comunale: Roman inscriptions up the wazoo and Carla walking blithely by but didn't escape; Booby stopped and photographed 'em all, sometimes accompanied by readings, translations, commentary, 'til her eyes glazed over. . . . And in front of one nest of them, she was pounced on by a guy desperately trying to sell some honey from this out‑of-the‑way stand (a courtyard with nobody coming thru at all, and it seemed to me not accessible to the public?) —

[image ALT: A rectangular room, its wooden truss ceiling barely visible on the photo; the main feature of the space is a series of large vertical paintings in baroque stucco panels along all the walls, tied together by a cornice with garlands, shell ornaments and oeils-de‑boeuf. A central panel at the narrow end of the room at the far end is flanked by a pair of Corinthian columns, and surmounted by a somewhat curved pediment broken by a small square painting. It is the Oratorio della Carità in Fabriano in the Marche (central Italy).]

Fabriano: the Oratorio della Carità.

Suddenly we found ourselves in the Sala del Consiglio — in front of the famous Gentile da Fabriano; as James said when I called him Saturday evening, it's gotta be somewhere, after all.​a

[image ALT: An oil painting, in an elaborate Gothic wooden frame, of the Virgin Mary and Joseph presenting the Baby Jesus to the three Kings, who are followed by a retinue of several dozen people, with horses and at least one greyhound. In the distance, a much larger version of that same retinue, with the three Kings, winds its way up and around a hill to a hilltop walled city. It is a reproduction of the famous painting of the Epiphnay by Gentile da Fabriano.]

Epiphany, by Gentile da Fabriano (modern copy)
The inscription is the artist's signature:

After which, and still coasting on the tips and passes from Carla's pal, we let ourselves out a back door of the Palazzo Comunale, rounded a corner, and dug the custode of the Theater out of whatever he'd been doing to show us the theater; a thing I'd never have done, but Carla seemed to enjoy it all. The theater is quite large, and the acoustics are noticeable — don't know whether good or bad, what do I know about theaters — with a fast echo that decays rather fast as well: it's a teatro lirico, so I bet it's good, though. Curious though that since 1969 I hadn't been on any kind of stage anywhere, and here in two days I wind up on the stages of two different theaters; drinking, I should add, one of the worst coffees I've ever had, Tonino Solinas the custode insisting on offering us something, whatever he could — coffee from a vending machine at the back of the stage, never seen one anywhere in Italy in all these years.

Doing a spot of grocery shopping and treading thru the Infiorata preparations, we got back to the Corvi's apartment, where we eventually had lunch, Carla, Carlo, Mr. Corvi senior, and Marta; Marta who had no idea I was in town; when I greeted her at the door of her own house, half a second of start, then big hug — reminded me of how Pliny greets me after one of these trips; as if I needed any reminding.

Lunch was a bit of norcineria followed by penne in a slightly hot creamy sauce al rosso; then as little ice cream as I could escape with: I might not have lost my usual 15 lbs. but there's no point actually trying to gain weight! And at about 3:20 Carlo took me to see their new house, somewhat out of town, towards Attiggio, up on a bit of a hill with a partial view of Fabriano: the floors and walls are in, and some of the electric and water, but still a fair amount of work; it's a good-sized house. At five to four, in turn, Carla zoomed me to my train, with about sixty seconds to spare. . . .

And from there a very fast set of connections and I was in Umbertide by 6 phoning what seemed like a lot of people setting up my last two days and my trip back: James, Karen, Edda, Irene. A bit of Gorgonzola with a glass of beer and called it quits.

Right now I'm on the plane back, over the Atlantic; gee it would be nice to get caught up before I land in Chicago —

Sunday 23 was Karen's day. I took the 1054 train to Castello, the latest I could take and still meet her for lunch around 12:30, but it put me in town — slight drizzle — at 11:20; with the extra time I wandered over to the Pinacoteca and paid the 5E00 entrance mostly to take my photos of the Vasari façade: a curious idea, to stencil a building that way — the paintings inside are often pretty horrible (16c thru 19c), the worst of them being one of the two Pomarancios, an "Immaculate Conception". She was there alright, in the top third of the canvas: but the real subject of the painting was the Devil and Pomarancio's bizarre sexual fantasies — a huge coiling snake with a human head and chaining Adam and Eve, their backs to each other, and lots of little inscriptions that didn't explain a Hell of a lot; never seen an Immaculate Conception like that, and like Leary's​b purple cow, never hope to see one — but I'd rather see one than be one. The decorations on the actual walls of the building are also rather odd, you get a sense of it right from the start: at the foot of the staircase up, two tondi of Biblical-looking figures holding inscriptions about Not Having Gods Other Than Me — followed by a whole ceiling full of Graeco-Roman divinities with some of their more explicit stories and attributes. Sadly, photography not allowed, of course, so no photos of the life of Alexander the Great, the subject of one room — death of Darius and so on — which would have been useful illustrations for Curtius, say.

Karen clearly wanted to assemble her family for lunch with me, but they're a very busy family: daughter and hubby nope, her own husband Domenico — Sunday yet! — working himself silly at his office, and son Carlo writing papers, preparing for exams, and kinda loath to go; but eventually we found ourselves at Il Feudo (a recommendation of Mirko's, finally the only one on his list that I managed to get to), where we ate well, and in spots very well. Karen had never heard of it, had asked Domenico who in turn had asked around, no one had; and we even had trouble finding it in the phone directory — it wasn't under F, nor under R or T for Ristorante or Trattoria: but under I for Il. . . .

Horse-doovers very good: the usual plate of norcineria except considerably better and more varied, and a goat cheese and honey on some kind of maybe carpaccio (an A), and caramelized octopus with orange on matchsticks of zucchini, rather like my own "Vietnamese" pork recipe. Karen and I — Carlo had some kind of pasta with rabbit, and at times looked like he wanted to go back to his books, so I put myself out telling bizarre or racy stories, meeting with some success — Karen and I had ravioli with shrimp filling and a sauce of some other fish: a C unfortunately since too salty, and the ground fish was much stronger than the shrimp, and finally looked like catfood. A tris of desserts though was again good to very good, the best of them a sort of banana charlotte with no added sugar, an A-. Overall though, the meal a B+ because of the catfood.

Carlo finally fled to his books — the whole family has a serious streak — and Karen and I stayed and talked a bit; then at some point, don't quite know how it happened, the couple at the next table, English-speakers, the man said gosh I must be Bill Thayer! Well I confessed, turns out he'd read some of my blatherings on SlowTrav and more on my own site, and loud-voiced Boobykins had given hisself away with something I said over lunch about Spello; Peter and Marsha Clifford and his name, at least, seemed familiar to me, I think he's posted a few times on SlowTrav. Now I have just the slightest intimation of what it must be like to be Tom Cruise or Jennifer Lopez: of course they're in the business of being famous, but imagine how I'd feel if every time I ate in a restaurant strangers came up to me and said Oh we know you — a very little of this gratifies the ego I guess, but a steady diet of garlic would be awful. Anyway, now I've been recognized in a restaurant by strangers. (I'm going to have to do something to deserve this, something more than put pretty pictures online!)

From there — my idea — with Karen to the party in honor of Fr. Graziano of Niccone on the occasion of his 25th anniversary as a priest; Edda'd invited me when I called her, and I brought her back the book she lent me (about ¾ of which I managed to read, on some trains last week), plus my own gift of a book — the same book of Chicago I gave Franco on arriving — and I thought Karen would enjoy meeting Edda and Stefano, the latter after all a fellow Roman buff (he apparently even guides people informally around Rome as a hobby); and I think she did. We found an Umbrian church cocktail party in full swing, parishioners and friends of Don Graziano's from quite far away even; then a cake frosted with his own photographic likeness (withal, unlike many such cakes, this one pretty good, too), and an accordian player and lots of people milling about in the green space around the library and the church. I can't put my finger on it but I like Don Graziano, and wished him 25 more happy years — he gives the impression of being happy at Niccone.

[image ALT: A large rectangular cake bearing a photograph of a fifty-year‑old man and the words '25o Anniversario di Sacerdozio — Auguri Don Graziano'.]

Auguri, Don Graziano!

At about 6:30 Karen and I bolted this shindig, and she dropped me off in the Piazza XXV Aprile; like so many people and so much of Italy, and even Big White Cat, I'll miss her.

Yesterday Monday 24 was of course my wrap-up day, with good-byes scheduled to the Mayor, and Angelo and Arianna, and Simona, and cleaning house and packing. Slow start, but gave my book to the Mayor around 11:30; did a fair amount of grocery shopping actually so that Ann when she arrives on the 8th finds the basics for either breakfast or lunch/dinner, etc. At about 12:30 feeling a bit lonely and out of sorts, took myself for a walk thru the new quarters between the station and Cristo Risorto: can't see why outsiders say Umbertide is so ugly and industrial, and took maybe half a dozen pictures of typical houses, apartment buildings and streets; the little industrial zone of Umbertide quite nothing compared to those of Castello, Gubbio, Perugia, Foligno, Terni, even Todi — Anyway.

[image ALT: A montage of four street scenes, of low modern houses in pleasant if somewhat nondescript gardens. They are views of Umbertide, Umbria (central Italy).]

The streets of Umbertide: a sampler.
Most of the town looks like this.

During the course of this sad little walk Simona drove up and parked: I happened to be in front of her house. She invited me inside, I petted Teddy (brown-spotted English setter, lovely disposition), she offered me something to drink, but instead I pled scrounging for restaurant, I don't want to eat at Capponi or at the Rocca, got any ideas? Yes, and she sent me to "CA.RE.MA.", the Casagrande family's eatery just past Cristo Risorto, where I had a good meal, and cheap too,​c and sat for a good hour or more catching up on diary — until suddenly my mental alarm went off: I'd completely forgotten about Irene at 4, and it was 4 o'clock exactly. Had been expanding on things generally the way I do with my waiter Danilo and with Marco (Casagrande) one of the owners, and suddenly Marco was driving me back home; Irene'd let herself in but then was loitering outside around the door: not great, Booby making a woman wait, even if not long.

The remainder of the gas, water and electric bills came to 140E; to which I added a bit for Irene herself, and another bit for a big bouquet for Irene to set on the kitchen table just before Ann's arrival and not to breathe a word to her about it; finally Irene's copy of The Book — she too has been swell.

Amid the packing and transferring to CD the last few photos, I spent some time correcting some of the last entries — didn't quite make it — of the Britannica on my site from the McGarrell's 1911 which was yet another of the perks of the house and at 9:30 took myself out to a movie at the nearby theater just 200 meters maybe from the house, but had never found at the same time both the time and a movie I wanted to see; well I saw the first 20 minutes of something called Van Helsing, but it was too stupid for words and I left, back to my packing. Bed at just past midnite.

This morning, alarm (both clock and cellphone) at 0450: final cleaning, packing, breakfast — the very last spot of Mariella's wonder­ful walnut jam — fed Mr. White though he wasn't anywhere to be seen yet, and at 6:04 left the house rolling behind me my big suitcase, my "carryon" which they've now taken advantage of the Moslem stuff not to allow any more, and over a spare pair of shoulders my computer and my camera bag. Not the easiest going, but made it to the station just as my train pulled in: one minute later, and I'da had a mess, probably missing my plane.

After I calmed down, I stared at Umbria in the rising sun — gorgeous day, every little castle and church, many of which I now recognize of course, crisp and sharp — and at PSG, where we arrived 4 minutes late at 0651, that was still 3 minutes before the EuroStar; which too was a bit late, and then I really calmed down. For once the air-conditioning really worked, and I alternately wrote and watched Umbria slide by: Bastia and Assisi, (missed Spello), Foligno, Trevi, Spoleto, Terni, Cesi and Sangemini, no longer on the line, receding to the N; Narni, thru the Roman bridge, then it was Orte on its hill and I got back to my writing; arriving at Termini at about 9:10, a good 15 minutes late, but plenty of time to hop the Fiumicino train (0922 the next one, just caught), and then airport and stuff, a wait on the tarmac — someone put luggage onboard but failed to board — and London late but plenty of time to make my connection, and maybe even I'll find my luggage with me in Chicago in — according to my seatback monitor — 4h20m. Right this minute we're just off the S tip of Greenland: the view is a solid expanse of white; unfortunately it's cloud, not land —

So my fifth trip to Umbria is over (not counting the 10 days in 1993), and I'll be back home facing all the usual problems again but surely this time I'll manage to do something, probably starting with Pauline's articles. With any luck, too, I'll have Pliny pissing on the floor to see me by around 8 P.M. (it's 2 P.M. Chicago time now with an ETA of 6:20 barring trouble).

Later Notes:

a Yes it does, but not here. The original Adoration of the Magi by Gentile da Fabriano is in fact in Florence; this is a copy, which accounts for its not being carefully guarded (which I didn't think of at the time), and for the painting having a surprisingly flat, smooth texture (which I did, at least subliminally).

b Mistake in the diary. The famous poem is by Gelett Burgess.

c CAREMA, a good meal, and cheap too: Antipasto (pears and cheese), primo (penne alla norcina), secondo (scaloppine alla rugola), contorno (roast tomatoes), dessert (torta ai pinoli), a quarter-liter of decent red wine, and two limoncelli: 21E30, service included. Definitely recommended for the price.

CA.RE.MA — the official name, but people call the place "da Casagrande" after the owners — is on

Via della Repubblica (no number, small street)

tel. (075) 941.30.22

or tel./fax (075) 941.34.06

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