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Monday 3 May 2004

As I was crossing the Valico di M. Nibbio the other day, chat with Maria-Cristina, meet us at Tavernelle, the intersection for the Madonna del Mongiovino, early afternoon Saturday; with a brief stay at Gaiche for the weekend. Well, in Todi, message from her, oops egg on our faces, next week maybe? And a few minutes later, call from Marco, our Vatican necropolis visit pulled up from Tuesday 4 at 9 A.M. to Monday 3 at 11. Flexible Booby then fed a sudden block of 2 days (both of them for train purposes): I decided to a second hike thru the Monti Martani, from either Assisi or, less likely because probably 35 km, Spoleto, to Bastardo then to Marsciano the next day, and off I went by the 1054 to Perugia.

Which arrived late in PSG, by just enough for me to miss the connection to S. Maria degli Angeli; thinking on my feet, after having reserved with Dany in Bastardo, I reversed my route, got off at Marsciano (the station at Ammeto, of course, still haven't seen downtown Marsciano)​a and started walking, I hoped to Piedicolle, a somewhat more direct route to Bastardo; with the hope also of finding a direct road from Collazzone to Saragano, which was so pretty on its crop of hill the other day on my circular walk around Bastardo.

Well, 36 years after the fact, the maps of Umbria haven't been corrected; the road to Piedicolle exists, maybe: but not that blasted bridge — memories of 1994 very prominent thruout the first leg of my walk. Fortunately, I'd been directed by several people to the road from Ammeto to Collepepe; arriving at the foot of which, at the bar Aliblu,​1 the first thing I did was ask where I was; then guzzle down stuff and take on a large bottle of water; then get good information for the next leg: another customer, in blue overalls, a mine of information, all of it quite accurate — so I was relieved to hear that the famous bridge had not been a war casualty, rather (it was of wood) carried away by a flood in 1968. We had to win that war like we have to win this one, but I still feel bad of course when I learn that the Allies bombed some little bridge to hell-and‑gone.

Collepepe I'd never been;​b it's not much, although views of it are pretty. The hill at Collepepe was the only big climb of the day, since Collazzone, though much higher than the approach to it, you wind round and round to.

Collazzone was on my list for this stay, because though I'd walked thru the place quickly in 1994, the church was completely enveloped in scaffolding, plus I didn't know what I was doing back then, so neither saw clearly nor photographed properly. Well, 10 years later, the church (S. Lorenzo, 19c) was still under scaffolding, except not the body of the church — which was even open — but the tower. The church of S. Michele Arcangelo (guidebooks, road signs: 15c) was yet another disappointment: it's a small ogive-vaulted room, ceilings all pale yellow plaster, and two very damaged pieces of fresco, quite unreadable. The town is surrounded by its medieval walls, with several nice stone towers, but — surely it must have been the mood I was in, sort of blah — I found them impossible to photograph; went back to the same bar as last time — as I told the bartendress, gotta stop coming here, am falling into a rut (on the other hand, don't remember seeing another) — except this time it was packed, several tables with card games, maybe 15 more young people hanging around; ate better this time than last, too: a ham-and‑cheese sammich, a pastry, fruit juices. Further info about the road to Saragano: it exists, is pretty much even carrabile, but — is not gravelled, and with the recent weather, local man advised against it, you'll be up to your knees in mud. (Damn: no Saragano.)

So the road to S. Terenziano it was, the lovely landscape of inner Umbria starting, views all the way to Todi, castelli, big waves of green and umber fields; weather coöperating, threatening rain but only enough to keep it cool: a very comfortable walk, even if I didn't want to go to S. Terenziano and I was going to miss Saragano.

[image ALT: A low hill, sloping downward from left to right at an angle of about 30 degrees, with another similar one about a kilometer behind it. Both are clothed in lush vegetation, mostly vineyards in the foreground, mostly olive trees behind. On the foremost hill, to the left, a cubical and almost windowless four-story stone compound, about half a city block on a side. On the second hill, near the center of the photo, a two-story stone tower in a loose grove of cypresses. Behind the hills, a wide plain of farmland, and in the far distance, a rig of low mountains. It is a view in Umbria (central Italy).]

A view S from the road between Collazzone and S. Terenziano.

"From Chicago?" Woman's voice from car behind me, which stops: the young woman I recognized immediately (though I didn't completely place her for some while); Friday in Todi I'd asked her — with small blond child — what the building was that we were in and that I was photographing, and though Milanese she knew (the Palazzo Crispolti, which houses a theater, a social center, etc. — half of a nice cloister, too). Do you want a ride? And me undecided: I don't like breaking a walk, but if they dropped me off at the turnoff to Saragano, I'd get to see the place; and besides I didn't want to be on this road anyway, so I said yes — We wound up going to Saragano: Cristina and nearly 3‑year‑old Sami and tall German husband Roland, who live in Collazzone, but were looking for a bar outside Collazzone, maybe there'd be one in Saragano.

[image ALT: A large tower. It is part of the medieval walls of Saragano, Umbria (central Italy).]

remains of the medieval walls.

For the record, no bar in Saragano: there'd been one some years back, but now closed; we saw the unoccupied hulk of it. The place is much, much smaller than I expected, and not as pretty when you're there as from far away, a bit of a disappointment after these 2 weeks of anticipation; but there's a small church, and an old arch, and the attractive tower of the castello has survived.

From there back to the main road from Bastardo to S. Terenziano (I guess from Collesecco to S. Terenziano would be more accurate, anyway the road I did the other day), where they dropped me off as they turned back to S. Terenziano in search of a bar, presumably; and at Collesecco I found a new road back to Bastardo, the one past Marcellano, thru a small strung-out place called Villarode: I got to the Dany much earlier than I'd expected, of course, at 6:35, having walked only 22 rather than 28 km.

Hot shower, change, news (the by now usual diet: Arabs blowing themselves up in order to murder Christians or Americans; Americans bombing the bejeezus out of Fallujah); down to dinner at 8.

Dinner good, on the whole in the B+ to A- range. The evening's special was cannelloni, a good idea (A-); chicory (B+: too salty) and broccoletti (A verging on A+); then filetto al marsala, very good tender meat, rather little marsala, but an A here too, with fries not Rosanna's but very good just the same. Crème brûlée (A), coffee, grappa di Sagrantino to follow on the Sagrantino — Scacciadiavoli 2000 again, different from the other one just two weeks ago, but still good.

Chatted a bit with Bruno, the grandfather; Michele my waiter and Mara his sister and another 20‑year‑old named Beatrice (not quite sure whether she was yet another sister or just a friend); Andrea still very busy doing pizze and pastry. Still wondering where exactly I was walking on Sunday: the easiest and shortest would be Foligno, but the long straight stretch — the Flaminia! — from Bevagna is unpleasant, and the route in to Foligno from Monte­falco is an irritating traffic maze. This left Spoleto — 35 km or so, that's a lot; Trevi — not confident as to ticket from the automatic dispenserº there, plus the direct route I did last time and the other routes add a lot of miles; Assisi — about 30 km, most of which pretty dull and some of it walked once and even, in part, twice before; Massa out of the question since I just did that road; ditto of course Marsciano; Todi too. All of this made Assisi the likeliest: I went to bed and slept on it, soundly.​c

[image ALT: A stone farmhouse, three stories tall and about 50 meters long, with a square tower at one corner, one further story tall. It sits on a gentle grassy rise and is silhouetted against a distant range of low mountains. In the very close foreground, lush grasses or maybe young wheat. It is a view near Bastardo in Umbria (central Italy).]

An indication of just how beauti­ful this part of Umbria is: I passed by the fort at Sumigni just after Villarode in the diary account you've just read. At the time, I didn't even feel it worth mentioning.

Yesterday Sunday morning, woke up inexplicably early, at 6:55; meno male, since I got to laze around, long hot shower (legs quite stiff), lots of breakfast, chatter, bill — out the door at 8:45, direction Foligno via Bevagna. Cavallara past the completely invisible Roman bridge; Cantinone, almost not a place, but an alimentari where I picked up water, fruit juice, sausage, cheese, and a good strong bag to carry all that. (I never ate the sausage and cheese; still not getting much thinner, though, with blowouts like the night before.)

Beauti­ful countryside until the turnoff for Monte­falco; after which starting at S. Marco, much less nice, partly because of very bad smog: the culprit is Foligno, of course; but also because so many scattered houses, so that it's no longer a landscape of clumped villages in an otherwise natural setting. Roland the day before said that in Germany, where he said the population density is even greater than in Italy,​d they don't allow new construction that isn't attached to an existing center. At any rate, the rest of my walk got progressively less attractive, which I sort of knew of course from previous walks in the area. (In a nutshell though, the rule I've found on this trip is simple: if you're in "inland" Umbria, you'll have splendid scenery if you can see Gualdo Cattaneo or Todi; otherwise, just average.)

Speaking of which, Bevagna from the hills above is resolutely unphotogenic, sunk in its pit — hiding its secrets until you actually come into town.

With my only possible train to get me home at 17:21 at S. Maria degli Angeli, my estimated distance from Bevagna to S. Maria at 17 (16 was the actual figure, 7 to Cannara then 9), and nothing much to see especially that I'd already walked Cannara-Bevagna once, I gave myself a latest departure time from Bevagna of 1420; arriving at 1115, I had three hours to poke around with this wonder­ful camera, maybe some churches would be open, it being Sunday and all.

Well, S. Silvestro was totally kaput, full scaffolding; and S. Michele, though the façade was clear, has a crane hovering over it and has not been open since the earthquake: at the bar on the piazza I got estimates ranging from one to twenty years before it opens again. But then there were the other churches, few of which I'd seen in any detail, or inside, or even — at all.

S. Agostino, which is oddly prominent from the road in although it's marked just by a campanile a vela (but apart from the big boys), turns out to be quite a handsome church inside, with lots of fairly good frescoes — local Umbrian stuff, late medieval — and although they sell post-cards, about 30 different kinds, and very beauti­ful too, much nicer than what I can shoot without tripod and lights etc., I took my own photos, but left 2E00, the price of 4 post-cards.

[image ALT: A photograph of a wall painting in which four people in robes stand on either side of a small wooden dais where a robed woman is seated with an 18‑month-old baby standing on her left knee: she is the Virgin Mary with Jesus. From our left, the four saints are a cowled man with a large book, a woman with two conical objects on a small footed plate — they are meant to be human breasts — a woman with a large pair of pliers, and a man carrying a very thin cross. It is a fresco in Bevagna, Umbria (central Italy), further captioned in the text of this webpage.]

One of the many votive frescoes in the church of S. Agostino, Bevagna: the Virgin and Child with Sts. Agatha, Catherine of Alexandria, Anthony of Padua, and John the Baptist (16c).

S. Domenico I'd never been inside; Mass was wrapping up — very crowded, easily 300 people — so I circled around and came back later. The most interesting things to me were a number of what appeared to be pietre dure altar fronts (no altars, though, just set into the walls) until close inspection — very close inspection, I actually ran my fingers over them — showed they were imitation, they're painted: but very well done. (The last one I looked at, had I seen it first, would have settled it instantly: it had a wide crack showing the underlying plaster.)

Next to S. Domenico, its cloister, now a hotel — lots of hotels and restaurants in town — in which a combination wine and fashion show was going on. The fashion show was two probably local models changing into various scarves and shawls, demonstrating how exceedingly difficult it is to do runway work: it was depressing, and I left quickly; for the record, some (17c?) frescoes, lunettes on the outer walls, not in the best of shape.

S. Vincenzo totally unchanged: locked, and with cars parked in front. S. Francesco equally locked, some kind of restoration seemed to be in progress: I don't remember ever having seen it. A church I definitely never saw before is S. Margherita, closed, but beauti­ful. Somewhere in all this — between S. Vincenzo and the Porta Flaminia — I bumped into a New Zealand couple who are winding up a month's stay at a nearby agriturismo called Il Maestro delle Chiavi,​e with which they were delighted: they called it an agriturismo, but then described a rental apartment situation. I congratulated them on what I view as the best, most central possible choice for Umbria; and told them about SlowTrav although that's like opening the barn doors after the horses have come home.

The temple in the via Crescimbeni is about half under scaffolding; I passed on the theater, the Imbersato (despite recent e‑mail), and lunch, and, nervous, left Bevagna a bit early on schedule, which, as it turned out, was just as well.

The walk to S. Maria degli Angeli was dull, although at least, since Sunday, not trafficky; plus it was flat, the sun was behind me rather than in my eyes as it would have been as I'd originally planned it, and the weather, though turning briefly a bit muggy, went back to middling. Still, it was dull; the only relief being accidental: I went thru Cantalupo viewing it as an occasion to get good photos of (a) the painted niches or balcony; (b) the church with its striking façade. The 17c (or maybe 18c) balcony was still there and I have my pix now; but lo and behold, the façade of the church was gone, although such as it was it all fit in my viewfinder: reduced to an ugly beigish stucco. I started to inquire. First guy, Moroccan, only been living in Cantalupo 2 years, knew nothing. Second, a very old lady, who told me her husband had worked on the church, got an ear infection and died of it two years later (leaving me uncharacteristically tongue-tied, of course). The third, a woman I nabbed as she was leaving her house, told me the 1997 earthquake had caused the façade to detach; the experts said the façade needed to be lowered (which is why it now fit in my viewfinder whereas before I just couldn't get a photo of it at all); at which point the bright red Deruta porcelain ("era porcellana, non ha nessun valore") just vanished, where to she doesn't know and had never thought to ask; I said gosh what a shame, I bet you guys all contributed to the church for it, and it's the patrimonio of Cantalupo, she said now her curiosity piqued and would ask the parish priest Don Giuseppe.

At the bar "Pian d'Arca" at the N edge of town, I raised the question and got similar answers in all points from several patrons, and the consensus was that some contractors hauled it away or maybe some bishop has it. Drinking two banana juices — mindful of my potassium — I sowed more darnel and left. . . .

Cannara has deteriorated since my last visit; the nice little piazzetta's not so nice any more, and somehow it all looks a little sadder than before, although still quite clean; all the churches closed, just as before.

[image ALT: A massive brick gate in the classical style: about 8 meters tall, consisting of three round arches separated by pilasters. The side arches are filled in and each has a large rectangular window protected by a lattice of wrought-iron grillwork. The gate is pedimented, and the pediment is topped by a stone cross; it fronts onto a one-lane paved road or path, and is surrounded left and right by tall cypresses. It is the gate of the cemetery of Cannara, Umbria (central Italy).]

To stick with the sadness theme:
Cannara's cemetery, passed on the way into town.

Long walk from here to the station at Assisi was almost ugly, relieved only, and very briefly, in Castelnuovo by what's this? a Roman tomb — yes, small, in bad shape, and completely encased in pipe scaffolding. The street that branches off the road there is conveniently called Via della Tomba Romana —

Station at exactly 16:00. Ticket, home, tired; but surprised myself, after my bath — half-blistered feet, hobbling — by going out for dinner, the Ristorante Rocca, fish specialties. On the whole a B-: cozze al guazzetto alla marinara, umbricelli ai mazzancolli, frittura di calamari e di gamberetti, light house "frizzantino", an accurate description of the white wine; no dessert, but a limoncello. 31E00; walked the 2 blox back home, and to bed.

Today (it seems it's been a month since I've been able to write the word in this diary!) I woke up at 0455, caught the 0615 to PSG, changed to the Eurostar to Rome (I'd bought the ticket Saturday in PSG), arrived exactly on time at 0845, subwayed to Ottaviano on the Linea A, and found myself at the Vatican at 0915, where it's all set up like a post-Moslem airport now, but the huge line — an entire arm of the Bernini colonnade — got to the metal detectors in only 13 minutes, so that I was a full hour early for my appointment to meet Jona and Marco (the latter "6′6″ and wearing bright red" so hard not to find) at 1030 at the central door to the basilica; I went wandering around in the church: never can get over how frigid and ugly it is, what a pity. A very few beauti­ful paintings, one or two curious details, more interesting than attractive. (The Confessio now cannot be approached: movie theater ropes have been set up about 5 feet from the balustrade —)

At 1030 I found Marco, tall blond and sure enough bright red; Jona, who looks like the young James Levine; and a gaggle of 18 visitors they were squiring about town, almost all Dutch except for one couple who spoke Italian.

After a very fitful, slow start (arcane workings of the Ufficio Scavi) we were eventually given our priest, Fr. Greg Coan [pron. Co‑an] from Washington, DC, who guided us thru the Vatican Necropolis for just under 2 hours. [Dropping this here, it's 11:35 P.M. and I'm dead tired; this visit was, as expected, one of the great highlights of my stay so far — but the details will just have to wait for the next entry!]

Note in the Diary:

1 the bartendress there swears that, like people say about Rome, in fact "All roads lead to Collepepe": so I'm not the only one out there with this experience!

Later Notes:

a I finally did get to Marsciano about two weeks later: see my diary entry.

b Not so, but the mistake is somewhat understandable: I saw the fringes of the town and even met some of its inhabitants, in 1994.

c Just in case you didn't see this note earlier in my diary, one thing this entry doesn't make clear is that the entire walk was really an excuse to bring me back to this hotel: in my eleven years of traveling thru central Italy, the Hotel Dany has been my best hotel experience so far, so I'm going to go out of my way to recommend it to you; and no, I have no financial interest in it, alas. Granted that the little town of Bastardo has nothing to detain the visitor, but most foreign visitors rent cars anyway: you might as well stay somewhere pleasant, untouristed and traffic-free. Bastardo is in the center of the Colli Martani, one of the two or three loveliest areas of Umbria — rolling hills, fresh air and dotted with dozens of Romanesque churches — yet 10 minutes from Bevagna and Monte­falco, 20 minutes from Todi and Trevi, and 30 from Spoleto and Assisi. Not only is the Dany extremely reasonable, but more importantly the Falcinelli family are proud of what they do, and the restaurant is very good: I couldn't recommend them more warmly. (For my first experience of the hotel, see Apr. 23 and 24.)

Hotel Dany

Largo Alcide De Gasperi, 7

loc. Bastardo

06030 Giano dell' Umbria (PG)

Tel/Fax (same number): (+39) 0742 99120

d This is correct. Official European Union figures for 2001 give 230 inhabitants per square kilometer for Germany, 191 for Italy.

e So the diary, faithfully transcribing my notes of what I heard. The correct name of these rental apartments is Maestà delle Quattro Chiavi; see their website.

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Page updated: 29 Jun 23