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Sunday 9 May

Friday, weather reports promising rain and even thunderstorms: wrecked the day, out of fear of getting trapped in yet another downpour. 15 minutes like at S. Faustino is OK, but 20 km under the rain is a different thing: so I didn't go out, except for a bit of shopping. Most of the time it didn't rain, but here and there drizzle then in the afternoon and thru the evening the soaking: I was glad I hadn't gambled this time, even if the day was wasted; on the other hand I caught up on this diary, laundry, etc. Letter from James, which was nice.

The reports, though, were that Saturday would be an improvement, and Sunday better yet, and Monday-Tuesday would be "warm and sunny": I decided to do my Poggiodomo hike: Leonessa to Monte­leone di Spoleto to Poggiodomo, then out of there somehow and back to Spoleto train station by 1750 at the latest. Karen had volunteered to get me to or from this hike — very difficult "ends": no question for example of hiking over the Cima Pantani (and in fact the roads are snowed in) — so I called her and she said yes; and at 9:15 yesterday morning we left Piazza XXV Aprile on what I think was interesting for her as well: get me to Leonessa, fine, but via places Karen hadn't seen, yet now that she's interested in Roman stuff, should.

So after as much highway as possible for speed, our first stop was at the Tempietto del Clitunno, which Karen hadn't seen. Some slight changes since the last time I was there, the most noticeable of which was a prominent sign at the ticket booth, from the Soprintendenza: don't you dare take pictures. (An utter absurdity, since the building has been known for centuries and probably continuously since it was built; soon, as Franco says, they'll be trying to prevent us from photographing the landscape!) Anyhow, I have photographs from previous visits. They've also done things to the lower level: there is now a curious hole under the northern steps so if one wanted to, one could crawl in from there —

My idea for our next real stop was S. Salvatore in Spoleto (and thus with S. Maria in Assisi, Karen will have seen the three best-preserved Roman temples in Umbria); somehow though, maybe because of the remnants of Roman bridge at Pontebari — which I failed to spot as we did that road later, so we did not see — I also suggested S. Brizio, and we cut across country to it. One of the many little Romanesque churches along the Flaminia proved irresistible — S. Lorenzo di Azzano — then we looked for a caffé (nothing in Azzano, but found one in Camporoppolo: I got a couple of Gatorades) and so we got to S. Brizio.

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A spring day in central Umbria: a field of poppies, and in the distance, the hamlet of Azzano.

All the nice bits of Roman stone, now rephotographed; the only thing I saw new was a good one: the church is in use again — Karen got a peek into it; there was a wedding going on. Karen said the couple didn't grab her, which I found odd: while we were there they stayed kneeling facing the altar, and all I saw was ears and organdy. . . .

From there then no Pontebari, and my attempt to get us to S. Salvatore with a minimum of traffic quite failed: heavyish traffic, lots of one-way signs, and our own inattention had us circle part of the borgo three times — at least we avoided going into Spoleto proper — I really don't like the place — but we found the cemetery, parked, and were immediately assaulted by a hailstorm (the first of three I had yesterday), lasting two minutes and hail the size of peas, or at least of the small nasty peas the French eat. Still, I think Karen found the temple worth the trouble, or I hope so: and it is, after all, one of the 6 main sights of the town, most tourists as far as I gather only seeing two or three. . . .

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The Romanesque dome of S. Salvatore. The church is one of the great sights of Spoleto.

From there, the Valnerina route to Leonessa, with at the end a wide hook: not the most direct route but I really didn't want to zoom thru Poggiodomo and Monte­leone in a car before I saw them on foot. Karen had never been thru the Valnerina, and a stop at S. Pietro in Valle with its Roman stuff would have been nice but somehow we went past the turnoff; it had started to rain of course.

We thought we had some time, and Arrone was on our route, so I took her to the church of S. Giovanni Battista; inscription across the front of the Tempietto starts with SCS which wasn't quite familiar to her and from there it was just a predictable step for Booby to go blathering on about the SCS DEVS in S. Giovanni Battista di Arrone, so now I had to show it to her. It was closed, but the house across the street had the key and the young woman there knew tons of stuff and when we offered to contribute either to her or to the upkeep of the church, Karen wound up with a couple pots of scented geraniums plus literature on the church. They're restoring the S wall frescoes, but the others are nicely visible including my SCS DEVS which our custode had herself not noticed: as I say, it takes an American.

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The amusing and very unusual feature of this fresco is that, having depicted God the Father flanked by the four medieval Doctors of the Church, the artist put captions at their feet in the strictest parallelism: SCS (Sanctus) — Blessed Gregory, Blessed God, Blessed Jerome. . . .

Unfortunately this excursion, which ought to have been fairly straightforward, took far more time than I thought; race to get to Leonessa in time enough for Karen to get home by 6:30. As it turns out, we made it, if tight: at 4:30, after having looked at 4‑star hotel and decided against (the usual mix of price and I just don't like such places, big concrete bunkers with paid staff and bland food), Karen dropped me off in the Piazza 7 Aprile, the main square of Leonessa; she made it home, she says, exactly on time.​a

Leonessa totally different from my imaginings. I'd expected a very small brownish place on top of a hill — I really should read my maps more carefully — and instead, it's a largish flat, open town that instantly reminded me of both Norcia and Rieti, which couldn't be more appropriate, being halfway between. Several restaurants, bars, and I saw eleven churches or ex-churches, three of them quite large. The Leonessani, however, tell me it's much less inhabited than it looks, with only, one person said, 2800 people over the whole (vast) comune; many of the apparently inhabited houses in fact not, rather used as getaways from Rome, even if often by people who once really did live here but found better opportunities in Rome.

Asking around, no affittacamere or hotel less than 4‑stars, of which the second, that I'd failed to see when we drove in though right past it — cars do that to you — the Hotel la Torre, much closer to town, just 50 m outside the Porta Spoletina. Misgivings, but what could I do? room (in which the back of the door said max rate 82E); I withdrew more cash, to be safe, at an ATM in the medieval door of the church of S. Nicola di Bari now the Banca Popolare di Rieti.

To even out the expenses, though, after visiting quite a bit of the town, the Ristorante Alesse which several people told me the best place to eat, quality and certainly price.

During my visiting (S. Maria del Popolo, the Santuario di S. Giuseppe where among other things, his hairshirt and sandals are preserved, S. Carlo Borromeo, and mostly S. Pietro) it rained off and on, mostly on; and at one point, hailed.

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Detail of a painting in the church of S. Carlo Borromeo. The flask is decorated with the punning coat of arms (a chicken on a mountain) of the power­ful Mongalli family that pretty much ran Leonessa for many years; the slip of paper is not the artist's signature, but the name of the man who commissioned the work, as best I can make it out:

D. Augustinius Ranierus fieri fecit An̅o Domini 1640.

I spent a lot of time in S. Pietro — upper church in restauro, almost nothing but scaffolding, but lower church has a beauti­ful terracotta Deposition and several other old statues; and as I was leaving, a young man (group of three sort of hanging out), who turned out to be the custode, said I was missing the cloister and opened it up for me — just one aisle, but very unusual in that open onto the outside: the only other I know is at Saint‑Bertrand-de‑Comminges, and for much the same reason, it's a sort of cliff — and I pumped them for all kinds of information as usual.

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Few of us have ever seen a hairshirt — I never had — so this photo of S. Giuseppe's, in the Santuario di S. Giuseppe in Leonessa, is surely a public service of sorts.

Nobody, on the other hand, seems to know why Leonessa (the lions surely came after the name, at least that's the usual) especially that it was called Gonessa in 1278; Lagonissa a transitional name seems to explain it??

Anyhoo at 8, Booby in eat mode at the Alesse. Walked in and realized it was going to be diamond in the rough — or at least rough: tables set up with green unlabeled bottles of red wine with little plastic caps, and prix fixe 15E; but I ate pretty well. That reddish wine was a Colli Amerini (the owner told me no wine produced in Leonessa); minestra di farro, the consistency of oatmeal with bits of ground beef, pancetta, and a stray juniper berry (B+); pork chop & sausage alla braccia (B); potatoes — I'd been told in my chats during the afternoon that potatoes are a Leonessa thing — with oil and rosemary, quite like any other potatoes (B); dolce ("se c'è qualcosa, glielo dò"), tozzetti con vin santo, unusually good, very crunchy, lots of almonds, the vin santo "Prodotto del Cavatore, Norcia da 1950" by Tullio d'Abbraccio & C. snc — yet produced and bottled at Acqualagna (A).

Grappa nearby; also on the Corso S. Giuseppe, place with long counter of all kinds of pastry — mental note, try something in the morning — and to bed.

Later Note:

a This innocent paragraph conceals one of the difficulties facing the tourist visiting Italy. The country is so rich in beauti­ful places, that even the shortest, most ordinary drive anywhere means passing by or thru some of them without seeing them; the car is not the ideal solution for getting to know the country.

Here, for example, the little drive which we did after leaving Arrone, 44 km, a mere 27 miles, from Terni to Leonessa (both towns themselves chock-a‑block full of stuff which should take about a day or two in each case to see properly) has the traveler crossing Marmore, site of an artificial waterfall, the highest in Europe, created by the Romans in the 3c B.C.; the beauti­ful resort town of Piediluco, and the exceptionally attractive village of Labro; and passing within just a mile of at least three other beauti­ful places, Papigno and Miranda in Umbria, then Morro Reatino in the Lazio; all of them with their medieval churches and castles: yet the area is in no way unusual — in fact, for Italy, it's rather empty.

The North American or Australian visitor, in particular, living in a land of vast empty spaces, finds it hard to adjust to the riches of Europe, and all too often zooms thru the most wonder­ful places, their nose in a guidebook, chasing after "famous" things: and comes back from a trip to Italy having seen both too much and (mostly) not enough, with a lot of rushing around and very little idea of the country. Try not to do this!

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