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Tuesday 27 June 2000

Well, big surprise last night: I didn't get to sleep until well past 2. Have no idea why, although the sunburn, localized as it was (it's basically gone now) to patches of shoulder didn't help any. Did the reasonable thing and read a bit, drank the last half-glass of milk; I'm probably drinking too much milk if I'm going to be losing weight —

Up at 8 and good shower and shave — at least the bathroom here is good, my best in Italy yet (water doesn't spatter everywhere, bathmats, etc.); breakfast of biscottes and fruit juice and yogurt, and off to the Comune to get the absurd codice fiscale. Sheer lunacy, but after waiting twenty minutes — offices officially open at 10, but in fact around 8, then on the other hand the guy in charge of the codici wasn't in — was delivered ("ufficiosamente, non ufficialmente" but the result said to be identical) a 16‑digit identifier in part transparently compounded of scraps of my name and birth date and place of birth [. . .] which with 710 ML will in theory get me a fonino. Sheer lunacy but at least it seems inoffensive in itself, even if it's another nail in the coffin of individual liberty — imagine having to give our Social Security number to buy a phone — I hope Americans never get to be such sheep as Europeans, although it looks like we're on our way.​a

Upon inquiry, was told at the Comune that yes there was a glass recycling scheme, that a yellow container could be found in the parking lot; wandered over there, no such thing; a couple people there told me no, no recycling here 'cause the collection trucks can't get thru, and that they themselves live in the paese and just toss their glass, someone at the dump must sort out the glass. This little walk served mostly to make friends with a small tabby cat, who a woman in the neighborhood felt was a birbaccione, getting into her house and dashing around tearing up things: sounds like a kitten to me; if I find him again, maybe I'll adopt him if he'll have me (although then what when I leave?).

Anyway, 10:45 and another gorgeous day, warm, but cool in the shade in front of the house. Last night from say 10 to maybe 1 A.M., terrific winds, the first real wind since I've been here, prolly 50 mph — but now, calm, birds. Today, in theory, fonino and journée au ralenti; then tomorrow Trevi or Spello for my olive oil and some good ham and some strongozzi, maybe even a good bottle of Monte­falco or grappa or something to mark the evenings a bit better —

(A piece of apparent bad news, while I think of it: buses to Cagli and up the Flaminia then to Urbino, none? from Fossato; although I saw stops, and the buses themselves, of two different companies — Bucci and Giovannini. Buses do leave here, and even from the Paese somewhere, for Gualdo and Gubbio at 7, 7:30, 8 A.M., and presumably return. Feel naked without a schedule.)

A few minutes before 8 P.M., the end of the day, sun starting to set, light starting to turn pale orange, heat starting to dissipate; and against a background of light cheeping, doves cooing but also a very excited bird of some kind maybe in the belfry of S. Sebastiano — the exotic birds of Fossato. . . .

Well from a practical point of view, the day was an all-round success. Paolo had a feeling the 710ML at TIM yesterday was out of line, consulted a friend, the giornalaio at the station, who advised us to go to OmniTel — where it turned out I could get a perfectly adequate model for 299ML: apparently the saleswoman at TIM got it into her head that I wanted to use the phone in the States as well, and wouldn't you know it we're not on the same wavelength system, and have several different standards etc. . . Anyway I don't need any of that, quindi a large savings.

Then to a most unprepossessing restaurant where we had a good solid meal at a terrific price. The Barba del Priore (loc. Case Fabrizi 3, 06023 Gualdo, tel. (075) 9142474, closed Mondays),​b a stuccoed concrete hulk of a house, dun gray and completely enveloped in metal scaffolding, splat on a busy road thru Gualdo, surrounded by a large gravel parking area with big rigs scattered round it: and as Paolo says, here too, where truckers eat is usually pretty good. (In my experience, not always, but often enough, yes.)

And this was: bruschetta mista (tomato-pepper, liver, truffle), very good gnocchi di patate, al tartufo of course — hey I'm in Umbria and have been eating yogurt and fruit juice for near on a week — then cham lops more tartufo, locally scavenged contorno of greens (mostly chicory), tiramisú. Rosso di Monte­falco, Rocca di Fabbri 1976 good; a nice grappa di Chardonnay (from up there, as usual), very good coffee: 40ML for both. The wine alone, in a store — to say nothing of in a restaurant — would have run more in Chicago. For the price, a top-notch meal, really very good indeed.

Ambiance pure working class, only two women vs. twenty-two men in our dining-room (not all the tables filled, but most; another room on the other side of the entrance). Big table of six guys, recent co-workers of Paolo's at the yard; it's quite clear Paolo misses his work, been pensionato only since the first of the year — I hope for him he settles into retirement well. Running commentary on the local economy, the (slow, obstreperously bureaucratic) ricostruzione since the earthquake: he doesn't expect to see Nocera — the upper town — lived in again in his lifetime. Sticking point he feels is availability of capital; but I wonder: if there were enough capable contractors to do the work — it's a huge amount to be done — they'd be turning the screws on the authorities to get loans out. Since there's no sign of it, for now I'm gonna conclude that they're stretched to their max anyway, so no incentive to push for faster reconstruction which they couldn't absorb. Indeed, despite a proud regional press that says it's only ill tongues saying it, someone is saying it: local contractors can't handle the work, in fact. Understandably, but still. Anyhow, case in point the owners of the Barba del Priore are from Nocera, from the Isola that one waitress told me was completely dead, unlivable; they've all resettled here, bought houses, and have no intention of going back.

At Gualdo, down near the station, a container park: must be about 40 families there, and prolly others elsewhere. Fossato rather proud that it managed to avoid a single container: apparently they commandeered the houses of nonresidents and got by, everyone in a real house; good for them. Of course the further north, the less damage to the housing stock mind you.

Fossato has been on the way up, not down, for the last 20 years. The early 80s were the pits, but work has opened up and the paese has become more livable; Paolo credits it to Mayor Lispi, the same of Prof. Galassi's book on the town, who was in power for at least fifteen years. Now there's a younger man, an engineer — Lispi was an architect.

(Post‑8 P.M. banging on the bells, once at 8:15, and as I write at 8:30 again; yet a different peal, this one, a continuous peal of the great bell, and the little tinny one(s?) in triplets over it. Gotta learn the bells!!)

After our blowout at the Barba, Paolo decided to take me to the top of M. Cucco; road is almost all treeless all 9 km to the end, from right next to the Palazzo Comunale at Sigillo: reminder to self to do that climb very early in the day, viz. awake and out the door at five, and take water. The road stops about a kilometer short of the easy summit, a white line of trail, limestone against low brush and grass, girdling the last coupla hundred vertical meters spirally.

A meadow on the side of a hill, with little knots of people tinkering with curious equipment. It is the hang-glider takeoff area on Monte Cucco in Umbria (central Italy).

Monte Cucco: the "decollo" or hang-glider takeoff area.
You are facing N; the hump in the background is the summit.

At the end of the road, a saddle between two summits, the hang-gliders. Maybe twenty cars parked, and about that many gliders, looking exactly like insects of some rather creepy kind — after you leap into the void at the end of your brief take-off run, you pull your feet into a body bag behind you; this, usually purple or some odd color, swells with the wind and the human being looks like the body of a June bug or a skeeter, huge wings out to the side in front and above — Even after landing, people wander around with their bags and harnesses still on, looking like pupae or dinosaurs, the butt end of the bag bobbing along behind you nearly touching the ground: curious sight indeed.

A hang-glider about 30 or 40 meters off the ground, seen from below.

Most of the cars from Austria (Vorarlberg, Salzburg), Germany, Switzerland. A few Italians. One van was from — Herd of cows right behind this (up the last slope of Cucco) paying not the slightest heed; surely though they must have a thought or two about these purple people jumping off the hill? Some of the cows may have been Chianine; Paolo says you see more of 'em towards Tuscany, like around Città di Castello.

(8:45, more banging, same peal as before.)

I wanted to call James at 3, eight A.M. Chicago time, but couldn't very well; so enjoyed the Cucco excursion, with pit stop at the Hotel Monte Cucco, open from Easter to October at 1108 m on the eastern approach to the summit about 800 m away, under a splendid cover of beech trees, some of them surely a hundred years old, big globular knots. About 20 rooms, they seem to serve meals; can't vouch for that, of course, but must be very pleasant for about 3 days. The hotel (da Tobia) bottles its own amaro, available nowhere else.

And down to Fossato — where I spent an hour studying my new toy, programming it, etc. Finally, also, reached James at work. He'd just got to his office: he'd been trapped in the elevator, and had to climb out via a ladder. And this is Fermi Institute! (Endless saga of those fool elevators, this has been going on for years: I usually take the stairs, never seen such slow door opening, supposedly in the name of safety —)

Anyway, James is fine, so is Pliny and the whole brood of 'em. Poor Pliny hid under the bed, in his den, for two whole days at first. It's bad enough for me, but at least I know what happened and expect to come back; whereas Pliny poor thing has no idea of anything, just that I've disappeared.

James feels my check should have cleared now; I'll start withdrawing at this end, 'til I can go to S. Marino cash in hand and buy film. So far, rather few photos: 93 in the 5 days since noon; very hard to gauge how many rolls I should get. In '98, 110 rolls not all 36 shots; this time I'm staying longer and not having them printed so can take more. . . .

Later Notes:

a Those of you bereft of this useful number can now supply it yourself using this handy-dandy resource. On the other hand, maybe by now the innocent abroad need not scramble for one in order to buy a phone; either that, or if you buy your phone at the airport in Rome or in a big store used to dealing with foreigners, they too will compute this code for you, so that Big Brother will know who bought every cellphone in the country.

My thanks for this information (Jan 2003) to Cristina Fassio.

Be aware, however, that this online calculated version will be every bit as unofficial as my own; and I urge those of you planning on major transactions in Italy — as for example, buying a house — to read up carefully on the whole system.

b The restaurant has since been sold, and in 2004 was open as La Corte dell' Oca: see diary, Apr. 16, 2004.

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