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Thursday 20 July 2000

Train to Orte, just left Fossato on time at 0611; this year the trains have been remarkably on time, like back in '94.

Yesterday, another attempt to squeeze stuff out of Terni that just may not be there: finally, what it boiled down to was that I turned in 28 rolls of film, ate lunch and left. Should have got a tea strainer and a range flint but didn't; did get the essential crème de marrons, of course, although despite temptation no chocolate at the same: I've only had chocolate once​a (and not much, either), at Montecolognola after the gauntlet of Passignano.

Yet (yesterday, in Terni) it wasn't for lack of trying: I walked all over the place up and down a whole pack of little streets. Modern concrete, or Foligno-type decay, or scaffolding, or all three; and the one new actual sight, the church of S. Salvatore (Romanesque, beauti­ful photo in one of my books) quite closed, and what's worse the whole little area around it: it stands on a sort of raised platform above a busy traffic intersection, in a garden surrounded by a high fence, locked; so that I couldn't even see either the façade or the apse clearly. There was one place where I could have circumvented the fence and got in, but right in front of it a couple of men were talking in a doorway: not the time for a bit of clamber, may do it later.

Lunch — the first time, that I remember, in all these years that I've ever actually had a proper meal in Terni — OK, no stars; at a little restaurant called Alfio, indoors, a bit the style of a 1970's ski lodge. Much of what was on the menu was unavailable (not only me, but others trying to order other things); what they had was fine: gratinéed veggies, cirioli alla ternana (spoletina, a bit more red pepper; the cirioli themselves a sort of irregularly square-section strongozzi), strips of steak on rugola, an unidentifiable semi-frozen dessert (zuccotto); a second dessert: a tiramisú, this one the first time I've had one that was pretty much liquid, like a crème anglaise. A rosé: Rosato "Terre Arnolfo" Colli Amerini 1998 DOC, Cantina Colli Amerini in Amelia, pleasant. Curious appropriation of "Terre Arnolfe" except for the last vowel, since the Terre Arnolfe are nowhere near Amelia. 76ML. My waiter turned out to be Tunisian though long acclimatized here, his Italian far more comfortable than his French: we talked Tunis, of course; we agreed that the country has changed enormously since the French left. I learned from him that Bourguiba died this year at 97; small world, that two strangers in a restaurant in central Italy should be talking about Sidi bou Saïd and the rue ès-Sadikia.

A whole bottle of wine at lunch a bit much, slept a bit on the 1627 train, waking up at Nocera. Total stranger offered me a lift from the beginning of the hill from the station: dropping me off at the alimentari, since the Professoressa Alice was there and I was curious to meet her.

Alice Bellfield a retired educator, at one point with 15,000 kids her responsibility; been coming to Fossato since 1966, and has several friends now here, plus a house: Anna-Maria (of the alimentari) and Alice big pals, despite some language difference, but not that much since she has fair Italian and Anna-Maria manages in English more than she lets on, I think! We all sat in the shade in the piazza next to the alimentari for an hour, about a half-dozen ladies and a coupla men, kids playing; I had a bottle of fruit juice. I say I sat there for an hour: they were sitting there when I arrived, and when I left to go to bed early (just past 7) they stayed and sat some more, for all I know thru to dinnertime.

And I did sleep; in Terni one very useful thing: schedules for the entire ATC bus network, which goes everywhere and frequently — I have a feeling I'll be making good use of it rather soon (and for the hike of the next few days, very good to see that if something happens, the buses go to every one of the places I touch on my route: took the booklet with me). Other than that, I got some non-tourist, non-antiquarian reading material — can only stand so much Roman stuff — for light reading in the evening: a Virginia Woolf novel, it'll be curious to see what that gives in Italian, and a sadly disappointing Nostradamus book, a sort of hash of all kinds of things having nothing to do with Nostradamus (St. Bridget, numerology, a very basic but long primer on astrology, some divagations on the I Ching, a bit of pyramidology and Piri Reis for good measure — all prefaced occasionally by "Nostradamus says" or "Nostradamus thought" when in fact flatly not true; illustrated with several dozen bad photos of Mayan statuettes that don't seem to be referred to at all — and the whole thing prefaced by a capsule life of Rabelais, who is given out as the author of this book! Yet with all that — better organized, this could have been a neat little piece of kookiness — dry and unentertaining. . . They got my 16ML, though!)

So: today off on my second serious walk, from Orte to Baschi or Orvieto (depending on how I feel the last day, which'll be Sunday); I have hotel reservations tonite in Attigliano, making this the longest walk of the 4 days; and tomorrow in Lugnano, Saturday in Montecchio. I expect some rather dull walking, Lazio-like lower Tiber valley, and some rather dull places as well, all the books concurring (except for the highlight, the church of Lugnano) although who knows? I may be pleasantly surprised.

This in turn a last rehearsal for two, prolly three, Flaminia walks: I'm better packed this time, with Mr. Ottaviani's blue zaino (making me a walking billboard for Forza Azzurra the Italian national soccer team) with clothes including a sweater; carrying my tripod, but very few books this time. Glasses, too!

So far so good. I got to Attigliano pretty much when I thought I would, and generally with less pain and difficulty than I expected.

Orte, Penna in Teverina, Giove, Attigliano: these places are not tourist destinations. Train on time at Orte Scalo at 0758, and with a minimum of trouble (i.e., the road was the one I expected) got to Orte capoluogo, where I spent a bit more than two hours.

Orte is one of the more decayed places I've been, reminding me in that respect of the old town of Ventimiglia; the débris is medieval and Renaissance, although I found one single Roman inscription, and possibly, probably, some columns in the façade of a savings bank on the main square are Roman, although the capitals are medieval. No signs anywhere, even the names of the churches that were open I had to ask passersby for. I bet there's tons of stuff under the houses or buried in the walls, but on the surface at least, a depressing town encrusted in very old dirt.

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One of the capitals of the Casa delle Colonne: the building, in the main square of Orte, is now the Cassa di Risparmio di Viterbo.

Very picturesque on its butte, in the style of Amelia and Orvieto, from almost any direction once you leave the town, though: an old man went way out of his way to guide me down to the rather obscure small road to Penna, and to the short-cut off the cliff that allowed me to connect with it — a great courtesy that of course I tried to forestall, but that I was very grateful for.

Although I left the upper town a few minutes before eleven, I'd been unable to find a single caffé open, or alimentari: by the bridge over the Tiber at the foot of the hill fortunately I found my open bar; large bottle of water and a cornetto, since I'd had only tea and three biscottes for breakfast back home.

The walk up to Penna, only ten kilometers, was brutal. It was hot, as you might expect at noon in mid-July; and the whole collection of leg and foot pains crawled out in force for me. Mind you I haven't had one day without some kind of leg pain or foot pain or both, but here they pretty much all ganged up on me; the only one that was missing was the Preci toe, the one that felt like I'd hit it with a hammer: the nail is deep purple now, but at least it don't hurt. Otherwise, the lancing pains down the hamstrings, the stressed bone pains in both heels, the nerve pain on the side of the heel, the horrible nerve spasms in the arch, and all the compensating pains in the Achilles' tendon, the knees etc. although I pretty much succeeded in not favoring anything (because once that starts, I'm done for). Anyway, the dull muggy road up to Penna, which just kept on climbing, slightly, and each time I'd think it was the top of the hill. . . Not fun; but I got to Penna at 1:05 P.M., which was OK time.

Penna: sort of the reverse of Orte; spiffy clean, but nothing there at all. I arrived to find the one monument in town, providentially placed the first thing I saw, four shaded benches part of an 18c monumental entrance to the Palazzo Orsini (private property). I sat in a daze and drank water and rested. 150 yards further, the center of the town: a large square with a long Renaissance building on one side, with cars parked in front of it, the Piazza S. Valentino; behind it to one side about three blocks of old streets very neatly kept up, but hardly Spello or Fossato.

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The gate to the Palazzo Orsini: two of the Four Seasons.

The best part of Penna is all the modern section, which is most of it: pleasant modern houses with gardens, nicely laid out streets, something by like an American suburb in the hills of Umbria, looking extremely livable. There is a restaurant/bar/pizzeria in a sort of low kiosque with tables and parasols in a garden around a big fountain, all of it surely built no earlier than ten years ago, Florida at its best: unfortunately it appeared to be closed, or at least not serving food, so I wandered back to my "base", one of the many little public gardens, with a water pump, and kinda sat; finally after a bit more of this and a study of the map, decided to push on to Giove. Seemed unfair (I left at 1:57) to just transit the place in less than an hour, and it also seemed hot to get right back out on the road, but what was the point of hanging around? Nothing to see, no food, no one to talk to, and the three dogs I saw all very self-sufficient — so, off I went.

The road to Giove was a total contrast. The map did not lie to me: a U-shaped route along the crest of one hill, then down slightly the crest of another from the place where they intersect; thus as close to flat as Umbria can get, and the weather merci­fully coöperating: to the usual good breeze of ridges and hilltops, the added luxury of large clouds hiding the sun most of the time, although the weather would have been described by a meteorologist as only partly cloudy. Anyhow, a pleasant 6.6 km with almost no traffic up there — no trucks at all — and good views onto Porchiano del Monte (not the Porchiano I know, although that's not far away either) and at one point off in the distance Amelia which I got as close to as 8 km per the road signs (better here for some reason than usually in Italy).

Giove, good timing: I stepped into the caffé across from the Palazzo Ducale and it started to rain. Nothing really serious, most of it was really just drizzle, but it did me no harm to be inside resting, catching up on my fluids (three Pago, one Coke — still have a bit of a sniffle — and a cornetto, first food since 6 A.M.) and flirting with the barmaid.

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The Ducal Palace of Giove.

Who told me among other things that yes the Palazzo is private; it belongs to some Americans, "produttori". Me: oh how nice, what do they produce? Her: cinematografi, cioè . . . hard. . . . Dunno whether this is true or not, but apparently the Castello itself serves as the location for the pornographic productions: at any rate, that may account for why DeAgostini says merely that "until a few years ago, the Palazzo belonged to the dukes of Acquarone"!​b Leaving my bags at the caffé I went for a brief prowl around the small medieval quarter behind the Palazzo under the drizzle: they need to get rid of the nasty grey crépi over the stone; typical warren of tortuous lanes, except I was surprised that, as far as I could tell, the neighborhood seemed to belong mostly to poorer people: there is potential for rehabbing and a nice little area here; views down onto the Tiber valley, including my next stop.

Back to my caffé; and the rain having more or less stopped, off I went again, a constant descent of 5+ km, a bit of sprinkle at the beginning and end, and long lazy loopy laces down the hill, at one point for several hundred meters going in quite the opposite direction from Attigliano.

Attigliano itself reminds me a lot of Cannara, and probably because it's an agricultural center with railway; thus a place where farm produce gets shipped off. Modern 2‑ and 3‑story apartment houses, and by good fortune (legs) the Albergo da Rosanna on this side of town rather than the other; very glad to see it.

Not at all what I expected: again, a 1980s? construction in a small garden; Rosanna herself at the desk, an old lady in white wearing what I would call a nurse's cap: her 10‑year‑old granddaughter takes me to my room.

Hot shower and a success­ful effort not to fall asleep, TV news helping; but downstairs as early as I thought reasonable, so's to get my sleep tonite: dinner at 7:30.

Well the portions are average, and the cooking is very plain — the diningroom seats a hundred, and several tables laid for ten, large monastic room — but excellent: the good folk at New Melleray​c would be proud of Rosanna. A vegetable soup, served cool: spinach, celery, potato — wonder­ful, one of the best soups I've ever had. Chicken breast, literally: the breast of a chicken, in a plate, no sauce, no garnish, no vegetable — very lightly salted but also some other undefinable seasoning, possibly rosemary but very very light. Contorni, I had two (and this was a very light meal considering all the day's exertion): boiled chicory, oil, garlic the tiniest touch, lemon, really wonder­ful, balanced. Miss Manners says when sopping up sauce with bread, to look absent-minded about it; I don't think I did. . . Second contorno, French fries; eat yer heart out McDonald's! The perfect fry: almost scalding hot, beauti­fully crisp outside, fluffy potato inside, ate them all with my fingers but not a trace of oil, didn't even wipe my hands.

Dessert nothing available home-made, so with misgivings, still hungry though, opted for an ice-cream, affogato: good, fortunately.

Told Rosanna (and her daughter Lara, handsome, blonde, all sparks) what a wonder­ful meal I'd had;​d bit of conversation — her husband from Città della Pieve, some interesting tidbits; and Lara recommending I see Melézzole, a small town close to my current route to Baschi. Home-made limoncello: took my glass up to my room, but didn't read much — kerzonk, slept.

Later Notes:

a Not true; at least three times. My own diary took faithful snapshots of me snarfing up the stuff in Sigillo on June 24, and a large bar of it in Fabriano the very next day.

b According to the comune's site, the castle belongs to Charles Robert Band (born Carlo Antonini), the maker of a number of horror movies, including one movie in the erotic genre.

c New Melleray is a Trappist abbey in Iowa. For further information, see their website and, on my site, a 48‑page article, "New Melleray" (The Palimpsest, Vol. III No. 9).

d In over 10 years and hundreds of meals in Umbria, Rosanna's cooking is still among the best I've had anywhere; read more about it in the next entry.

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