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Friday 28 July 2000

The 0611 to Rome, leaving the station: catching up —

After lunch on Wednesday then, Andrea took it into his head to wander me over much of the area east of Cagli, starting with Frontone, not very much but a castle, sotto ponteggio of course; and a few streets of very clean old town huddled on a hill around it; but mostly to Fonte Avellana, the monastery that for a while was so important in the region: originally Cistercian and now occupied by Camaldolese.​a I'd been looking at it on maps and wondering how to get there, so this was pretty nice.

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The Eremo di Fonte Avellana from the main gate.

The abbey itself, nothing much in that typically Cistercian way — the founders would be delighted to read this! — and could have been built yesterday; parts of it were, in fact: there's a rather nice late 20c chapel that reminds one very much of a spaceship, with a curved hull and portholes. The same curious mix of availability and inhospitality as I've started to become aware of elsewhere (the most uncomfortable case is still S. Eutizio): they really don't want visitors, of course, but the tourists will come — according to Andrea weekends lots — and both their rule for sure and prolly some agreement with the state (which often pays the brunt of restoring all these large medieval albatrosses) require them to be hospitable: so there's a gift shop, and apparently guided tours; we saw a few people being shepherded around by a young woman, who was clearly on the staff as it were, and at the same time, Andrea tells me, women visitors are not allowed?

To Fonte Avellana was already lots of driving, but back to Costacciaro was more: we went up and up — vast views — thru the saddle between M. Cátria and M. Acuto — for miles of narrow strada bianca, Andrea very wisely beeping his horn around bends, and in fact we met all kinds of oncoming traffic, maybe 15 cars way out there in the middle of nowhere.

(When does a diary turn into mémoires? Already less than 48 hours later than the events, and I've started to omit things!) In fact, the most salient part of the day's wanderings, which otherwise would just have been a car ride interrupted by meals, was our hunt for the cave of St. Peter Damian. Andrea, knowledgeable about Fonte Avellana as about lots of other things, claims that Dante — who spends maybe a hundred verses of the 21st Canto of (Purgatorio? Paradiso?) on the monastery​b — also had the area, either the valley generally or the actual cave of St. Peter Damian in mind, in a passage of the Inferno where over Satan's door he puts a hendecasyllabic piece of nonsense: and that there is an elevenfold echo somewhere up there, into which you can shout those eleven nonsense syllables — which will then resolve into perfect sense (just dying to check all this back home).​c

So we went looking for this cave; it's no great mystery, and he even got refresher instructions — he'd been there before — from the woman who runs the gift shop: we found a retaining wall at a curve, and a path from there, and the woman had said it was a 300‑meter walk maybe; we did probably just under a kilometer thru the forest, Andrea leading, beating the ground cover with a stick for vipers (artificially sown in these hills by the park service as food for the royal eagle, a protected species) and occasionally hollering for echoes. I would have been delighted to see a viper and my lens cap was off and the camera on, but no such luck: they're about 50 cm long.

Anyway after getting further nowhere than strictly necessary, we turned around and walked back of course; Andrea apologetic and puzzled, but I told him exactly what I was thinking, that surely we were getting a better idea of St. Peter Damian and his hideout than we would have otherwise, since surely the main road wasn't there in his time; and that I will title this section of my diary

"In the footsteps of the saint" —

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The cave, when we found it, several bends of the road higher up (different retaining wall) and barely 75 m off the road, came as an anticlimax. It's really no more than an overhang of rock, which now has a small altarlike table in it: mind you, the best echoes of the day, five. As we left, we met a nun and three teenagers being walked down the road by one of the monks; Andrea asked him where the eleven echoes were (I'd been thinking that summer vegetation was damping the echo, or that vegetation had changed): the man, maybe 55, told us that they're not there any more, because of all the roads that have been built in these hills, but that when he was a novice you could still hear the 11 echoes. One more for the automobile. . . .

We finally made it to the Rio Verde campground by a few minutes past six, and from there to ten-thirty I sat quietly, ate drank chatted and petted Nera, a very affectionate middle-aged dog, black of course, of some breed with a German name — a sweet animal who smiled a lot and liked being petted on the belly.

Francesca, Andrea's wife, reëmerging around seven in an elegant long black sheath-type dress for dinner, the same effect as Somerset Maugham (or his characters? or someone else entirely?) dressing for dinner when by himself in the wilds of Burma; unfortunately there'd been a personnel change and she was short-handed and didn't really have dinner with us, hopping up and about Martha-like busy with things. Dinner itself simple, good: tomato bruschetta, vitello tonnato (finally! after all these years, I've had vitello tonnato, and yes, it works), a good spinach salad; a bottle of Rosso Conero from the wineshop in Cagli, of a very dark almost blue shade of purple: in either France or the US, that would usually be a pretty nasty wine; this one was excellent with the tomato, OK with the rest — unpredictable stuff, wine.

Several people (bits of family, some of the campers) gravitated to our table, by the time I left about ten of us; I insisted on sharing with them a bottle of Muffato di Sala (made in Ficulle)​d I'd got at the same wineshop: 50ML for a half-liter bottle, similar to a vin jaune rather than a Sauterne, good although not much depth.

Drive back thru the dark to Fossato, with an added fillip: Sigillo celebrating the feast of St. Anne — fireworks, the finale right in front of us, red and white starbursts; utterly unexpected, nice end.

Yesterday a much simpler day: Caccia ai Comuni, #53, Deruta. Getting there was surprisingly easy (the 1013 to Foligno arrives at 1048, an 1103 to Perugia Ponte S. Giovanni, an equally quick change there to the FCU southwards, and — new since November — a minibus service from the tiny station at Deruta into the actual town, several kilometers away). I had not been looking forward to walking it, and I didn't have to: meno male.

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Even Deruta's train station features majolica. (Another shot, anyone?)

Deruta itself was nothing like what I'd expected. I'd expected busloads of tourists and shoppers, a sort of miniature San Marino: but nothing of the sort. The place is a normal small Umbrian town, on the top of a hill like everybody else, although not a very big hill — I climbed it twice; not much to it, but majolica everywhere, and still no more maybe than 15 other tourists (all American or German) during the five hours I was there. But right from the train hut — majolica; also over the doors of bakers, pharmacists and the municipal police, in church and in bars, gardens and private houses: they like the stuff; and, with a few exceptions so do I. Remarkably little kitsch, altho [what kitsch there was] falling into three categories: the excessively antiquarian including with artificial antiquing and crazing; the self-consciously avant-garde, stuff that is no longer majolica and could be from anywhere; and a very occasional piece in some totally extraneous style, for all I know not produced in Deruta at all but hey why not try and sell it there: I saw some black-figured Greek stuff.

I spent a fair amount of time in the church, which has (Deruta­ware of course, but also) some nice frescoes: the best of which a tiny fragment, sadly; but an appealing S. Anthony of Padua surrounded by his miracles, including Mr. Mule (two of them in the little vignette).

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St. Anthony's Mules. And why do I care?
Well, I got hooked on this mule in Rimini . . .

Although I'd been planning to, I did not go see the Madonna di Bagno: it was broiling hot, and that was a six-kilometer walk. At the Museum though I bought a book on it, and it really does look like I should see it: I spent a while last night trying to work it into one of my comune-chasing hikes.

The Museo della Ceramica is an excellent museum, beauti­fully laid out, informative, and full of beauti­ful pieces; even a casual visitor can spend an hour in there — meaning even me not liking museums very much. Photography not permitted, which sped it up a bit! The first place in Umbria that I can remember where the ubiquitous English translation is good; with one or two tiny exceptions ("vegetale" rendered by "vegetable" instead of "plant", a very common pitfall), excellent even.

My usual Booby-chat with the staff — a young man Aldo and a young woman Katiuscia ("colla K", everyone here of course wants to spell it with a C) — yielded the address and phone number of Vanna and Piero Bartoli in Narni, and the information that Alessandro and Alessandra finally did get married, although in September of '99 rather than '98: the former piece of info very very useful since I can now give them that box of pecan and maple goodies that's been sitting in the fridge since I got here. . . .

Didn't eat all day — not even any breakfast, I was running late — but not hungry, in fact; drank 4 iced teas and a Cincinnati at the Bar Centrale on the top of the hill (faïence plaque), with more iced teas and a fruit juice at the bottom, at the Bar dello Sport where I wound up having to catch my bus out. Nominally, there was a 1710 mini-bus to the station to meet the train to Perugia; by 1720 it was still not there, so plan B — it pays to be prescient, also lucky — was a 1745 APM bus to Perugia; which latter goes to Ponte S. Giovanni, alright, but not to the station: the few minutes walk there just enough (combined with a ticket window situation) to make me miss my best train to Foligno, but the last-chance train I got, with a 5‑minute connection in Foligno; fortunately, it was on time; and in Fossato, for the first time in days, I walked up the hill from the station, with absolutely no difficulty whatever, or even noticing anything.

Called James, mostly to reassure him I'm alright; midsized plate of spaghetti, olive oil, garlic, coupla glasses of the gros rouge — bottle finished — and bed rather late, revolving all the permutations of trains, buses, hotels, distances, opening hours, feet limitations, to see if I can in fact get to all remaining 39 comuni, plus of course my 4 Flaminia hikes (Rignano, Furlo, Bastardo, Sentinum)​e and the other items on my plate: 's gonna be tricky.

Later Notes:

a Nothing whatsoever to do with the Cistercian order; and while the monastery is now inhabited by Camaldolese and was not before, my diary is misleading. For the details, see the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Fonte Avellana; of course, you already picked up on the link to the hermitage's own website, which I gave in the text above.

b Only about twenty lines; the passage is Paradiso, XXI.106‑126.

c I've been unable so far to come up with anything like this for this particular place. The closest I come for now is the statement made by Guardabassi about Piediluco (Indice-Guida, p247): across from the Rocca, at the foot of the wooded hill that juts out into the lake, a marvelous echo allows the visitor to deliver an entire hexameter of verse and hear it come back to him in its entirety. The hexameter is the classic verse of Latin poetry; the 11‑syllable line, the hendecasyllable, that of Italian poetry.

Piediluco, on the other hand, is at the very southern tip of Umbria, and Fonte Avellana where we were is about ten kilometers N of the northern end of the region: the places are thus 104 km apart.

d This was written several years before I visited Sala and Ficulle. Muffato di Sala is made in Sala, of course; but Sala is indeed in the comune or township of Ficulle. See my pages on both places.

e Sentinum is one of those Roman sites in central Italy that I never get to. It doesn't help that I've been told it's on the dull side, nor that I'm not big on battlefields. The page at Livius explains the importance of the battle and includes photographs. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites (1976), as reproduced at Perseus, focuses on archaeological finds and includes a bibliography.

The first paragraph of that encyclopedia, however, is not a success. For starters, it puts Sentinum in the wrong place: it's not E of Sassoferrato but SSW of the town. The portion of the site that has now been excavated is partly in Civita — also La Civita, better yet: Civita Roselle — and partly in S. Lucia on the other side of the SP 16 road, named for a church built there in the Middle Ages (good photoillustrated pages on the now deconsecrated church at Luoghi del Silenzio and Sassoferrato TV also mention the battle).

That same first paragraph in the Princeton Encyclopedia also gives the names of both consuls wrong by English standards (naming them for some reason in Italian): they are Q. Fabius Rullianus and P. Decius Mus. Finally, it can be made more useful by providing links to the source texts cited. They are, in order:

Polyb. 2.19.6 Frontin. Str. 1.8.3 Cass. Dio 48.13.2‑5 (not • App. BCiv 5.30

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