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Wednesday 5 July 2000

And I was, at 10:25 green clock in the kitchen time, which is a few minutes fast. Very hungry but also tired: sliced up the remaining Bel Paese, fried it in olive oil, and towards the end added prosciutto then stacked up the slices. I thought it was delicious, while quite aware of the shock it would be to every Italian, as well as to the producers of the finest olive oil in these parts! Drank a liter and a half of assorted stuff, mostly fizzy water, some fruit juice, a third of a glass of the bottle of Orvieto I bought on my arrival, that I'm still coasting on: I prolly have enough for two more meals. To sleep like a rock.

Woke up yesterday morning around 8:15; immediately decided, in order to avoid wasting the day, to do a day trip to Spoleto, to case out the angles for my sunflower photo and see how far along they are. Cool shower, down to the alimentari for the supplies I was going to need for last night and this morning's breakfast, and didn't get out of there 'til nigh on 9:10. Train at 10:13, had just the time to have a quick bite and get down to the station.

It's a one-hour trip, almost on the dot, from Fossato di Vico to Spoleto: I read the Corriere dell' Umbria.

At the station on arrival, the first thing to do, collect bus information for Norcia and other places; there is a nice folding schedule, but not available for sale: I copied lots of it, and then started up the hill; cloudyish, not too hot yet.

Of course this schedule put me in upper Spoleto at just about closing time for everything: a problem that I've never managed to solve. You leave home base, get to place B (whether train or walking or whatever) and by then Goddess Lunch is in the ascendant. . . .

Did a repeat more or less of a now familiar route; was hoping to do a more thorough visit of S. Gregorio Maggiore — dead closed, though not noon yet — but did a more careful tour of the porch (chapel on the dexter side barred, chained, locked: very difficult to photograph), noticed an inscription on the other side that I hadn't before, etc.

The Ponte Sanguinaro is now completely barred, chained, locked: and it looks like people are now starting to throw garbage down the stairs to it; I'd been hoping to get a closer look at the masonry, about which Radke makes a fair fuss, saying for him it's very early, i.e., 3c B.C.

The amphitheatre is still impenetrable, although I later learned that it's been bought back from the military by some other arm of the government, but if it has, it don't look it: still a caserma, limite invalicabile ecc. ecc.

A forlorn 16c‑17c church, S. Maria della Piaggia, just being closed up by three youngsters maybe 13 years old, who told me it reopens at 4. Pretty derelict; never was much in the first place, but right now the façade disfigured by two large intentional splashes of paint, of different colors: I was later told this happened in the last few weeks, and the darn stuff just won't come off, that help had been asked from the Beni Culturali, but how long would it take?

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Spoleto: the church of S. Maria della Piaggia.

Up past S. Francesco — cloister still closed, workmen at it just like 2 years ago; closing up for Dea Prandium: of course. S. Filippo now enshrouded in scaffolding; theatre mostly invisible, large metal grates having been put everywhere presumably to prevent non-ticketholders for the Festival (going on now) to get a free standing room view. Didn't go anywhere near the Duomo, which I've seen a few times — this time, it's the belfry that's sotto impalcatura; nor near the Rocca, which I have not — dunno whatsit with me and fortresses, just not interested — instead, headed out towards S. Pietro. Didn't go to the church, but followed the highway (Flaminia) to see where my field of sunflowers was.

Well, it wasn't, at least not from the highway. In 1998 with James, we didn't do that, after all, walking from S. Pietro to the Fortilizio, then across the aqueduct: the field, if field there was, must have been visible from that road; but not from the Flaminia, the aqueduct blocked by hilly relief and trees: no room to put a field in there anywhere (will of course go back and do the high road). The Flaminia dove into a tunnel maybe 500 meters long, nice and cool; I found a 1000₤ coin on the pedestrian walk, making 1300₤ so far: since the smallest coin frequently used is 100L, you find nickels rather than pennies here. Withal, people must be richer, I'd only once found a coin in Umbria, in 1994; and four times in less than 2 weeks this time.

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The façade of San Ponziano

Was rewarded for this dull tunnel by coming out in front of the apse of S. Ponziano, also nice views to the left down the dry as always Tessino. This was just fine by me since last time I'd been to S. Ponziano I'd got a thorough if slightly rushed tour of the interior but was so distracted at the end, and with lowering sun and S. Salvatore yet to see — also James in tow, not too keen on photography — that I never got any pix of the façade. So this time I went about it systematically (a beauti­ful elegant building); was offered a peer inside by the custode, yet not the same one as before; declined. A sign "Accoglienza" on the left — didn't remember anything like that from last time — so I went and looked: it turned out the nuns (cloistered canonesses, actually, Regular Lateran Augustinians: Mother Superior is 97 years old) have created a guest house, entrusting the management of it to a young woman, actually only a few months younger than I, who has a phenomenal memory and lots of energy.

She also has a daughter who's an archaeologist and wrote her doctoral thesis on a very ancient church in Spoleto on the Flaminia, and is thus an expert on the ancient and high-medieval topography and road system N of Spoleto up to about S. Angelo in Nece; her mother (Milena) suggested we both might enjoy a bit of Flaminia shop talk: in doing so she sold me a room, might as well be flexible like in Amelia last time. She was surprised and pleased, and so was I: the guest house (no website yet,​a but little cards Casa di Accoglienza San Ponziano, Via della Basilica di S. Salvatore 2, 06048 Spoleto (PG) tel. 0039‑0743‑22.52.88/22.50.86), which opened just three weeks ago, is very modern, properly monastic — no TV for example, which suits me fine! — very clean and comfortable. They have a conference room, audiovisual-equipped, with a rather nice 15c fresco; they seem to be pitching at groups, and certainly the price (45 ML overnight) is excellent.

I immediately took a cool shower and felt much better, despite a worsening sore throat; went back out, and did a somewhat more careful visit, with daylight this time rather than twilight, of S. Salvatore: a very beauti­ful space, even if workers all over the place doing major restoration. To Spoleto's credit, they kept the monument open; it is still after all the cemetery church. The altar was laid and transparent plastic sheeting over it all to protect it from dust —

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Spoleto: Late antique capital in the church of S. Salvatore (4c)

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S. Maria della Piaggia: a side altar.

Continuing back around, I wound up very quickly at the P.za Garibaldi again, so trudged back to S. Maria della Piaggia, now open: group of 5 youngsters, friendly, pretty knowledgeable, interested in their church. I asked them — after they guided me around and also let me wander — excluding Spoleto, what was their favorite comune in Umbria? Three girls: Assisi; the fourth: Perugia; the lone boy: Città di Castello, certainly an interesting answer; when I pressed him, he said the general ambience rather than any specific monument. I said I'd been there very briefly, and it was very hot; but I can see how from a certain standpoint C. di C might be a pretty neat place, in fact: it's rather lively, and it's a pleasant place for a pedestrian. The boy is from Castelritaldi, and was surprised I'd been there and remember it well.

Up the hill a second time now, and fell on the church of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, which'd never been open for me before. Interesting frescoes, if kinda punchy (and larger) group of kids running the place, but again they knew their stuff. Among the things I learned was what the A symbol representing a pair of medieval handcuffs. thing that had puzzled me several times before was:º it's a pair of medieval handcuffs, and is the iconographical sign of S. Leonardo, patron saint of the imprisoned. No flash allowed, but photography, even with tripod, quite OK: I'll bring it next time.

By now, going on 6:30 and I was keen on seeing the Roman house — lotsa nonsense here too about Vespasia Polla, it is claimed that this house was hers, and one stone with her name on it was found here — taken away "per restauro" by Perugia many months ago, although the custodian told me it was hard to see what needed restoring, he felt it was one of those things Perugia does, like with the Germanicus of Amelia, and wasn't too happy about it. Withal, Roman house (4000L) nothing much, although pleasant b&w mosaics in one case with just a bit of color; interesting well in the impluvium; a bit of yellow fresco with red border in one of the rooms.

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Spoleto: a room in the so‑called House of Vespasia Polla.
(Notice that only a day later I'd forgotten what I'd seen!)

Continuing to feel worse, on the way down found a pharmacy, got throat pastilles: for once, the European thing was not better than the American — ineffective whereas my almost depleted supply of Chloraseptic pretty good, but me marshaling it — The pharmacy had bits of supposed Roman baths under the floor under glass; at any rate, a clear Roman water conduit. Also a patch of b&w mosaic behind a counter. Antiseptic ointment in case of blisters; down the hill at the beginning of passeggiata time, mostly younger crowd, on the lower Corso Garibaldi.

Forgot to mention seeing a poster for a free performance of the Rachmaninoff Vespers in the now apparently fully restored church of S. Benedetto in Norcia on Tues. 11th; checked that it really was first come first served: will almost certainly see if I can make reservations for Norcia for a coupla days, combine this with some Biselli or Triponzo or even Preci: the problem of course being just how much film, fresh underwear and sox, diary and long trou I can cram into my camera bag. Yesterday for example the trou yes for the potential church, but neither fresh change of clothes nor diary: thus gumminess and waste of time, that is, if I weren't under the weather anyway, an opportunity to catch up as it turns out. At S. Ponziano, thinking out loud sorta I'd told Mrs. Milena (Carbonelli) that gosh I hadn't been expecting to pernottare anywhere, no fresh shirt, oh well — when I got back at 7:15 I found her ass't presenting me with a mustard-colored polo shirt, please to wear and keep, noone in the family can!

Mrs. Milena's idea'd been that her daughter Selene and I might chat in the evening, but up in the air whether over dinner or afterwards. I was prepared to find a restaurant — the guest house does not serve meals other than breakfast — and come back, but at this point didn't know what to do. Took a shower, lay down and succeeded in not falling asleep. At two minutes to eight crawled out and Mrs. Milena was on hand to tell me that Selene would be along in a short while and we'd have dinner on the good nuns. I went and sat in the courtyard-parvis and looked at the church, really awfully good building — my home for the day — behind me after a few minutes a young dark-haired woman on a small motorbike, helmeted (it's now the law, and very seriously taken, too): she'd run out of petrol, had to walk the bike, the garage was pretty much closed; she looked a bit harried, I pointed out I'm on vacation, time doesn't matter —

Selene Carbonelli (the lunar name: she was born July 19, 1969) passionate and predictably knowledgeable, lugging bound thesis over 2½″ thick, photos, etc. (Problemi di Topografia Tardo-Antichi e Medievali, completed just 3 months ago, her adviser Luigi Sensi; about whom she was full of praise, so unlike the fussy birboni of the University environment, a real humanist — me thinking I've been a fool not to at least go talk to his brother Don Mario in Spello; but then, if I feel inferior, quite properly, in front of the nascent erudition of a young woman who just got her doctorate, where under the table would there be room for me to crawl in front of the big guns?)

The church key to her dissertation: SS. Apostoli, in private hands since 1912, and jealously so, so that nobody'd been able to get permission to study it; she was a friend of the owners — this was a coup for her, but then she says, what had started out for her as a sort of quick thing to do to get her doctorate turned into a labor of love.

Anyway, her interests and mine in re Flaminia very similar: the engineered landscape, as I call it; by happenstance, adding Franco Spellani's expertise on the road, which extends from S. Angelo in Nece northward thru Trevi comune to Foligno, and Selene Carbonelli's, from S. Angelo southward to Spoleto, we have a whole tratto here. She was unaware of Franco's stuff: I will prolly get them together, if peculiar that it should be some interloper from Chicago to do it!

Selene told me how she felt rather alone out there in caring for the Flaminia, its churches and the historical record before it is completely destroyed; I told her she was not alone in being alone like that, and that in so many places in Umbria I'd met appassionnati and scienzati each of their own comune; maybe the Net could prove useful here.

Selene feels the Mevania stretch is quite contemporary with the Spoleto stretch, or even older. The more I read about it all, the more I find room for doubts of various kinds. One thing I've always been disturbed by is the official line that the bridge at Narni was built for the sole purpose of allowing the Bevagna stretch, which saves — all of 3 miles! I threw out the idea that maybe Augustus was doing what Albornoz did with all the Rocche in Umbria: that they were meant mostly to intimidate. Selene says this is referred to here as the politica dell' immagine.

Selene also mentioned a loose group of people in Spoleto called something — she wasn't sure — like I Viaggiatori della Flaminia, that were a "somewhat alternative" group, including scholar­ly types, local poets, merchants, etc.: they have periodic outings on the Road, with a good lunch somewhere; that it might be feasible for us to combine a percorso of her section of the Road with one of these group outings say the day before or after. Me keen, of course: phone numbers etc.

Dinner, literally manos de monja:​b good copious simple primo of spaghetti al sugo, then prosciutto, hard-boiled eggs, very fresh zucchini, cheese, bread; the family's Torgiano, me very sparing as now usual; a little slice of cake with fresh fruit; plums. Mrs. Carbonelli senior with us but up and down busy running the hotel — not a job I'd want.

After dinner more shop talk, and I tried to get something out of Selene's dissertation but of course no way to do it justice in so short a time and such a setting! Sore throat worsening by the minute, talk not helping, I called it quits: past midnite. . . .

Nother shower, and despite very painful throat, out quickly.

This morning on the other hand, so painful and fever and the whole works that on awaking I realized I'd have to hop the first available train (0844) and get some rest. Hadn't much time, so left very quickly, even without breakfast, because I wasn't sure how much time I'd need to get to the station in the shape I was in. At the station, 2 cream-filled cornetti with 2 cans of Coke. At Fossato, arranged with the taxi to pick me up in twenty minutes — no way I could walk the hill — and since I had the cab, I took advantage of it by doing a fairly major shop at the alimentari next to the Stazione. Deferred gratification: quite a few things I certainly don't want now: grapefruit juice en quantité, grappa, limoncello, etc.

And when I got here (taxi: 10ML), I saw an air-mail envelope on the floor of the side room: good, maybe I can find some air-mail stationery to write James with — in Spoleto, nothing but elegant heavyish white notepaper — but it turned out it was a letter from James, posted June 30th. Couldn't have got here at a better moment; I've already written my answer, managing not to do double emploi with this diary: a neat trick at which I surprised myself.

The rest of the afternoon — I feel somewhat better now, I've been lying down scribbling for hours, and drinking more Coke, also hot tea (peach-flavored, which is common here, Mrs. Guerrieri left a pack for me which has now seen its first use), honey, etc. I also spent a fair amount of time getting the Gubbio bus schedules in the stomach: two nasty crabbed pages of poor xeroxing, fine print, amalgamating schedules of maybe 7 different companies, with sigla, abbreviations that matter if I don't want to be stranded somewhere, "good only on holidays except Aug. 15", "Wednesdays only change here, otherwise direct" — from the I‑place at Gubbio: someone here, I forget who, told me they're awful, so it isn't just me —​c

Anyway, this is a good time to do some laundry and organize the growing clutter of paper I'm accumulating. Still hard to swallow, but feel like something with lotsa garlic: prolly a good dose of Sagrantino, although a bit of a shame to press it into medicinal use. Don't want to cook, though; and certainly not to do dishes — I'll let 'em run to tomorrow — still feverish. Maybe I'll go hit the books under my fig tree around sunset, or at least sit outside if it gets cool.

And back to bed, this time to sleep at 10:02. Did a few dishes, not all; made myself a simple small dinner of pasta shells with olive oil, garlic, red pepper; 3 Tbp of the Sagrantino, mostly after dinner, sitting outside on my bench by the door looking at the 3‑day-old moon slowly sink against the peeping stars, over the church with blue turning to black. Felt very Chinese at doctoring myself with my dinner: red pepper and red wine, I must've had an idea of rubefacient or carminative? Anyway I hope snufflicide; what this morning was very unpleasant has turned into a clogged nose with sniffles: with luck it'll be over tomorrow. I've decided to let myself sleep; if I wake up by say 8, time enough to make the 9:43 train to Fabriano, that's what I'll do: lowkey just to be safe —

Later Notes:

a Some years later, they got their ducks in a row, and the website is here.

b a Spanish expression I picked up in Colombia, where it's especially current for food, meaning "prepared with care and very well"; literally, "with a nun's hands".

c The tourist office there was really rather notorious, at least that year. See for example the experience of these three American tourists.

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