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Saturday 19 August 2000

(Sure enough, cramp bad enough that walking 21 km is out of the question; even 1 km, especially downhill. Sitting, rather disappointed, at the station of Città di Castello waiting for the first in my sequence of trains.)

Yesterday the only thing I really saw at S. Giustino was the main church, which looks quite recent, say 1930, but has a surprise: a very ancient crypt if not that well preserved, with at least one chunk of Roman column though and a few fragments of Lombard stone — And off to Citerna, 11 km away.

At first it wasn't very promising — the valley from Umbertide to Sansepolcro is rather industrial​a — but pretty quickly I was walking a fairly pleasant plain, especially after I crossed the Tiber.

Not very long after the bridge, the town of Pistrino, nice Roman name, with a big modern church and nothing much else, at least at first sight, still afforded me an excuse to stop a while; it was very hot, although oddly, not really uncomfortable. Still, I had plenty of time, there's nothing much in Citerna (according to the guides), so a pitstop in Pistrino was fine, just to rest.

All of that turned out to be quite wrong. . . . As you approach the big modern church, there's a plaque on the N side (at least the liturgical N, I need to check later!) recording that Pistrino was grateful to this guy in 1985 for pushing to get the church built; inside, a small chapel to the benefactors of the church — All of this spoke of civic pride unusual for a mere frazione, even a big one; and I began to get the idea that Pistrino was a bit different: nice little piazza with a fountain and a rather good modern statue, etc. On the side of the piazza, I then saw a small maybe 16c church, S. Maria Assunta, closed but with frescoes inside — so I asked who had the key. This rather quickly led me to a woman in her forties just opening up her store, what we in the States a hundred years ago would have called a general store: and immediately these people, Daniela and her husband Giorgio, wanted to give me everything in sight — a nice ceramic jug with the church of Pistrino on it (which would have broken to many pieces on the plane on the way back), a collection of reproductions of frescoes from the area's churches (which I don't think I could have fit in my knapsack), you name it; I accepted a small flat plate of Pistrino that I think will make it back to the States safely.

[image ALT: A majolica plate showing a large modern church and a pine tree, emblematic of Pistrino (NW Umbria, Italy).]

Then Daniela told me that the priest has the key, but I don't wake people up during their siesta, especially since I'd been told that he'd taken his father in and that the old man is far from well these days: no way I was going to bother anyone. Usually though he stops by the local caffé at around 2:30, so we waited — and of course they bought me a drink, quite unstoppable; but 2:30 came and went, no priest, and finally Daniela went off to get the key, supposedly from some nuns but actually she went and woke up the priest — I sat with Giorgio on the steps of their shop, feeling small and gêné.

Well then we couldn't get the key to work; we all tried it several times for nearly ten minutes; my reaction was "Quando Dio non vuole. . .": Daniela's was to clamber into her car and disappear, reappearing fifteen minutes later with the President of the Pro Loco in tow — by now I wanted to crawl under a stone —

He had his own key, and it opened the church easily, and in I went, accompanied by what felt like a whole posse of people, including a 93‑year‑old man, Rino Rossi, in pretty much full possession of his faculties (his hearing maybe a bit weak, which occasionally produced a non-sequitur), a mine of interesting information (and to their credit, the Pro Loco has been recording him and writing up the history of Pistrino as he saw it) —

S. Maria Assunta is occupied by a permanent exhibit of the works of a sculptor now well-known and living in Florence, but who remembered his hometown and donated several dozen pieces: mostly naked ladies, but also ducks and chickens. I liked his stuff, and took a few pix of it along with the 16c frescoes: an ex‑voto type situation, so no particular iconographic scheme, and on one side of the church all the frescoes have disappeared except for a bit of a St. Sebastian; but attractive and interesting, and near the door a very fragmentary saint with an unusually good head but mediocre hands: I suspect the master did the one and farmed out the other; if I understood well, people attribute it to Piero della Francesca.

[image ALT: A fresco of the head of a young man: attributed to Piero della Francesca. In Pistrino (NW Umbria, Italy).]

From there back to the bar where I was again inescapably treated to another orange juice by Mr. Pro Loco (Gianpaolo Gobbi, who reminded me of Franco in a few years younger, the same energy and passion) and then to his office, where we talked Internet a bit and where he loaded me down with books, including a 300pp. hardbound book with photos and maps, Terra Citerne by Giovanni Riganelli, which lays in great detail everything in the comune di Citerna, medieval statutes, the works; and this too Mr. Gobbi wouldn't accept a penny — I hope I put it to good use.

By this time I really needed to think of getting to Citerna, especially that there's only one hotel and I had no reservation: 6 km off and up a hill, and although 5:30 P.M., still broiling hot; depending on who was talking, temperatures around here have reached 40 or even 43C. So, armed with my recharged fonino — Daniela and Giorgio offered to recharge it when I mentioned that it was spent, and that of course I accepted immediately and with no qualms: should I break a leg on the road, I need to be able to call someone — I walked out of town towards Citerna. I'd been offered a ride but explained that I need to walk an area to know it and remember it, as indeed I do.

[image ALT: An open, flat agricultural landscape, with a single tall oak about 25 meters from the viewer, and in the distance to the right a low hill. The plowed field in the foreground is being irrigated by a single powerful jet of water. The scene is near Pistrino, Umbria (central Italy).]

Corn and tobacco fields being irrigated: NW of Pistrino, on my way to Citerna.

Still, it might have been better for me to accept the ride: 500 m out of town, a calf cramp struck. As cramps go, not the worst, but quite painful: mostly the left calf, the right started up too then changed its mind, meno male. So I did the hill up to Citerna rather slowly, and managed not to limp much: nice countryside something like around Todi, with a fair amount of tobacco rather than the sunflowers farther S around Umbertide.

By good fortune — although not really, I'm told the hotel is never full — the Hotel Sobaria had rooms: end of the road, with a near-palatial bathroom, including the second full-length tub of the trip. Dinner, out on the terrace, indifferent (I was told on checking with people in town this morning that they'd been having cook problems and are between cooks right now), but more than made up for by being almost certainly undercharged, despite my making every effort to prevent it: 115ML covered the room, dinner, a bottle of Orvieto Classico, and a full breakfast.

After dinner I wound up sitting for a while at the table of a family from London or Monte S. Maria Tiberina depending on how you look at it; they offered me a limoncello but the hotel had run out —

I paid the bill in advance, with the idea that I might be able to get up early, and, the cramp being gone, walk to M.S.M.T. etc. Bed, slept: room hot and muggy, mystifyingly, despite wide open windows and very cool night.

Later Note:

a the valley from Umbertide to Sansepolcro is rather industrial: this was my very first time in the area, and I wasn't paying attention! From Umbertide to Città di Castello is actually fairly nice; the heavy industrial zone is between Città di Castello and S. Giustino.

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