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Thursday 24 August 2000

(Waiting for the 0611 train out of Fossato to Rome, about 4 minutes late, the bell ringing now.)

My second day in Ascoli Piceno was under the sign of doubt until almost the very end; the doubt being whether I'd stay for a second night, in view of the seemingly inexhaustible number of things to see in town — the only place I've been on this trip, excluding Rome of course but including Ancona, where I've had this feeling.

Knowing the day'd be a full one, I was out the door at just past six, with only two certain goals in mind: the Roman gate (where the Salaria entered town) and the baptistery. It would be 9:15 before I saw the first and past noon the second.

The first gauntlet, so to speak, between my hotel and the gate, at the end of the town, was the Piazza del Popolo. I knew it was there but had somehow never fallen on it in my wanderings on Tuesday: it's wonder­ful, behind Bevagna but ahead of Todi in my short list of the 3 most beauti­ful town squares of Italy that I know (including anything in Rome); and at 6:30 it was almost deserted, the first caffé — the Meletti — just starting to open, an old man checking the tables. A lot of click-click, but also a sweet middle-aged black dog, who was happy to be petted and even happier to chew on a half-dozen slices of very old very tough sausage I'd been keeping in my camera bag for an emergency; a man walking his own little dog thought this gentle and rather sad-eyed animal had been abandoned: collarless — but fairly well-fed. I wanted to take him home, and couldn't of course; and he in turn followed me to the caffé just off the piazza, around the corner, where I had breakfast — or in fact nearly didn't, because the woman behind the counter shooed the dog away when I wanted to sit outside and see if he'd like part of my cornetti: I gathered up my stuff and threatened to leave, and she backed down, claiming (a) the dog in fact belonged to a man who let him loose in the mornings; (b) he didn't like sweet pastry; (c) he'd have milk. All of this sounded credible at the time and I stayed — besides, the damage was done and my friend had vanished: I felt I'd misled him — Four paste, two cappuccini, a large orange juice; fortified, I left and it was still relatively cool.

[image ALT: A medium-sized middle-aged dog with a sad expression, standing on an empty patch of stone piazza in Ascoli Piceno, Italy.]

I did get to the remains of the Roman gate — and the theatre, still being excavated (since 1935 I think I remember reading later), and closed; but the town is its own star, or more specifically the travertine: not the warmest stone, but it weathers nicely, stays crisp, and cleans to a good color; most of all, from Roman (a few blocks in one or two houses) to medieval to 17‑18c to modern, it all matches nicely and the city is a city of squared white stone. Also, Ascoli seems to have been prosperous thruout its history, so that there are dozens of good buildings against a background of more good buildings and wide convenient streets; medieval need not be tortuous, especially if as here the land is flat.

[image ALT: missingALT]

The Roman theatre of Ascoli Piceno, the ancient Asculum.

After a second failed attempt to get a good general view of the Roman bridge (Ponte Solestà) — I've seen such a photo, but couldn't figure out where it was taken from, despite doing both banks of the river, both upstream and downstream (the problem is that the narrow valley is thickly wooded, obscuring views) — I got to my hotel in time to free the room as agreed at 11; leaving my knapsack and still not knowing whether I'd leave or stay another night; and was at the Duomo just before noon, and at the Baptistery afterwards, where I was forced to buy the ticket to a 4‑site exhibition of religious art from area churches; I usually avoid exhibitions but here I couldn't get inside the baptistery without buying the ticket.

Here I found the usual photograph prohibition — the only item of interest is the baptismal piscina, about a foot deep and with remains of a sort of gate, although I would also have taken a picture of the dome — but mostly the young woman keeping the exhibit and taking the tickets, who told me she was studying English and German and her dream was to be an interpreter; at this point I asked her — noone else around, although occasionally people would peek in only to flee when told it cost money to come in — to guide me around in English. Her English was OK, but the technical vocabulary, understandably, was not there: I supplied it (incense boat, gilt, Lombard, font, mortar, to cense the people, pelican vulning — I now always think of David Meadows, this one was 16c — and even putto, terracotta and piscina); she was quite young, and kept on repeating that I knew everything, mostly because I knew what I was looking at and could date everything to the half-century: I kept on repeating that I was 50 years old after all —

This and the heat and the six hours on my feet (calves continue better though still not great) left me seeking sustenance if first to the APT to see if there were buses that could put me in Spoleto (no); at the APT, where Tuesday I'd been told the usual "No, we don't have a website, but are preparing one", yesterday instead I was told that there was one, and they'd get the address for me: incredibly, one young woman, under the guidance of a second staffer, a young man who knew stuff, sat herself down at a terminal . . . to connect to the Net and run a search for "Ascoli Piceno"!! Noone knew the address of their own site! This valiant effort nixed by a computer crash (Microsoft Explorer, by way of explanation: they seemed completely used to it, as if that's what navigating the Web was all about).

Two people had recommended me lunch in a restaurant, said to be expensive, over the arcades of the Piazza del Popolo; but I bumped into Claudia from our Mozzano excursion, who works at the Comune, who said to try the Gallo d'Oro just down the street instead. I did, but was hungry, so the bill ran to 86ML anyway: three desserts and a taste of the three main products of the Meletti company 's what did it; an anisetta, a sambuca — nothing exceptional — and an anisetta secca, which, unmasked by sugar, had much more character. A very good waitress who was patient and informative, but without the least trace of obsequiousness.

Lardo "di montagna" (i.e., the same method as lardo di Colonnata) which I'd never had: cuts almost like butter, or well, like lard; a pleasant, oddly floral taste. The rest of the meal, their Ascolano menu: maccheroncini alla marchigiana (with grated pecorino, tomato sauce), and of course a fritto misto all' ascolana. For the record, since now I've had it in Ascoli: a little lamb chop, large green olives stuffed with a forcemeat of veal and pork as far as I could tell, julienned zucchini, and cubes of thickened crème pâtissière (I asked about this to be sure). As tenpura goes, the execution was a B; tenpura is difficult. Wine, as above p3672.

[image ALT: A small plate with some battered deep-fried objects in it. It is a fritto misto all' Ascolana, as described on this page.]

Fritto misto all' Ascolana, as photographed (and immediately after, eaten) in Ascoli.

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