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Saturday 26 August

(Fossato station, waiting for the 1231 InterCity to Terni with change there for Acquasparta to do another piece of Flaminia, calves much, much better — but let's see at the end of the day. . . .)

[image ALT: A very unusual painting of Jesus climbing down from the Cross on a ladder. It is a fresco in the church of S. Vittore in Ascoli Piceno in the Marche (central Italy).]

Late 12c; notice the lily of the Resurrection.

So, back to the tail end of Wed. 23rd: after lunch, at 3, walked to the station for the exact reverse route back to Fossato, with pit stop at the church of S. Vittore, the last bit of the exhibit I paid for (a rather negligible 3d part was the Museo Diocesano); the exhibit at S. Vittore nothing special, but one of the frescoes of the church itself yes, on the contrary: Christ climbing down from the Cross on a ladder, on his own. After clicking my photo, I asked — and sure enough, this is nearly unique: the guy at the ticket desk said there were one or two others in Italy, only (without being able to say where).

Back to Fossato with no problem, quick changes too, and up the hill on my own, which was nice.

Thursday my day in Rome — the usual rest day between hikes — not that restful, but leg was fine: at Termini on time, cab to Vatican Museums, and at 0906 I was in the line on the via Leone IV just before the corner of the Viale Vaticano. At 0909 we rounded the bend; the wait, considering the length of the line, was minimal, part of which I spent watching two cultures clash: some French people were worming their way up the line, but were stopped by a little group of Japanese girls, who giggled, apologised, and put them firmly in their place. . . . By 0917 I'd paid for my ticket and was going thru the metal detectors.

Because of a miscalculation, I wound up doing the whole circuit twice, and parts of it three times: it was very crowded. Apparently enough guidebooks have advised us all to go early to avoid the crowds, that the time to go is around 1 P.M., that is if you don't mind only getting 4h for your money. It doesn't quite work that way, though, since in this heat — I was sweating up a storm in there, like everyone else — I wound up having large cold drinks in the main cafeteria and later in a little outdoors bistro; the prices are reasonable (ne mancherebbe!). In the bistro, the little table I sat at briefly, two girls spending 2000₤ on cold water were going back and forth about whose money'd been spent, all very amicable but had them both confused; I stept in and paid the 2000₤ myself, they in fact were on a tight budget: harmony restored, they bought more water.

This visit of the Museums, prolly my last of this trip, I spent collecting icons for Baby — frescoes of the various archaeological restorations ordered by Pius VI and Pius VII, and details of the Geographical Maps, including patches of the spectacular ceiling — and looking at as much of the Museo Etrusco as was open, including the Todi Mars; but was disappointed with the collection of inscriptions: both Chiusi and Perugia are better (and maybe the Villa Giulia too, but I don't remember), which can prolly be explained by the great excavations being by and large after the Popes no longer controlled Italy.

[image ALT: The bronze head of an ancient warrior, with inlaid eyes of ivory or bone. It is the head of the Todi Mars, a famous Etruscan statue in the Vatican Museums.]

The head of the Todi Mars, a very famous Etruscan bronze.

Click here for a full view of the statue, and see this section of George Dennis's Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria for more details and photos.

Also disappointed by the Sistine Chapel, especially the Michelangelo. My last memories of it go back to 1966, and had I guess acquired a halo of their own; at any rate, this time, although the iconography is good and the individual figures wonder­ful, the composition of the Last Judgment, especially of the part above and around Christ, struck me as awkward and even ugly. I like red and blue, but these don't work too well together, and the pasty bridge of miscellaneous flesh and clothing over Christ's head is not good.​a The Perugino and Botticelli around the sides are splendid, though.

Also splendid is the tiny Cappella Nicolina, scenes of deaconry (possibly to remind the Pope of what he ought to be about?), SS. Stephen and Lawrence. Relatively few people bother to look at it, peggio loro.

I asked about the Lapidary Gallery: it is apparently never open, requiring a special authorization from the Direttore Generale dei Musei Vaticani, on presentation of a letter with qualifications, etc. I was told the reason is that that wing is inextricably honeycombed with the offices of various congregations etc.

Satisfied with this second visit to the Museums,​b that I'd seen everything I could (not the Egyptian Museum, nor the Pinacoteca), I left at 3:30 P.M., and saved myself 14ML (minus 6 ML in cold drink along the way) by walking back to Termini via the Piazza Navona — sad that the elephant of the Ganges in the fountain has got broken (identifiable only by its trunk) — then Piazza Venezia and my usual Panisperna and v. Cesare Balbo, to make my 1712 train with four minutes to spare, although I didn't rush, which was nice. Home on time and up the hill on my own again: no cramps, just tightness and caution.

Yesterday was a bit curious and uncertain, but turned out very nicely. Somehow I'd got it into my head that it was my day to go to Massa and start my 2‑day walk to Bevagna; checking the schedules I prepared for the 1231 train, so a quiet morning — but by good luck I realized my mistake in time (it matters, because the concert in Bevagna is tomorrow night, not tonight) and quickly decided to make the day good by delivering my chocolates to the Bartoli's in Narni, then doing the stretch of Flaminia from there to Sangémini.

In Narni, to keep the chockies as cool as possible and to spare my calf, I took the bus up to the centro storico; where I quickly found their house ([. . .]) — but they were not in. I eventually left the box in care of the caffé-pasticceria Evangelista on the piazza (with a note for the Bartoli's, also to identify the box in the caffé's fridge as not being their own!); a residuum of doubt but I'm sure it'll be OK.

From there, I started by walking the Flaminia out of town — south; on the bus from Calvi the other day I'd seen a sign for the rock carvings that all this time I'd thought were on the road up from Narni Scalo, so this was a good time to see them.

Well, in addition to the "Sedia d'Orlando", said to be a sacrificial altar contemporary with the building of the road and the rock cuts here, there are supposed to be four items: a double phallus, a vulva, a rostrate ship, and a dolphin. Of all this, despite having with me the very accurate and detailed Pineschi book on the Flaminia, I saw only the first, although I spent quite a while squinting at the two rock cuts — traffic whizzing by me round the curves — but quite possibly they're obscured by either vegetation or the chicken-wire rockfall protection; either that or they're now destroyed. So this 3‑ or 4‑km walk under broiling sun for someone's drawing of [. . .] . . .

[image ALT: missingALT]
Not much to it (photo covers about 1 square meter) but curious.
Period and motive unknown.​c

Back to the Evangelista: iced teas, peach juice, 2 liter-and a half bottles of fizzy, and down to Scalo on foot, as a sort of test, still not sure I'd be able to do much more.

I actually stopped in the station; it was 2:45 and there was a train Terniwards at 3:02: I gave myself 'til 3:00 to make up my mind.

And at 3:00 I left, at least to go see the mausoleum along the Flaminia just after Scalo, and the first of the two bridges, only 2 km away: I could still change my mind and come back if the calf started up.

Saw no mausoleum, missing it despite the good IGM-based map in Pineschi; and the first bridge, the Ponte Calamone, no great shakes (as I knew) — but by then I knew I'd be OK, and I was: arriving in Sangémini at 6:10 with a pit stop at the Ponte Caldaro (which I can't help thinking of as Ponte Caldo), a bit of a disappointment, although it must have been a very handsome bridge before the center arches caved in; and a second, very very brief stop at the shapeless mass of incertum just before the town, about which Pineschi makes extravagant claims: I'm sure they're based on earlier travellers' reports, but there ain't much left now.

[image ALT: missingALT]

The Ponte Caldaro, seen here from the W, still in use as a highway bridge. The modern brick replaces Roman stone: the bridge was blown up by the retreating Germans in 1944. The stone was found again in March 1998 and the bridge may be rebuilt.

Once in Sangémini — feet a bit achy, and very very hot, but otherwise quite OK — I headed straight for my usual alimentari, expecting to find the same young woman; but instead, a man in his mid-twenties: she'd sold the business and bought a newspaper and book shop. I bought a liter and a half of Gatorade and a pack of three chocolate pudding with cream — despite looking around, I didn't want anything else. Shook hands with the young man, told him I'd see him in a year or two, and went to my pal's new shop, back towards the Porta Romana, just inside it: she didn't recognise me at first — five days' beard, maybe — but as soon as I said "Un paio di salsicce e —" she did, big grins; she likes her new store, I wished her success, told her too I'd see her on our usual schedule, and left for the station, where I arrived earlier than I thought, drank all the Gatorade — I was actually radiating heat — ate the pudding, caught the 1903 train, gave myself the Eurostar connection in Terni (half an hour earlier, but more importantly, Eurostars are always air-conditioned), and in Fossato gave myself the cab up although I could have walked. A large dinner of a sort of ersatz risotto (half a bag of dried chives, it was pretty good) and went to bed after a brief chat with Mrs. Guerrieri and husband unexpectedly in thru Sunday.

Just past 6 P.M.: I'm on a little putt-putt from Antrodoco to L'Aquila (very unexpectedly and nicely, it too is air-conditioned), which is nowhere near where I thought I'd be right now.

Yup, this morning I woke up around 6:30 and quite ready to do my planned walk from Acquasparta up the Flaminia to Giano, with a night there and on to Bevagna for the concert of classical song I'd blocked out six weeks ago mostly because I'd noticed a Deborah Volpe among the soloists and she surely must be the same D. V. who has the rather good website on Milan​d — got ready for my 1231 train; by good luck, although my bathroom water heater had conked out, the Guerrieri were in Fossato, so Santino and Mario were doing electrical things in the bathroom (the switch was broke, they replaced it, it now works fine: if it doesn't, I'm to ask the Rossi for Mrs. Guerrieri's house keys and take my showers there). Anyway, I packed my bag — Radke, Pineschi, a pamphlet on the Bastardo area of the Flaminia, the TCI Umbria, my Umbria hotel list — walked down to the station, got my train, got to Terni, stepped out, and instantly realized it would be lunacy to walk anywhere in that heat. It was so hot I was slightly nauseated and faint; the train station thermometer read 39° (that's 102F) and I'm not quite that nuts. Yesterday my guy at the alimentari in Sangemini, on seeing me walk into his store, said "Didn't I see you walking out of Narni this morning?" (he lives in Narni) then told me he thought that that guy was nuts; today I would definitely have been.

So I looked at what left Terni as soon as possible in some direction I hadn't been to, and at 2:10, the same time as my expected departure from Acquasparta, there was a train for Antrodoco: I took it.

To Rieti I'd been; after was new. Antrodoco was the end of the line; I'd hoped there was a bus to Leonessa, but no, they only leave from Rieti, which I could have guessed. But I had a piece of very good luck: the one sight in town, really, is the church of S. Maria extra Moenia, which I got a glimpse of on the way in — I back-tracked the few hundred meters to it, a handsome and prominent belfried thing next to the cemetery (or more properly, I'm sure, the cemetery is next to it), it was closed of course; I asked the only passerby in sight where I should go for the key, and he said just hang around for a coupla minutes, my wife is setting up some floral arrangements, she'll open it: and this turned out to be quite literally true, in about 2 minutes. Green van, florists, wedding tomorrow (or maybe this evening), and in goes Booby. Another young man helping Mrs. Florist told me there's nothing much to see, really —

[image ALT: missingALT]

Notice also the word for Hope, sperança, at a time when spelling conventions hadn't yet gelled: modern Italian speranza. This orthography, normal for the time, is still that of Provençal, a reminder of just how close the languages are. (See next diary entry for one more photo of the church.)

At least 5 Roman inscriptions, 3 of them readable; Lombard fragments all over; good frescoes, especially including one of S. Catherine of Siena (the ring, etc.)​e with readable inscriptions, 14c is my guess, in Italian rather than Latin: Jesus tells her "Meco fede" — One of the Roman inscriptions was reused over a thousand years later —

Later Notes:

a Not a popular opinion, of course, but shared with some good company and on similar grounds: see what Tobias Smollett thinks of the fresco.

b For my first (as an adult anyway), see August 1.

c Such carvings are not altogether that unusual: for example, the antiquarian Francesco Inghirami, in his Monumenti Etruschi o di nome Etrusco (1824) reports a similar carving on a tomb at Castel d'Asso near Viterbo. They are often said to have an apotropaic function; in plain English, to ward off evil.

d Like much else online in the early days of the Web, it has disappeared.

e This isn't an inadvertent slip, but carelessness on my part. I am indebted to Viviana Castelli for pointing out that the mystical marriage with Christ, so common in the iconography of S. Catherine of Siena, can also be that of S. Catherine of Alexandria. The former was not canonized until 1461, well after this fresco was painted.

At the same time, we can wonder whether there might not be an intentional conflation at work: the Italian woman had already long acquired the aura of popular sainthood, even before her death; the painter and his audience might easily have understood that although she was not an official saint, she was the one meant — under the cover of the Alexandrian.

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Page updated: 7 Dec 20