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Wednesday 30 August 2000

Boy do I feel busy: this morning I get to sit and relax an extra hour or so and it feels like I've taken the whole day off and I'm wasting my precious remaining few days! Still, it feels just fine —

So Sunday morning after my breakfast under the arcades I went roaming around L'Aquila, completely undecided whether to stay one or even two additional days in town, or to leave the same afternoon. On arriving Saturday evening the first thing I saw, the civic symbol of the town (tho' in fact on the very edge of town), was the Fontana delle 99 Cannelle, attractive and impressive collection of water spigots a bit spoiled by the water now being considered not fit to drink; L'Aquila fairly full of fountains and water, usually potabile —

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Fontana delle 99 Cannelle: twenty-three of the ninety-nine medieval spouts.

The walk up from the station is quite a ways, and not particularly attractive; but the altitude makes the town cooler, so that it wasn't bad at all: in fact I suspect Booby's subconscious chose L'Aquila, after that rush of deadly heat in Terni train station, precisely because on national TV the weather reports often report the lowest minimum temperature of the day as being in L'Aquila!​a

I found a hotel without too much problem: the Castello right in front of a large modern fountain at the far edge of town in front of the actual Castello of L'Aquila — massive spirally symmetrical square thing that I walked around (but didn't go inside) on Sunday just before noon. Hotel room nondescript, good hot water even if an interesting assortment of water-hammer noises, one of them very much like the trumpeting of an elephant, and it seemed almost as loud —

Back out right after my shower; the town absolutely jam-packed with people on the evening passeggiata, the same density as Orvieto, but the town is much larger: I estimated 50,000 people in the streets. It turned out there was a reason: I'd bumbled onto to the beginning of the big annual event, the Perdonanza di S. Celestino, and in fact the local TV estimated the crowd in one of the piazze at 10,000. It was like cockroaches on holiday, really something —

[. . .]

So after a bit more wandering around, 'til nearly midnite — my only food two ciambelle and a beer — to sleep; which explains the late wakeup on Sunday.

Sunday nothing much; there are a lot of good churches in town, and the archaeological museum in the Castello, and an amphitheatre in the neighborhood, but the combination of all these people, many of the churches being closed, and me trying to watch my budget (so that 120 ML a night in a hotel when I have a perfectly good bedroom all paid for in Fossato) and I finally decided to leave by the latest possible train, at 1332: so at eleven I checked out and walked down to the station via S. Bernardino (big empty hulk with a good façade which would be even better if it were reduced to 40% its size), the Basilica of Collemaggio (a beauti­ful noble building, even if it too is big and empty: but the space is good), and once again the fountain of the 99 spouts and the nice little church across from it, S. Vito, closed.

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The 14c basilica of S. Maria di Collemaggio:
façade, center door.

The trip back home unevent­ful, although the approach to Terni got dryer and more and more washed-out and hot-looking: not quite the green self-image of Umbria.

Monday 28th was a heavy-duty day in Rome, in which I seem to have walked about 10 km (not counting the walk to the station of Fossato at 5:30 in the morning), confirming that the calf problem is over; I did 2 walks separated by a cab ride: first to S. Agnese and back thru a piece of the Nomentana highway and the cemetery of S. Lorenzo, then from Piazza Colonna in a circle around Montecitorio and from there to the Colosseum where I actually bought metro tickets and did 2 stops on the subway back to Termini. In fact I wound up seeing the insides of 9 churches and the outsides of 10 others (not counting churches I'd seen before). . . Highlights: S. Maria degli Angeli, the sundial basically impossible to photograph, except of course for the somewhat mystifying details; S. Maria della Vittoria, where, finally clapping eyes on the Holy Orgasm, I didn't think much of it, very likely from having seen so many photos of it: there is a male pendant on the other side of the nave, oddly — the church itself is not bad, in a wildly ornate way. S. Susanna, photography permitted, even with flash: I like the place — The walk to S. Agnese was nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be, and even most of it pretty pleasant, rather like the Avenue des Gobelins in Paris, widish sidewalks well shaded, sloping.

I arrived at S. Agnese fuori le Mura on the stroke of eleven and there a sign said the compound closes at noon — and on Mondays, doesn't reopen in the afternoon. The thing to do, then, was S. Costanza first, and I'm certainly glad I did: a small church but wonder­ful (and not only the mosaics); I got out at five minutes to noon, just time to take a peek at the inside of S. Agnese itself (nothing much) and the long staircase of inscriptions, mostly paleochristian, leading down to the Catacombs, where the custodi told me photography is permitted: I may go back?

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S. Costanza: a very small sample of the magnificent 4c Roman mosaic vaulting.

A long mostly dull walk then, first towards the train line to the east, then south; with one amusing item, a longish street named after Rodolfo Lanciani, which I therefore did the entire length of. It wasn't a bad street, if modern; but there were no antiquities of any kind on it, at least that I saw: still, I just had to take a snapshot of a street sign; having found one, on a corner building, I took my photo, to be then immediately approached by an old man walking a small dog, who started to chew me out and tell me I couldn't take photos of private property, etc. (of course he was the owner of the building). Two policemen were standing by their squad car about 30 m away, and I had the pleasure of going to them, hearing that of course I was perfectly within my rights, and then telling off this jerk in front of the two cops, turning my back on them all and walking away: behind me I could hear some fairly loud arguing and the guy who'd tried to intimidate me now trying instead to weasel out of it by claiming he'd merely asked me what I was photographing, etc.

[image ALT: A modern street plaque on an equally modern building with a bit of sprayed-on graffiti. It is the street sign for the via Rodolfo Lanciani, in Rome.]

From there via side streets as much as possible down to the Stazione Tiburtina (which therefore is where I should get off for S. Lorenzo and S. Agnese, in future) and to the N or rear entrance to the cemetery del Verano, although I got slightly lost and did about 100 m of the circonvallazione Nomentana (Tiburtina, actually) before backtracking.

The cemetery itself is attractive and of course large: sections for war dead, religious orders, etc. S. Lorenzo at the exit was closed: incredibly since one of the basilicas and this the Jubilee and all, but closed it was, without even any indication of opening hours; possibly in restauro, but I hope to try again.

A straight shot to the Porta Tiburtina, to gaze on it from the inside thru all its fences, then to the train station mostly because that's where one winds up; at which point, it was sort of a fresh start: so I took a cab to Piazza Colonna with an idea to go to Herder's, and get my own copy of Radke. As it turned out, this isn't possible: whether in German or in Sigismondi's translation, he's quite out of print, which surprised me. While I was there, I inquired about the Lanciani Forma Urbis, in the hopes that the recentish reëdition might be a plain copy, thus public domain, but no such luck; at that point, I'll borrow from the U of C. and do my usual transcribe, ditto Armellini.

Before and after the (rather early for Rome) 3 P.M. opening of Herder's, I wandered the area looking at the façades of closed churches; I will have one of the world's most extensive collections of photos of tops of churches — cars are a blight — and curious photos which I might not have taken had I had a wide-angle lens. . . . I was disappointed to find S. Lorenzo in Lucina closed well past 4, thus presumably always; and surprised myself by liking the interior of S. Antonio dei Portoghesi, exuberant overloaded Baroque — ditto the façade of S. Maria Maddalena.

My usual walk back to the station, except that at Trajan's Column (the bottom of it now encased in metal scaffolding) not up to the Panisperna, but turned down the Via dei Fori Imperiali and at the Colosseum took the subway: in sum, nothing like my usual walk at all; and this time I had the sense to find the door of SS. Cosmas and Damian: the church was deserted, and I had the mosaic all to myself.

The last train out at 1912, home, slept.

Later Note:

a Thanks to Vincenzo D'Antonio, who during a later stay in Italy, in the spring of 2004, pointed out to me that this is the perfect opener for the Italian proverb:

Se vuoi vivere in inferno,

A Terni d'estate, a L'Aquila d'inverno.

If you want to live in Hell,

Terni in the summer, L'Aquila in winter.

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