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Friday 4 August 2000

(Hike essentially finished, with me sitting in the piazza of Castiglione del Lago in the shade with a drink, waiting for 5:15 an hour from now which'll be time to amble on down to the station, said to be about 1½ km away, for my 6:11 train.)

[image ALT: A small town square, the main building of which occupies the entire far side of it; it is more or less modern, three stories tall, of stucco, with an added square tower in the center, ornamented with crenellations. The left side of the square consists of three- and four-story houses; the right side, nearer the camera, is not so visible, but a large Italian flag flies from an upper story, and at street level some parasols and a seating area mark it as a caffé. It is a view of the main square of Castiglione del Lago, Umbria (central Italy). The prominent building is the town hall.]

The view from my table as I wrote that: a bit too much, but nice anyway.

Yesterday — to continue — the last coupla kilometers up to Panicale from Missiano, it was more and more olive trees and a widening view on my right until I got to Panicale itself, which is exactly what the TCI says: "singolarmente pittoresco" and with a spectacular view northwards over all of Lake Trasimeno, the three islands crisply visible, a real map of the area. The town itself is a set of widening ovals from the top of the hill, of medieval buildings in good repair, in what has been the characteristic mixture of this walk: yellow sandstone and red brick; Piegaro built of it as well, and it's a combination that works, especially of course at sunset or even in the late afternoon.

Still, before exploring anything — I got to the hotel at just past 3 — I wanted a shower. . . A near-palatial bathroom for which I was very glad.

[image ALT: An elaborately carved stone door with a curved broken pediment. It is an 18th‑century door to the church of S. Michele Arcangelo in Panicale, Umbria (central Italy).]

An 18c door in the façade of the collegiate church of S. Michele Arcangelo in Panicale.

Then a full wander around town, without guidebook and thus inevitably failing to catch everything; read "the book" mostly before dinner at a caffé in the Piazza Umberto I: Panicale, A little part of Italy, by Luca Cesarini, Edizioni Guerra, Perugia 1998 — said not to exist in Italian; the author is an Italian from Panicale who became a Lutheran minister and now lives in Sweden: the English is curiously flavored but more than adequate, and the actual text is straightforward yet quite moving — for reasons I can't make out at all, but it is. Anyway, this morning before I left I went round town again to catch what I'd missed.

Last night, I ate. Bruschetta bianca, tagliatelle (very good pasta) al tartufo, some small dry grilled fish with an indifferent little pot of what may have been meant as pinzimonio (substandard), and a steak florentine — this last because elsewhere some Italians had told me how wonder­ful this was, etc. making it sound like a US steak or a Chateaubriand: it wasn't, although that might just be the hotel again. Bottle of Sagrantino (Caprai), certainly no complaints there of course; but I was very disappointed that there were very few Umbrian wines, and only one local Trasimeno wine on the list, the cheap item; I would have liked a selection of Trasimeno or at least Umbrian: the wine list was 80% Tuscan and Barolo and things. A couple of desserts, fine; on the whole, B-minus. More generally, the hotel plant is great (dinner under a wisteria pergola, very nice), but the execution needs work. . . .

After dinner, after a warm-up conversation with a trio of Italians, who then went off to listen to some jazz in the piazza, a long chat — my first in anything other than Italian since I've been here — in English with a couple from Norwich (Sir Thomas Browne and Parson Woodforde country): Ken a journalist, Jo a music teacher (this latter combining two things that remain mysteries to me); they agree on Passignano being a tourist trap, and recommend S. Feliciano and the Isola Polvese; also Montone. They ought to know: after much searching, they've bought a house around here, the impression was Panicale the nearest town.

Mind you Panicale rather touristy too, but still a real living town. I'm tempted to come back for Sunday 13, an organ concert of baroque stuff in the Collegiata S. Michele — then walk around the south shore of the lake and take the train back home from Magione.

This morning, solid breakfast (a peach, some yogurt, a cornetto with apricot filling, some biscottes with butter and jam, two large cups of caffé latte), the aforementioned remedial walk of the town, and at 9:20 off to Paciano.

That turned out to be a shady winding road only about 3 km long, and itself of interest, with two churches and a castle, and Paciano, which both my guidebooks and the young waitress at the hotel (in Paciano, I learned she was herself Pacianese) reported as having nothing to see, is on the contrary quite interesting: all kinds of stuff, and an attractive town. I'm also glad I thought to ask a pair of old ladies, sitting in the park, about the identity of the relics in S. Maria Assunta: not only they knew (especially the elder of the two) but I got some nifty stories tossed in for good measure, like the severed heads, some still with beards, of religious brothers that washed up out of the ground after a rainstorm when she was a little girl, at "Chiesa dei Sette Frati", the big hulk on top of a hill that I saw on the road coming in; and the woman captain in the US Army or Air Force, tall handsome woman, but an unbeliever — who would bop people with a heavy crucifix and threaten to bomb Paciano properly if she didn't get some coöperation. . . This last tale, so outlandish that surely the 55 intervening years have seen it embellished, told without the slightest trace of upset, rather with rollicking good humor: my old lady must be approaching 80 —

[image ALT: A close-up of the rough stone masonry over a brick door, the upper arch of which forms the bottom of the photo; the arch is surmounted by a circular brick niche in which a stone sculpture of the head and shoulders of an old man can be seen: he is blessing with his right hand, holds an orb in his left, and has a triangular nimbus. It is a depiction of God the Father over the door of the church of S. Giuseppe in Paciano, Umbria (central Italy).]
Paciano: God the Father
over the door of the 14c chiesa della Concezione e di S. Giuseppe.

Leaving Paciano at 11:25 with my usual bottle of water, all descent and sun behind me (this was a very well planned trip) or to be more precise, the sun nicely covered by clouds almost thruout, so that I was never hot, and at one point, even cool. The road itself, pleasant at first, then — after I reached the main road from Chiusi — somewhat not: traffic, but at least it was wide enough. Much of the plain taken up with electric pylons, phone lines, railroads, farm machinery works; but also corn and pines and cypresses and here and there a nice farmhouse.

The first thing I saw in Castiglione was a small shopping mall. It was air-conditioned and included a supermarket: I bought a jar of Savora, a jar of scorzone truffles (no pregiato), and 200g of spinach gnocchi — the kind of thing I'm not going to find in Fossato.

Castiglione itself another tourist town, but quite pleasant; a gauntlet of Umbrian specialty food stores right after the front gate: I escaped with 3700₤ of a very good pecorino from a place called Pienza said to be across the Tuscan border maybe 10 km from here; I'm not seeing any such place on my map, and it's quite possible that the Pienza in question is the famous one and not local at all​a — I wanted something local — but the cheese is still remarkably good.

Later Notes:

a It was indeed "the famous one" (famous for being a planned city built by Pope Pius II and taking his name). It felt very distant to me because it's in Tuscany, but as the crow flies it's only about 25 km from the Umbrian town of Castiglione: that cheese was more or less local. My map, natch, showed only Umbria and the edges of other areas, which I mentally mark "Here there be dragons".

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