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Friday 15 September 2000

Another 1013 train; I make fun of my American friends for spending so much time in trains, but so do I —

Wednesday evening then, my train to Rome came, on a schedule I suppose; I got to Rome just after the last train for Fossato had left (we all got off at Sacrofano Stazione, that is right next to the Casale Malborghetto in fact, nowhere near Sacrofano; transshipped to a bus, got off at Prima Porta, and back to a train), but headed to Termini anyway, to see if anything would take me to Umbria, since an idea that occurred to me on the train was to see if I could get to Spoleto and then Giano, and thus yesterday I would have done the bit of Flaminia from there to Bevagna; in fact I was fully expecting a train for Foligno within a reasonable time, but found nothing within several hours other than something to Orte, which is no improvement over hanging around in Rome.

So at that point I was pretty much forced to stay in Rome; after three tries — incredibly my first was the Valle on the via Cavour, might as well take the bull by the horns — I wound up at the Raffaello, with a room nominally at 360ML but they were glad to unload it at 8:20 P.M. for half price. A very nice room, and a good bathroom (and yet no way to take a vertical shower: fancy European contraption did everything except let you put it over your head and have the water fall on you from above. . . Also, no soapdish in the shower: it's like there is no standard idea of a bathroom, and each time they reinvent it from scratch.)

[. . .]

Yesterday I woke up fairly early, had a decent breakfast (cornetto, bread & stuff, a fried egg, some apple sauce, a cappú, fruit juice), packed up, paid, left my bag, and was off towards the Ara Pacis well before ten.

My usual first thought was to find a cab to take me there — else I never get where I'm going, sidetracked instead by the usual succession of stuff — but of course no cabs in these side streets, so I walked up the Panisperna towards the Capitol.

S. Lorenzo I'd never paid any attention to (always closed) but a large group of schoolkids on a field trip had stopped there — not a very well-informed spiel, nor an interesting one — so I did too, at the grill — oops for the pun — because the church in fact only opens a bit on Saturdays and Sundays.

S. Agata dei Goti, though, was open, deserted, and had a proactive, pleasant young guide (named Alessandro Angelini) staffing the table, doing his 10 months of alternative military service here; he's an engineering student and will be here until the 13th of March. I got permission from the priest (in his office: on one wall a gigantic and rather bad painting, prolly early 20c, of S. Agatha with her breasts in a plate — an unusual iconography rather than the usual pincers, and I think the artist had S. Lucia in mind until the last minute — all three of us agreed it was not so great; "una crosta" said the priest, reminding me instantly of my grandfather: "c'est une croûte") to go into the crypt. Down one level, and not a very deep one at that, nowhere near street level in Antiquity: two modern burial chambers, with loculus-type tombs disposed around the sides benchwise, and in fact this came in handy for storage, various objects in boxes etc. Behind the second room a much older low space, no lights (but plastered), that may well extend quite a ways and eventually down; I took no photo, despite using the flash on my camera as a quick flashlight.

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The courtyard of the church of Sant' Agata dei Goti in Rome.

Across the street also open, S. Bernardino di Siena: a single domed room, the dome fresco being both rather bad as painting and mildly success­ful as architectural ornament; a medical student in charge of the table, he too a consciencious objector: on his turf no photos allowed.

A quick pit stop at my little gate in the Banca d'Italia, to do two things: a quick measurement, and see if I could photograph the inscriptions there that I vaguely remembered but, being watchfully accompanied last time, hadn't been able to then. This time a bit better luck: got both things done.​a

Passing cab — the sidetrack syndrome was in full swing! — and I finally requested "Ara Pacis"; when I got there, well it's been closed since Sep 99, and will remain closed "for 18 more months".​b OK, resumed long walk, with in the back of my mind my lunchtime loiter in the Museo Altemps; the day turned into another church walk, plus three of the four major statue parlanti I hadn't yet seen: Il Babuino is quite alive and well; Pasquino apparently less so, but a young woman from Temple University guiding some friends around said that it had just very recently been cleaned, and there was already one couplet scribbled on the base; Abate Luigi on the other hand is quite forgotten and forlorn in what is now essentially a parking lot in the north crook of S. Andrea del Valle.

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Lunchtime: a view from my table. Food: indifferent; atmosphere: great.

I like the Piazza di S. Lorenzo in Lucina, and paid for it dearly: I was hungry, sat outdoors at the Caffé Teichner and had an expensive lunch; insalata di frutte di mare (frozen and possibly the whole thing out of a package), rigatoni al forno (quite good), a pistachio ice cream, a birra gassosa, coffee, limoncello, 70ML. Amusingly, mild cultural clash here: en bon Français, la salade de poisson je la mettais avant les nouilles à la sauce tomate, mais absolument pas moyen de le leur faire comprendre — I scotched the horrible idea, which is as close as they got (he, actually: and I'm almost certain, to top it off, that he was Algerian), of eating it all together — odd how this should matter, but it does — Vox tabernarii, vox Dei.

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On the same piazza, the church of S. Lorenzo in Lucina.

A couple of hours in the Altemps: photos, but no flash; some of my pictures will prolly not come out, but there's little harm trying. A lot of good statuary, even if most of it leaves me quite cold. I did finally get to see the Ludovisi Throne, which had always been unavailable every time I'd been to Rome, back to 1966 — The side panels are of the "Sacred Love, Profane Love" type, although almost certainly not what the veiled and naked figures represent — Very curious people, the Romans: or is it the Greeks?

Dipped into a few more churches on my way back to pick up my bag at the Raffaello; my three main stops: S. Maria dell' Anima to see Pope Hadrian's tomb (and there is a nice little lapidary collection in an extremely attractive shaded courtyard in front of the entrance, including one of the most clearly readable brick stamps I've ever seen: I hope the photo turns out, of course)

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Sadly, it did not. This was the second-best brickstamp, and the photo could be better.

with the beauti­ful adjacent façade of S. Maria della Pace — and in fact, a sort of "find": the first little neighborhood in Rome that I really really like, between there and S. Tommaso in Parione. Second (actually first) stop: S. Agnese in Agone, where I inquired about the visits to the under­ground remains, only to learn, very disappointingly, that just a few days ago they were halted because visitors were dislodging bits of masonry and taking them home as souvenirs: hard to say to what extent this is piety, tourism, or childishness, but theº damage is done; they don't know when, how, or if they'll resume them. Third stop S. Maria in Aracoeli, hardly my first visit but inexplicably I don't seem to have any photos; so this was a Web-fodder stop. . . .

Hotel, bag, station with time to spare and a seat on the train too. Sadly I have to record a big "ratings drop": my little bar on the S side of the Piazza dell' Esquilino where I felt so comfortable and where prices were reasonable. . . charged me 16ML for two small non-Gatorades ("Energade") and a bottle of fizzy water: the price broke down to 5ML for the little Energades (a large Gatorade usually runs 4ML these days in Rome) and an incredible 6ML for the water, which is Roman Forum street vendor prices; I looked the cashier in the eye after confirming that there had been no mistake, and said, with a wide grin, "Well, you guys are close to the station and know it, huh?". She in turn smiled at me and said, "Hey you're the one who's thirsty —" A lesson in the free market.

Thus back home to Fossato with no incident, and immediately started running a load of wash. Light dinner of 2 tomatoes, half a can of tuna, capers, most of the end of a tube of mayonnaise; looked at my maps [. . .] and realized I could get some of the Orvietano done on foot between today and Sunday evening.

This morning, reservations just fine in Fabro, which'll allow me to walk around without my pack, and which may even have a good restaurant attached; and here I am approaching Orte for a train to Fabro in an hour if everything works like it's supposed to.

On the train to Fabro (15 minutes late), at Alviano Scalo, note for further use on another trip maybe: there is a 2‑star Hotel Alviano within 100 m of the station here.

About a quarter to nine, sitting down to dinner at my hotel; not quite the day I expected: something less, although I can't call it a failure, exactly. En bref, I got here — the hotel is 1.5 km from the station — and dumped off my backpack in a mad rush, and got out the door and on the road by 2:32 P.M., and walked back to Fabro Scalo, and about 4‑5 km out towards Parrano, and my blister hit. For a couple of days I'd had a minor sort of half-blister on the sole of my left foot extending up between my big toe and the next, maybe a grain of sand or a tiny pebble (although I couldn't find any when it started) or a little irregularity in my sock; whatever it was, it looked this morning like it was resorbing and callusing, and maybe it was — but it hit with a vengeance, and instead of doing about 28 km in comfort (my calves and heels almost perfect, for once) and seeing both Parrano and Ficulle, I walked a roundtrip to the former and never saw the latter at all, and (in part because Parrano is, as I knew, of very mild interest, and in part because today was not good photography weather) have very little to show for my 21 km other than a large painful blister; around which square inch of skin I'm prolly constrained to replan the next two days.

Starting at the beginning again, Fabro train station — large swarm of highschoolers, maybe a hundred of them, got off here — is in the middle of nowhere, although not really: it just turns its back on the town, the real town, which isn't Fabro 3 km off but Fabro Scalo, the motor of the economy within a radius of about 15 km: an important highway exit off the A1 from Rome to Florence. Lucky I was walking forwards: no signs anywhere useful, and never a single sign for my hotel (improbably named La Bettola del Buttero — there seems to be a story behind this), but not hard to find: you follow the road W, and at a certain point you see two large 1980's Blockhaus-style buildings blazoned HOTEL; my hotel is across from one of them, a low arcaded cloisterlike sprawl with a garden: I accidentally chose very well.

The road back to Scalo, I skirted the station, found my intersection, and entered the valley leading to Parrano. It would be more accurate to say I left the valley of Fabro, which produces an impression of vigor and chaos, as if this place hadn't yet chosen what it wants to be: corn, apricots, vine, firs, peaches, electric pylons, sunflowers (mostly etiolated and quite dead, fields invaded by a kind of goosefoot), apples, vetch, concrete houses, cypresses, farm machinery, weeds. The road to Parrano, having divested itself of Carnaiola to the left, suddenly emerges out of all this into a purely agricultural valley: this, and the valley running rather wide between low nondescript hills, produces the curious effect that you're going literally nowhere; it's really strange.

And in fact, other than (km 6.1) the gravel pit of F.lli Ceccantoni of Ficulle, which diffuses noise and if you pay close attention a thin pall of greyish dust over a wide area, walking to Parrano is much like walking to Polino: you go up, and on either side there are trees.

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Along the walls of Parrano. Notice not only the castle, but a bit of the church as well.

Parrano itself is a bit more photogenic, though: a small town dominated by its two-towered castle, battlements nice and fresh, beaucoup d'allure. The hill's not too stiff, there's a bar just outside the front gate — a group of a dozen old men playing cards — and an alimentari; and inside the gate everything is very clean, attractive and a little dead. There is also a pharmacist, a lively dark-haired woman who prescribed large gauze bandages; I bought a box and put one on sitting on her front step — not so sure that Booby baring his non-blue feet​c to passersby is such a good advertisement — and for 5‑6 km this spelt relief; then it was worse: no fault of the bandage, it just compressed I think.

A bit of a chat with the woman behind the bar, named Gabriela, a couple of Gatorades for the salts — that cramp at Pistrino put the fear of the Lord in me — that she didn't know how to price: I told her 4 or 5 ML, she charged me 9ML and saved a phone call to her husband to find out what they really charge; I hope they made out well on the deal. It was about 5:05, Ficulle was by my reckoning 10 km away (4 to the intersection for Olevole, 2 to Olevole, and my map didn't give a mileage but looked like 4 or 5, even 6 km thence to Ficulle if the road was twisty), and Ficulle to my hotel is another 10 km: a nice itin had I arrived at Fabro Scalo at 9 A.M., but misjudged for a 1:45 arrival; plus the EOT must be going great guns these days, the sun seems to be setting acceleratingly earlier.

Despite Mrs. Gabriela's idea that Ficulle was 2 km from Olevole, I finally chose the (irritatingly dumb) plain return trip. The first 5 km, as noted, fine; the last, increasing limp: I was passed on the road at about 3 km from hotel by my pharmacist who inquired how I was and offered me a lift; I told her I was well enough to make it on my own (and inº about 500 m was regretting it!) —

My hotel room looked good to me; a feat, considering it's a small room with a bright red bedspread with lots and lots of white polka dots — A very nice and welcome touch, tho', from the great hotels, and the first time in Italy that I remember: an apple, some candy and chocolate, and even a half-bottle of local red (from S. Casciano Bagni);​d the apple looked very tempting, and still does after this large meal I've just eaten —

Under more of a lean-to than a pergola, seating maybe a hundred people (twice that many indoors), at a square table with a half-inch thick polished pink granite top, the real stuff: can't think of anything more inconveniently heavy, although it won't overturn or stain — "Salame d'oca" (half goose, half pork, very good, characteristic sweet flavor), two primi: little noodles "alla checca" — I told my waiter Renato that I thought I knew what a checca was, but what wuzzis? a piatto semi-freddo, the noodles hot, the tomatoes & basil and mozzarella cold (good); ravioli ai 4 formaggi; pork ribs (vocab for the day, right up there with vesciche: spuntature), quite good; rosso di Montalcino 1998 Col d'Orcia a bit disappointing though not bad; a ricotta pie — an unsweet cheesecake, I prefer the American stuff; second dessert, the crème caramel. Coffee, limoncello.

Today's plan, a triangular walk which would have taken me to Ficulle, failed; tomorrow's plan is up at 5:30, the only train of the day at 0637 to Città della Pieve, the only major town in Umbria I have yet to see; from there, walk to Monte­gabbione and Monte­leone di Orvieto, 21 km back to hotel. Can I do any of this? Now what? Without my feet, I'm completely lost — since I can get to, but not conveniently back from, C. della P.; and I can't get anywhere else at all period. I'll prolly do the foolish thing and stick to my plan. . . .

Later Notes:

a I never seem to remember to carry a measuring tape with me. Often, though, a fair measurement can be paced off, which is what I did here. My photo log has "inside 5 sneakers and an inch, add for the width of the arch about 1¾ sneaker on either side". On getting back to my office I discovered that my sneakers measure exactly 1 foot long, so that this comes out to 61 inches (1m55) inside, roughly 103 inches (2.61 m) outside measurement. Even taking into account my crude measurement, neither one of these is anywhere near either Platner's 1.95 m nor the 1.05 m that he objects to in Frank Tenney's Roman Buildings of the Republic.

b The Ara Pacis did not in fact reopen until the spring of 2005, another four and a half years.

c For the blue-footed booby (Sula Nebouxii), try for example this page.

d A small town a few miles from Fabro, but across the border in Tuscany.

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