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Sunday 3 September 2000

There was no need to be nervous; now of course I'm nervous about tomorrow. What distance I did today exactly, who knows: milestones from Arrone add up to twice 11 km; my map puts it at twice 12½; my gut and clock agree with the milestones: so only 22 km (I didn't go to Montefranco).

But now I've seen Polino; probably the most remote of the Umbrian comuni, along with Pietralunga (that I may get to) and Allerona (which I almost certainly won't get to on this trip); and, I think, the second highest, after Monte­leone di Spoleto.

This being said, Polino's not much — if more than what I expected from the guides; but I'm getting ahead of myself. I woke up at about 7, looked at what news I could get on the TV, prepared the lightest possible camera bag (leaving my pack, of course: what a luxury! conversely, tomorrow I'll be carrying it, this time almost certainly 27 km since my room for the night is in Scheggino — whence the worry: the effect of the pack is to weigh me back onto the back of my body, and thus to stress my heels and calves), and after a cappuccino and a cornetto at the hotel bar, off I went at 9:02, first stop Arrone proper, my 62d comune.

The town has a tower to give it character, but otherwise nothing else than the two churches, for which, despite guides, I was not prepared. The main church, of S. Maria Assunta, has a good ensemble of 16c frescoes: a complete life of the Virgin in the apse, if schematically in 3 scenes; a Nativity, a Dormition, an Incoronazione; the rest of the church, saints or ex‑votos of lesser quality; a wonder­ful group of terracotta statues, possibly 14c —

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Arrone: 16c Nativity in the choir of S. Maria Assunta.

Up the hill (not a very big one) to S. Giovanni Battista: the same basic scheme of frescoes, except not the Virgin, but wisdom; the Doctors of the Church (one missing) and wonder­fully, after Scs Augustinus and Scs Gregorius, in the center over the altar, Scs Deus: a gem — I just had to point this unique item out to a group of 3 American painters sketching outside; I'd met another little group of them on the way up: something called La Romita, up above the steelworks behind Papigno, does tours of Umbria for people who draw and paint, with English-speaking painters as guides (little chat back down in the main square before the dozen or so of them took their bus, and me my feet off to Polino).º

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William at the end of his rope.
At 1133 then I was on the road out of Arrone; to bump into one of the little surprises of the trip at about 2.5 km out, between Vallecupa and Rosciano (frazioni of Arrone): bungee jumping. What appeared to be an abandoned highway bridge, in fact a 1928 aqueduct of Mussolini's, now also serves as a jumping point for bungeers. I'd never seen any bungee jumping, so I stuck around and watched a bit, photographing the first guy I saw, whom I met a few minutes later: oddly for an Italian, and coincidentally, his name was William; his girlfriend — I'd intro'd myself, telling him he'd be on the Web in my diary (assuming the photos come out) — wanted to take a picture of us both, so I had her also take one with my own camera —

A chat with the woman running the associated sandwich hut (retired from many years running a charcuterie in Terni, and in fact both her sausage, on the way out, and her lonza, on the way back, were outstanding) revealed that she did the food (reasonably priced) and her husband ran the bungeeing: the elastic ropes cost 2 to 2½ million lire and can only be used about 150 times, although he uses them about 10% less; almost exclusively Italians and business has been good this year: the young people show up in groups to encourage each other — you can hear the yells and yoops for at least a kilometer, the valley is very echoey — and they get a certificate and a videotape; about 40% of the jumpers are women — and in fact I saw 5 people jump of whom 2 women; I also saw one guy who just couldn't steel himself to do it: apparently nonjumpers are 1 or 2% of men, but a much higher percentage of women. They have a website.​a

After this, my quinquagenarian walk to Polino an anticlimax; the road is not hard, and the day was cool, although it warmed up a bit on the way down, when the rainclouds, having passed over Umbria, disappeared into the Marche.

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On the road to Polino: a silver-washed fritillary (Argynnis paphia paphia).

Polino itself is like Montecchio — a maze of old streets with nothing outstanding despite two churches — with a rather striking Rocca, recently restored and remortared and thus gleaming white: a big nuclear cooling-tower thingy like at Gualdo Cattaneo. The town, in two sections (old warren, which I explored thoroughly; and modern houses strung along a road, which I did not) is bigger than it looks, and I find it hard to believe that the entire comune only has 300 souls: admittedly it sits in solitary urban splendor surrounded by hill and oak forest, scarcely even any farms (vineyards with lots of scarecrow devices: T‑shirts, plastic bottles atop the vine-sustaining poles), but surely there are more than 300 people living here. I'd heard it was in part a lot of Roman summer homes; and, unusually for Umbria, lots of kids and young people: in front of the main church of S. Michael the Archangel, a group of half a dozen kids roller-skating, including one little girl skipping rope on skates, which looked very dangerous, but several old ladies looking on benignly.

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The Rocca of Polino.

If this looks like overkill for a town of 230‑some inhabitants, we're at what was once the border between the Papal States and the Kingdom of Naples.

Still, a bit of this goes a long way, and after poking around — forgot to mention a large and attractive Renaissance fountain in the main square, also not one but two restaurants, one with rooms and the other actually calling itself a hotel full-fledged (both closed) — I turned around and left down the same road, as I knew I'd have to, at 3:18. Eventless walk down, feet pretty good, the bungee place at 5 and a brief stop, and at 6:20 I was back in my hotel room.

Dinner, I started off by telling my waiter (the owner's son) that I wasn't hungry, so I'd skip the antipasto: tagliolini al tartufo, very good; a grilled trout (even if they're all raised now rather than caught, it's still a Valnerina thing); then I decided I was hungry after all and had another primo, yesterday's tagliatelle again (not for the lack of choice, but they really were awfully good); a coupla desserts: a negligible tiramisú and yesterday's gianduia panna cotta; coffee, prime uve (and the second half of my amarone with my meal).

Later Note:

a I was very sad to learn that there has now been the death of a couple here, in May 2002. The facility, and the website of course, are now closed; authorities started investigating shortly after the accident. See this article in La Repubblica (and follow‑up articles in the right-hand column there).

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