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Thursday 25 September

On the 0807h train out of Foligno to Rome with James — resuming from yesterday:

So Tuesday Melvin and Michael and I finished lunch just short of 4 P.M. at the Cacciatore — Michael wears a red beret everywhere, including indoors and possibly (I didn't notice) in churches — Melvin is at sea in front of a menu, I did some gentle steering him to things more Umbrian than less: but he doesn't seem particularly interested in food —

Hungry yes mind you: I fed them dinner at the apartment less than four hours later, they gobbled up everything. Bruschetta (rugola; olive paste; salsa tartufata), strongozzi with more tartufata; tomato salad; tozzetti al vin santo — Grechetto dell' Umbria Arnaldo-Caprai, coffee, grappa di Sagrantino.

The next day — yesterday — they finally got up at 1:15 P.M.: not a good way to get over jetlag and see the country, but they did look rested (Michael needed it: something of a cold, hacking and coughing every morning when he woke up — they bought cough syrup only to have it fall out of the box and shatter on the floor). So at about 2 we went and ate at Il Pinturicchio near S. Lorenzo: for them it was breakfast so they started lunch with two cappuccinos each! I had gnocchi ai quattro formaggi (quite good altho' the gnocchi themselves were a bit gummier than they should be) and spinaci all'agro; James had agnello a la moda di Spello: chunks of lamb with herbs and a fair amount of intentional salt and with its own fat — quite good if unhealthy; and — the first time I've seen it — patate al tartufo: slices of boiled unpeeled potato with salsa tartufata on a bed of rugola.

[image ALT: An old stone plaque inset into a plastered wall. The stone is squarish with a rounded top featuring a large stylized 5‑petaled rose, mostly blank but starting with a single inscribed line: 'TETTIA · Ↄ · L · TERTIA'. It is a Roman tombstone in the Palazzo Comunale of Spello, Umbria (central Italy).]
After lunch, we visited S. M. Maggiore: I played tour guide, and some stray English-speakers, as often happens, took me for knowledgeable saying so and asking questions to which I had unsatisfactory partial answers. Still, I do have a knack of extracting some meaning from fairly opaque remnants of stuff and bringing them to life — We also looked at some of the inscriptions in the hall below the Palazzo Comunale; read: they got a 5‑minute course in Latin epigraphy; there are in fact several mildly interesting things there, including a one-liner about a female slave manumitted by a woman (if memory serves:


and of course my translation of Ↄ · L as "freed by some woman" — compared with a couple of other inscriptions of freedmen freed by named men — was of interest to them.

In the church of S. Lorenzo, Melvin for the second time in an hour showed a surprising instinct for heading on his own to the better and more interesting items: in this case the fresco of Virgin and Child with S. Catherine near the door; it took me a minute to narrow in on an identification: the book and no beard and youth suggested St. John at first, but the figure really did look too feminine — in which case there are few women doctors of the church, so I gravitated towards S. Catherine of Siena, but wasn't myself terribly convinced until I looked closely at the object in Jesus's hand outstretched to her: Melvin, prompted, saw the ring — all that remained was for me to tell the stories.

[image ALT: A wall painting of a haloed woman, on the viewer's right, holding a baby, who is reaching out to a second haloed woman on the left. It is a fresco of the Virgin and Child and St. Catherine in the church of S. Lorenzo in Spello, Umbria (central Italy).]

Church of S. Lorenzo, 15c fresco. Photo © Simon Browne.

My diary's St. Catherine of Siena may in fact be a St. Catherine of Alexandria: see this other fresco of her and my note below it.

By which time it was time to go back to the apartment, pick up their bags — they're traveling rather light: 3 leather bags and a garment bag — and walk down to the station for the 1734h to Foligno; a couple of hugs and some thankyou's (also I exchanged $30 for them, they were running low on lire) and they were off. I walked back home via the optician — these glasses are rather good and cost 45 ML including the quick optometry exam: I'm currently 2.25 dioptries in each eye — and after a short while James and I went to Il Trombone and had pizzas and one beer each, and to bed.

This morning up with the alarm clock at 6:10, not too hurried breakfast on the terrace (as soon as Melvin & Michael left, the weather turned clear, windless and pleasantly warm) and out to our own train to Foligno 0743h and Rome 0807h arriving at 0947 nominally, but in fact about six minutes late.

About 2045h, sitting semi-ticketed after a discussion with the conductor on the platform, on the 2055 to Perugia, smelling of sweat.

James and I walked quietly down to the Pyramid of Cestius and the Non-catholic cemetery (Cimitero Acattolico) which is definitely a more accurate name than "Protestant Cemetery" always given it in English. Despite a couple of very attractive inscriptions in the space between the two parts of the Porta Ostiensis, and before that the remains of the Porta Capena and also the odd Obelisk of Axum, and the Pyramid itself, all of some antiquarian interest, the "clou" of the walk was the near hour we spent in the cemetery, which also affords the most attractive views of the Pyramid and, even if partial, of the gate.

[image ALT: A graveyard with palmettos and rather luxuriant vegetation. It is the Protestant Cemetery in Rome.]

Part of the West section.

The cemetery is, peculiarly, full of life: trees and living flowers of all kinds, and dozens of cats. Cats everywhere, sometimes posing outrageously, often coming straight to me and my two bags possibly looking for free food — but mostly wanting to be petted and the younger ones to play.

Keats and a painter named Severn are buried in a twin grave in a distant corner of the older and far less crowded section. Keats' monument does not give his name, stating that he wanted his tombstone to read that his name was writ in water, but prefacing that with a dismissive statement that Keats was in a foul mood when he died, being surrounded by bad people on his deathbed. Severn was apparently one of these people, outlived him by seventy years, and his tombstone says they were great friends.

Shelley is quietly by himself in another corner, his neighbors right next to him having apparently nothing to do with him.

The surprise to me was that the later part especially, serried ranks of beauti­fully flowered mostly rectangular monuments with scarcely any room to tread between 'em, but even the earlier section, reminiscent of an English churchyard, is really quite full of Russians: as Orthodox they too are acattolici. A surprising number of very young men and even younger English and American wives, or occasionally daughters — married at 17 and 18 only to succumb to the mal aria of Rome, possibly.

Also a few Italians — some surely atheists: Gramsci is in there, in a very distant corner we didn't explore, but here and there an architect or a fighter pilot. Keats apparently said it was one of the very rare places that made it seem sweet to be dead: I inadvertently echoed that by remarking to James that it was a pleasant and lively place as cemeteries go.

It was 1:10, we couldn't have got to and onto the stretch of walls till 4 at which time I was planning to be at Termini on my way to Marino: so we took our lives in our hands, crossed the Piazza della Porta Ostiense, and sat in a canvas-marqueed restaurant, the Taverna Cestia, where we had an unexpectedly good meal, and at a reasonable price to boot.​a

The place has fresh fish in a large tank — and fresh oysters if brought in from France, but excellent, better than most I've had in France on the seashore: I had six, then cozze alla marinara also very good; James had grilled peppers and eggplant and tomato antipasti (OK) and a spaghetti with shellfish and astichi (langoustines), excellent. We had coffees and limoncello on the advice of the waiter who let us understand the grappa was merely to have grappa on the menu. The limoncello was one of the best I've had. I also had two desserts, an ice cream concoction misleadingly called zabaione [sic, not zabaglione] about which the waiter tried to inform me but I got my bee in my bonnet and basically cut him short like an idiot: but it was good and I could see why someone had baptised it zabaione. Then I had a millefeuille that I saw wandering out to another patron, and that was truly excellent: perfectly crisp pastry and a flavor­ful interesting cream filling. All in all a very good meal, with a ½ liter carafe of house white which was perfect for the place and weather (75‑80 degrees), for 79 ML.

At that point it was ten to three, James and I split in our opposite directions, he to go to S. Paolo fuori le Mura, I to walk back to Termini, which I did.

The Velletri train dumped us off in Ciampino telling us there'd been an incident ahead of us; I got the one cab in front of the station, sharing it with a businessman in his fifties who by good fortune for him was going very near the rink. I wound up paying 13ML and he 12, and arriving slightly early at the rink, thus getting on the ice as they opened the gate, and skating the full turno pubblico thru 6:30 — five minutes past, actually; and without leaving the ice despite sweating a fair amount.

I may be able to enjoy it again; some of it came back; I did some marginal half flips, then some spins — often nicely centered — even a couple of sitspins of sorts (although the top of my left boot chafed). Especially gratifying was my waltz jump coming back, I more or less remembered how to do them despite being scared (two of 'em aborted themselves!), but several though small were recognisable waltz jumps and my confidence did build to the point that I suddenly remembered how to do back edge rolls which I used to do with great strength and rhythm: a good deal of which reappeared suddenly. I also did sets of FI, FO, BI, BO edges: the last quite weak, but they will come back. FXO's CCW came back, I didn't try CW — too many people and not sure enough of myself to go against the direction. BXO's outside the context of spin preparation proved nearly impossible and scary: a pity since I'd been developing good power and solidity.

I tried no other jumps, although subconsciously I seemed to be weighing the half-lutz and the salchow. No camel attempts, and only two very faint and failed attempts at backspins (from lunges); a very tepid F spiral, but several fairly good back spirals, catchfoot etc. and for the first time I managed to catch my foot with both hands, something I'd never done even at the height of my skating: I did it twice but then didn't quite know what to do with it, so each time coiled to a stop holding my foot in my hands almost over my head, looking stupid. . . .

A few minutes before the end of the session, when the children (a Beta-level lesson in the center) and lots of uncontrolled young adults had cleared off, I did a bit of mild power stroking and XO's: that's going to be OK. And I never fell, despite the abortive jumps, one aborted spin, and serious curious instabilities; even: I didn't feel unsafe (like I did last time): just uncertain. All in all and considering this is only the fourth time I've skated since January — only the second time more than half an hour — I'd characterise it as remarkably solid and businesslike. I can conceive of enjoying it again, but I think not in the way I used to: the enjoyment looks like it would come from solidity and technical mastery, and even something, which given enough persistence and ability (an unknown in the equation), looks like it might be related to a competitive mind, a desire to crush others and impose myself on the ice; which is not something familiar to me: anyway, vedremo.

My left foot, mostly up from the top of the arch, up the outside of the ankle and the outside of the leg to just below midcalf, hurts: a sharp nerve-pinch type ache, similar to the lancing pains I've been having in the hips these last coupla weeks. My right foot and leg are absolutely fine: the right boot is a joy.

After my skate, a quick change into civvies, two gatorades, and a bus — I was afraid to try rail since it might still be knocked out — to the Anagnina terminus of one of the subway lines: putting me at Termini 14 minutes late for the good train to Foligno. This one, which required an 8500₤ supplement, left at 2055 and is due in Foligno at 2238, but is also in fact running a bit late — we stood in Terni station for ten minutes — and idiotically the Spello connection isn't until 2320 anyway: 15 minutes later and I'd be fast walking it. Obviously not happy about that: I gave James the key, but he still has to open for me — Plus finally there was such a throng at the ticket counters (forty people or more in each line) that I couldn't buy the supplement at the station and got socked ₤10,000 for doing it on the train​b — the trains work much less well than 3 years ago: there's been a problem about half the time; there used to be almost none. Anyway I'll have an idiotic waste of 40 minutes or so in Foligno train station; yet cabs are outrageous (35ML to do the 4 miles to Spello) & I need to start cooling it with expenses now, at least until I earn some money somehow — another dismal problem I'm not quite ready to deal with yet.

Later Notes:

a Via Piramide Cestia, 65. Tel.: 06/57.43.754.

b Travelers who can do so are well advised to avoid at all costs buying tickets at Termini train station in Rome: you will often wait in line there to get to the ticket window half an hour or more, and the automatic ticket dispensers are, in my experience, often enough on the fritz; if you are depending on that ticket to leave Rome, buying it on the train will cost you quite a bit extra, and even sometimes some unpleasantness. You'll see it stated that you can present yourself to the conductor on the platform before the train leaves and state your intent to buy the ticket onboard, then do so without penalty: again in my personal experience, most of the time this is not true.

Buy your tickets at any smaller local train station elsewhere!

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Page updated: 7 Dec 20