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Saturday 27 September 1997

I finally took that cab, mostly so James would neither worry nor be kept up half the night: 28 ML and ten minutes' ride.

We went to bed therefore around 11:30 after exchanging accounts of our respective afternoons: James went to S. Paolo fuori le Mura and liked it, in defiance of the Blue Guide; my memory from thirty years ago was of a large pleasantly gardened cloister, after all.

And at 2:33 A.M. per the bedroom alarm clock,​a which was later confirmed by news reports, a loud rumbling noise and some fairly slow shaking, and I was awakened by what I realized immediately was an earthquake. James woke up maybe a second before I did, and thought at first something was going on in the house, then that it was me doing something, then that it was in the kitchen — the noise and vibrations were coming from below us towards the staircase (we were occupying the same bedroom because Melvin's bed still had its old linen) — and he must've said something like "What are you doing?" because I responded with "Oh neat! an earthquake!". We then got up, checked that the house was OK, including the gas, and went back to bed. An old woman across the street was weeping hysterically and a man was trying to calm her; two more gentler shocks before I fell asleep, and James felt a third — that too matches the news reports (3:35, 3:54, 4:06): they were less violent. In Mercalli scale, much more widely used than Richter here, they were VIII° grado, then IV°, V°, V°. Then we apparently slept thru a couple more around 6 — although possibly I have a dim memory of something; then woke up around 7:30, I did a spot of grocery shopping chez Mario — I joked that this time I'd felt it (as opposed to the ones around the time I arrived in Spello, which some people felt; others not, among them me: also centered on Colfiorito).

Having gone to Rome the day before, we felt in the mood for an easy local visit without much walking, so settled on Monte­falco by the 1010 bus from Spello (piazza) to Foligno and the 1100h bus from Foligno bus station to Monte­falco via Bevagna, it being — like today — a gorgeous clear day affording excellent views which is what you go in part to Monte­falco for.

Well there was a terrific crowd of mostly schoolkids, highschoolers, all trying to cram onto one bus — they don't bother to get up for 75‑year‑old women, who don't ask, either, but look very tired — It turned out the schools had all been cancelled for earthquake, pending structural checks of the school buildings; a second bus was brought in: we were on it.

The road thru Fiamenga then to Bevagna turns pleasant about half a kilometer past BCS: nice and straight, plus the name Fiamenga (*Flaminica) suggests the Flaminia. At Bevagna, we saw the rather attractive walls: more stone by far than brick, what I saw on the side we were on, but also more medieval than Roman.

James feels he heard the large quake some short time after pulling out of Bevagna, where we let off two-thirds of the bus during a quick stop behind the principal church (which we later learned to have been damaged, apparently only a little):​b that would have been at around the right time, 1142 — a quake at Mercalli IX‑X supposedly, although later, confused and somewhat divergent reports spoke of two overlapping shocks much like the one at 0233; anyway, in moving vehicles apparently you don't feel them, and we didn't, learning of it only ten minutes later as we thought to enter the celebrated museum in Monte­falco and the church of S. Francesco with the choirful of Benozzo Gozzoli: closed until expertise proves them safe.

So we wandered around Monte­falco, enjoying the fabulous views and whatever was visible from the outside, which was a fair amount: the central polygonal piazza is quite attractive — the theatre (ex-oratorio St. Philip Neri) had developed a 3/4″‑wide crack over the door that even children recognized as new — and some of the walls and gates are of interest, including in particular the Porta S. Agostino and a house across from it with 2 Roman and several medieval inscriptions.

Two old brick buildings, two or three stories tall, with crenellations and linked by a very fragile-looking covered wooden staircase. It is the 16th‑century Palazzo De Cuppis in Montefalco, Umbria (central Italy).

An old wooden staircase: the building is the 16c Palazzo De Cuppis.

We also walked out of town to the nearby church and convent of S. Fortunato, with an attractive chapel frescoed in 1512 where we were left on our own, on our honor not to take flash pictures; the actual church was unvisitable, about thirty Franciscan brothers were awaiting Mass or prayers — I saw all kinds of good frescoes in twenty seconds, from the back; as well as what may have been a cosmatesque altar or tomb in a side chapel?

Further down the hill, a very large imposing apparently 17c church now attached to a farm house — possibly Cerrete?

Back up to the town, right past the signature water tower and S. Chiara — an uninteresting hulk although enclosing a smaller earlier chapel with good frescoes — closed — with a brief stop at the very sixteenth-century church of S. Illuminata which I found particularly attractive; back to the piazza, where I bought a bottle of passito di sagrantino, and seeing the door of S. Francesco, wandered in innocently — a couple of periti were doing a check; I saw the Gozzoli's from afar, a couple of good frescoes to my right — apparently including a Perugino — and even took a picture of a large less good fresco in the N nave, all in sixty seconds before being hustled out (most courteously); there was some apparently slight damage.

Bus from the piazza near the gate, and train back to Spello, where we got to the apartment, plunked ourselves down in front of the television set to learn of the collapse of part of the Basilica in Assisi and the death of 2 monks and 2 archeologists in the rubble — extremely sad — and the collapse of much of Nocera Umbra, that James had got the idea of going to a few days ago, and I'd been expecting to visit anyway.

During the newscast, a strong tremor at 2046 and two lesser ones at 2111 and 2129. We'd seen few people, lights, or businesses open as we climbed the hill — so we went back out to check that there was no order to evacuate. There wasn't: most people had just gone out in the fields to sleep in their cars. Maybe 10% of Spello had stayed. We talked briefly with some people from Foligno who'd come to Spello to sleep in their car rather illogically at the piazza Vallegloria — with some Spellani as well — The man had fled his house, a foot-wide gap having broken open: he was upset but not past it —

We walked around the Pusterula, rather like Boo checking the house at night, quite uselessly of course, then went to sleep.

At 5 A.M. we were woken up by a strongish shock, several minor aftershocks. Back to sleep and finally woke up somewhat before 7:30. The strongest tremor today — so far (I'm writing in bed at 2325h, and in fact there have been at least two very slight tremors in the last 3 pages' writing of this account) — occurred at 8:04 A.M.: James had just taken his shower, and I was in the kitchen (under the staircase) washing dishes to prepare breakfast. Spellani agree with me, but news reports claim there was something at 6:58 — a mystery to James, who was half-awake several minutes before the 7 A.M. bells (and I too heard the bells as I slept, yet no quake 2 minutes before).

It was another lovely morning, and I was darned if I was going to be intimidated by this stuff: we had breakfast on the terrace, watching sheep being herded in the field below us — one small black dog doing all the work, several larger dogs, white except for one, just along for the ride, wandering around sniffing at things. . . .

Quick grocery shopping at Mario's: crowded, all terremoto-talk. Old women some quite scared, one not. I told them I was from Chicago and it would take more than that to dislodge me — in fact, the other bedroom developed a crack all the way up one wall and bifurcating almost all the way across the ceiling, which I reported to Mrs. Zurlo suocera — she at her window, me in the middle of the via Giulia below her —

Anna wouldn't come to change the beds: she was too scared. Mrs. Z. suoc. brought the biancheria in the afternoon and James made them: in fact, prudently we're sharing my bed under no cracks. Like last night, we have money and essentials packed near the bed, plus phonino on my nightstand, and plan to crawl under the bed if there's a really bad quake during the night.

Anyway, this morning we did laundry and went for a walk to check things around town; came back after breakfast at the caffé next to S. Lorenzo where we read the papers; a very light lunch, then a longer walk down to the Consolare at about 5 — beauti­ful light for photographing it, which I'd not yet done — then past the Urbica and to S. Claudio (very slight damage at the latter) and up via the Torre S. Margherita: more substantial damage, although not that much really. Forgot to mention an earlier stop (first walk after breakfast down to the Consolare to try to get the Herald Trib, sold out) at S. Ventura where one of the less good frescoes (1st chapel W of the door, liturgical south) had buckled and lost a bit of paint along a crack.

Back to the apartment: three tremors at 1900, roughly 1915, and 1952. Then we went to dinner at the Molino — Frenchified cooking with some pretense, very uneven, and only in part due to the unusual circumstances: an excellent chocolate mousse but a peculiar pork and lemon cream dish, good but spoiled by the addition of blueberries (OK) and 3 raspberries (very definitely not OK). . . . Amidst almost nothing but English-speakers under cracked stone vaults with only one exit: several slight tremors as we ate — the only restaurant open in Spello. . . Home, to bed.

Later Notes:

a Note that although the diary entry date is September 27, here the narrative recounts the previous day: the Colfiorito earthquake occurred on Sept. 26, 1997.

b The diary account is confused. The bus stops in a turnaround square just below, and contiguous with the lower walls of, the church of S. Silvestro, itself one of three churches on the main piazza of Bevagna. Although prominent, S. Silvestro would not be considered the town's "principal church", that honor going to S. Michele across the piazza.

S. Silvestro was apparently not seriously damaged, but S. Michele more so.

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