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Tuesday 30 September 1997

On a train to Arezzo, just pulled into Bastia; we just took what was available given the time we woke up at. If James doesn't spend the trip reading the Blue Guide to me, I'll be able to catch up. . . .

Sunday nothing much; we wound up moping around Spello, including a walk down to the station to see if we could catch a train like today's — but neither of the ticket sales points were open, and at one, we were told the trains weren't running. This wasn't true: at 1025/1026, we saw the proper trains arrive, stop, pick up passengers, and leave. We decided to avoid problems and stay home; while we were down there, I finally took pictures of the Consolare under OK light conditions at about 9:45. At 5 we walked around the W walls then past S. Claudio and around the apse carefully — no damage — and back up, with a stop at the Torre S. Margherita, where I'd never been: about 20 kgs of rock had fallen very recently, since the plants under them still exuded sap and sprang back partway when we picked up the stones; on the other hand, the debris came from the already ruined top of the tower where the bushes are growing.

Back at the house, James started to worry about Boo — Bill hadn't returned a call 24h before (and still hasn't) — and communicated it to me; I lost it altogether — a very unpleasant hour followed — the evening clerk at the Albergo del Teatro finally gave me some beginning numbers to call — 12 is the Italian operator; who told me 176 was the international operator, who then was able to look up the Nutters in Chicago; I talked with Agnes who went over to the Rogers', got our key and checked the house; unsatisfying but I guess OK report: Dinner is fine and in her cage; Orange and Bonely OK in the basement with fresh food; but no sign of Boo, Snuggles or Pliny. That Pliny wasn't there was somewhat reassuring: Bill must have gone off to his own house and taken him along? Still, we're unsettled and worried.

To calm down after Agnes's report, we went for a little walk, then out to dinner at the only restaurant open in town — waiters and cooks still refusing to come in — the Molino (local pronunciation Mulino, as with many unaccented o's in Umbria). A pretentious meal, an overrated restaurant:​a it won an all-Italy award in 1970, and has predictably coasted downhill since. James had tagliatelle alla stracciatella (OK) and I had taglierini al something — which'd been sitting in the plate and reheated: the rim of the plate was much chewier — Then James had a supposedly veal filetto "alla Pinturicchio" in a millefeuille crust; it was basically beef Wellington, but the crust was excellent and the sauce was good; I had a few thin slices of pork loin in a pleasant lemon cream sauce absurdly bedizened in blueberries (OK) and three raspberries (utterly wrong for the dish) — I had an excellent chocolate mousse for dessert; service was a combination of obsequious and perfunctory; to be fair, they were working — and we were eating — under medieval vaults with occasional earthquake tremors. Withal, mostly foreigners as we were of course: nowhere else to go. And so to bed.

Yesterday — this account is going to be interrupted very soon, we'll be arriving in Arezzo in a few minutes — we walked to Bevagna via Cannara, leaving at 1015; in Cannara just before 1 and out just past 2; arriving in Bevagna at 3:45.

(1955h, just having boarded the train in Arezzo heading back to Foligno:)

Yesterday's walk was thru relatively dull countryside, as expected, thru Cannara and some ways beyond; although there are some beauti­ful if sparse and desolate views of farmland — isolated Q. Umbriae in the midst of a large plowed field, etc. — and a bit of a view a quarter-circle around Assisi, spoiled only by a particularly hazy morning.

The little town of Limiti had a surprisingly complex Angelus carillon, coming from nowhere I could make out, of Bach possibly: most unusual for Italy. We saw the slightly leveed Topino and instead of fording it or even (almost) jumping across it, walked a good kilometer plus N to Cannara; much of it along ditches covered with a film of attractive, clean green plant life into which larger frogs jumped plop-plop-plop at our approach, and on which thumbsized frogs quietly sat.

Cannara itself is pretty much what I expected: a flat farm town; but not unpleasant, and several simple churches of some interest. About 2 km out of town, W then S on the rather busy road to Bevagna, there's a little shrine at Pian d'Arca (N of Cantalupo) where local tradition places St. Francis's preaching to the birds:​b modern but kinda sweet; on the back wall of which a recent inscription records the woman donor of much of the work, "aided by Fr. So-and‑So".

[image ALT: A modern shrine, a little over one meter on a side, of brick with a tile image of St. Francis preaching to the birds, with a projecting sloping tiled roof to keep off the rain. The shrine is in a beauti­ful small enclosure with a young oak to the left and three young cypresses to the right. It is a frontal view of the Franciscan shrine at Pian d'Arca near Cannara, Umbria (central Italy).]

The shrine at Pian d'Arca; see its page for further details and a couple more photographs.

Cantalupo, which we could have detoured, turned out also to be worth going thru: a completely unphotographable church (combination of sun angle, not enough room to take it in, and an obstruction) but of interest for an oldish belfry and a loud façade of about 1937 (James) or 1975 (me) with a Lurçat-like Christ and below him a saint mit Hund, my guess is Rocco —

But also, on the 2d floor of a house on a piazza where some grape pressing had just concluded (plastic vats with a few skins in the bottom, and a hopper-and‑screw device to feed them), a 17c or 18c Annunciation fresco in a sort of a loggia —

Bevagna was a welcome sight: James had been pretty good about it, and I in planning a reasonably calm and flat walk, but it was still something like 18 km, which he finds boring because slow; but in fact these sneakers, $59 replacements for a $150 pair Pliny ate a few months ago, are not good and my feet tend to pronate in them, then hurt and cause my knees and even hips to hurt: so it was good to find a gelateria and have a double aranciata amara, a large ice cream, two small pizze, and an assortment of paste in lieu of a decent meal — I'd not drunk more than a tablespoon of water in six hours, nor James and I eaten: refreshed, we then looked at the town for a few hours.

[image ALT: A public square, of irregular shape, fronted on by small stone buildings of 2 and 3 stories, with a small hexagonal fountain in the foreground. It is the Piazza Silvestri, in Bevagna, Umbria (central Italy).]

Bevagna: the Piazza Silvestri

The piazza is wonder­ful, the most attractive I know in Italy (incl. Perugia, Todi, Monte­falco, Foligno, Massa Marittima, Grosseto etc.) if needing a caffé in the corner to give it a bit of life and the visitor a place to sit and enjoy it: but there are 3 good churches on it and the space is harmonious and interestingly shaped. There is, in fact, a tiny bar in one corner, but two tables outdoors are an awkward afterthought — the church of S. Michele (everything was closed, ₤6 billion damage was sustained by the town in the quake, and a 10 P.M. live telecast was in prep, the technicians running cables and klieg lights everywhere, including camouflaged behind beige plastic arches made to look like naturally occurring arches over the streets) has a glorious door, including a representation of the Archangel Michael, whose feast in fact it was yesterday, jamming a stick down the throat of the devil — represented as a chimera: an unusual example of continuity from Antiquity. Today in Arezzo we saw a much later painting, in the Duomo I think, fighting a hydra: I'm used to more strictly modern devils.

[image ALT: A medieval stone carving of an angel holding a book in one hand and with the other thrusting a stick down the mouth of a dragon. It is a detail, depicting the Archangel Michael, of the main door of the church of S. Michele in Bevagna, Umbria (central Italy).]

The Archangel Michael.

Later Notes:

a Ristorante "Il Molino", piazza Matteotti, 6/7; under the same management as the luxury hotel of Spello, the Hotel Palazzo Bocci across the street. I gave this place another try in 2000; it failed again: see 18 Aug 00.

b Not the only candidate for the place where St. Francis preached to the birds. Another is Alviano in the lower valley of the Tiber; the best-known, mostly because it is near Assisi and gets a lot of tourists, is also the weakest, however: the Eremo delle Carceri, where a very old tree is lovingly preserved as a witness to the event. For further discussion of it all, plus one more candidate, see the 16th chapter of the Little Flowers of St. Francis.

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Page updated: 7 Dec 20