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Thursday 4 September 1997

1045h just pulling out of Foligno towards Terni, about 4 minutes late. This morning I was real sore — ankle tendons, quads a bit, calves a bit tight, but mostly hamstrings and glutes: nearly painful. It's starting to go away — the walk down to the station helped — but earlier, negotiating the 36 steps repeatedly from the zona pubblica to the terrazza with the breakfast stuff was unpleasant.

I had a nice breakfast — last night I wound up having two sausage links, two large glasses of diluted peach juice, a glass of rosato d'Assisi with the news, a bicchierino of limoncello in bed — in a very leisurely quiet way: a large plate of linguini with olive oil and epityrum; more peach juice; a coffee with "uperizzato" skim milk; 2 biscotti with a bit of butter and apricot jam; a pineapple yogurt (0,1% di m.g.) Showered and shaved, washed a few items of clothing — it looks like I may manage with very little expense and no difficulty — and packed my camera bag with the usual stuff plus this diary (a tight fit) and 6 rolls of exposed film, since I'm going to Todi to see Sig. Ursini, talk camera and developing and Internet, and get my developing started.

Fields here — S of Trevi — mostly corn, looking slightly stunted. Dry, dry: and another sunny day, 20% low clouds though now, but promising no rain. I'm waiting for rain at a suitable time, in fact: 3 P.M. would be nice; to allow me to then get some more color­ful views of Spello. . . .

OK, now for yesterday's walk; armed with my photo log in which I jot all kinds of useful information in addition to photo identification.

The hottest part of the walk was definitely the first part, climbing to Collepino (600 m) then the Chapel of the Madonna della Spella (978 m) in the middle of the day. I left Spello at around 10:15 by the P. Montanara, taking the high road over­looking the road to S. Girolamo. Very quickly mostly olive trees, with good retrospective views onto Spello. Constant slope seeming not steep, but it all adds up and I was hot and occasionally panting. Conifers then starting at about 500 m, and broom beginning. Plants also seen on road to Foligno and not recorded: fennel (near Foligno some was 7½ feet tall), scabious — there's certainly enough limestone around! — thistles of at least 4 kinds, the commonest and increasingly common with altitude 'til at the top of Subasio there were fields of them being a bright blue spiky thing, some kind of echinops? with even stems blue; possibly also cnicus benedictus; rosemary and thyme, an isolated pocket of mountain ash, one autumn crocus (a bit more frequent at the top of Subasio). The broom was setting seeds at the lower altitudes, but some were still blooming here and there past about 700 m. Solidaster, also among the plants near Foligno unrecorded.

[image ALT: A clump of about fifty small stone houses on a low hill, almost completely surrounded by taller hills forested with oak and pine, with high mountains in the distant background. It is the village of Collepino near Spello, in Umbria (central Italy).]


Collepino was a welcome sight: shade, rest, and water. A nice little place, too. Neat, clean; nothing to see really — guidebooks speak of medieval walls and a tower, yes: but might as well be modern. The town itself is about four streets and a bar-ristorante on a sweet little piazza (or open space, piazza is too much) with lots of flowers. I spent half an hour there, downing two Fanta arancio and even having a coppetta of "crema"-flavored ice cream: quite good but against my better judgment when walking — no appreciable ill effects though. The girl behind the counter and I talked about the principessa Diana: she didn't believe the autista was drunk. I'm not too sure I do either: his neighbor in Paris said he didn't drink — She has a French boyfriend in Spello but speaks no French.

The church, closed, seems to be nothing much, although the belfry is nice. Sunday is the feast day: Our Lady of Sorrows. A special mass in the morning then a Rosary and a procession thru the streets, starting at 8 P.M.: I'm thinking of going. The restaurant, Nando, is open for dinner every evening except the chiusura settimanale Thursday: reservations are wise on weekends, the Spellani go there. So apparently do buses of Germans, also Italians: I get the impression that the village is a carefully cultivated creation of the restaurant . . .

Hit the road again just past noon; this time the strada bianca up from the parking lot rather than continuing on with the paved road around the mountain. Fairly stiff hairpin climb up to and past the church of S. Silvestro about a kilometer away; pit stop there about 20 minutes: beauti­ful Romanesque church, altho' not "1025" as on the signs. That's the foundation date of the monastery that built it; from the looks of it, 12c.

[image ALT: The apse of a small Romanesque church in the shade of Umbrian oaks. It is the hermitage of S. Silvestro at Collepino, near Spello, in Umbria (central Italy).]

Approach to the hermitage of S. Silvestro di Collepino: the apse of the 12c church.

Now part of a hermitage of nuns, with low modern house and chapel next to the ruined tower over­looking the church.

Inside which — small squarish surface, no columns needed to support the roof span — an altar made out of a strigil sarcophagus with a central portrait over 2 theatre masks, one comic one tragic.

[image ALT: A Roman sarcophagus, further described in the text on this page.]

A lone fresco fragment of the Madonna L of the altar; and a fragment of a Roman inscription built into the step into the chancel: VAM ADDV — enough to guess [AQ]VAM ADDV[XIT] or some such thing; and indeed, on arriving at S. Silvestro the first thing you see before the apse of the church under some very picturesque low trees is some ruins and for some reason I immediately thought 'aqueduct'; probably because I knew from Mrs Zurlo that there do remain traces of an aqueduct around Collepino: on closer inspection the ruined walls don't look too much like an aqueduct or even very Roman.

The inscription stubbornly refused to photograph until I put a pen on it to give the camera something to focus on. This happened several times, including with landscapes: I've got to figure out how to override the automatic focus (putting it on manual seems to do no good!) —

There was a small staircase down in the front left corner of the church. Fearing to be intrusive, I didn't go explore; apparently the crypt is what TCI Umbria gives a star to — capitals, etc. I'll probably go back.

Can't say the same for the rest of the walk. Still steep and hot, and not a breath of air until about 900 m (S. Silvestro at 750 m); then suddenly a church steeple hove into view over the road, and finally a largish refugelike low rectangular building on top of a hill, with a parking lot with two cars, two men eating in a covered space along the building, three women in bathingsuits sunning up close to the church façade on the side of the hill. It turned out to be the chapel of the Madonna della Spella, open only once a year for Mass on Ascension Day followed by a picnic.

Well the older lady offered me some water, half a liter from a plastic bottle, which I thankfully accepted — I need to buy a canteen — and food, which I declined. She also told me to hang around, an old man usually comes round and opens up: frescoes to be seen.

And indeed just as I was after all thinking of heading off — when you're on foot you don't have the luxury of indefinite waits — the old man showed up, and frescoes there are, graffitoed in later centuries, one graffito dated 1568 and believable.​a The frescoes themselves not extraordinary, but pleasant: unusually tho', every single one was of the same subject and near-identical composition and coloring: a Madonna and child. Also a pedantic inscription by Thaddeus Donnola of S. Lorenzo (already met with near Foligno), "tetrastichon": viz. a quatrain in Latin about the Virgin being responsive to any prayer the Spellani may choose to put to her; mostly about rain and crops. Photographs, gift of water from the caretaker (unsought, again) and left up the last stretch of Subasio, gradually becoming barrener, then very suddenly, a line coinciding with the road ahead: altopiano of burnt scrubby grass and lots of thistles.

[image ALT: missingALT]

By now a fairly nice cool breeze, certainly welcome; the hot part of the walk, as well, coincidentally, as the steep part. It was 2 when I left the Spella, and after an increasingly level road amid rounded breastlike hills, suddenly a repeater station: I walked up to it thinking it might mark the summit, but one of the 5 men working there — 3 of 'em were on the roof of the low single-storey small house of a building, futzing with one of the smaller antennas — told me no this was the Mortario,º the true summit was next hill over. Sweet black dog, a female, rolled over for me and made moaning noises gratefully as I petted her belly —

So down the road a hundred meters or so then off the road thru a narrow pedestrian gate marked as Path 55 — my map showing a Path 50 in the area, tho' not there, and no 55 — then thru about 250 m of field toward the summit marker. Field full of thistles, including an echinacea? thing particularly attractive, also the blue things everywhere, and a coupla sparse pockets of wilting purple crocuses. The last rise and up to the marker, and there I was, fa­cing a naked man, blonde, very tan, reasonably well built, about 6′ tall; a short blonde woman was sitting down [. . .]

Well I'd got to the marker, so turned around, backed up a bit towards these people (about 15′ away) until I could get the marker and the repeater station in a photo, took my photo,

[image ALT: A granite marker on what appears to be a slightly undulating plain, with a distant microwave repeater station. It is the summit of Mount Subasio, near Assisi.]

went up to the marker, stepped on the base of it, and left quietly, back down to the road. One look back — after a decent interval — to the summit, but apparently not decent enough: among my memories of Subasio a parting view of some guy with an erection standing up next to the marker, ostensibly looking to see if they were going to be encroached on again. . . In fact I passed his car at a little parking spot a hundred yards on: a prominent silver sticker in the rear windshield, "Steelbody Club" — in fact I'm in about as good shape, so what.

Yet a couple hundred yards and from W views the road shifted to N and NW views, and one single view of Assisi — there were no others all the way down to the ones I knew from '94 below the Eremo — quite beauti­ful; and I have a pretty good telephoto lens —

The vegetation on the N side of Subasio seemed to have got a bit more water; views phenomenal, as during about 8 km of this walk. And although there was plenty of sun, it was actually cool up there; the sky in spots seeming touchable: I can see how people get addicted to mountains. The air was light and clean, you feel free, there's nothing for miles around (or so it feels, and in fact I was crossed or passed by no more than ten cars in a good couple of hours). In fact, my face arms shoulders are tight and a bit pink today: the Umbrian tan is starting.

Life up there mostly plants, although on the way up I saw a squashed hedgehog the size of my two cupped hands; a very occasional lizard, one garter snake or legless lizard. One field, with concrete troughs, had two small clumps of horses; and about a kilometer after the summit, a corralling of maybe forty handsome animals: a few stopped cars and some young boys herding them. Something going on, but I don't know what: possibly they were being examined for sale? Anyway, I hope my pix turn out.

Down to Assisi, by now late afternoon, distinctly cool, clouding up, and even nearly cold for 500 m to the point I nearly considered putting my shirt on; but it warmed up as the road descended. Slight worry about possible rainstorm with me in it on a mountain; more worry because the unsignposted road and my map (Kompass #665, 1:50.000) didn't quite seem to relate, although both of them yes had me N of Assisi to then hook back.

Anyhow, finally the Eremo — a sign about 1 km before it — and the descent onto Assisi. About 2‑3 km above the Eremo my road turned asphalt-paved (the section from Collepino to there is open to vehicles only 0600‑2000h) and there was a large meadow with maybe a dozen stopped cars, more people with blankets: altho' in one case the couple had brought their 8‑year‑old boy and an alert-looking little mutt of a brown-and‑white terrier sitting up watching the scenery.

On the way down, common linaria, mullein, malva althea, centaurea; the broom at one point for about 200 m was "blooming" with hundreds and hundreds of snails of two kinds: spiral and conical.

(Speaking of life: evidence of the occasional cow, lots of horses; and either goats — I believe — or just possibly deer in the field just south of the summit.)

Anyway, down to Assisi in a bit of a hurry. I wasn't too thirsty, altho' I'd cast off my bottle at the Mortario; but my legs hurt, including the soles of my feet: none of which is normal, and I'm just a bit worried, esp. that I'm thinking of going skating tomorrow. I passed an American or more likely Canadian couple strollering their 3‑year‑old girl down from Subasio: passed them twice, since I stopped despite myself to get a picture of the Rocca of Assisi which 3 years ago I had to forgo for want of good enough telephoto.

Piazza Matteotti 6:43 P.M. just missing the bus to the station; at the bar round the bend where you get the tickets I swilled down two arancine and had a poisonous-looking pastry, good though, with peach and custard and the aforementioned bright red maraschino cherry. At S. M. degli Angeli almost no wait, then 8 or 9 minutes to Spello and the unwelcome walk up to the Pusterula and home. Dropped my bag and immediately went back down to the alimentari P.zza della Repubblica just closing: no fresh, but skim uperizzato milk, peach juice, yogurt — and back up into a well-deserved and necessary cool then warm bath. Undecided for a bit, then fatigue took over and to bed, as noted.

Well, this train just did its little stop at P. Naia — wonder­ful view of Todi, I'll remember to be ready with the camera next time — so in sixty seconds I'll be arriving at Ponterio.

P.M. pretty much on the dot: I'm at the Umbria at a little corner table right next to the view; which in fact is mostly obscured by troughs of geraniums, wisely too, in this heat giving an impression at least of cool. Not particularly hungry in fact but what else to do before Mr. Ursini opens shop? I only have thirty shots of film and no extra rolls, plus old stone is all washed out at midday. I'll almost certainly be here in Todi several times during this trip, to make sure I have all the pictures I should have taken last time, depending as I did on postcards. . . The RT train trip from Terni is only ₤8600. Of course if each time I eat at the Umbria it won't be quite as cheap! I've ordered a bresaola (con tartufo! of course e rugola); the lingua in salsa verde — the first thing I had in '94 I think, anyway it's wonder­ful; and a bottle of grechetto, no halves available. The waiter remembers me from always writing . . .

The Grechetto is not di Todi, but rather a Grechetto dell' Umbria Arnaldo Caprai, Monte­falco; and quite good. Admittedly the Todi stuff is less good and you can count on the Umbria to choose your meal well.

A sweet little English couple in their mid-twenties apparently speaking no Italian at all (gesturing to communicate that they're just the 2 of them), and apparently only dimly aware they've wandered into one of the best restaurants in Umbria —

They turned out to be honeymooners, staying at an agriturismo at Asproli — thru a British agency — where the wine is apparently not so good, one of these places where the vintners are adjusting old dry wines to modern tastes — sweet — in this case with poor results. I gave them some of mine — they're driving so cautious and I still wound up drinking, surprisingly, basically my whole bottle. Wound up hungrier also than I thought so I had the cinghiale/polenta; pretty good if possibly manzo piuttosto che cinghiale — Tozzetti al vin santo, un caffé ed una grappa per finire (e qualche foto dell' Umbria, chissà se tornerò!).

Weather cooling and clouding thank goodness — I'll be out in it taking pictures. . . .

And I did after a long reprise de contact with Gabriele Ursini (son) and Bruno Ursini (father) then a bit of wandering around to get the pictures I should have taken in 1994: the Duomo, the piazza, the eagles, S. Fortunato, the Nicchioni. Actually not so much duplication so to speak since I couldn't have taken half these pix with the Olympus I had in 1994. I gave 8 rolls to be developed, let's see how they turn out. Then I saw a street poster for a Sun. 14 excursion to Subasio, leaving with cars from Todi, but the foot part from Spello to Assisi but not over the top like I did yesterday but along the side via S. Benedetto and S. Antonio: the first I wondered about when I saw it on the map, the other I never heard about. I'm not committed to anything, but it just might be fun; now I realise James arrives the 12th or 13th — and I know damn well this isn't his cuppa tea . . .

Thank goodness I do think on my feet, despite appearances. After buying some vin santo and strangozzi and green olive paste p.zza Jacopone, I started waiting for the linea C bus to the station, assuming there'd be one to the 8 P.M. train. At 7:43 I realised there is none (the schedule: 7:14 and 8:36 P.M.) and had the good luck to find a cab under the steps in the piazza — turned out he is Bruno Ursini's brother — ₤12M — anyway I'm on the train, we've just sped thru P. Naia; a very old moon in a late-twilight west —

Coming back laden with bags: in addition to my little groceries, 9 rolls of film 90 ML and a 10‑shot trial roll for the Olympus; a good book on Umbrian cooking — 20ML paperback, Terni train station — and two Tinta Unita notebooks from the stationer's where I got the others in 1994. Either I just today noticed, by the way, or they put up a sign, that the "palazzo" I lived in back then really is a palazzo (15‑16c): Pal. Astancolle —

While I was in S. Fortunato, they were setting up for a performance tonight at 9:30 of Jacopone's Laudi: the choir of Massa Martana; unfortunately I won't be able to catch them elsewhere, not even in Massa. I spoke with the director, mentioning that although I'm a foreigner I do know Massa — Convento della Pace etc. — who told me there'd been an earthquake on Mar. 12 that had damaged it. Structural damage, no collapse fortunately.

About 10:30 P.M., in bed after a quick shower and a few glasses of juice. Train to Terni in the dark, nothing much; more nothing much, except less of it, from Terni to Foligno leaving about four minutes late; then a ten-minute wait in Foligno and hardly anything at all to Spello: four minutes seated across from a young brown-robed Franciscan possibly American — certainly looked it — with an expensive watch and a small backpack. At Spello station I stepped out into some kind of imbroglio: three American girls who should've gotten off in Spello, couldn't open the door, wound up in Foligno, taxi'd back to the Spello station to try to catch the Italian boyfriend of one of them, who of course had left — nervous cabdriver; I wound up translating — now they wanted to go to the Terrazze del Belvedere, the cabbie popped me in the back seat to translate; up to the Terrazze, more translation — Leonardo had been there but left, maybe leaving a message but then maybe not — I dropped my bottle of vin santo which popped and broke. My reaction was mild oh-damn: I wasn't even frightened, and I didn't get upset. Still, it's a waste and it hurts and you think back to when you had no money at all, and how tragic a broken bottle, a treat just gone in a second —

Anyhow, I walked around the top of the city my 200 yards home if that; and here I am. [. . .]

Later Note:

a This may be a mistake for 1586, at least I find no 1568 in my photos now. At any rate, the graffiti are much of the interest of this little chapel: see my page.

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Page updated: 7 Dec 20