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Saturday 12 September

Resuming Thursday (noting that the Clinton story delay at Campello, reported here, also delayed timely keeping of this diary) —

I wasn't expecting too much from the so‑called Fonti del Clitunno, so‑called because the actual springs are on the other side of the Flaminia; it's a very small patch of artificially maintained greenery after all: but in fact it's a beauti­ful restful place, and it really is the water to take center stage, absolutely crystal clear, with blue things shining on the bottom; and plants like in an aquarium. Withal, a nice example of landscaping, mostly poplar; interestingly the occasional weeping willow are not native, and seem to owe their presence here to a relative of Napoleon's, a Count of Campello, who introduced commemorative saules napoléoniens!

An oval pond about 80 meters across; in it, a small island on which there is a small gnarled tree. The entire scene is one of leaves (mostly willow-trees) and water. It is the celebrated Fonti del Clitunno in Umbria, known to the Romans as the Fontes Clitumni, considered one of the great beauty spots of Italy.

This beauty spot was celebrated in Antiquity: for a good description see the letters of Pliny the Younger, VIII.8; for Caligula's visit, Suetonius, Calig. 43 (and this interesting painting in nearby Trevi); and for some very curious lore about the springs in connection with the travels of the emperor Honorius in A.D. 403, Claudian, VI Cons. Hon. 506‑514.

And from there to the train station at Campello; no time at all to go to Bazzano and S. Giacomo: didn't sit long in the station, either. Home, to bed. Insomnias almost gone, although I still miss Pliny.

Yesterday Friday was a perfect example of just how unpredictable things are and I myself have become. When I woke up, all I was fairly sure of was that I was not going to let another day slip by lolling in bed with possibly mental flu-like symptoms, and in fact, almost no sore throat, as this morning. Anyway, I suspected I'd take an early train to Foligno and go to Nocera.

What I did instead was go to Genga to look at the church; thinking I'd stay there for a few hours, take an early p. m. train back towards Foligno, get off at Nocera for a quick visit, and take a later train back to Foligno and Spello; and when I got to Genga (S. Vittoreº Terme, actually) I wound up striking across country to Sassoferrato, with further unpredictabilities there.

Genga Stazione (5300 L for 74 km), a bus meets the train: a free shuttle the mile or so to the spa. 'Spa' makes it sound very grand: two hotels, at least one with a swimming pool, and apparently a place to gargle in. I saw about six oldsters wandering around with small towels crossed around their throats. As it turns out, I think I had some of the same water, a liter and a half that I collected in a plastic bottle issued me at an alimentari, labelled "Frasassi" with the consigne to cross the creek and get it from a tap in a rather elaborate little stone monument, elaborate for a water tap at least: arches and stuff.

The church stands on a green mound of grass in the center of town — "town" is two streets and maybe ten or fifteen houses plus the two hotels — and just radiates nobility: it's a beauti­ful building inside and out (semi-cruciform plan, blind arcading, beauti­ful octagonal tower over the crossing: inside it's a dome on four prominent squinches).

A magnificent stone church in the early Byzantine style. It is the church of S. Vittore alle Chiuse, in the comune of Genga (Ancona province, Marche, Italy).

Still, not enough to stay there for six hours — no sculpture, frescoes or inscriptions — only one small chunk of Roman column remains of the ancient baths, abandoned in a corner of the adjacent playground — so after tanking up on water and buying an onion pizza and 170g of salami, left.

Did not buy tickets to the famous Caves of Frasassi nearby. The ticket booth is in the middle of a little gravel alley of souvenir and picnic-food stands, a casual sort of gauntlet to be run, but not aggressive and not very big, much like market day anywhere. The Frasassi caves (14,000 L) are a loose group of about a dozen, of which one principal, possibly even the only one visitable. No photography, fixed hours, largish crowds — I saw maybe just over a hundred people waiting in the concrete-arcaded entrance structure as I passed it on the road west to Sassoferrato.

The gorge, about 2 km long, is attractive and, running E-W, puts the road in the shade even at noon: cool walking.

About two-thirds of the way thru the gorge, a little yellow sign with "Madonna di Frasassi, chiesa sec. XI, 700 m" so of course off I went. 700 m horizontally, but maybe 200 m up. One-lane road, crazy-stone pavement, but chained at the bottom, pedestrians only. At Christmastime they have a living crèche here: I saw the bamboo and straw hut towards the top.

And the top is a dead-end into a large cave with a much smaller cave next to it: a small church partly excavated out of the rock, mostly built of squared stone, now provided with a metal access staircase, S. Maria infra saxis, whence obviously Frasassi. The mouth of the larger cave was partly obstructed early this century​a with a largish chapel, domed, about 25 feet tall, honoring Pope Leo XII — I suddenly did remember he was a "della Genga"; well, this is the Genga. An inscription said he caused roads to be built in his native paese, much like Pio Nono and the railroad to Spoleto.

Looking out from the inside of a large cave. The wide mouth of the cave is mostly obstructed by an 8 m-high domed chapel. It is the Leo XII Chapel at Frasassi, in the comune of Genga (Ancona province, Marche, Italy). Behind it, a wooded gorge.
For the other church in the cave, see this page.

The cave is maybe 80 m deep and almost as wide, and rises into the mountain, to an apparent dead end. Shallow stone steps have been installed. Towards the top the floor has risen to meet the roof, or possibly not, but it gets very dark. I saw a bat. Water drips from the ceiling; I think stalactites have (been) broken off: just the stubs now. Stone rivulets down the sides of the cave.

Back down to my road, which itself stays flat to Sassoferrato; it is the excursions that climb sharply. Not too long after exiting the gorge, and crossing a road back to Fabriano, the actual town of Genga (the comune, of which Genga Stazione, S. Vittore Terme, the intervening Pianello, and later, Osteria di Colleponi are all frazioni) is 1 km up and off the road. Did that: was rewarded with a very small town, surprisingly small to be the seat of the comune, but then something's gotta be it and nothing's very big around here. A short street that then loops back on itself, disguised as two streets and two piazze, the larger one being the Largo Leone XII with the attractive 18c church — inscribed bust of him on the façade — the headquarters of the Consorzio di Frasassi (the group that operates the caves), and a very nice view south over rolling hills. The Gengarino outcrop (that's the adjective for Genga) is of highly stratified stone, mostly red, some of it white; and many of the town's buildings are actually in part carved out of the stone terrain, so that you can see folded geology in the lower walls of houses: it's quite interesting.

The wall of a house: the paint has peeled and you can see that it is not a man-made wall: synclinal rock formations are quite visible, even if small area of softer stone have been filled in with little patches of brick. This is in the town of Genga (Ancona province, Marche, Italy).

From Genga to Sassoferrato the road is dull but the countryside beauti­ful. At Osteria di Colleponi, the long rectilinear stretch of highway was getting a sidewalk down the N, more inhabited side: careful mosaic of attractive pink possibly brick, possibly flattened hexagons. Not very much of an observer, but then I was of course walking on the left and then I didn't want to disturb the workmen, of whom I felt jealous, actually: it must be very satisfying to see the results of one's work —

Sassoferrato, up on a hill to the W of the road which has by then turned south, seems to have several very large churches, if not particularly nice; a disused monastery surely, to the E by itself as you come into town. I say "seems" since I never visited the town: although it was 4:40 and my train was scheduled out to Fabriano at 6:26, something impelled me to enquire about the station before visiting the town rather'n after. At a garage, of a mechanic sitting on a ledge: as it turns out, at 5 the bus to Fabriano stops precisely there, and both he and two passersby he polled said there was no train any more for lack of traffic, I'd better take the last bus of the day.

I felt very fortunate: a quick tuna sammich and fruit juice at the bar across the street — this despite having drunk 3 liters of water during my walk (cool in the gorges, then 82° and gathering clouds, finally overcast and cooler) — and the bus and zap I was on it. San Donato to the left of the bus route looked interesting; scenery attractive thru to Fabriano.

What I saw of Fabriano, not; but this is hardly fair. With 1h40m to kill before the train to Foligno, I started to walk into town — the station is some ways out, by long stretch of the boulevard — but gave up — I have a sore on the upper part of my big toe, right foot, from a fold in the shoe leather (now why none on the left? body as usual a mystery), and it looked to be several kilometers walking and then rush: better come back quietly. Ditto for Sassoferrato, site of Sentinum, with apparently some remains still.​b So back to the station, bought the least stupid book I could from the kiosque — on the Shroud of Turin — and read until the train came in, and to Foligno and home.

Arrived it was night; ate fruit, drank more water, showered, caught the news on Bozo, finally got thru to James — have been missing him about equally with Pliny — James during the day (looking at these things would be better with intelligent company, altho' he wouldn't have liked the Mad. di Frasassi: hot climb, 200 m drops, bats, caves) and Pliny in the evening. Apparently Judge Starr has isolated eleven headings of impeachment, including, if I understand correctly, intimidation of witnesses. The other stuff seems to be on its way; for the life of me I've never understood statute of limitations, certainly not 8 or 10 years anyhow, but apparently he and Hillary have got off scot-free on Whitewater? Anyway, I hope we throw him out — I hate being lied to, especially when it's with sanctimonious finger-wagging and "I want you to listen to me" 's; anyhow, enough about the most ethical administration in history.

Now to today, pretty much over: I'm now sitting at the rail hut at S. Maria delle Mole after another OK skate, although very crowded.

This morning the train was nearly half an hour late to Rome, which is actually a better schedule, 8 instead of 7:30. It was late getting to Spello, and there were a couple other slow points en route. Drizzle to light rain most of the day, as expected from the weather report, but then my program was to do as much of the Capitol Museum as I could, and that's what I did; although I started by a long half-hour at the Basilica (parrocchiale) di S. Marco. Basically couldn't even see the mosaics — wedding preparations, pews draped in gold brocade, bouquets of lilies all the way down the aisle — but the narthex has a number of very interesting inscriptions, including one in Latin but Greek letters, and an ancient inscription in which "ecclesia catholica" (actually AECLESIAE CATHOLICE) is used as a specific name for the branch of the church we now call Roman Catholic, presumably as opposed to the Arian church, since Ravenna is involved.

From there up to the Musei Capitolini, checked my bags after extracting camera, film, lenses, notebook — the pockets of my sweatsuit quite full​c — bought a ticket, went in, and — camera refused to work. In a panic, I asked the guy at the door to lemme back in — and off I went to find a camera shop. I really lucked out: 7, piazza Ara Coeli, right at the foot of the steps (well, across the street), on the left, a very helpful man, Mariano by name, possibly the owner, I thought it might conceivably be the batteries altho' the battery indicator was not lit, but he thought it was water in the electronix, and suggested just waiting for it to dry out. I was unwilling to do this (how long a wait? and what if that wasn't it?) and asked him, a bit joking, a bit desperately, if he had a hair dryer: he did, right there at the counter! I spotted three tiny drops under the indicator glass, and he suggested I aim the dryer at the inside of the battery compartment below it. 45 seconds of that, and bingo it worked. He wasn't going to charge me, glad to help, he said; I bought an extra battery just in case, anyway. A very good experience all the way 'round.

Back to the museum, and about four hours got me thru four rooms and part of the upstairs gallery. A number of fascinating inscriptions of several very different kinds. I hope my pictures do come out.

Later Notes:

a I was fooled by the simplicity of the style. The chapel was in fact built in 1828 by the classical architect Giuseppe Valadier, who is also responsible for the total rebuilding of the Arch of Titus in Rome. For the chapel, known locally as the Tempio del Valadier, see this page.

b Sentinum is one of those Roman sites in central Italy that I never get to. It doesn't help that I've been told it's on the dull side, nor that I'm not big on battlefields. So, as of 2008 — stay tuned — the best I can do is to send you to the Sentinum page at Livius.

c Useful tip: if you're doing serious photography in the Capitoline Museums, wear clothing with large convenient pockets. Even relatively small camera bags must be checked; lots of pocket room will allow you to carry your film, notebook, supplies, flash, and a zoom lens. (You might not think this last item would be useful in a museum, but I assure you it is: when I finish scanning, I hope I remember to link one item here.)

Further note, 2001: During my last trip to Italy, in 2000, the Capitoline Museums were no longer allowing photography. Who knows, this may change yet again. The advice is still good for any museum where they do allow it.

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