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Saturday 19 September 1998, continuing Sep. 16

[image ALT: A landscape of nearby plowed fields and distant hills, with a winding path leading across those fields from the camera into the background, where stormclouds are seen dissipating. It is a view of the countryside south of Amelia, Umbria (central Italy).]
Roughly southwards down the track mentioned in my diary, towards the Amerina. Notice the bit of rainbow!

From there Nazzareno drove me via the road E of Totano (we'd come to Seripola via the W road thru Penna), just S of which he took a strada bianca to the farm of a friend, then a track down into the flood plain: a small just barely rectangular building, clearly Roman, nice squared blox, must've been 15 feet high, more maybe; hard to see what it could have been. Although it stands — in part — by the edge of the Amerina (no pavement visible now, for a thin layer of scrub, but both of my guides told me that at other seasons of the year for several hundred feet — wave of the arm southwards down a clear track near which occasionally some rather splendid oaks — you can see the basolato romano), there was no town nearby, so it's unlikely to have been a tomb.

Hmm, skipped some of the most interesting stuff. Before leaving Serípola, we wandered thru some fields, bounded on the W by a hill withº a medieval watch-tower, on the E by a gradual rise in which several very old tombs and an aqueduct channel, elbow-deep with water; fields full of sigillata, black ware, amphora dottles, tegulae, etc. Occasional pieces of bronze, nails, bones, etc. The tombs — natural overhangs in the soft rock then further excavated — could be anything from Villanovan to medieval, but the tombaroli have cleared 'em out. Villanovan urns have been found close by, Nazzareno himself having found a cover once.

Needless to say, Nazzareno, in his scouring the countryside, winds up with little bagsful of stuff that he periodically turns over to the Sovraintendenza: there is a museum in Amelia, perpetually on the verge of opening, but never quite, to the constant low-level rage of the inhabitants. This situation is repeated everywhere: museums take forever to open. They think the museum at Amelia (over the Porta Romana) might open this winter; after I leave, of course.

Nazzareno dropped me off at Anita's at around 6, and I used the hour or two before dinner to do housecleaning: bought razor blades, a T‑shirt, underwear, toothgear so at least on waking up I'd feel clean. Nice hot shower — I'd got pretty scruffy poking around the countryside. My hotel room was spotless and the bathroom nicely organised with plenty of hot water; very comfortable and a minimum of noise, 60 ML.

Can't say as much for the food there — the giorno di chiusura is Monday — which I tried, on the advice of both Nazzareno and a random passerby I accosted according to my usually success­ful method. This despite my having eaten quite well at lunch at Il Carlèni and thinking to come back since they have a much expanded dinner menu & wine list. Anyway, at Anita's I had the pappardelle alla lepre — OK if a bit salty — and the coratella, not OK: enough salt to mummify it, and swimming in nearly a centimeter of grease and oil; wine: Carbio, a R.S. (Rosso Superiore) Colli Amerini from Fornole, 1996 — pretty good. On the other hand an extremely good limoncello. No dessert, no coffee; to bed, slept very well.

The following morning Thursday 17, up with the sun. Immediately next to the hotel, a nondescript little chapel, this or last century maybe, closed, peek thru a window bags of cement on floor, wheelbarrow; but embedded in the façade, a Roman inscription with two very clear lines and two very faint ones in a smaller and different hand — Nazzareno says the inscription comes from the necropolis of S. Rocco and S. Crispino, one of three in the area.

Did a partial tour of the walls around the E side: the Porta Romana, some according to the DeAgostini 700 m widdershins from it of polygonal walls of which the last piece maybe 80 m under scaffolding — workers doing things just to the top of it, the project description sign speaking only of "valorizzazione" and the Regione dell' Umbria, not the archaeological powers. Porta Leone, Porta Posterola which true to its name gives straight out onto (attractive) countryside behind the church of S. Magno and its convent and from which area very nice views upwards of the church of S. Agostino.

That church also closed, but nice façade and ensconced between two other interesting buildings, the one to the right, the Amelia campus of the Istituto Tecnico Industriale di Terni, is built around a post-medieval cloister, but more importantly has two old columns in front of it topped with possibly antique capitals at any rate reworked and inscribed in the Middle Ages.

The Municipio part of an attractive complex on a pleasant square used but not so bad as a parking lot, under which 10 Roman cisterns visitable when the Municipio is closed, i.e., Saturday p. m. and Sunday. Nazzareno'd given me a booklet on the cisterns — his car copy — but the Comune gave me one too, or rather a young man named Roberto Passagrilli of the Ufficio Socio-Culturale, where I also met the (young, attractive) dottoressa Marina Marinelli — her doctorate is a J.D. but she and Roberto, like Nazzareno and Pietro and apparently many others in this town, are among the appassionnati di archeologia.​a The Municipio has a forecourt full of stuff, completely uncaptioned and unlike Narni's Lions Club pamphlet no catalog is available; mostly medieval and later, but including several antique columns, including one made of pieces of verde antico and other stuff, very hard to say what it looked like in Antiquity.

Down to the hotel to check out at 1030 — the room had to be freed by eleven — but noone there to do it, so I went and found film; I'd brought my usual 3 or 4 rolls but was running out. On the third try — all three places within 100 m of the Pta. Romana — two rolls of 36x200 at 9500L. The first shop, a photo shop, had plainly visible neat pigeonhole with maybe 20 rolls o' the stuff but with soulful sadness told me he couldn't sell it to me; except under the counter (when I pressed him)! not wishing to cause trouble of course I declined which: I've never run into that before.

Hotel at 11, they still couldn't check me out, so I started looking like I was squirming in my collar and one of the charwomen checked me out, cash. (Pattern of this kind of stuff thruout Amelia. . . .!)

Up slowly again — my third trip up the hill during this little stay — via various pieces of ruin here and there: near the elementary school for example at #84 v. Cavour, an arch over the main drag, just below which a swatch of reticulatum, carefully left exposed; on the other side (the "down" drag of the loop for cars), the Porta Cubica, big blox of ancient stone; and slightly below it at 185 v. della Repubblica a fragment of a monumental inscription and several other traces of antiquity. In fact Amelia is much like the upper town of Otricoli: a large lapidary museum. Being a much larger town, the stuff is less concentrated, however; and while not exactly neglected, it is merely there, with no information, no local guidebook, and a general air of decay: sad since Ameria was a very major place once. It's possible the little secret of Amelia has something to do with this: it's a major drug detox center, and apparently full of halfway houses.

Anyway, up to the Carlèni​b (named after a proprietor about 250 years ago) at 21 v. Carleni, for lunch. Sat at my now "usual" spot — after wandering about thru an empty restaurant (it was past 12:30 but the place, altho' tables set, hardly looked open) — and had another good meal. This time no fooling around, I was hungry: offered a choice of two gnocchi as primi — one with gorgonzola and saffron, t'other with pomodoro & basil — I was dissuaded from one of each, but after the former (1720) prevailed and had the latter as well (16½); then a steak with a liberal sauce of funghi porcini and a touch of tartufo estivo with cubed pommes frites and thymed green beans. The steak, for Europe, was exceptional; they sometimes prepare Argentine beef, but this was Chianina. I was a bit disturbed to have eaten the animal before having photographed it; when I told Mr. Ralli of my interest in the Chianina,​c he said yes, they weren't being bred much, but it turns out the meat is exceptionally fine (quite different from Angus BTW), and there was an élevage at Totano. Wine, a half bottle of '94 Lago di Corbara (I.G.T.), the vintner being Barbi they of the Decugnani, which worked particularly well with the tomato sauce of the second gnocchi. Dessert, a tris of torta alla ricotta, torta di mele warm with a tiny pitcher of cream, cold, and the gateau "hollandais" plucked off the radio airwaves of Holland by Mrs. Ralli, much like a reine de Saba. A very good meal — grappa di Sagrantino, caffé — for about 65 ML.

Mr. Ralli showed me around his hotel component, about 6 or 7 rooms, very attractively furnished, kitchenettes, and the top floor, #1 has a wonder­ful view, the 30‑40 km panorama, although with a W exposure meaning pleasant at breakfast but not in the early evening. Rooms can be paired into suites: they'd analysed their market and realized that Americans often travel in foursomes. . . I'll prolly reserve with James for two days in late October. Amelia is chock-a‑block full of stuff.

After lunch — it was about 3:30, with my bus back to Narni Scalo and Terni at 6:30 — I wandered back down towards the Porta Romana, and happened to see a T‑shirt of the Germanicus statue in a store: obviously a political statement since the statue was taken by the Sopraintendenza to Perugia 35 years ago and they won't give it back, although at least they finally started exhibiting it last year.​d Anyway I went in and bought the shirt (14ML) and inquired about it: it turns out the proprietress, the young woman I was speaking with, had had the shirt made on purpose ("Germanico d'Amelia") and we talked quite a while; I of c. in my usual populist vein, since I detest the clique from Paris, Rome or Perugia grabbing everything and the locals having to fight bitterly — cf. le cratère de Vix — to keep their own stuff. It would be understandable if Amelia were Ceccanibbi or Búdino without the infrastructure, but the city has even spent several million lire on a secure locale to exhibit in: more low-level rage diffused thru the population; I took off my new white T‑shirt in the store to put on Germanicus.

The proprietress also showed me a photo she took last year of the street in front of her shop when they dug up the Amerina: it's all there, still; not just the patches they've grilled and glassed: the whole street, it seems, down to the Porta Romana. Nice photo — blown up, b&w — kicking myself for having chosen to save Amelia for later last year. . . She may have a scannable copy (and permission) for my website when I come back in October.

While we were talking, who but Igea Federici (of the pasta family, also an archaeologist of note here, I'd already heard her name twice) — introduced myself; really should print "ingente sito sull' Umbria romana, omnibus rebus scibilibus quibuscumque aliis" on a business card. . . Distinguished woman beauti­fully dressed, but simple, sans façons.

There was a meeting, by happenstance, at 5 P.M. and thus just starting nearby; citizenry plus Mayor Bellini about the future of the city — seems vague but I think it was in fact about valorizzazione turistica. There's limits, even for me, as to just how much I'll butt into other people's business: I didn't go.

Instead I went to the APT; I'd been to the Pro Loco, but they don't handle tourism so much as events. The APT is kind of hidden at 1, via di Orvieto. Right across from the Porta Romana but up a side staircase and the office looked rarely visited. The young woman was all set to fob the standard little brochure on me; I made myself obnoxious, asking a whole barrel of questions: Roman roads, percorso archeologico, bibliography, Serípola, website and e‑mail (they "have it but it's not connected" — I told 'em more's the pity, Walter's Internet presence has netted him about 7 million lire just from me — I in fact knew the town very recently nixed its Internet presence because it was costing 450ML — that's less than $300 — a year. . .) etc. During this peppering of awful questions, a brief downpour. The woman was looking daggers at me but was unfailingly polite and did in fact produce about 10% of the info I wanted. I gave her a big smile as I left.

To the nearby caffé, had one and a couple of sweet pastries. Bus at 6:30 and the pastries had me just a bit nauseated: served me right. Terni, relatively quick train, ditto at Foligno, up the hill and touched base with Maria-Paola since she might've been wondering where I'd gone. (She hadn't.) Bed.

Yesterday Friday 18 woke up latish, around 8; a gorgeous day, which I spent essentially inside. I was set to walk somewhere or go get an Internet connection, but couldn't find Krenet in the phone directory: Elisabetta said she'd call (I was stuck: I really couldn't call Osvaldo again!).

Walked down the street — hairy legs and red tank top — and lo! at the theater a Convegno of the Accademia Romanistica Costantiniana di Spello. Walked in, inquired; patte blanche ("ingente etc.") and was told sure, come on in, but can you find a tie? I could — back the 100 m home to change into my Brooksies and within 10 minutes I was back; the same guy didn't recognize me at first. . . .

So I wound up attending the opening section of this local scholar­ly gathering, Roman law and late antiquity the general topic. Welcome from the Mayor, interesting talk by a German savant on the shifting worldview in the Empire and Late Empire; much less interesting to me sort of status report on the rôle of the Accademia in changing the view of Late Antiquity over the 25 years of its existence; slight break to resume with 3 brief homages to a Prof. Biscardi, guiding light of the Accademia who died in January: I slipped out; I didn't know the man, after all.

Thought to change back into tank and legs, but what the heck, might as well honor the Pinturicchio with what seems to honor scholar­ly gatherings — kept the suit on, went and ate.

As usual, very good; a non-menu item as my primo, the staff food: some thin pasta with a saffron sauce; the agnello of dubious Spellanicity again but it really is very good; the truffled potatoes and the greens; a double dessert: tiramisú and a pear-and‑chocolate torte (pleasant but no stars); a prime uve — With the meal, a Tili red Assisi, very pleasant: 1994 still being drunk whereas everyone else's red Assisi now being drunk is 1997, per Mirko.

Home, slept an hour; news, phone call from Osvaldo who came à domicile to deliver my acc't, which seems to work, or rather works partially for sure (Web and some e‑mail). I did have the accidental sense to walk back home from the Pinturicchio "via" the belvedere, in fact a long detour; but the weather was splendid and this was one of my clearest views ever of Bettona and Assisi and the plain, very nice indeed, no smog —

Slept at 11 having sent Bunny an e‑mail telling him I'm hooked up now; and set the alarm for 6 A.M. for the second train to Rome (supplement: 8500 L although no faster than my 0524 train). [. . .]

This morning, clockwork — carrying 2 bananas, an onion pizza and 3 jam pastries — to station at 0731. Wrote diary all the way to Rome.

On arrival, thought I'd look at the Museo Nazionale Romano (Baths of Diocletian) but it's closed for Giubileo restoration. The day was too nice for that anyway.

Down to 157B‑158 Largo Magnanapoli where there's the only gate of the Servian Walls. The private building is an office of the Banca d'Italia: closed today Saturday, as well as Sunday. I was told the doors were open on weekdays.​e

Trajan's Column; found a simple but clear book identifying the scenes, but not orienting them, just presenting them sequentially. Apollodorus's bridge is shown on the side near the twin churches, in the register between the 4th and 5th ports from the top. I took a series of pix from the ticket booth, but the two faces perpendicular to the ones I took last time & now on my website will have to wait for another time: the sun was smack on the Basilica side, flattening that face and putting the other in shade. Very early morning or late afternoon (some day I don't skate, then).

To the Forum, now that "the Via Sacra is open to all". This is in fact pure spin. Yes, the visit of the Roman Forum is now free; but they've fenced everything off, and there are only 2 longitudinal corridors linked by a cross-corridor in front of the Templum Iulii: like a lowercase "h". You can no longer walk the House of the Vestals, the Basilica Iulia, or wander off the path. The Tabularium end, furthermore, remains in the uproar of restoration it's been in for years: the Arch of Severus is in fact in terrible shape, crumbling, eroded, held together by metal clamps. I don't think it'll last 200 years more. The Aemilia also remains barricaded too.

This is no doubt to channel the expected hordes of the Jubilee; Rome is going to look like Mecca, I think: this year will probably be my last visit until 2002 — and today's visit of the Forum left me very sad. Quod non fecerunt Barberini. . . .​f

To the Porta del Colosseo​g and my bottarga salad then a fish baked in Vernaccia with olives potato slices and tomatoes like last year. Had a half carafe of Vernaccia with all this (a bit too much: my first half hour at the rink I had a buzz, so I skated extra-cautiously). Wanted to shout the boutargue from the housetops; got half of a young English couple to try it dubiously; and an older French couple on the other side of me (predictably, they liked it; unpredictably, both from the Midi but neither had ever had any). He "a Breton from Toulon" — Navy connection, of course; she from Bourat (Cantal). 54ML, quite reasonable considering the price of bottarga.

Skate via the usual train; the 1700 session less crowded than last time, but a coach told me of a horrific camel accident; a little girl got a blade in her brain, is on machines in a coma, and noone knows whether she'll live: one of the agonismo skaters, poor thing. I lifted no legs and skated even more cautiously than usual. (Coach told me such an accident had never happened anywhere in the world; I assured her occasionally such accidents do happen, and cited Berezhnaia but she seemed never to have heard of her.)

So a lot of edge patterns: FO, FI and BO; edge rolls F and B; spins (by and large not good).

Then — innovation — I stayed for the 1900 session, leaving the ice at 2027. Way fewer people, worked waltz jumps and large spiral patterns when there were no short people on the ice; spread eagles, a few timid and marginal backspins, etc.

Now, due to the rail schedules, I'm paying for it, as I knew in advance I would. Just to get out of Termini, I took the Trieste express at 2215 and got off at Orte, then picked up the Ancona which otherwise I would have left Rome on at 2300. I'm on it now, due to arrive in Foligno at 0053. I'm hoping there'll be a cab — there's a Bancomat that accepts Visa as well as my own checking account debit card, about 200 m from the station at Orte (I was down to 30ML) — but at one in the morning that's unlikely; I'm not relishing 6 km in the dark with my skate and camera bags, plus my legs hurt: the first time in a year, maybe nearly two, that I've skated 3 hours.

Later Notes:

a The center of gravity, so to speak, of this group is an association called I Poligonali for which I also have a couple of phone numbers:

(0744) 970.197 and (0744) 952.503

b The Hotel Carleni closed some time around 2005 or 2006; for a while Mr. and Mrs. Ralli continued to exercise their hospitable vocation at La Palombara, a restored 17c cottage near Amelia.

c This is the modern name of a breed of white cattle in central Italy, rather rare, reputed to be the same as that for which the area was famous in Antiquity; pure white cows were required for certain Roman temple sacrifices. After having chased them sporadically for a year or so (once it nearly cost me finding an amphitheatre) I finally came upon a herd of them near Carsulae a few weeks after this entry was written.

d The Roman amphitheatre was accidentally located in 1963, down by the main gate of Amelia, the Porta Romana, where foundations were being laid for a flour mill. A bulldozer crashed into this wonder­ful bronze statue: it was painstakingly restored by the archaeological authorities, but despite everything, there appear to have been no further excavations and for many years the statue was not returned to Amelia, a city that could well stand to have a centerpiece for its tourism campaign. Instead, the famous Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Perugia, which needs no further publicity, used the statue to draw visitors and create itself a somewhat misleading image: although that museum is among the richest in the world for Etruscan remains, its holdings on display include rather little Roman material. Notwithstanding, for a number of years the museum distributed literature in which the Germanicus is stated to be found in an unnamed "hilltown", and the main page of its website didn't mention Amelia either, although some subsidiary pages did.

The matter is moot, however, since on March 1st, 2001 I received happy word from friends in Amelia, including Nazzareno Novelli and Roberto Passagrilli mentioned in these pages, that, no doubt in part because of the long-standing hue-and‑cry over this situation, the Germanicus of Amelia would be coming home. After years of preparation, an Archaeological Museum apparently opened in Amelia on March 31st, and Germanicus will be on permanent display there.

The same friends also advised me a few years later of discoveries that were then being made just outside the walls of the city. During excavations an important Pre-Roman Necropolis has come to light with an amazing wealth of finds, currently being studied under the supervision of the Archaeological Soprintendenza. I sincerely hope that once this work is done, these finds will also be appropriately exhibited in Amelia.

Amelia is one of the oldest known cities in Italy, and contains a good deal of interest and beauty; yet she is almost completely unknown to the average visitor to Umbria, an anomalous situation which just maybe is starting to turn around.

e A small archway, which is among the candidates for the Porta Fontinalis, of uncertain location. I eventually got in and photographed it: see diary, Oct. 19, and for the photo, my note to Platner's article on the Porta Fontinalis.

f Well I was mistaken about not coming back before 2002 — in the year 2000 I spent another 3 months in Umbria with frequent trips to Rome — but travelers are reporting that these changes now appear to be permanent. The problem of damage to ancient monuments caused by the sheer number of visitors, essentially unsolved in Pompeii where without letting us walk the city we wouldn't go at all nor spend our money, can be solved easily in Rome: most people are not really interested in the very things they travel to and look at, so that an iconic walk along the Sacra Via is good enough, or access to the ground floor of the Colosseum. There are some of us who know what they've done, though, and are unhappy with it: see also Alan Zeleznikar's page.

Withal, except for a few days for the Youth Jubilee (and one day for the largest single event of the Jubilee Year actually inside the City, a World Gay Pride March) Rome was not particularly crowded, and in Umbria only the already rich little town of Assisi felt the expected crowds. People remained as iconic as ever, going to what's famous and often missing the beauti­ful or interesting.

g Via del Buon Consiglio, 17; telephone 06/69941507: closed Wednesdays.

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