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Thursday 24 September 1998

The agriturismo Villa Páscoli, which only opened last month, was empty: a rather shy-looking young woman, surely not 25 even, opened the door — pavement in front of which was still wet concrete, setting, little catwalk to get to it — and in a little unfinished room — table piled with paper, no chairs, dusty tile floor, harsh overhead light, we struggled thru the documenti (now where was that form book? and the young man who took over this part may not have seen a U.S. passport before): I wondered out loud whether maybe I should salute . . .

Anyway, key to No. 6: letto matrimoniale and a child's bed too; black tin head- and footboards, painted with Oriental nature scenes in the style of the hand-painted postcards of sunsets I bought in Leticia. Impeccable bathroom, enclosed shower, nice hot water. No soap, but a very nice shower; having taken which and toweled off, I found the soap, a squeeze pump in plain sight but that's not what the brain was looking for . . .

Still light out, early stages of sunset, with extremely clear skies and plowed fields raked by reddish-gold light: I walked around, maybe a kilometer or so total, taking pictures; I shouldn't be surprised if some were quite splendid.

[image ALT: missingALT]

One thing had been puzzling me all day long: Monte Cucco to my right had one large cumulus sitting on it, the rest of the sky being clear. The cloud was constantly moving (east to west down over the mountain) yet never got anywhere. During my pre-dinner walk I took a closer look — the cloud was still sitting on the mountain doing the same thing — and it turns out that the cloud was in fact flowing down off the summit: but at a certain altitude (remarkably constant thruout the day) just evaporating, becoming invisible; as the air got warmer.

Dinner at 7:30; since I was their only guest, I'd asked them at what time they wanted to feed me, and after diffident mumblings that's what they chose. Zuppa alla cipolla — would never have guessed, utterly unidentifiable altho' good, a cloudy pear-colored liquid with a tendency to stratify, and fifteen or so kinda croutons of a thin cheese-flavored pizza. Tagliatelle with a meat sauce, appearance much that of old catfood, ai funghi porcini e tartufi, tasted good and the fragrance downright heavenly, preceding it from the kitchen 2 rooms away. Ham cutlets and fresh tomatoes: not gastronomy but plain healthy food. Because I was in essence opening the hotel and kitchen, I purposely selected their most expensive wine, another '95 Arnaldo Caprai rosso di Monte­falco. Towards the end of this dinner — which I ate under another "where-were‑you-on‑the‑night-of‑the‑22d" light (and indeed, my bedroom had yet a third overhead projector of this type) — a friend of the owners came in, he wound up sat in front of me sharing my wine as we discussed — groan, shudder, puke — perjury and irrumation and the other staples of government in my country. Grappa from Treviso, no dessert or coffee although offered. Bed (no TV or phone in the rooms, which shows great good sense) and didn't read or write, just fell asleep instantly.

Yesterday morning then I was awakened at my request at whatever time they would feel like it; which, per my camera, turned out to be 0550, soft knock on the door, woke up instantly the way I do, felt like intoning "Benedicamus Domino" but thought better of it, said grazie instead . . .

Breakfast a full meal: coffee with hot milk, corn flakes with part of the same hot milk — hadn't done that in 25 years, not unpleasant — yogurt, biscottes with butter and two kinds of jam. Wrote a bit until enough light to fire off the Ramadan cannon, and checked out. Surprised to be billed an absurdly low 71,000 L; now while I was plowing thru breakfast I was thinking well let them hash it out with their accountant later (breakfast was included in the 41ML room) — but when came time for me to pay, I absolutely couldn't let them charge me only 30ML for a 3‑course meal, grappa, and a full bottle of Monte­falco when Caprai has been charging everyone more and more — I've now heard two different restaurateurs ants at their prices — and even in the grocery store the going price is around 20ML. I told Paola she should charge me 90 total; she compromised at 80 — what could I do? but no way to run a business. Took a brochure and I expect I'll do an English translation — they need one — and maybe a French one as well; lots of lousy translation out there.

Thus, off to Scheggia. Pit stop at Villa Col dei Canali (alternately, de' and even de): zilch, if clean; graffito at entrance to town summed it up well: "Questo posto è triste come la birra senza alcol"º . . .

Shortly after Col de' Canali, pass into a different pocket-valley, the one preceding Scheggia: good landscape; shirt off in effort to maintain tan, but cool. From Villa Pascoli to Gubbio nothing of any real interest, just walking 20 km: which was fine, since the original idea had still been after all to get to the theater of Gubbio before the 1 P.M. closing.

[image ALT: missingALT. It is a view of the Chiascio valley between Costacciaro and Scheggia in Umbria (central Italy).]

The last valley before Scheggia: you are looking NW.

Scheggia, though pleasant, is nothing much. From a little hill on entering town you can take it all in: church, medieval tower (which, attractively, turns out to house the offices of the Comune), spreading large pleasant ripples of modern houses, mostly multi-family. A fair amount of construction: you know a town is really alive when there's a huge crane in the cemetery . . .

Said hill, Monte Calvario: small church led up to by the fourteen Stations of the Cross, each one subjoined by a little marble plaque with the names of the donors. Station 11, uniquely, had a large list of unrelated people; most were sponsored by just one or two, although one by a whole parish but corporately as one donor. Two Lupini's; on the Monumento ai Caduti in front of the tower of the Comune, 3 more Lupini's among the 44 dead of WWI, but none among the 3 dead in the Ethiopian War of 1935‑36 nor the 23 of WWII: maybe they moved to Costacciaro, or then maybe only girls were left. On the Stations (back to M. Calvario) the forename Taltibio, new to me.º

In town, needing water for the 12 km passage to Gubbio, still of unknown to me clivity and weather a bit warmer than the day before, the sky being completely cloudless if hazy almost to Gubbio, I couldn't just; so thought to ask about any local specialty: yes, a cheese (ewe-cow mix, cooked type, bland, much like Pyrénéan cheeses). Saw a nice-looking square of absolutely plain pizza; plus an ounce of a chocolate-and‑hazelnut commercial confection. Left.

The road up to the Madonna della Cima 780 m — which church, if any, remained quite invisible, though marked as noteworthy on my map — was dull. No longer farmland — up to then the road from Fossato had taken me thru mostly corn and sunflowers plus pastures (saw goats, 2 pigs at work — i.e., poor things, busy eating) — but not yet forest. I should've liked it, but didn't much. A little church, dedicated to Michael the Archangel, at 3.5 km — the road was at least clearly marked with hectometer stones thruout — probably 18‑19c, little red belfry; notice tacked to door, laser-printed, dated Sept. 10, announcing that the traditional festivities for the feast day (unstated, but surely Sept. 29) were being cancelled for lack of venue; the church being quite agibile, and other possibilities being surely available, this struck me as politics somehow: the notice went on to say that surely next year we'll manage to celebrate this ancient feast.

The Valico della Madonna della Cima at 7.2 from Scheggia, and sharp change of scenery. The road up had been at the oak-pine line; the road down was rather grand, steeper, and in pines, although immediately next to the road, a few oaks. Somehow pines grow much lower on the W than on the E flank of the range.

At 8.4 km I had lunch sitting on a guardrail at a wide bend (almost no traffic, maybe 30 cars an hour), as good a meal as any. The plain pizza was wonder­ful: perfect texture, the barest edge of salt, perfect balance of butter and olive oil; the cheese was excellent; I feared spoiling it with my unknown mass-produced confection, but I lucked out: not too sweet; crunchy.

Km 10.4, "Bottacione", a quite isolated restaurant by the road in the middle of what by now had become a gorge (1.6 km from the center of Gubbio and not a trace of the place, quite wild): with a sign, all in lower-case but otherwise, quote, "Restaurant jumelé avec village Kpessoussou, Yamassoukro Côte d'Avoire (sic — avorioivoire) Afrique". Never seen anything like it anywhere; memory went flashing back to eating cat en civet with my mother in Parakou. . . .

And around a bend, the back door of Gubbio, 'midst geology lesson — indeed amid the neat folds of rock, bricklike in the regularity of their courses, there was at one point a tourist marker about the boundary between secondary and tertiary rock: striking formations, anyhow.​a Headed straight for the theater, arriving as the churches were chiming 12:15.

Did my photography thing — really nothing much left of the Roman structure, mostly restoration: that very white stone is also extremely fritterable — don't know the word, not "friable" since small chunks just crack and spall off, no wonder there's nothing left.

Withal, Gubbio just gets to me, somehow an aura of general smugness (we're Gubbio, we're medieval) that gets to me — brief pit stop at an information office to see if there was a website: I still don't know; there's something, but who knows where. I took the kids' bus out at 2 P.M. for Fossato — packed — and sat at Fossato Stazione for nearly an hour about 100 m from the station, shirt off, looking over the valley and writing diary: could feel the tan start to tingle and astringe. One odd thing about Fossato train station: the bar has a display case with jars of truffles. On a hunch, inquired — price of truffles lower than anywhere I'd ever seen them (I'm talking pregiato nero, Melanosporum, etc. although the scorzone, aestivum, also on sale). Bought a 50 g jar 44 ML — like I told the bartender (who'd had the display shoved on him by a distributor and wasn't used to selling 'em), I'm not in the habit of buying truffles in railroad stations but there's a first time for everything.

Train to Foligno, wait at my little park then putt-putt home, then out eventually to dinner at the Pinturicchio, pleasant as always. Bed, slept soundly.

Later Note:

a When I saw the formation, I neither knew anything about or it nor understood what I saw, and was therefore incapable of observing it or recording it properly; I've since learned that this is the place where Walter Alvarez and his son first identified an iridium-rich layer that has since been determined to be what marks the boundary between the Secondary and Tertiary alright — iridium from a large asteroid that crashed into the Gulf of Mexico 65 million years ago and put an end to the dinosaurs and to most life on earth. This little patch of the gorge between Scheggia and Gubbio is thus an important site for the history of science.

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