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Friday 25 September 1998

Yesterday a much quieter day, with, however, some unexpecteds. The day, late as I was waking, looked to fritter away on its own, so I went to Nocera Umbra: just 12 miles or so from here, but in a total of 3 months in Spello I'd never been.

Putt-putt to Foligno with a 1‑minute change to a bus at the station. Bus full of high-schoolers, as always in Italy, animated but perfectly well-mannered; dropping me off, after driving up the Flaminia (Nuova), at the gate to the centro storico of Nocera; in front of which, a cool and well-tended little garden with boxwood clipped into "Benvenuti a Nocera" (twice — two little parterres) and a pond with a mossy rock dribbling water in the center.

[image ALT: A ruined stone tower supported by metal scaffolding. It is the Campanaccio, in Nocera Umbra in Umbria (central Italy).]
The civic symbol of Nocera Umbra:
the Campanaccio in September 1998.

Now I knew Nocera centro had been devastated in last year's quake (80% of the houses inagibili, the tall medieval tower on top of the hill, the city's pride, sliced in two in a rockpile of a wreck); but a year later, I found a ghost town. At the entrance to the old town, a notice signed by the Mayor, which I read carefully: essentially, anyone, visitors included, may enter — on foot only — during daylight hours; but all areas should be considered dangerous, and you must not cross any barricade. I obeyed this to the T, of course; and can therefore state with absolute certainty that I walked every street permitted. From an organic network of living streets, the town is reduced to a bight of main drag — off of which every shoot is barricaded except for immediately on entering, a 200 m curve to the left. After 2 scared kittens within 50 m of the gate, I saw not another living being in nearly an hour's walk. A photo shop still had traces of a window display, but no other house or shop showed any contents. Scaffolding here and there. An obituary sheet postered on a wall — as is the habit in Italy — dated Sept. 26th the day of the quake.

The Piazza bravely bedecked in flags, Italian and presumably of the rioni, with a large red-and‑blue-vested platform (I learned later surely for a basically pep rally to be held tomorrow, Katia Ricciarelli and other singers at 4 P.M., I'm very much thinking of going). A beauti­ful little square tucked away in a natural cul-de‑sac, ten houses with their plants abandoned on the doorsteps: cacti and others surviving nicely, but others, requiring apparently more human care, like arborvitae, dead.

Out, down the road in the presumed direction of the railroad station probably some 4 km away. Beauti­ful views of this scenic town: from a bit of a ways off, other'n the damaged tower, she looks just fine. . . .

[image ALT: A fragmentary chunk of ancient stone wall, of seven very neat courses of beautifully squared blocks of travertine. It sits on a slightly sloping meadow; it is the Roman support wall at Le Spugne, south of Nocera Umbra, a town of Umbria (central Italy).]

I've apparently learned the knack of keeping my eyes peeled in an absent-minded sort of way: about 2 km out, across from a 75‑m stretch of noisily jackhammered and pneumatic-hosed concrete embankment being installed, I saw 20cm icebergwise of what turned out to be a very attractive solid chunk of Roman supporting wall, still supporting the road I was walking on — the Flaminia after all. In fact — I quizzed a nearby farmer — the blocks were numbered, the wall dismantled, reinforced concrete installed, and everything put back, apparently not long ago: he gave the impression of been an eyewitness to the process, but like an idiot I failed to ask him. Località Le Spugne. Nearby, per a second man, another similar chunk when he was a kid — he's my age or so — but used so much as a dump that it all got buried under débris. A nearby farmhouse built on a few more blocks — could see one or two from 100 m away as we talked. Another 300 m down the road, a side road with a dubious Roman bridge — my interlocutor didn't believe it; neither did I when I saw it; and by very good luck, met a member of the family who owns the property: she said "molto rifatto" — indeed.

[image ALT: A wall of seven rows of squared stones, with three piers. It is about 4 meters high and 18 meters long, and holds up a stretch of road on the side of a hill: it is a well-restored stretch of Roman wall designed to support the Via Flaminia, on which a modern road still passes.]

Via Flaminia: the Roman supporting wall at Le Spugne

From there to the station at Nocera, with a mineral water bottling plant across the trax from it. Hadn't been watching the time, nor did I know the schedule, but when I got there I found I'd connected (20‑minute wait) with the last train for several hours: another piece of good ferroviary luck — I seem to be having a lot of it these days.

Back to Foligno, wait at station, Spello, simple meal, bed.

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