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Monday 13 October 1997

(Part 3 of 3)

Friday the 10th I was back on my own, doing one of my longest-planned hikes: early rise and rush to the station, change in Foligno and off at Giuncano Scalo (a bit late, of course); the walk itself planned for Giuncano Scalo over the hills to Portaria then San Gemini via Carsulae.

More about Poggio Lavarino:

[image ALT: A small clump of stone houses, no more maybe than five or six, on a low hill with a much taller hill in the background about a kilometer away. A square tower juts out above the houses. It is the village of Poggio Lavarino, Umbria (central Italy).]

And I did do that, more or less; even if the very first thing I did was "less", i.e., more: heading off — another cool sunny day — in the opposite direction to the little town with the tower that I've been seeing for weeks now from the train to and from Rome. Well, it's not Giuncano as I'd thought (Giuncano Alto is on the other bank of the Serra, and "Alto" alright, way high up somewhere I never found where), rather Poggio Lavarino:º a 1½ km walk, pleasant, trees, no traffic.

[image ALT: A stone tower about 2 stories tall, seen from the foot of it. It is the medieval watchtower of Poggio Lavarino, Umbria (central Italy).]

A view of the tower once I got inside the town; for a view of Poggio Lavarino more or less as seen from the train, that tempted me to visit the village in the first place, see its more formal page.

Poggio Lavarino isn't much: a very small place with three streets forming a loop with a final ramp and staircase up to the tower. Conscientiously poking around, I saw no church, but I did see an attractive couple of doors for my collection, on adjacent houses, and one of the houses had a little square grilled window smaller than this notebook, with a Baby Jesus in it, so I peeked in: frescoes behind an altar. At that point I started wondering how to get in, when out of the other door, a man came out, adjusting his clerical collar and nearly bumping into me: there followed a very low-key version of the encounter between Monostatos and Papageno, except that having told me I was spaventoso, he turned out to be the parish priest, I described myself — it's becoming the simplest thing to do and not really so misleading — as uno storico dell' arte on a walking tour, chattered Flaminia, and from then on everything was fine.

The parroco — I don't know his name — must be about 60 and seems to have served at Poggio Lavarino all his life. When Vatican II told him he needed to turn the altar around, he did it himself — the church is only a midsize room of a thing, despite having had its ceiling raised rather high a few centuries ago — and two stones on either side got in the way, so he removed them. Behind them, bits of fresco: one thing led to another, and behind a flat wall a little apselike niche with a pretty nice Madonna and Child between — said he — S. Bernardino and S. Anthony; I guessed the latter, but I still can't see how he identified t'other. Also a little cubical stone very likely from Carsulae: on one face, a clipeus; on another, if my memory is good, a group of weapons and a decorative motif with a cross, much like the Dannebrog upended 90°. A bit more chat, including advice to see Appecano, but if I'm on foot Macerino is even nicer, and "the ladies" would open the church for me; and off I went: back to the station in fact, then up.

To a place called Pracchia about 2 km — nothing much at all, just a knot of recent houses — and from there to Macerino (this being my originally planned route anyhow) thru somewhat more open country in essence along the ripply top of the wide range of hills separating Acquasparta country from Spoleto country. The road, pink to red stone and gravel, snaked its way under somewhat scrubby oaks between dry twisting creeks thru more green schists and sometimes almost blood-red layers of limestone wazzit? and was hot only very occasionally.

More about Macerino:

[image ALT: A landscape of oak forest, rising to a small hill about 800 meters from the camera; on its summit, a small clump of maybe fifteen houses with the belfry of a church jutting up from it. It is a view of the village of Macerino, near Acquasparta, Umbria (central Italy).]

Macerino (quite possibly more than 4 km. in fact from Pracchia) makes nice silhouettes from almost every side, which is just as well since I must've done 180° or more around it. Before the town proper, a modern-looking chapel but I peek thru anything I can and in fact frescoes: but, stopping for two aranciate and a bottle of carrying water at the nearby ristorante, I found that the key to the church was with bar/ristorante's aunt and the aunt was out. (Mynah bird in a cage by the door had whistled at me as I came in, but after that decided he didn't want to talk to me.)

The lady to talk to in town was Giacomina; I never really did, since two other ladies were inside: who told me absolutely no photographs, because that was the orders from Giacomina. OK. This got my goat a bit, because nothing fragile; surely no exclusivities to protect; no postcards or books on sale: in sum I suspect somewhere someone got this idea in their head, et voilà; probably not Giacomina either, it just floated down to her thru the system. . . .

Anyway, no argument of course, but no pix either. Two undoubtedly Roman columns, transported within living memory — when exactly was not clear — from "an old destroyed church at Colle Campanaro"º (Colle Campanaro is visible from the piazza of Macerino, and from my walking route; it has a prominent church with a belfry, that looks Romanesque from a distance but in nice condition.)

A large chunk of Roman capital or maybe base; an attractive block of maybe 11c stone with that Roman-derived garland work making a rectangular frame; a piece of pink stone with bas-relief incised foliage along one side; paintings, none good.

Out of Macerino, feeling cheated: this of course is completely unfair, since it's a nice place and the 3 ladies (the famous Giacomina eventually joined my first couple) were very nice to me and even treated me with the deference due to an expert — in fact, I've really got to find something less expert-sounding than "art historian", more comprehensible τοῖς πολλοῖς (howzat for purism?) than "Internet junkie", yet still with a bit more clout than "guy wandering around on foot with a camera". . . .

Anyhow, from Macerino to Portaria, the long chunk of the walk, especially since I had no certain accurate knowledge of the distance. In fact, the "8 to 9 km" I was told in Macerino was probably right on target, but the road wound all over and never seemed to get anywhere — passing a wide clearing on a hilltop with a road to Casteldelmonte,​a which gave me a good feeling of hey I'm somewhere I know — until suddenly the N flank of Portaria just popped out from a bush at me and I was 200 yards away.

An odd and ugly bell toll had been ringing thru the countryside for half an hour, and kept up until 3 P.M. giving way to several minutes of nonstop clang: 1‑3‑2 on three different bells, the highest of which very tinny. It turned out to be the knell for the funeral of a 101‑year‑old woman (a man would be 1‑3‑3, I was told). The church was therefore open as one or two people brought flowers and the priest prepared; I of course took advantage of that: it'd been closed on my previous time in Portaria in 1994.

[image ALT: missingALT]

A little street in town — a photo taken that previous time in 1994.

In front of the church — I had no memory of it — a Roman inscription, poorly lined out in black paint, some obvious letters skipped, but other sections garbled, making it in fact much harder to read than had it been left alone; a tombstone, at any rate, probably to a wife (CONIVG seeming clear).

As I was kneeling in front of this epitaph deciphering it, I hear, hidden above and behind me, an American woman's voice "I wonder what that guy's doing", so of course I answered: an in fact Canadian woman, very elegant in a black suit with gold accents, named Virginia and her husband John, twenty‑plus-years residents of Portaria. A bit of chat, all kinds of information, some of which already recorded in this last page; also, the inscription had been at the main gate for years (still ashamed of myself, since I hadn't spotted it) and a year ago the parroco moved it for security, then painted it too.

I asked about the pronunciation of "Portaria" since I heard Virginia say Por‑ta‑ría. Well she replied that in her 27 (I think) years here she'd never heard Por‑tá‑ria; so I started to rethink my diary entry of 3 years ago

But I then went to "my" bar (not the same young woman this time behind the counter: a thin dark-haired woman of maybe 26) and caught her in the act of pouring a beer, and two glasses of mostly beer with 30% gassata: a Cincinnati, or as the French call it, a demi-panaché. So Boobies being Boobies I dived in on this ("I didn't know anyone in Italy drank this", "whassit called?" — answer: non ha un nome particolare, una birra gassata — "We call this a Tchintchinnati"​b — they liked that — etc.)

Then an older woman said something about Portaria, pronouncing it Por-tá-ria — so at least that's definite, and she's local (I immediately asked); everyone else, though, five or six young men and women, and two older men, said it was Por-ta-ría, although adding that the real old-timers say Por-te-ría. The woman who says Portária said it was Roman, this place you see was Etruscan — possible, but unlikely, and now I'm suspecting a sort of commendatory historical hypercorrection — and a couple of 20‑year‑old men, to get her goat I think but it was very hard to tell, said it was from "Porcheria" because of pig-raising. I dived in pointing out that several places in Umbria do derive their names from the prized pig that gives us wonder­ful Umbrian ham (and I gave Porchiano as an example), but I said I hadn't seen pigs raised, rather mostly sheep and goats: general agreement, but etymology and pronunciation all up in the air. . . Obviously the first step is to go hunt for the cartularies; but for now, this is definitely one of Thayer's Mysteries.

[image ALT: missingALT]
	Going on 4 and I ask for directions to Carsulae; not easy to explain, and some disagreement, everyone out on the balcony (the famous one with the thirty-meter drop below it); finally one fellow, eager to please, offers me a ride: with evening and maybe rain coming on, I accept, despite having declined a previous offer from John and Virginia when after all I hadn't really walked the town yet. Three km or so, right into the ruins, Moreno his name is, then drove me a bit out to show me the road I should take afterwards for S. Gemini, then back to the ruins: exceptionally thoughtful.

No rain but glum weather, just about completely overcast and getting cool. About Carsulae, not much to say, except that it's always astonishing to see how little remains of what must've been a flourishing stone-built town with beauti­fully paved squares and attractive temples. . . The amphitheatre at least will beat some of the ones I'll be putting on my website . . . And at the north end, the Flaminia so promisingly lined with massive tombs, vanishes into a tiny woodland footpath —

More about San Gémini:

[image ALT: A carved and painted escutcheon of a man riding a horse. It is the coat of arms of San Gemini, Umbria (central Italy), as featured over the door of the town hall there.]

To Sangemini now to catch my train to Terni then Spello, no question of visiting Sangemini; cars; a station about 2 km N of town: two of 'em in fact, one old and abandoned, the other brand new still not really built yet in fact — and no schedule, platform, or other sign of ferroviability. With over an hour and a half before my 1919h scheduled train, my need for being sure of getting back home and my loathing for being somewhere (as at an airport or train station) without ever seeing the actual town combined to walk me up to Sangemini town, decked out with quartiere flags in preparation for Sunday's giostra; San Gemini is a beauti­ful town, full of stuff to see, of which I only caught glimpses in the dusk. I'll have to go back and look at it carefully, of course: but I found out that yes, that was the station; and I got a bag of cookies and a bar of white chocolate. Back to the deserted station, sat and wrote as I munched away; a train whizzed by, early, without stopping — but about three minutes later a man drove in to the gravel lot nearby to wait for someone, and reassured me; telling me also which platform to wait on, and which direction the train would be going — not obvious, since the route is N-S but in the station the tracks are briefly E-W . . .

[image ALT: missingALT]
The Via Casventum in Sangémini follows the old Roman Via Flaminia; and the walls, though medieval, incorporate a lot of Roman stone, like the characteristic large blocks of travertine you see here in the right foreground.

Trains, home in the dark, and a crust of bread (literally: leftover bread from a week ago) soaked in the dressing of the leftover tomato salad — quite good, an excuse for garlic and olive oil — and slept.

Saturday the 11th, continuing my alternating rhythm of one day hike one day easy urban visit, was my Città di Castello day. All set to leave the house for the station, I get a call from June, what're my plans? Ah but I'm leaving in three minutes; OK, bye. Two minutes later, Why don't we go together? OK, sure why not? And off we go to Città di Castello; not as bad as when I took 'em to Norcia via Colfiorito, but we never did get on the superhighway, doing most of the hill of Assisi, then the outskirts of Bastia, and lots of highway around Perugia — at least that was success­ful — but wound up heading west towards Corciano, then cutting north thru some rather nice countryside though, to Umbertide and finally Città di Castello.

Which is to Umbria somewhat like Aigues-Mortes to Languedoc; jampacked with people when we got there, the piazza Matteotti hard to navigate (pipelaying in the adjacent square not helping a lot, sidewalks reduced to wooden walks hugging the walls of businesses); then deserted most of the rest of the day. We walked around a lot, but there just didn't seem to be that much to see. The high points for me were the Sala del Consiglio in the Town Hall — Roman inscriptions up the wazoo, which I transcribed, photographed and puzzled over while Peter and June picnicked in the park around the corner in front of the Duomo — and the Museo del Duomo: a paleochristian silver dinner service, some interesting little boxes of something like the 8th century, and a particularly nice late medieval Reliquary of the True Cross (with lots of square slots for mixed saints, too) with a good cohesive iconographic structure to it — Helen, Constantine, etc. — and nice colors.​c June, surprisingly, who doesn't much like big places, rather liked Città di Castello. I was frankly a bit disconcerted, but on balance I did wind up liking it as well: it's very different from everywhere else in Umbria, though.

We left around 5:00 and I got us to the thruway and kept us on it thru to Spello; after palavers in the street (where else) with Mrs. Giuliana and even Walter — yes, June, there is a Santa Claus (they'd never laid eyes on him) — we had a drink on my terrace and then we had dinner at the Pinturicchio; particularly good, too; June said it was better than the Jacopone and that meal certainly was: a touch more consistency and a bit more variety, and it may move into the same league as the Umbria in Todi.

Later Notes:

a I walked thru Casteldelmonte in November 1994: see my diary.

b Not in Cincinnati we don't. In 2006, I found myself in Cincinnati, OH for the first time in my life and had the presence of mind to inquire of three bartenders in two different bars: not one of them had ever heard it. Cincinnati withal a nice place: read all about both inquiries and city.

c The "paleochristian silver dinner service" was found near the village of Canoscio; it's the most famous item in the collection. See the website of the Museum of the Duomo.

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