Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail: Bill Thayer 
[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

Monday 20 October 1997

(Part 1 of 2)

(On the 0809 to Narni — from here on out my stay in Umbria is going to be a series of appointments with trains — preparing to walk the Flaminia (roughly speaking) to Otricoli ending, with luck, at the station of Civita Castellana/Magliano Sabina at 1846; eight-minute breakfast on my now cool if still beauti­ful terrace, the valley quite shrouded in mist, quite spectacular really: paid for it by a very fast "walk" down the hill to catch the train. . . .


Thursday 16th was a better day, if starting in doubt. The day before having been, tourism-wise, such a bummer, I turned my back on Rome especially once I discovered the house is about 9 km from Nemi where John Purtell's ships are — aren't actually, but about that, anon.

The walk to Nemi — another good walking day, if mostly cloudy, clearing only towards late afternoon — is pleasant if traffic-plagued: mostly slowly rising to flat, winding thru chestnut forests; and indeed Rocca di Papa in the commune of which I was walking most of the way (but not the town, which I've only seen from a distance) has a Sagra della Castagna at about this time. The turnoff to Nemi, however, is a sharp hill down; quite some way, too.

Nemi itself is an attractive town, and despite the downhill entrance, is still at quite a commanding height over its little lake: several belvederes. The main monument in town is the behemoth castle of the Princes Ruspoli — all scaffolded up but it isn't any too attractive: late Renaissance prison style, I think.

[image ALT: The almost perfectly round caldera lake of Nemi, taken from a height of maybe 100 meters.]

From just W of Nemi, you are looking SSE.
On the hill across the lake, Genzano di Roma.

Although I'd phoned the museum (Museo delle Navi Romane) at 10, there was no answer; so I assumed it was closed, but decided to go prowl around it and glean what I could: a huge salmon-pink double hangar structure by the shore, a good hundred and some meters below the town. Had I followed the instructions of the 50‑year‑old woman I accosted in the street (despite telling her I was on foot) I would have done 5 or 6 kilometers of car road, long lazy switchbacks all over the map. But right outside the back gate to Nemi, a sharply dropping wooden-railed footpath: I took a gamble and followed it; as it turns out, correctly. Silene alba, pigweed, cyclamen, some very rare adenophora, ferns, hawkweed, chickweed, very large chenopodium, apple trees, chestnuts; down in the plain/marsh, a kiwi plantation, dense, supported on concrete stakes and wire, bearing in thick shade: I'd never seen kiwis on the hoof before.

[image ALT: An assemblage of what looks like old driftwood. It is the remains of a first-century AD Roman piston pump, made of wood and used for bilgewater pumping on a ship: it is in the Museo delle Navi in Nemi (central Italy).]

Roman piston pump, 1c A.D.,
made of wood; for pumping bilge water.

Museum looking very closed; surrounded by a 10‑foot-tall metal fence: circumambulation a full 270 degrees, debris of monumental sculpture along one side, some of it very good if Antonine to Severan is my guess; several vans at the open back entrance: a builder of ceilings among them. And then, by what I feel was great good luck: open. Having told the guard I'd phoned and got no answer, but walked the 11 or 12 kilometers anyway, I got a free ticket; although that may have been because there was (true) "poca roba":​a the reconstructions are of course not ready, and the museum was mostly empty and crawling with workers drilling things. Still, there was enough to interest me for three times the half-hour I was led to expect: including some particularly fine mosaic, a partly original anchor with what appeared to be a weight inscription incised on the cross-arm, and an incomprehensible if fascinating original wooden pump with its original oakum:​b take pictures first, ask questions later.

[image ALT: A table laden with a half-dozen baskets of different kinds of fresh berries, eatly labelled. They are the offerings at a caffé in Nemi, in central Italy.]

Back up the hill — only one 50‑yard stretch a bit narrow, insqueezed with blackberries (ate one) and nettles also common; and back in Nemi it was 3 P.M. and I realized I wouldn't be making it to the house by 4: so I had a feast of mixed berries (strawberries, wild strawberries, blueberries, gooseberries, red currants, Cape gooseberries (It.: "alkekenge", which is of c. the scientific name​c) and "ciliegie marine", those little things that look like strawberries but aren't). In fact, these latter I didn't get, apparently stupid Booby because I made a comment that they didn't have much flavor,​d so the man behind the counter — whose whipcream machine took several minutes to work properly (runny cream, paper napkins, openings of the gizzards of the contraption, mumblings) — eager to please omitted them: I need to keep my mouth shut. . . Then of course I didn't dare either ask or filch one from the display; opportunity missed. Anyway, my impulse was right: berries are a Nemi specialty.

50 m further on, Bar del Pino, phone card — approached by two 8‑year‑old boys wanting to know if I had any used U.S. phone cards (sadly, no: never so much as seen one) — called Maria-Paola for bailout. Then of course, a nearby florist suggested itself: giant bouquet of lilies, snapdragons (bocca di leone), sunflowers, green chrysanthemums — suitable as I put it to the two florist ladies' amusement for meeting women under bridges with — then indeed picked up under the bridge by Maria-Paola and a loudly whimpering Stolze whom we finally walked at a belvedere at an abandoned palatial villa above Lake Albano — smell of pines, view of Castel Gandolfo — and home for skates, brief pause, and off to the rink.

Lots of people, including a small group lesson for young children center ice; squeezed a few waltz jumps in but did lots of edges, 3‑turns and mohawks en manège, edge rolls etc. At the very end of the session, I had five minutes with only a dozen people on the ice: and suddenly I had some very strong F and B crossovers, and some OK waltz jumps, about 5 blades and relatively good takeoffs and landings, although still a persistent tendency to prerotate or to curl in (no control of my shoulders). Still, an OK skate.

Dinner, after which some mirto — a cordial made from, well, mirto: what it is exactly, chi lo sa; but good. Giuliana (calling her "tu" took two or three days practice) introduced me to gensoli, a small berry, or drupe rather I think, looking much like a rosehip the size of a medium olive, roof-tile pink, and a flavor, like most flavors, quite indescribable. To bed.

[image ALT: a parasol pine by a country road]
	Friday 17th I did a repeat on the Via Appia, except I did it right this time. The weather was irresistibly good, it had to be done. At Termini at 1140, I had a cab take me to Domine Quo Vadis? for ₤17,100 — and walked from there.

The first real sight was an important one: the Circus of Maxentius — which I'm ashamed to admit I've been conflating all these years with the Circus Maximus. . . and the Mausoleum of Romulus. They're large; and both in pretty good shape. I spent 1½ h there, and walked the entire length of the circus; not really dull: impressive.

After that, the "real" Appia starts; a leisurely copying of inscriptions in the Tomb of Caecilia Metella: several rather old ones, including double vowels where later Latin has a long single. A young Dutch couple, brother & sister: he very nervous apparently by temperament, wanting to know where some actual pavement might be — we compared his Dutch and my Italian guidebook, speaking Spanish to understand each other, but with courtesy phrases in Dutch and English. . . About half an hour later, as I left Cecilia, I met them coming back, disappointed. . . and indeed there is no Roman pavement longer than 20 feet, and maybe only four such sections at all, cars slowing to a crawl, and even this pedestrian finding them uncomfortable and wondering how Romans could have stood their roads at all: the famous photographs of the Appia are taken at ground level, tricking the camera eye into thinking it's all like the foreground. . . .

Or maybe after Casal Rotondo the pavement appears, but I doubt it. Whores start at about the III mile, about half of them black; often sitting near female statues. One male hustler, and at Casal Rotondo (it was getting very late) an Italian tough-guy type apparently working either in tandem with, or the same corner as, a Japanese fellow with one of those fluffy white lapdogs: I asked him which way and how far to the nearest rail station, and got an offer of a ride, but the gleam in his eye went out when it became apparent I really did want the train; I lucked out: 800 m away, Capannelle; and two minutes to spare​e — at S.M. delle Mole by my usual train, and Maria-Paola with my skates as I was walking the last 100 meters to the rink.

Less crowded than Thursday, still a bit more than Wednesday though; no terrific news — my legs and feet were hurting at first — except finally one good waltz jump: only 6 blades, but a perfect takeoff and a perfect landing — about 3 minutes before the end of the session.

Dinner a nove — I'd been persuaded to stay, although I knew it would kill Saturday — Walter and M‑Paola, Giuliana & Orlando, Ida (Walter's aunt — I didn't know that), Micaela her daughter with husband Antonio and their fourteen?-year‑old daughter Federica; and me. Excellent meal, including topnotch homemade tagliatelle ai funghi porcini. I learned some Spellano, including a saying I like a lot: "Ti friggi la sciabatta, tanto è buona", i.e., anything tastes great fried — even a savate. Stayed up way too late, but then after all Saturday was to be nothing anyway, and a late nothing at that; had a very pleasant evening.

Saturday 18th was perfect (for catching up on this diary!) because completely occupied by breakfast and trains — the 1033 from Marino, and from there eventually to Spello at three-something, with a slow suitcase- and bag-laden walk up the hill; followed by a flurry of shopping: back down to the Sidis to get my drycleaning; then by the sheerest of unannounced happenstances, the first-day-of‑issue of the Christmas stamps, one of which was a detail of the Pinturicchio Nativity in S. Maria's Cappella Baglioni (the other a sculpture in Leonessa): so some for Harvey, some for me, three extras that will surely come in useful. Then grocery shopping, and, perversely, out to dinner at the Pinturicchio: a quick one, and to sleep earlyish by my recent standards — a coupla minutes before 10.

Later Notes:

a Like every other English-speaker, I found myself seduced or amused enough by the very widespread use Italians make of roba ("stuff") to import it into my diary. See this interesting commentary by another Italian traveller, about 150 years before me.

b For Roman bilge pumps, there was once an excellent bibliography online on the History and Archaeology of the Ship at the University of Southampton. In it, see in particular the work of F. Foerster Laures, G. Kapitan, T. J. Oertling, G. Rouanet; and on this very pump, M. Bound.

A few years ago I started getting savvy about sites going belly-up, and saved the bibliography. I can't put it online myself — no permission to do so — but if you need it, contact me.

c Physalis alkekengi.

d This, at least, must be true. About Arbutus unedo modern sources agree, referring to it as "edible (but unpalatable)" (Simon & Schuster's Complete Guide to Plants & Flowers) and "tasteless but edible" (Wyman's Gardening Encyclopedia). Amusingly, Pliny, in his little paragraph (XV.xxviii.98) on it, says that the reason for its name (unedo) is that you will eat only one (unum edo)! Since he says somewhere else that they're not good for you, it's just as well I passed them up, right?

e This reads ambiguously; I walked. Half-ran, actually, since I needed to catch that train.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 7 Dec 20