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Thursday 23 October 1997

Sitting in the 1523 for Falconara, about to leave Rimini for home. It's grey, as it has been with only the briefest interruption for my whole stay.

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Maybe it was a sort of jetlag or something, but for over 2 hours when I got here yesterday, I kinda just wandered the streets, steadfastly refusing to track down the sights despite having almost immediately gone to the tourist office and been given maps and things. So I wound up just soaking in flavor. Rimini is not very big, and everything gravitates of its own to the forum — the piazza Tre Mártiri (formerly Giulio Cesare, who is supposed to have harangued his troops here after crossing the Rubicon) — and I was no exception. The piazza is of no particular interest, except that wide and unencumbered, and still the site of a market, at least of flowers, it is clearly at the intersection of two straight axes (one of which is the Flaminia-Aemilia, now called the Corso d'Augusto) and thus more than any other city I've been in, reproduces the old Roman street grid and general feel.

On the piazza well the first thing was a call from Maria-Paola about bed linen. . . Then for about one second I was taken in by what appears to be a Roman statue base, in the middle of the flower stands — a Renaissance commemoration of Caesar's harangue, which to my credit I pegged accurately from the side that does not give the date; then out of habit did my 360° and read the other . . .

It stands in front of a tiny chapel to St. Anthony of Padua; the little English paragraph was charming in its near-correctness (apparently I now sound like that in Italian, people usually feeling I'm German but basically being unsure), but here's the Italian instead: "Questo tempietto ricorda il luogo ove S. Antonio di Padova nel 1227 fece il celebre miracolo dell' Eucarestia, facendo prostrare in adorazione una mula per convertire gli eretici." The shrine is thus little sister to the cathedral of Orvieto. . . .

Still not having had breakfast, I kept on rejecting the possibilities (I paid for this later) but right near the piazza saw what looked like it might be an adequate hotel; and it was: the Giulio Cesare — I paid ₤55.000 for a small clean room with very clean sheets and a bathroom with shower and continuous hot water if not quite the delivery at home (either Spello or Chicago). The public areas smelled very strongly of cigarette smoke, both the innkeeper and his pleasant chatty wife smoke like fiends; but I kept my room's windows open thruout, and slept well —

Anyway, this was at about 10:45; I dropped off the excess books, clothes, etc. . . (astonishing what I can pack in my little camera bag!) and reëmerged for breakfast and a bit more organised walk.

Not so organised: I immediately got lost. Not on purpose as I often do to make contact with a new city; but the effect was the same, of course. I stumbled on what the guides describe as the attractive medieval piazza Cavour — and it was anything but: taken over by a combination flea and used (or maybe just cheap) clothes market; crowded with mostly men in very dingy working clothes, leather jackets etc. — and what medieval there is, is big dusty brick, lines obscured by the market stalls — pretty awful. (Coming back from dinner at around 10 P.M. I had the opportunity to see it all cleaned up, almost empty, its main monuments — including a good Renaissance fountain and a very large and not bad full dress statue of Paul V — lit up, and it is in fact rather attractive, if austere.)

Breakfast? Ah, I found a little square — a piazzetta right off the Corso yet not on any of my street maps — I rewarded an unusually surly set of bar employees (no run-in or anything, and I didn't do anything to them, but just unpleasant, low morale would be a better description maybe) by eating five brioches with my cappuccino: not my habit, but I was starving and wasn't about to eat the other four somewhere else.

[image ALT: a long low five-arched stone bridge reflected in the water]

Corso d'Augusto to what I thought would be the Arco di Augusto — the problem with grid layouts is that you need to be secure in your orientation — and it turned out to be the Ponte di Augusto/Tiberio (you see both, and for a good reason: Augustus started it, Tiberius with very politic and Emilia-Romagna continuity completed it: to the point of putting an Augustus line and a Tiberius line on his inscription, then in effect bracketing them before the last word DEDERE — in fact, the sea side has DEDERE, the land side has DEDER then the frame; a wonder­ful pair of inscriptions all the way around).

The bridge is attractive and best described by photographs; which is fortunate, considering how many I took, including a reprise when during another circumambulation of the town I stumbled on it again, and for just five minutes the sun was trying to come out of the clouds: a patch of blue about the size and shape of Cassiopeia, just enough sun to give me a reflection of the arches in the water then that was it for sun thru to this minute: even before I left the bridge that second time it was all gone again.

Big, big disappointment at the Arch of Augustus. It was entirely encased in ugly and opaque construction scaffolding.

Churches, all ugly brick with the single exception of the Tempio Malatestiano, which, however, I put off visiting until 5 P.M. for some reason, despite having passed it several times. Instead, also inexplicably, I went from bookshop to bookshop buying up mostly TCI and DeAgostini and Rimini guides, but I also found Cappelli's Lexicon Abbreviaturum in a recent facsimile reprint — this last in a libreria two doors from my hotel; the woman at the counter, possibly the owner, fell over herself to give me advice about dinner: I asked telling her I was only going to eat one meal in Rimini, where should it be? She gave me a critiqued and ranked list of five: I went to the top one, and she certainly was on target.

Still, I had the Malatestiano "to do"; so did, with at first my usual lack of enthusiasm for anything post-medieval; but it's a lovely piece of sculpture, and one would have to be a fool not to be seduced by it. Mind you, I could have done without the fumes of plaster dust and some horrible chemical: the air was actually white from the blasting going on in the first two chapels on the right, this despite the usual opaque green stuff; I got the smell rather than the sight of them, absorbing them thru my nose like the Brinvilliers. . . .

But the temple to Malatesta — hardly a church — is beauti­ful: a sort of sonnet in white, just enough blue, or red marble, or discreet fillets of gold, to set off the white stone; and an extraordinary elegance and mastery of very low relief, if some slight coarseness in treatment, to be ascribed probably to patron Sigismund hisself — rarely have I seen such insistent self-glorification . . . even the tombs of famous local poets in the sarcophagi in the outside niches, all you remember, all you're meant to remember, is that Sigismund was a man of culture and power and chose to honor these people! It's unfinished.

Back to my hotel, wrote pages and pages of diary, then when a decent Italian dinner hour was on me, 'bout seven-thirty, walked down the cardo and across the pons Tiberii, to my restaurant, "Il Lurido".

Unprepossessing name, even apparently in Italian, but wow! was the food good​a — a largish nondescript hall gussied up with wall paintings — I wound up staring across a roomful of diners at a rendering of a cow, twice grandeur nature — I didn't order anything, the fixed items just showed up: incredibly, in 48 years I'd never eaten in one of these places; here's my transcript:

I was offered a grilled fish but declined, beginning to feel full; but did order the bavarese allo zabaglione, slight grit to the texture, intentional: very good! also got an unordered plate of cubes of torta di mele — in fact a light-textured eggy cake with a touch of anis to it. Limoncello as a digestive seemed called for, although I'd had a bottle of a good dry white (Cormons 1995, a Collio di Collio DOC) —

With all that, the bill was only 55ML; the cheapest large meal I've had on this trip; memorable in its diversity and quality: and the few blox walk back over Tiberius's bridge, all lit up, and past the piazza Cavour thru the 3 Martiri to my hotel was perfect. I even read half an hour, from the ill-constructed "The Bible Code" found in my book foraging — Italian translation — if there's anything at all to it, it deserves a clear and intelligible exposition: as it is, it reads fringish and is hampered by a very scattered approach. . .

For some reason, I was woken up by the 3:00 A.M. bells; assumed it was some weird peal meaning 6, so read some more — I had a wakeup call for 7 — until successive 3:15, 3:30, 3:45 and I realised that's what they were, so switched off the light and slept to my wakeup call this morning.

The plan for the day, I stuck to. After spending an hour yesterday afternoon in my room combining various possibilities (leaving Rimini early and stopping en route, as for example at Genga where there is a good Romanesque church; excursing to Savignano sul Rubicone but then the bridge is a recreation after the Germans bombed it in '44 and it's not really the Rubicon either;​b tracking down another piece of Flaminia; etc.), I plumped for the obvious and completely un-Roman, and took the 0945h 4000‑lire bus to San Marino after a long quiet breakfast (brioche alla crema, brioche alla ricotta, cappuccino, the local paper Il Resto del Carlino a bit on the National Enquirer side, outdoors on another piazzetta).

The trip to S. Marino takes 45 minutes and is dull. Twenty minutes to wend thru a tortuous gauntlet of bus stops inside Rimini, fifteen minutes of dull countryside — superhighway and grey skies don't help — and ten minutes, maybe a bit more — filch some from the Rimini portion — essentially climbing the hill at San Marino. The various communes ("castelli") of San Marino are recently agricultural towns turned commercial centers, as in shopping mall. The material is better than usual in Europe, certainly than in Italy: much less concrete and cement to large buildings, more glass and steel. Houses much larger, more modern and commodious, and duller.

The hill starts out gently in Serravalle to end sharply in the town of S. Marino; also, above a solid sea of white cloud, and half my three hours there, in it, visibility at one point being 35 m. Makes for atmospheric if uninformative photography.

San Marino? Extraordinarily clean, by far and away the cleanest town I know in Europe. Small trashcans (neutral invisible brown as opposed to those bright green things in Italy) every few yards; free restrooms all over the place, the one I used impeccably clean — although one enterprising merchant at the bus stop has a large visible sign with an arrow (Toelette) leading you into his shop; a bathroom there indeed, and charging ₤500. . . .

And enterprise and merchants is what San Marino (town) is all about. As with all these small places, the oddity of their survival, coinage, postage stamps etc. allows San Marino to reduce VAT and other taxes, so merchandise becomes cheap, which feeds more visitors, etc. I bought ₤110,000 of postage stamps, almost all for Harvey and Agnes — I sent them a postcard with one of them — and ten rolls of film: Kodak Gold 200x36 can be found for ₤7000 (Italy: ₤9500 is a good deal, usually ₤11,000 or so). Had I known earlier, the trip to S. Marino would easily have paid for itself —

The actual buildings, churches and monuments are not much: fewer than Spello and of lesser interest; I did most of them. Nothing Roman anywhere, altho' marginally (a) the "beds of S. Marinus and S. Leo" — they did live in the late 3c, but in fact they're probably Villanovan tombs, and at any rate I didn't see them, since inside one of the few buildings that was closed, the church of S. Pietro; (b) a supposed portrait of Justinian under an inscription of 1361 on the façade of S. Francesco but combination of too high and too thinly cut for me to read most of it.

Still, S. Francesco has a very nice retable; the Basilica of S. Marino, beauti­fully clean, gives a good idea of what 18c architects really had in mind — usually the accreted and uncleaned results are horrible, but S. Marino is actually attractive; the "Prima Torre" or "Guaita", another place James would not have liked: clinging for dear life to sheer drops of fifty meters of rock, and the tallest tower gives every appearance in fact of actually being built in part on top of a rock overhang; climbing to the top of it is just a bit scary: at one point a wooden ladder at a 65° angle gives way to three metal crampons in the masonry as you squeeze thru a trapdoor . . .

But mainly, street upon street of merchants: leather; necklaces, chains, bracelets, watches; giftware of the most atrocious kind; CD's; coins and stamps; film; liquor, much of it curious Sammarinese stuff for the tourist trade (pineapple eier-likör in pig-shaped bottles, sweet digestives al tartufo bedizened with the arms of the Republic; but also zubrówka for ₤10,000 etc.); clothes; ceramics. Restaurants tend to the snack rather than the full meal, several places juxtaposing signs in Polish, Japanese and English for example (with in fact totally different menus being offered in each language — disappointingly, Poles are offered blini, Americans hamburgers, Italians "the real Bolognese piadina"; although amusingly, in one place, the French were just told there was all kinds of nifty stuff to eat. . .)

Later Notes:

a Trattoria Tonino "Il Lurido": Piazzetta Ortaggi, 7; tel. 0541/24834.

b I eventually saw Savignano and its bridge: diary, Mar. 27, 2004.

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