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Friday 31 October 1997

On the FCU about to pull in to Todi Ponte Rio but now definitely need to catch up all over again . . .

Monday 27th (I'm now writing at a little yellow-tableclothed table in Caffé del Duomo in Todi — all the outside chairs are gone — having done all my stuff, waiting for my last rolls of pix to be developed) was in fact another Todi day, since I had 46 rolls of film to be developed and 31 to pick up — these last, plus five rolls and a battery, coming to ₤720,000 — which in turn, just like today, meant the 0525 train.

Since I thought Mr. Ursini wouldn't open 'til 9 or 10 (in fact, unusually for an Italian business, he opens at 7:30), I gave myself a 2‑hour pit stop from Massa Stazione: the time to walk to S. Maria in Pantano, which I missed in 1994, have a good look, and back to the station.

It was very cool and a bit windy but the sun rose in mostly clear skies, and the walk was pleasant, despite the road — which goes on to Massa — being a bit narrow and a bit more traffic than I expected; S. Maria in Pantano turned out to be more or less where the DeAgostini map put it, which, view my time constraints, was lucky.

Further luck, when I got there, in that there was a crew of about eight orange-overalled workers busy putting up scaffolding etc., presumably in response to the quakes; they opened the church as I got there: normally, the church would have been quite closed, so this was real luck. On the other hand, I was having a running fight with my batteries — worn veterans of many rolls of film and flash and zooming, plus a cold morning for them — but I won; altho' it was iffy: several times I thought I wasn't going to get not only a flash, but even a picture; I warmed up the camera body several times — anyway, I made it thru: several Roman inscriptions, some frescoes; a nice church. Not as nice as the unknown S. Brizio, but much more famous. More to my point, though, S. Maria in Pantano is apparently on the old Flaminia, and there's in fact lots of Roman stone in the church and the contiguous bar and farmhouse.

Back to Massa Stazione with my usual five minutes to spare — regret­fully having had to ignore Villa San Faustino just slightly off my road (now that I have a better camera I might have got some more useful pictures) — but no particular rush, and to Todi with no problems.

On the other hand, I'd originally thought I could get to Sangémini as part of my Todi day, but there was just no way, given the train schedules and the distances on foot, to spend even an hour there no matter how I worked things. Acquasparta, which is, is too far to walk it and back within that kind of timeframe. So I had a long lunch at the Umbria and went home.

Bresaola alla rugola e al tartufo (truffles are Umbrian alright, but with bresaola and rocket grana works much better); polenta ai funghi porcini and more tartufo, an old "Umbria" standby; half a palomba alla ghiotta, this being the season for it — excellent, as usual; salad: valeriana ai noci, in which connection I was quite unable to determine whether this is cat-and‑rat valerian or not;​a I don't know the plant, and inquiries of the often otherwise knowledgeable waiters met with mildly amused looks as I asked whether cats liked it . . . Sagrantino di Monte­falco 1993 Rocca di Fabbro, not as good as other vintners; no dessert, but two grappe, a Lungarotti out of a sense of fitness, and a curious fragolino from the Friuli, tasting little of strawberry; coffee.

Next to me — crowded indoors room where I had the last free table in the far corner — a table of five: two American couples in their sixties, and their Italian tour guide; most of the crowd in the room seemed to be on the same tour, anyway they were on a bus: it was supposed to be a wine tour, but one of the American men said they hadn't yet been to a winery. On the other hand, the same man, who apparently grew grapes in California, chose the table's wine basically because I'd ordered it: they were all peeking at the label etc. so I just stepped in and told them what I was drinking; they were going on to Tuscany and here I was drinking the Umbrian red par excellence, they really shouldn't miss it etc.

After lunch I had a bit of time to kill, so I did the lapidarium in the basement of the Duomo, hardly a crypt: didn't remember whether the inscriptions included any Roman (thought not) but in fact one or two. Same sampetrino as last time, I believe: this time busy daubing an area of nave wall with dark orange paint — I made a sort of deal with him, I'll leave the coins and unlock the gate, he grunted at me. Anyway, such was Monday.

Tuesday turned wintry with a vengeance: I'd thought to get to Capodacqua (di Pontecentesimo) by the only train in, around P.M., then walk to my Roman culvert and back to Spello; but it was so beastly cold and threatening rain that, arrived in Foligno and even bought and stamped my ticket to Capodacqua, I changed my mind: I wandered around Foligno instead, going first to see S. Maria infra Portas, then — a cattivo gioco buon viso — navigating the sights of the town, such as they are, with the aid of a map from the Azienda.

[image ALT: A medieval stone carving of a lion crouching amid the stylized acanthus foliage of the column capitals supporting him. It is a detail of the main door of the church of S. Domenico in Foligno, Umbria (central Italy).]

Except for S. M. infraportas (signs often give it in one word) and the door of the adjacent S. Domenico with a single lion peeking out impishly from the regular friezelets of acanthus, nothing both medieval and attractive: a lot of brick and 16‑17c brick at that; and whole neighborhoods done in by the quake, although they were dilapidated already: Foligno is not an attractive city. James's reaction to the collapse of the cupola of the Palazzo Comunale was "but it was all they had" — and he was upset about it; in fact, the doors of the Duomo are wonder­ful, so that's not quite true; plus the damage to the Palazzo Comunale was finally quite limited — the whole tower didn't collapse — but still, his reaction was basically on target. A thoroughly depressing walk in very cold clouds then finally light rain: I was back home by 4.

Wednesday 29th was better spent, at least in part. Up again at 4 A.M., straight thru to Rome, the idea being to follow the Flaminia inside Rome to the Milvian Bridge, and with luck beyond. Well, combination of no luck but better tourist sense, in fact: no sooner (lugging my skatebag as well, as I usually do in Rome) had I got to the general area of the Forum, than I got sidetracked, spending a good hour and a half looking at and photographing the Trajan Column and what's left of Trajan's Forum then to the area behind the typewriter where the Flaminia would have exited the Forum — the Clivus Argentarius and a bit of original pavement, the Tomb of Bibulus (what's a late republican tomb doing inside the walls??), then, stubbornly down the Corso on foot to the Piazza del Popolo, the modern Porta Flaminia, and even more stubbornly, down the long straight dull stretch out to the Ponte Milvio: three rocks in a derelict side-park (two vagrants sleeping on benches, grass knee-high) at the Piazza Consalvi at the very end; then the rather attractive carfree Pons Milvius itself: just pedestrians and an occasional motorino, and nice views of the Tiber and still pretty much countryside to either side. A very shallow spot in the river to the W of the bridge, with a small flock of nondescript birds milling around on what appears to be remains of some other former bridge; at the country end of the Ponte Molle (to give it its supposed other name: I saw not one trace of this nor of the commoner name anywhere, no trace of an acknowledgment of the Constantinian vision either), a large piazza full of cars and an unfortunate big domed Temple to the Virgin Mary as a backdrop; to the east, a lively if poor-looking market, fruit and leather goods catching the eye.

[image ALT: A four-arched stone bridge. It is the Milvian Bridge on the outskirts of Rome.]
The Ponte Milvio.

Did my photography thing, involving a walk along the bank a bit, but not, as I would have liked, down off the embankment the ten meters or so to the actual river: it looked, with its shoulder-high grasses and non-paths strewn with trash, like a good place to get robbed. . . . Also to the next bridge, the modern Ponte Flaminio, a post-fascist white grandiosity with five-storey electric torchères, large post-office eagles, and rather nice Wolfies for my collection: from which, good side views of the Milvius — then a brisk walk in light drizzle to a tram stop, and the tram to the Piazza Flaminio, where in an attempt at taking the Metro to the Pantheon area (doomed to failure since it doesn't go anywhere near there) I inadvertently wound up in the stazione di Viterbo — where, why not? looking around, I discovered that there is in fact a train to the towns on the Flaminia north of Rome: Prima Porta, Sacrofano, Rignano that I've been wanting so much to see, Civita Castellana; schedules a little odd, but doable within the day coming from & returning to Spello — (Private line, not the Ferrovie dello Stato).

[image ALT: Some empty square tables under umbrella in a rainy cityscape; a passerby scurries thru the scene. It is a view of the piazza della Rotonda in Rome under the rain.]

[image ALT: A table at an outdoors restaurant; the plate is empty except for the rind of an orange segment: the meal has been eaten. On the empty chair next to the photographer's, a pigeon is roosting, with his eye clearly on a large crumb of bread on the tablecloth.]

Anyway, I got it into my head to go and have some wine on the piazza in front of the Pantheon — I'd promised Jan Theo Bakker​b I would, after all — so I did. In fact, I had a whole meal, since I hadn't really even had breakfast and was due to go skating too. It was cold and starting to rain seriously (a loud if persistent drip was about as bad as it eventually got), and the first restaurant told me no they really didn't want to serve me outdoors, so I crossed the piazza and did in fact eat a full lunch outdoors under a large white umbrella, readily if bemusedly accepted by my 55‑60‑year‑old waiter Francesco: bresaola alla rugola etc., tagliatelle in a tomato and cream sauce with an afterthought of canned peas thrown in (much better than I'm making it sound), straccetti which, I was told, were the most Roman of the secondi available (bits of beef in a salty brown sauce with the omnipresent bed of rugola: a sort of cooked version of the bresaola, in fact — good, especially with bread to soak up sauce & salt). To drink, a Chianti DOCG, Borghi d'Elsa 1996, dictated by my not wanting to guzzle down a full bottle of wine before going skating: thought of Jan Theo who may be amused to read this when I gebback to my computer — not sure at all that this meal, with its three desserts, coffee and grappa and costing ₤122,000 was anything like what he had in mind! The desserts, eaten quietly but stubbornly with gelid hands under the occasional glance or stare of one out of thirty passing tourists under dripping umbrellas, were the best part of this little snack: a very good apple tart, an even better cornetto but made with a sensational pâte feuilletée, and a homemade reinterpretation of tiramisú as a charlotte on a very slim rum-soaked base, the top covered with a solid sixteenth of an inch of powdered cacao amaro; the desserts thus, if not the rest of the food, memorable along with the location.

My post-prandial was a mild bath of Pantheon: I just stepped inside and sort of stood there amidst the usual sort of street fair. . . thus of course becoming part of it myself. Anyway, it's a wonder­ful space, the most wonder­ful thing being that it doesn't feel big, neither inside nor outside: yet by all rights ought to. Also, stupidly, last time I was there, I didn't realize that all the pilasters and cornices & stuff are in fact Roman: I took them to be the usual Italian church stuff, although particularly good. Anyway I have a better feel for it now.

Unhurried walk to Termini — gosh, I must've been sick! — and incidentfree trip to the stink at S. Maria delle Mole: in fact, I actually got to the rink around 4:50, before the end of the previous session.

Skate was nothing to brag about, but still, OK: I'm regaining general control of what ice feels like, edges, line, etc. It is superficially fun like anything compulsive, but it's very hard to say whether I really like it.

Later Notes:

a Yes, valerian, according to Il Nuovo Dizionario Hazan Garanti.

b Jan Theo Bakker has been running an excellent scholar­ly website on Ostia, the preëminent Web resource on the place, for many years.

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