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Tuesday 7 October 1997

Desperate attempt to catch up, which this morning will be doomed to failure — I'm going to Todi in a few minutes with a Canadian couple — but tonight I'll do it even if it means staying up all night.

Very briefly, just in case: Thursday 2 James and I went to Gubbio, which is beauti­ful; Friday 3 I accompanied him to the airport, went into a blue funk, saved in part by a good meal of fish at a Sardinian restaurant, then OK skating at Marino; Saturday 4 I stayed home, doing laundry and spending much of the day on the terrace studying the Flaminia and preparing to walk good chunks of it: mild quake in the evening; Sunday 5 I walked Peter and June, the Canadian couple in their late sixties who are taking me to Todi today, around Spello; yesterday Monday 6 I walked to Valtopina via Collepino and S. Giovanni, and back via Pontecentesimo/Capodacqua/Pieve Fanonica where I saw a chunk of Flaminia, then S. Giovanni Profiamma where I visited the wonder­ful little church.

Now, in more detail.

Our outing to Gubbio started under various clouds of doubt — whether we'd make a good early connection from the trains at P. S. Giovanni/S. Anna to the bus; whether it wasn't going to rain; whether things might not be closed in Gubbio — but turned out quite nice. The train, then bus connection went fairly smoothly: we had half an hour to kill near the bus terminal but it wasn't unpleasant; we used some of it to look at the little church of S. Giuliana now taken over by a military institute for foreign languages, apparently the Italian equivalent of Monterey, but the cloister of which is visitable on odd hours: it is said to be the best in Perugia and I may get back to it?

The bus trip, 1h10m, to Gubbio, went thru rising hills cut by redescents into valleys: mildly dramatic landscape, which James didn't care for too much, not being at all that keen on heights; but quite attractive if apparently devoid of the frequent medieval towers and churches that dot central Umbria.

Gubbio is striking right from the start, essentially rising flat against steep hills so that all the medieval buildings are shown up nicely against a flat stagelike backdrop. I had read a bit of guidebooks on the bus: that was a mistake, I often do get nauseated reading in cars, so we started by an ice cream in the small rising main street to get my tummy back to stable again; then we more or less followed the TCI Umbria (alternating a bit with the local guidebook) and saw a lot of very attractive apparently pretty much unrestored medieval streets of large merchants' houses with good façades: grey stone, and the famous porte del Morto; a particularly nice fountain del Bargello at one point, in front of just one such old house.

The weather still cloudy, up to the magnificent Piazza della Signoria — view over the entire town — and the Palazzo dei Consoli, a striking sight: we crossed the piazza several times during our half-day in Gubbio, and each time I took another picture or two, as the clouds lifted and in essence I chased the perfect photograph; which I didn't get, but surely some of them will be quite good.

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A walk up to the Duomo — very attractive façade with a rose and the four evangelists around it — which was closed: a sheet of paper on the door curtly informed the tourist or inhabitant that the church was closed by order of the Mayor, leaving the very strong impression that the Bishop didn't approve of it. A further walk up to the Porta S. Ubaldo but not to the church which would've been several kilometers of switchbacks (and then back — or the cable car, which I couldn't possibly see James liking one bit: essentially a chair lift and no floor beneath his feet over sheer drops of 50 feet or more. If I go back to Gubbio though, I'll do it. . .)

So back down to the museum inside the Palazzo dei Consoli to see the Eugubine Tables. Photography inside quite prohibited, altho' with a bit of jabbering about RomanSites/LacusCurtius ("ingente sito sull'Umbria romana" e roba del genere. . .) I was rewarded with the phone number of an archeologist who does occasionally allow specialists to take pictures.​a The Tables themselves, no chance of it — I bought their detailed book — but I'd like to photograph some of the more ordinary lapidaria in the gigantic main hall: vast cavernous space with a 30- or 40‑foot-high vaulted ceiling.

The Tables are in remarkable condition, with only a very few damaged letters at the lower edges. Interesting in part because in Antiquity already the text had been emended: individual letters apparently remelted and scribed over. Quite readable, James read the Umbrian equivalent of Iovis — half an hour later reading their book proved him quite right. I really ought to get the Etruscan alphabet down so I don't have to poke thru things so slowly. Withal an unappealing text which even the authors of their book admit is dismal and monotonous: a sort of ecclesiastical rubric reading much like a train schedule except with mystifying content and occasionally some unpleasant instructions that can be understood all too well; the one that sticks in my mind is what to do with the lower bowels of the puppy you've just sacrificed (make shishkebabs: the Italian translation says "spiedini"; or — on almost every restaurant menu in Umbria — 'brochettes'; I haven't ordered any since.)​b

A few by and large bad paintings by unknown artists, although with curious iconographical particularities: one had "Gloria in excelsis Deo" on the left part of a banner held by angels — and on the right part "et in terra pax hominibus" written backwards, for no good reason; but it was certainly symmetrical. The most striking item was a detail of the frame of a painting on another subject, but at the top an Annunciation: in the upper left corner, the angel pointing upwards; in the center God the Father; in the right corner, the Virgin, and between Him and her, the Dove — fine — and an actual Baby! clearly not a putto but Jesus.

By the time we were out of the museum, the sky had turned quite blue and sunny, which was perfect for our final stop, the Roman theatre: not at all as much of a walk as it looked on the map, either. Closed to the general public, at least at that hour (opening hours 9‑13h), but a very good view of most of it. Greatly restored, but in a big open field dotted with oaks, and the city of Gubbio and its hills as a magnificent background. James, who'd been pushing me to have him take my picture in front of something Roman, finally got his wish; although having taken it he felt it won't be very good.

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Wandered back to the same gelateria, where after our coffee (James) and orange soda (me) we both had a liquore Ingino, a bright yellow herbal of the Chartreuse family, good but not quite as strong: it was the only Gubbio specialty we could find; then back on our bus, which arrived on time in Perugia but the schedule idiotically makes it miss the train connection out of S. Anna by one or two minutes: we cooled our heels for 40 minutes, but otherwise the trip back was unevent­ful: and I took James out to Il Pinturicchio, where we ate well and drank a bottle of Sagrantino between us; and so to bed.

Later Notes:

a Dott.ssa Mariolina Vispi, archaeologist of the Beni Culturali in Gubbio: tel. 923.73.06

b Welcome to ancient Umbrian religion, folks; the Romans were just as bad. For everything you wanted to know about sacrifi­cing Dogs, beating people with puppies, and indeed the very goddess Huntia in these tables at Gubbio, in whose honor these abominable shishkebabs were prepared, see "The Dog as a Sacred Animal in Italy" (Ch. 8 of The Lupercalia by Alberta Mildred Franklin).

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