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Saturday 31 October 1998

Monday 26th the sun came out, followed — after our 8:30 breakfast, unfortunately — by warm weather. James egging me on while at the same time suggesting it would be dull and far away, we walked back down to the Ponte in the hopes of clearing up the mystery of the so‑called Roman dam. The structure, not mentioned in any guide I have to Amelia (TCI, DeAgostini, Laterza) nor explicated in the local brochures although one of 'em gives a picture of it, is obviously very old and Sunday evening's look at it shows it has been repaired and maintained since at least the Middle Ages; it also seems to be a working dam of sorts even now; and the lower strata of it might well — from that same vespertine inspection at 100 m range — be Roman: so off we went.

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Finding almost right in front of the restaurant at the bridge, poor thing, a young cat, dead, partially flattened by a car on the road, viscera all splayed out including still tubular shiny pink large intestine: put me off my feed for pagliata all week.

At the foot of the bridge, started up the path ("bruttissimo" according to our hunters), not really a path but a ripid boar track of mud thru brambles under low oak. James didn't like it at all, nor I too much, and I threw in the towel at a point where it debouched onto an exitless crag from which had I been an ibex I might have jumped onto a modern section of the structure.

Back at the Ponte, after brief consideration of trying to get to a dubiously Roman bridge (which we hadn't seen from the Porta della Valle where Massimo'd told us one could, it being below the Scoglia by yet another steep road), we threw in the towel, rather like Akakii Akakevich's mother, and took the long route E around the town, pleasant and pretty flat, back to the Romana rather than the short and in a coupla spots trash-strewn sharp path from the P. della Valle we'd walked down by.

At the Porta Romana, we walked our last section of the polygonal walls, the SW one, where we found the only spray-painted graffiti but also some Roman lapidary débris in a little picnic area; then I parked James in the borgo — he went and found himself an alimentari and a bench in the attractive public garden that was my intro to Amelia a month ago — and went back to the hotel to retrieve our bag; with some misgivings since doorbells, doors, etc. had proved unpredictable thruout, but of course Mr. Ralli had taken it in hand personally — no problem; back down, and 50 yards from the bus stop and 10 minutes before our departure, who but Nazzareno, in full regalia — the Guardia Civile uniform is rather sharp — with another cop in their squad car; stopped to exchange greetings, it turns out he'd talked with the Mayor: after "hello", Nazzareno's first words were "Did you see the Mayor?" which of course threw me for a loop, I had no idea I was supposed to; anyway, hizzoner apprised by N. of free-ranging Internet Boobies, apparently told him he wanted to chat with me: sealing one further day in Amelia before I leave, of course; I took advantage of our chance meeting to get Nazzareno's phone number, which he'd thought he'd given me, and I'd not intruded to ask.

James ( facefruit, bananas), bus to Narni, train, home.

Tuesday 27th we went to Ancona, James's first view of the Adriatic. (As we approached Falconara, I alerted him, otherwise he'd miss his first sight of it, but he caught me out on this. . .)

The train station — we got there around eleven — is a long and intrinsically dull walk into town, but that too is part of knowing a place, plus views of the port and the upper town, also the pleasure of wide, unobstructed sidewalks; we went up to the Duomo, which is gorgeous, but, astonishingly for a major Romanesque tourist attraction the seat of an archbishop in the capital of an entire region of Italy, was quite closed: this for three hours in the middle of the day. Still, the church being dedicated to a S. Cyriacus and one of my Internet correspondents​a having requested pix of any such, I squeezed my camera thru an apsidal grill into the crypt where his body is; and the exterior is magnificent, both in its conception and proportions, and in its sculptural decoration.

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Back down (actually before the Duomo I skipped a 1½-hour visit rushed since they close at 1:30 for lunch, of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale delle Marche — mostly proto­historic, Villanovan, Picentine etc. about which I know nothing; rare inscriptions; very well preserved bronze and iron weaponry, cooking utensils and jewelry — an eye-opener, I'd no idea the 8th century BC produced such good stuff in Europe; there is also said to be some significant Roman stuff, including the famous bronze group and some mosaics, but we only saw a little lapidary patch in an elbow of downstairs hall); lunch.

I wanted fish; after all, the port smells of salt and occasionally fish too; we wound up at the Trattoria Clarice at 10 v. del Traffico, a 3‑tined comb-shaped street off the Corso: you'd think a port would have a fish place over­looking or at the sea's edge, but not; I think the land is too valuable for port facilities and related military barracks. Anyway, a pretty good meal, we outdoors although noone else — it was cool. Tagliatelle allo scoglio and a baccalà al bianco with nice turnip greens with garlic and hot pepper; James some kind of pasta allo stoccafisso (baccalà too, but with tomato) and a frittata mista (octopus, shrimp, cuttlefish, 2 mean-looking little fishes, a few leaf-sized very flat things with lotsa bones that was very good; crawfish with one claw big, as often, bringing forth reminiscences of Sir Thomas Browne). Carafe of house white, the more or less local Colli di Jesi; a taste of the passito kindly offered us: we were waited on by the owner — you could feel it a mile away — who'd joked to some friend coming in to eat, that yes, those guys sitting outside are getting 10% off — so before dessert I asked him where's our discount? to which he replied that only if we were wearing hats; I said if he didn't mind waiting, we'd go buy some and come back. . . Anyway, a good if thin lemon meringue pie hiding under "torta alla crema di limone" and a pair of Piemontese grappe from Marolo; we actually got out before 4.

Back up to the Duomo, unexpectedly open — there had been no signs or notice — in which, quite dark, we found pacing disconsolately and looking like he might be reading his breviary 'cept he didn't have one, a tall cassocked priest, maybe 70 years old, looked rather like Teilhard de Chardin: peevishly I immediately went to him and asked if indeed the church had been closed; receiving an affirmative, I exclaimed, twice, "Ma è stranissimo" and wandered off — not my best face, I'm afraid. Made up for it shortly since he trailed us loosely around the church — we the only tourists, heck the only anybody — I might as well pepper him with questions: after a few minutes things warmed quite a bit, he did a bit of interesting low-key guiding us around, I mentioned my website but mostly cooed-to‑raptured over the beauti­ful proportions and organic unity of the whole (rarely found in Italy). Oddly it turns out the great scrubbing away of barocco and worse was done tail end of last century by the same man who built the Typewriter in Rome — although he gets a raw deal, it really is very Roman, they had awful taste, in monuments at least: we're lucky to see them as ruins, filtered thru layers of Piranesi and Rose Macaulay if I remember her name right.

Anyway the Duomo of Ancona is beauti­ful, and improves when lights are turned on. The sacristan — our priest told us his lunch was the reason for the 3h closing at midday — ambled in at well past 4 with a middle-aged Italian couple in tow, and turned on every light in Christendom. . . . James believes our priest (not impossibly the very Bishop, but I think he's read too much Trollope) is totally cowed by his sacristan. . . .

Finally, by failing light to the Arch of Trajan: very difficult to get to, you got to take just the right dockside street, which turns into a service road for the port; plus right now, it's all scaffolded up. By the time we got there, it was almost sunset: not the most success­ful tourist visit. Long walk back to the station, maybe 2 km; a bit of a wait, then in Foligno a cab, otherwise we'd still be there: a late evening.

James's last full day in Italy I took him to Norcia, I thought it'd be just his type of place, and I think it was. There's a very weak schedule of buses (2 a day, one of which is at 0620) from Foligno, but a good one from Spoleto: 0854 from Spello, change in Foligno 0905 arriving at 0921, bus right in front of the station at 0930, arrive Norcia 1040; except that that 0905 is an Eurostar which I didn't notice 'til we were in Foligno: we got on it anyway, but it turned out to be a nominal 0811 InterCity nearly an hour late — our tickets weren't checked, thank goodness — which arrived in Spoleto at 0929. . . The Norcia bus was 3 minutes slow to leave, fortunately.

Empty dark green hills, up and up, sharp drops and big bus cautiously negotiating tight curves: to Piedipaterno up then down over one range; then followed the Nera upstream to Norcia: extraordinarily clear water, which when deep turns white and really deep, glaucous: a "Categoria A" watercourse, even fishing is prohibited.

In Norcia, one big disappointment: the church of S. Benedetto was completely scaffolded, blocked off, and unvisitable; and for once this meant real work going on, with maybe 20 workers: tuckpointing, replacing blox of stone, structural work, you name it. Still, it ruins the piazza for now.

First pit stop was a norcineria, bought stuff for lunch but also for cooking back in Spello, and photographed it. . . Hams, boar meat with the bristles still on as proof of provenance, dozens of kinds of sausages, etc.

[image ALT: Part of the interior of a sausage shop, with an endless variety of sausages of different sizes and shapes on a counter top and hanging from a rack above it, and hams on the wall behind it. It is a norcineria in Norcia, Umbria (central Italy).]

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	The first part of our visit was an only slightly modified version of my solitary tour last year; then we found a picnic bench outside the Porta Romana, a beauti­ful autumn spot: coglione di mulo (about a third of one, actually), bread, pears, a bottle of Grechettoº dell' Umbria in plastic cups, and some very heavy and rather peculiar chocolate cookies with actual black truffle in 'em of all things — yes we could taste it — this lunch reminding me of our picnic lunch in Luchon a few years ago; and James of Pau: autumn, clean air, high mountains not far off.

Second part of our Norcia visit, mid gathering clouds and coolth, we expanded outwards from the core of Norcia: lots of small churches I hadn't seen; at the Tempietto, a very young kitten that kept on running out into the street in front of cars: I rescued it twice, but am nervous as to his surviving very long — although there are not very many cars there, and hardly travelling fast.

Cooler and cooler and just missed the 2‑something bus out (altho' we'd been targeting the 5:05) so of course reduced to waiting for which, and finding something to do; as I remember writing last year, Norcia is small. So we sat briefly in a bar near the Porta Ascolana — cappuccini — where leafing thru the Laterza I got the idea of doing the walls; we settled on widdershins. Nothing much in fact to see: a very few Roman stones in an otherwise medieval-to‑modern fabric; the Porta S. Lucia supplied the date of the earthquake thanx to the papal inscription: it also marked the beginning of a largish chunk of walls not followable, blocked off for construction work — of a parking area I think — on the outside, and within private property on the inside.

Our little walk paid off, though, with a Roman inscription on one of the inner streets; cut in two and used as part of the uprights of a door — with the halves reversed and the cut removing a coupla letters, this took a few seconds to figure out. . . Back to the Ascolana, rewarded here again by several sometimes very inconspicuous bits of Roman stone, including an inscription almost completely dirt-covered at the base of the wall; rather pleased with this.

Now earlier on I'd tried to get us in the church of S. Lorenzo — the one with the inscriptions — which has been under (very slow) disreputable-looking restauro: a doorbell to ring, once around noon no dice, now again around 4 no dice: but this provided us with a 2d for me then a 3d time to case the outside walls — the interior is said to be (two locals working in a nearby garage) "bellissimo" and indeed that seems likely — and each time I saw an inscription I'd not seen before. This was rather disturbing: how much do I pass by not seeing?? but also gratifying, since the last one, an imperial inscription (Hadrian's last year), was 80% obscured by a stack of roof tiles: very near 2 dumpsters it may've been behind some last year (howzat for saving face? Still, I should look behind things, too —)

At 4:45 a second caffé, against the walls outside across from the bus stop: grappa; I'd asked around and the universal response to "Do you yourself drink the amaro al tartufo" (seen in various shops) was "Hell no, that stuff's for tourists"; and at the Pinturicchio in Spello, Mirko said God no you don't want to drink that. (In fact I drank a bottle of it last year over my stay and found it quite OK, if lacking in character and not really being amaro. . . .)

5:05 bus and good connections back to Spello; I should mention the Triponzo inscription, which each way we were a scant three feet from: thru a road tunnel. Just before Triponzo, there's a 25 m tunnel and the inscription is on the right side (coming from Spoleto), and signposted by one of those yellow signs; so apparently readable from path level by your average tourist, without rappelling gear as would be needed for most of the inscriptions at the Terracina cut: perversely, this removes much of the appeal of it. . . .​b

Back home (James had packed his bag, and I my mother's suitcase full of those books I don't expect to need any more on this stay) I took James out — finally choosing the Pinturicchio, despite everything, over the Cacciatore where he hadn't been, since at the P. I'm an habitué plus their menu and wine list are better, whereas the C. though fine has mostly grilled meat — And so, to bed; the chat with Mirko at the end revealing that Mirko, oenophile tho' he be, is not familiar with the great family of East French alcools blancs — understandably — nor with sherry — much, much less so.

Thursday 29th was James's departure day; I steered for the 7:31 out, with arrival in Rome around 10, his plane being at 12:30: but we had an unpleasant surprise, at Orte delays starting and ending 1h05m late at Termini; rather proud of myself for realizing that we'd detoured the usual southwards "Flaminia" route starting at Orte, to take a "Salaria" route thru Poggio Mirteto and Farfa — the tombs of P. M. can be seen from the train (this is in fact the regular metropolitan line from Fiumicino to Fara Sabina) as can a good long stretch of Tiber which we followed down the left or Sabine bank (which is what tipped me off), a more attractive route in fact.

So arroveth we quite fruzzle at Termini, to sit on the airport train for near on 30 minutes, arriving in a mad dash at the airport at 11:50, they accepted (my) suitcase full of books altho' tight, & off he went.

I left immediately, and by happenstance there was an 1157h train (alta frequentazione, beauti­ful interior straight off the set of A Clockwork Orange, to the point that I thought it might be 1st-class) to Orte, via not Termini but Tiburtina; I got off — don't ask me why — at Ostiense: and spent a couple of hours doing a patch of wall and taking about ten pix of the Stlaccius cursus honorum at the Porta S. Paolo, then the British Military Cemetery — a beauti­ful place —

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The British Military Cemetery — this is most of it — looking roughly N.
and the Testaccio (or rather a walk around it, cheap restaurants, a slaughterhouse, chop shops, a disreputable-looking gym) then a quick walk to Ponte Sulpicio and thence to the Piazza della Bocca di Verità.

Homonymous which with busloads of charming Japanese tourists their hands in, then a slowish visit of the Basilica of S. Maria in Cosmedín housing it — complete with a very embarrassing sudden bout of Tourette's, at least it was in church modes — wonder­ful cosmatesque; the choir, where the bishop's cathedra, all roped off. Arcus Quadrifrons, S. Giorgio in Velabro and fenced-off attiguous Arco degli Argentarii (church open a few hours on Tuesdays and Fridays, plus for weddings Saturdays and Sundays), S. Teodoro — OK — in restauro — the back of the Palatine, the very Etruscan-looking Tarpeian section of the Capitoline, and suddenly the Piazza del Campidoglio with a raucous cabdrivers' demonstration, whence by my usual route past Trajan's Column and up the Panisperna to the station; thus success­fully avoiding an expensive and fattening meal: at 82½ cm I need to get right back down to 79 then, if I can, to 76. . . . Home, bed, not too depressed.

Later Notes:

a For many years he had a large and interesting page devoted to Cyriacus namesakes in history and art; full of links and photographs. It seems to have gone belly‑up in 2017.

b I finally visited the little town and saw the famous inscription on July 14, 2000 (q.v.).

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