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Wednesday 7 October 1998

Lots of catching up (actually, both less and — as will appear — more than one would expect). So resuming with Rome last Thursday.

I finally got to the Castrense; or the outside of it at least; for the inside, attached to the church of S. Croce in Gerusalemme, you have to call the pastor, Don Simeone, or his associate Don Luca, from 10‑12 and 16‑18 Monday thru Friday,º or just the morning hours on Saturday — and not feast days of course. Phone number: 70.14.769.

[image ALT: A rounded section of ancient brick wall, about 3 meters high, with an engaged arcade of several columns, also of brick. It's the Amphitheatrum Castrense in the Aurelian Walls in Rome.]

The outside — making lemonade of my lemon — of the Amphitheatrum Castrense is elegant: an arcade of brick columns with brick Corinthian capitals (thought of John Monkus as I photographed 'em!), altho' in fact very hard to take a good picture because of light poles, traffic signs, cars: the eye-brain combination just abstracts all that, but the camera doesn't (I've learned) and more importantly, and very oddly, the eye-brain doesn't either, faced with a photograph. As usual, a mystery.

The church of S. Croce is nothing much — photography forbidden — although the best part, a neo-classical oval narthex and lantern, is beauti­ful.

Unexpectedly, from there I spent the rest of my day (or at least the archeology-hat portion) at St. John Lateran. One of the more interesting things was on the confession board, actually: the official title seems to be "Archibasilica SS. Salvatoris" rather than S. Giovanni. Logical but unexpected and that too leaving me puzzled.

The inside of the church, tomb (I think) of Pope Leo XIII or at least a funerary monument in the transept; its pendant, built by the same pope, is a monument to Innocent III — logical, too: same politics, same intransigence; rather neat symmetry bracketing the papal chair (cosmatesque) in the apse.

[image ALT: An inlaid marble throne, in isolated splendor in the apse of a church, from very far away. It is the cathedra or throne of the Pope in St. John Lateran in Rome.]

Typically, wandered the church guidebookless buying the guidebook as I left and still not read it — I supposed I should scan it in case I missed something while I can still go back — and was therefore surprised, pleasantly, to see the tomb of Lorenzo Valla in the far right transept chapel: moved some small wooden pews to take pix. Also, in the S aisle, a long funerary inscription to Sylvester II; pulled up a chair to sit down and copy it, thus attracting a small group of puzzled-looking Italian visitors so, being Booby, I delivered myself of a mini-lecture on Gerbertus, medieval astrology and science, Reims, and whatever else flew crowing thru my mind. . . but it really is too bad that most of us — me included, often enough — have no idea what we're looking at, and as a result wind up not really looking at it.º

Anyhow, after about 45 minutes in this loose cakewalk thru the Lateran, I found a little desk and a door, "Museum", 4000 lire. Opens up into a very attractive and peaceful cloister: not too many people in the church, but almost noone in the cloister, peggio loro. Withal, chock-full of inscriptions and bits of tombstones and sarcophagi, about 40% Roman. Finally got out of there — slight drizzle — at 1:30, and up the Merulana in the search of a place to eat on the way to the station.

I chose poorly, 157 v. S. Maria Maggiore, a little place appropriately called — checked on leaving — McDally. Simple food, OK; but incredibly slow and I fear selectively so. I didn't order anything peculiar, but straight from their menu: but forty minutes to get a spinach-mozzarella crêpe; although at least my pasta (something all'amatriciana) appeared sooner after that. People having come in well after me served first — I was dressed quite normally — and one of the worst hours of passive smoking I've ever experienced in my life: no ventilation and they'd closed the front door (light rain). I ran out of there —

[. . .]

So, off by the usual 4:06 to the rink. By recent standards, I had an excellent, excellent skate: very careful and concentrated, exceptionally so even for when I was skating every day and with Les. As a result, my spins came back, several of them getting 8 revolutions within a dinner platter, although I tend to prolong them too much, squeezing every bit of spin I can, and therefore exiting rather lamely, not enough speed. Waltz jumps still not reliable, but 5+ blades. Still, on the whole, very solid for a nonskater and me pretty pleased.

Pretty pleased also to have found a train schedule putting me home before midnight and without having to take a EuroStar; leaving SMM at 1858, arriving at Termini at 1920, a train to Florence at 2005 but getting off at Orte, long wait at Orte better than a long wait at Termini, train to Foligno connecting neatly with the last putt-putt; up the hill and home at 2324h.

[. . .]

Friday I didn't do anything; it rained, I washed a few clothes, etc.

Saturday the day started sunny [. . .] I spent some time on house chores, then realized another day was frittering away, so took a putt-putt to see another little piece of Foligno. Around lunchtime, slight drizzle; looked at S. Salvatore, inagibile, depressing like much of Foligno. Back home.

[. . .]

So Sunday morning, the 4th of October, was the feast of S. Francis; we thought we might go to Assisi — the weather was splendid — but wound up doing Spello instead: me doing a variant on my Roman tour of the town.

[. . .] a nice dinner at the Pinturicchio [. . .]

Monday the 5th finally was our day in Assisi, even if the weather had decayed to overcast and blustery. Not ideal [. . . We went] to the amphitheatre since the bus from S. Maria degli Angeli arrives at the p.zza Matteotti (although after it stops nearish the Basilica), and we also climbed up a somewhat slippery and narrow brambled path along the outside of the walls to the Rocca Minore — no big deal — and down the more standard way, entering by the Porta dei Cappuccini whence the road to the Eremo delle Carceri but the weather threatened rain too much for the 4 km walk there, then back [. . .]

From there up to the Rocca, where neither of us had ever been. I thought it'd be rather dull, but it wasn't at all: I was surprised. Admittedly, it's not very explicit — a big hulk of fortification, and ravelins and posterns and all I don't understand (maybe I should); few inscriptions but a couple. A few papal coats-of‑arms, good enough to intimidate people with: in particular that of Pius II; since seeing his destruction of the Roman gate of Fano, I've been less taken in by his public-relations, and I wasn't too surprised to see his contribution to the intimidation by the popes of yet another town —

The most interesting (actually, the most fun, since I have no particular grounds to be interested, as noted) part of this monstrous slab of coercion is a long wall with a single isolated tower at the end; the wall is just that, except hollow: essentially a very fortified covered walk to the tower. A little yellow sign, cardboard plastered over with Scotch tape by way of lamination, in not quite matching Italian and English, warns you that a certain passage is dark but safely manageable with care. From there you step into the very attractive enfilade of ogival arches, an exercise in rhythm follows function, lit by small slits every now and then: [. . .] and I both reacted with "This isn't dark at all"; but at the end of this long corridor — the inside of the wall — it suddenly does get dark, very dark: and to turn into a fairly steep counterclockwise circular staircase — we finally negotiated this in absolute pitch darkness (couldn't see my hand in front of my face); except that my hands by and large were not in front of my face: one on the low ceiling, the other on the wall.

[image ALT: A very large old castle on the side of a hill, with a thunderstorm brewing in the distance. This fort is the Rocca Maggiore of Assisi.]

Suddenly out onto the platform of the tower: splendid view from Spoleto in the far distance to well north of Perugia, and of course the great medieval bulk of the Rocca itself in the foreground; some of Assisi below although partly obscured by the hill itself. Wind: we sat there a coupla minutes, then back down — somewhat more dangerous, since descending of course the ceiling is lower — thru the pitch blackness. [. . .]

Out of the enfilade and on to the top of the wall; two diminutive young Japanese women enjoying themselves thoroughly; I told them about the pitch-dark stairs, and to watch out: the one with the good English grinned at us and said not to worry, "We have Japanese spirit!" which no doubt they did. The last few days I've thought of them several times. . . .​a

Down to the piazza, cappuccino and four little pastries at the inevitably outrageous prices — not really so outrageous, considering how few places there are in Assisi to sit a bit. Clean bathroom helps, too.

[. . .] we did a coupla shops [and went to the] Basilica; in which we wound up attending Mass in the lower church — a special mass connected with a Franciscan convention; small sermon geared to the Franciscan group in attendance, but can't imagine it was terribly much of anything even for them.

Out at about 6:20 P.M. — our targeted bus out was at 6:10, thus missed, with Plan B at 7:10 the last chance; wandered up the street looking at more shops [. . .]

We made it to the bus p.zza Matteotti in the nick of time: I got a little lost but not too, and I didn't panic.

The reason we had a deadline to be back in Spello was we'd (I'd) been offered a horizontal tasting of two 1990 Sagrantino di Monte­falco, by Carlo and Roberto who own and run the Enoteca di Properzio; with Mirko actually sitting down to table with us — all at a fixed time, 8:30.

We did in fact make it to the Pinturicchio on time and shared a light dinner — focusing on the wine — with them; the wines were the Arnaldo-Caprai and the Adanti: in rosso di Monte­falco I prefer the latter, but here there was no contest: the Caprai had years to go, my guess six or seven before it peaks, and a very structured wine more to my personal tastes; the Adanti was nearing its peak, much more accessible, somewhat more acid, still some tannin, but rounder and softer. Caprai 16.520, Adanti 1520 or maybe even 14.5 —

Back to bed near midnight [. . .]

Later Note:

a See Bessy Myers, Captured, p177.

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