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Thursday 10 November

Resuming (at Ponterio waiting for my train) — Ah, but the best penitence is not what you choose for yourself, but what the good Lord chooses for you: about a kilometer out, east, of Pantalla, just before the road to Assignano that I thought I might take, on the side of the road, in some wet grass, a large object, or rather, two: two women's handbags. . . Suspecting in fact pretty much what had happened, I looked in them: coins, driver's licenses, documents, an umbrella, etc.

And at that point the rest of the afternoon was set for me. The first house I came to, I rang the bell, then explained; but the middle-aged woman, understandably scared (half-nude stranger with weird story), insisted she had no phone even to call the police, that I should go to Collazzone; finally to get me out of her hair, she said the house at the next crossroads had a phone.

Of course, at the next crossroads there wasn't even a house — At this point, rather than go to Collazzone, since (a) it seemed farther, (b) I knew there were frequent buses back to Todi at the foot of Piedicolle's hill but almost none from Collazzone, and probably altho' I didn't realize it (c) if the woman lied about one thing, she might have been lying about Collazzone too — finally (d) I'd been to C. but not to P. — off to Piedicolle I went carrying two heavyish wet leather bags.

I tried one more time to get people to phone: a house with many cars in front of it, reasoning they'd be less scared — They too insisted they had no phone — another lie — expensive houses, well-dressed woman — By this time I was furious, I headed off to Piedicolle with a vengeance; stopping before I got there to identify the owners of the bags (and for each I found a name and phone number); in case I should surrender the bags, I was going to put on notice the authorities that I was going to check, then would check, that the owners had got 'em back; reasoning that where two people had lied to me and seemed not to care about their legal duty, possibly the police might not. (And I did do both.)

In this frame of mind I arrived at Piedicolle, in front of the old church and walls, too heavily restored, where on the piazza a knot of mostly oldsters as it turned out were waiting for the afternoon mass (at 4:30) — and announced that I needed a priest and a phone — a priest because by now I didn't trust the police.a

Told that precisely the priest was coming in a little over half an hour, I told the group why; and immediately a couple of the women told me whose bags they were, and when and where and how they'd been stolen: on All Souls near the cemetery of Piedicolle from a car by forcing the door while the two women (grandmother and granddaughter) were laying wreaths — they knew the women, who were originally from Piedicolle but had moved to Schiavo because the grandmother had remarried —

At this point I surrendered the bags to an overly serious young man who appeared, stating he was a "guardia civile" — noone said otherwise — and who called the carabinieri, after enjoining one younger woman my age a penance of 10 Ave Maria's and 1 Pater Noster for having told me that priests were more mafiosi than the police, and similar banter and particulars about myself to provide a little fund of gossip for a coupla days, I left, back for Pantalla at 4:10 having been assured my best to get back to Todi (walking now being quite impossible if I was to keep my date with Renata Galletti and her family) was a bus at Pantalla at 1730. By this point, I'd thought of where Jesus tells Peter "I will lead you where you will not want to go" . . .

Indeed. Pantalla, 5:01 P.M. Found the clearly marked bus stop and turnaround, found a place to buy a ticket, get schedule (5:20) — it was a supermarket, so swilled down a liter of grapefruit juice, and waited.

5:36 no bus had appeared. Dark, last quarter moon over distant highway with stream of headlights — Well, it turned out that just that particular bus left from Pantalla all right but not from there — Coupla phone calls to taxi services in Todi, no they couldn't come — supermarket woman said aha! there's a woman here in Pantalla who does a bit of cab driving (a little flavor of sub-rosa here, nor was she listed in the directory) — she phoned, [. . .] on the way, I breathe a sigh of relief —

[. . .] appears, somewhat mannish woman in her fifties, looks me over, says fine; two teenage boys, from the supermarket, pile in the back, surely as protection, and grateful Bill in the front, yammering away a mile a minute, from release mostly, about bags, buses, liars, Umbria, etc. Off at my front door, 20 ML — I add 7 a whopping tip — still very reasonable, considering; and shower, change, and start on diary as recorded.

Dinner with the Galletti family started with a coupla surprises; one, not at Casemascie,º they're there only on Sundays; two, no wonder I couldn't find her in the phonebook when in Pantalla I thought I might not make it in time: apparently women's lib, as it was explained to me by Alberto, has made it so women now even married usually keep their maiden names (accounting also for N being Mrs. X, also confirmed at dinner).

Dinner very simple, but quite good; tiny diningroom but with nice corner fireplace; bruschetta (slice of bread fried in olive oil with lots of garlic: calculated to make me happy!) — duck with capers herbs and olives accompanied by polenta — a pork chop and some spicy pork sausage​1 — a chocolate-frosted rather peculiar cake. . . The olive oil was their own pressing of their own olives, excellent (better, altho' not by a leap, than the Umbrian oil I've been using, big explanation that oil doesn't keep so well plus supposedly most 'Umbrian' oil is in fact merely bottled here transshipped from Calabrian and Sicilian less expensive producers — in the case of the oil from Bastardo I've been using, I don't believe it, since the type of flavor, characteristic, was in fact the same as the Martorelli family oil) — the ducks were their own, too. Wine, a Sangiovese but better than the one I bought — when I mentioned Ciliegiolo they pulled out this year's production, a month old, Ciliegiolo Nouveau as it were: light, sweetish, not quite really wine yet — they gave me a little bottle as I left — Coffee; an excellent liqueur that looked like some kind of amaro but didn't taste anything like one: quite unidentifiable, it was made only of the green outer pulp of walnuts​b — Also brought out other homemade productions: an excellent verbena and a very good orange-peel acquaforte — All this alcohol put a slight fuzz over my ability to understand Italian, but only slight —

Conversation (Mr. and Mrs. Martorelli, Mara and husband Alberto, me) very varied, noone made the slightest effort to speak as for a foreigner; and there was no need to, even if just once in a while a slightly mysterious sentence would come out of Oreste (mumbles a bit, plus country accent, proverbs I don't know, etc.) — Umbria and my walking of course; the day's adventures with what I'd basically been thinking of all day as 'queste maledette borse' — the strength of the United States, the Normandy landings (Oreste has seen the Longest Day 25 times) — me insisting that a nation must be measured not by its power but by 'virtù': i.e., what it puts its power in service of, and by civiltà — France and the French — even poor the American woman the other day who wanted to know who I was renting from came up: I mentioned her, and someone piped up with a cackle about her weighing a hundred kilos — gross exaggeration, I said so, suggesting 85, more laughs — in fact she probably weighs what I do (for a woman, that's still hefty) but the implication seemed to be that she's the kind of person who 'throws her weight around' — pushy — confirming my suspicions (of what Renata thought of her) entertained as soon as she told me she knew Renata . . . poor woman.

Back somewhat after midnight; basically just across the piazza, they live somewhere east of the Duomo, and from their balcony have a view extending from Collazzone to Colvalenza — at night, just a lot of lights, in the day it must be stunning. Ground floor of their building, 15th‑century brick ogival vaulting (I glanced at it and Alberto, for some reason quick to admire me, picked up on my observing nature — much taken by my remembering the name of the Teatro della Concordia in Montecastello — also suggested that the woman I scared near Assignano, "quando vede un bel ragazzo come tu", OK —). Lovely English setter named Charlie, dashes outdoors and back and forth in the street wildly when he can . . .

Caught the late night news before going to sleep: delighted!! to see a pie graph showing the newly elected U.S. Senate and House, 52/48 and 230/204 solid Republican — that ought to get Bozo out of the White House in '96 — and his criminal wife —

Now the Rome train, fairly full. Slightly rainy; on leaving Todi on the bus, noticed lowering dark clouds but paradoxically extremely clear skies beneath them so that visibility of distant hills and towns much better than on days when the skies are blue.

Got up close on 10 A.M. with mild headache due of course to all the booze — only the very faintest traces left now — Weight 76½ — Three cups of strong coffee intentionally taken a sort of purgative, nothing else for breakfast; boiled water, washed dishes, and packed a suitcase (totally full of books and photographs) which will therefore weigh a ton: I may be coming back a different person, but some things just don't change!

At 11:30 I did my situps — 204, took 17 minutes; the first 38 were good. Then of course mad dash to shower (didn't shave) and dress and still make my bus at 12:04 — Pushups only 20.

[. . .] sitting quietly at the Strega having found 2 cash stations on the Merulana thanks to a chambermaid at the Valle — both shut down, one for service, the other "for technical reasons" — wouldn't be surprised if because of the floods in the North cutting off communications with banking centers in Milan — but was happy to find the Strega takes VISA; had an excellent gratin of eggplant, some navy bean and tuna salad, a persimmon, a small glass of pear juice, 21000₤. Shared some bits of tuna with a plushy-furred tabby; in the persimmon found a pit: my ignorance of elementary botany so bad I didn't realize persimmons had pits, somehow I had an idea they had negligible seeds you were in fact eating — practical consequences are who knows how many pits I've swallowed in all these persimmons I've been eating here . . .

It has rained today in Rome, the pavements are slippery, esp. to these worn sneakers; but now it is dry, a trace of cool breeze but definitely T‑shirt weather still, although totally overcast.

Forgot to mention incident on arriving at Terni for my train change: some grey-uniformed official with a grey bus-driver cap was harrassing a poor young man, slightly retarded, in red; apparently who'd crossed the tracks — the lunacy of sadistic bureaucracy, the official made him cross the tracks again to talk to him! then pursued him around the station, another, dark-blue uniformed, official joined in — despicable battening on the weak to make yourself feel good — you'd think they'd have something better to do — reminds me of a well-known skating coach I see from time to time at the rinks in Chicago — who by the way somehow leapt unbidden into my mind a few days back during a walk, couldn't stop thinking of her for a full poisoned kilometer for some reason —

After my skate [. . .] and light rain and only briefly just as I walked from the Viminal to the station, having found a working cash station); lesson with Giampiero pretty 'up' — he's fairly pleased, so am I, with the forward crossovers; the back R/L are OK to good, the back L/R are I don't know what, unhappy; and he had me doing three-turns, all a question of weight again — I hope there will be room for improved 3's before I leave; I've reserved lessons Monday and Wednesday —

Paola kissed me as she ran off, and says she/they'll miss me. . . We spoke English today, I remembered she needs the practice; I taught her "I'm rarin' to go" — (and learned "impendere" = "to rear" as of a horse, as in "rarin' ").

Train, Casabianca station: just noticed how many retarded people I've seen in Italy, few of them recorded in my diary; wondering whether there are in fact more than elsewhere, and if so, why? with dietary reasons springing first to mind; or whether they're less institutionalized or hidden here: and have indeed noticed a marked caring for the retarded here, who seem to be living in groups of nonretarded people and both care for and at the same time treated much like other people and left fairly free — for example, one retarded child this morning in Todi amidst a large group of schoolchildren, taken in hand by one of the adults; the woman [. . .], who clearly had her rôle — and in fact in taking care of me [. . .] clearly fulfilled it — etc. If my observation is accurate, it's just one more nice thing about Italy — generally, as I prepare to leave and thus gather my impressions, I've found the Italians reasonable, open people naturally in tune with themselves, not pinched like the French or self-conscious like us Americans.

An example of this — I was thinking of this as I waited at Pantalla last night — is the three different verbs in French, Spanish and Italian for "to wait". In French, "attendre", to be TENSE, inTENT on (and the verb also means "to expect"). In Spanish, "esperar" — which also means "to hope", in the mystical style of the people who gave us the great Teresa, St. John of the Cross, Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier, etc. In Italian, "aspettare" — etymologically "adspectare": to look to; so you watch and see — if it happens, it happens, if not, not: dispassionate, reasonable —

On the next-to‑last train/bus of the day, approaching Orte I think. I had — a most exceptional indulgence — 2 small scoops of icecream at the rink: zuppa inglese (excellent) and coffee (surprisingly indifferent, I make better — and this is the country of coffee!) — Anyway, I need to be solidly at 75 =165 if I can when I leave Italy — the icecream was in part designed to keep me from eating in Terni —

Left thigh hurts, a sort of sciatic pain; the Sargasso Sea chafed again, and apparently this is primarily due not to the dance belt but to the situps, since I feel a small fold of flesh get irritated as I repeat the situps — now that I seem to be doing over 200 regularly. No complaints, part of this exercise should be to toughen up the body.

Just for the record, the moon is waxing, not waning like I wrote earlier —

Terni, waiting room; been plugging away at the Pope's book; gets duller as it goes, speaking primarily in terms of the church rather than of the increase of Christ in individuals. Ultimately, (I'm about 60% thru) a disappointing book I think. Some reviewer in the States panned the book; the newspapers here have got all upset; but hey, you write a book, you open yourself up to legitimate criticism. The reviewer apparently said that the pontiff was pontificating (by and large I agree, unfortunately); that it was a sort of omnium-gatherum of religious platitudes off the cuff when the pope wasn't busy running the church (I sort of agree); that the Pontiff demeaned other religions, giving as examples the sentences, which I've read, "Buddhism is atheistic" and "Islam is not a religion of redemption" — here the reviewer is being obtuse in the most uncultured and unreflective way, just having her buttons pushed by what are clearly just buzzwords devoid of meaning to her: in fact, Buddhism is Godless and so proclaims itself; and Redemption is not an Islamic notion, no — and in context the Pope was merely pointing out the differences with his own church and of course he believes his religion is better. . . . Additionally, the only both surprising and moving passage to me in the book is where the Head of the Catholic Church flatly states that today's Jews "still bear all the marks of the Chosen People" and declines to secondguess God on the rôle of the Jews — I would agree with both —

My problem with the Pope's book, other than its hidebound banality (despite brief flashes of what the love of God is all about, here and there) is that, even with a totally servile interviewer and prenotified questions, the Pope 'couldn't find the time' to do a TV interview after having set the process in motion himself — i.e., he got cold feet and did something basically dishonest, hijacking a risky interview and turning it into a safe sermon — this will not be the Pope the world is waiting for —

Note in the Diary:

1 no veggies (not an omission) —

Later Notes:

a Many years later, I discovered to my amusement that I had instinctively followed the law of the Lombards as applied in seventh-century Italy. (Hodgkin, Italy and her Invaders, VII.219 f.)

b In later stays in Umbria, I'd eventually learn the name of this green walnut cordial: nocino.

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