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Saturday 12 November

Now I'm going to get up (it's 6:45) and shower and do the best I can about my appearance without toothbrush or comb or razor, and have breakfast and visit Viterbo by day and leave by the 1:40 train and go back home. [. . .]

Eating my little breakfast downstairs in an otherwise empty hotel diningroom — ugly long rectangular room with the entrance from a corridor on one of the long sides, windows on the other: I pulled a pink curtain aside to reveal an alley and a raised parking lot with a rail siding behind it — still, spotlessly clean, white damask tablecloths, a good spread on a buffet: I'm having a couple of croissants, a facefruit, a small tangerine, a coupla glasses of grapefruit juice and a cappuccino. [. . .]

This being said, here in Viterbo yesterday on an impulse I inquired in a bookstore about Stephen King: they had four of his books, I had no idea they were so gross, ghouls and creepy slime and such things [. . .] Not, in fact, that I have any better taste: for some reason I was in a book-buying mood yesterday and in two bookstores bought, in addition to tourist guides to Viterbo and to Bagnoregio, a cookbook of Italian regional dishes and the De magia of Apuleius and the Physiognomica of ps‑Aristotle — a taste for the outrageous of twenty centuries ago that noone, but noone, is interested in today; possibly incl. me;​a the Physiognomica looks dumb and indigestible . . . altho' of the three classics I bought in Rome, I've read and enjoyed two, and am in fact reading the third, the Poimandres —

And from meal to meal, or so it seems. I'm at L'Aquila Nera between the Porta S. Leonardo (not in Blue Guide because just reopened in 1993 after five hundred years) and the Porta S. Pietro. The restaurant is tacked onto the outside of the walls, and although today is warm enough for me, not quite for everybody, so the terrace up against the wall with its big persimmon tree is not open, sadly — I've ordered an antipasto misto, tortellini alla rugola, and (risk taking as usual) calamars, grilled — a little carafe of not very good local white — the first indifferent white I've had in Italy, incl. last year — and my first two courses I've eaten, both good: I put the fear of train schedules into my nice waitress (the restaurant is small and she may be the owner's wife) — after yesterday, I have this illogical fear of missing my train — illogical since after all yesterday I didn't miss my train — it missed me, so to speak —

The squid was terrific — whole, not sliced — not overcooked — tender (for squid that's a near miracle) — flavor­ful: the best calamars I've had, as I told the waitress (not wife), along with those, fried, I had in Barcelona in 1970 across from the train station — Memorable —

A little grappa (di Moscato, excellent) on the house — and I'll continue this from the station or my train (God willing!); [. . .]

On the train to Orte, waiting to leave Viterbo station. [. . .]

My visit of the town this morning, from about 8:30 when I checked out, my phone call to my answering machine having cost only 5400₤, to about 12:15 when I stopped for lunch, took me to most — but by no means all — of the places, mostly churches, that are visible without buying tickets. Still, there are a number of things I haven't seen, including the incorrupt body of S. Rosa, still on display in her church. . . and the two important museums in town, with so many Etruscan antiquities — and finally large portions of the walls. Also, of course, I saw a good deal too fast (like on the walk back from L'Aquila Nera, I kind of breezed in and out of S. Giovanni in Zóccolo; and sort of vaguely looked at S. Maria in Poggio, the little unmarked church in the Blue Guide's city map on the v. Mazzini); Viterbo deserves 2½ days. Next year, God willing.

Anyway, I followed the Blue Guide at first, like yesterday, although less so, entering by the P. Murata and skipping the Rocca and its piazza altogether (a big 'so what' in my book). San Francesco large and emptyish, pleasant. San Faustino of mild interest; a market today on the square: a man who was weighing a live chicken on a scale as he sold her, poor thing; the mannerist volutes, descending from say Il Gesù or S. Susanna in Rome, landed at folk level at S. Faustino, sort of curvy retaining walls, reasonably covered with tiles. . . At the P.zza dei Caduti, a rather striking monument to the Italian parachutist of which I took no picture because it's not that good, and of so vertical a shape as to force inclusion in any snapshot of the unpleasant square full of traffic; surprising how much energy I spend, when taking pictures, avoiding street signs and lights, garbage cans, and above all cars. The concrete monument is of two stylized archangelical wings, one vertical, the other fallen, as a palm frond, on the ground. Rather effective and a pity it's not made of stainless steel or some more pleasant material than concrete.

Up the v. Ascenzi and a close look at the door of S. Maria della Salute, lovely but surrounded by high wooden palissades and very hard to move back far away enough from to get a satisfying view, let alone a photograph; and from there to the P.zza del Gesù, where I played with filthiest, foulest-smelling, friendliest terrier, and continued taking pictures of lions. My developer is going to be lion-blind after the 4 rolls of pictures of Viterbo I took. . . Lions of every style, size, and description, from the fearsome to the almost cuddly, from the hieratic to the realistic —

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Should mention the Palazzo Comunale; the Sala Regia is magnificent, covered with frescoes, and those calculated to appeal to me: sort of combination postcards and maps showing all the fiefs of Viterbo; I snapped lots of pictures — a positively delight­ful little terrace with a charming fountain and lovely views of several different kinds: I took 5 pictures, which will be extremely different, without moving my feet, from the same exact spot. . . .

I did a more complete visit of the P.zza del Duomo, concluding with the Duomo itself where I helped a priest and a lay usher move some rather heavy pews around: some kind of special event had been held, a whole pile of priests had just come out of the Duomo as I got to the Piazza.

Between there and my restaurant, I didn't do the medieval quarter (via S. Pellegrino) again, but went to S. Maria Nuova, which has some wonder­ful frescoes in paired arches on either side of the nave (that's not as clear as it could be: one pair of frescoed niches on each side for a total of 4), and S. Sisto this time indoors, reminded me of St. Hilaire de Poitiers because of the raised choir —

And just before lunch, after the P. San Leonardo, a beauti­ful ruin of a 16th‑century church with some beauti­ful frescoes, still unrestored probably from the 1943 bombings — much of these old churches (S. Francesco and S. Maria Nuova I believe are 2 examples) were in fact in smoking ruins down to the last foot of wall after WWII and have been totally rebuilt, or at least as much as they could: prewar photographs of tombs and monuments, for example, posted in the churches next to the restored versions show that a lot has been lost —

When I got back to the apartment, incomprehensibly, I weighed 76½ - 77: yesterday I had 3 sammiches and a vantaglio; today 3 croissants, an apple, and a rather small lunch if good — so why have I gained weight? More depression.

I went shopping (film developing; last groceries at my little grocery shop, said goodbye to my shopkeeper; bought a Corriere, said goodbye to my bookstore lady) and then took the plunge and went found the barber recommended to me by my general's chauffeur who was on the putt-putt this afternoon and whose hair looks quite good —

It turned out I was able to get a 6:30 appointment; I went back to my apartment, showered and shaved (was unable to shave in Viterbo) and at 6:30 was back at the coiffeur's — the owner himself, a youngish man of 38 if I did my additions right, did my hair — I was quite absurd, telling him this was my change-of‑life haircut, not to try and hide my bald spot (he didn't, it's pretty bad) — telling him about my pushups and my skating, about my walks here, about being independent — so he'd get an idea of my personality — suddenly he said "with your shirt off, right? I've seen you" and indeed he had, in Cordigliano a few days ago where he lives — my estimate is that some 20,000 people have seen me on the road, it was bound to happen — and the ice was broken. All the more so when he started being apologetic about not speaking other languages, because he started working at 15, and I of course empathetically cut in "and now you have 2 businesses: how much I admire you!" — very true, too.

He did a good job, thank God, with my hair; I look much better and still look like me; and, either by laziness or psychology or lack of imagination or independent approach, came up more or less with my usual haircut, although the actual way my hair is cut is different — Anyhow, this encounter, plus my 27 ML purchase of a good seat to Molto rumore for tomorrow night, put me back in my customary good spirits: a sort of human version of Montesquieu's famous dictum.

At the Umbria: A thoroughly good farewell meal, by the way: zuppa etrusca, tagliatelle ai tartufi, pernice alla salvia (a very elegant dish, finally), tiramisú; wine: San Giorgio 1985 Lungarotti, excellent, excellent; only the second top-class Italian wine I've ever had — mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, but with Sangiovese and Canajolo — bottled in Torgiano like all the Lungarotti — waiting for my coffee and grappa — just this minute arrived, I recidived on the Nonino rather than try the banana. . . . .

 . . . .

Back 'home' after a long conversation with a couple who attracted my attention by switching — comfortably! — from Italian to Spanish — he, Argentine, she, Roman — they're looking to buy in or near Todi —

It is now just past midnight November 13th: in five days I'm back home again . . .

Later Note:

a I've altogether forgotten ps‑Aristotle's Physiognomica; but Apuleius' Apologia pro se de magia, to give it its full title, would turn out to remain one of my favorite works from Antiquity. It has rather little to do with magic — as little as Apuleius could manage, in fact — but in addition to serving as a window into the life of a Roman town in North Africa, it is, in a rollicking vein we're not predisposed to expecting in the often dusty productions of Graeco-Roman antiquity, just plain hilarious: warmly recommended.

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