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Thursday 3 November

— And sitting in the Sun, at Ponterio waiting for my train. Huge breakfast/lunch about 45 minutes ago, extralarge portion of strangozzi with olive oil, garlic and parmesan; an artichoke; coffee. Morning spent at dishes, laundry, sorting pictures, ordering copies at my developer so I can send a coupla panoramas — Shirt off, lovely warm day: the only thing the matter with Todi is that there's no rink anywhere nearby; possibly for future stays in Italy I should consider Ussita or nearby — assuming it's nice country — since Rome (bad air, not countryside, expense) is out of the question.

To resume with yesterday at Assisi —

On reëntering the city, I almost immediately bumped into the Duomo, a lovely building, with blind arcading on the apse and a whole scansion of it on the campanile; in pink and white stone. The inside of the church has been spoiled, like almost any church in Italy, in the Renaissance; the baptismal font where Francis, Claire, and apparently Frederick II — at age three — were baptized is encased in wrought iron grillwork and practically invisible; the crypt, such as it is, is tiny, but is in fact a crypt: a broken piece of sarcophagus is indeed inscribed in an old hand as containing the body of Rufinus, martyred 239. The church is unusual in that, built after a Carolingian church, it does not cover the old one, which was under the parvis; when I asked the ticket-taker, a young woman who could have, after all, as in many other churches — St. Germain d'Auxerre comes to mind and the baptistery at Poitiers — been studying archaeology, why this was so (it is unusual), she just looked blank —

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So on to the Basilica, since it was 2 P.M. And there, I was overwhelmed — I did the upper church first, reversing almost everyone else's order, but that's what I came to first. I'm glad I did, since I saw the best last. Not that the upper church is dull or ugly by any means!! The overall impression is of color, those lovely rather bright pastels in the possibly-Giotto's all the way down the nave on either side. The postcards and pictures (I bought three books basically on Assisi) give various wrong impressions — of verticality, of gold; in fact that is due to the lenses required to get the whole nave into the picture — the feel is wide and rectangular and balanced — The lower frescoes themselves are actually, taken one by one, rather unimaginative and at the same time not particularly realistic either: very flat and manuscriptlike, but glorious colors and excellent composition, and perfect for the space.

In the transept, frescoes by someone else that, as the guides say, must have been truly wonder­ful, but now turned into photographic-negativelike designs; even then, the depictions of the throngs of angels framing the various events of the life of Christ are magnificent; photography was forbidden so I don't have any pictures, and the books just show one of these frescoes — after all, they're not in the best shape, technically, so —

The vaults, where figurative, are extraordinarily well preserved (or restored) and help produce the reliquarylike feel of the upper church.

Down a little staircase in the east transept and onto the rooftop terrace of a large, spacious, elegant, balanced, double-decked cloister; weather about as good as it got, almost sunny, good timing.

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And then, in off the terrace — by this time, I was on the west side — and I found myself at the top of a staircase down the side of a wall to my left, facing into a sort of cavelike crypt entirely covered with the most magnificent frescoes in intense colors and radiant with life — The wall to my left in fact, within touching distance slightly above me, showed the most extraordinary scene of St. Francis receiving the stigmata — a young man of unearthly beauty who didn't much like what was happening to him, but understood and accepted it, a sort of male Annunciation — a fellow brother nearby engrossed in his psalter, totally unaware of the Event — a Seraph-Christ that is totally Other and strangely compassionate — against one of these classic abstracted landscapes of rock that I always associate with Mantegna — utterly unforgettable: that one fresco is worth the trip to Assisi.

Before the profuseness and beauty of the space sparkling in every direction with masterpieces, it was quite impossible to concentrate and basically sacrilegious to "do the tourist thing" and do the circuit of the walls and ceilings armed with my guidebooks; besides most of the iconography is fairly simple: so I just moved thru the church slowly letting it soak in as best it could. Two magnificent Crucifixions, and a Descent from the Cross which is giving me, as I write, goosebumps — one of the most moving paintings I've ever experienced: and it too, were it the only thing in Assisi, would be worth the trip. About 25 feet from Francis by the staircase, and by a different painter. . . Another 25 feet away, in another direction, as a sort of frieze under one of the great Crucifixions, a Mother and Child with Saints, on a gold background, of incredible tenderness and delicacy: it too worth the trip. . . .

The transept and choir of the lower church are without a shadow of a doubt the most beauti­ful painted space I've ever been in, a reliquary for the main altar under which lies the body of Francis; glorious 4‑part fresco directly overhead, like mosaic in its brilliance; admittedly totally inappropriate for this apostle of poverty, but extraordinary. Francis's tunic, coarse brown cloth, all patched, is displayed spread out under glass more or less horizontally (not as shown in one of my books) in the east transept.​a

The saint's tomb is one level down; it has been kept simple — I said a little prayer — four of his disciples surround him [. . .]

Tucked away in a corner of the lower church, an exit into a rather large cemetery-cloister planted with a rather large number of cypresses for the space, and with collective burial-places, let into the stone pavement, of a number of devout confraternities: a completely restful place.

Exited the basilica after apparently 2½ hours (looking back, it doesn't seem possible, but it assuredly was, if not 3): the bells started to ring as the sun approached the horizon thru the clouds, itself a memorable sight). By 5:15, having forgone any further visiting — lots of it left, I did pick up a brochure for the Hotel Properzio which looked pleasant, advertised itself as offering a 2‑bed room with bath for 85ML, and is a block from the Basilica, all of which may be useful [. . .]

Went and sat at the Piazza del Comune (Todi's piazza is better) and ate: I was hungry. A tuna-and‑artichoke sandwich, a raspberry cake with odd — good — dark bitter chocolate crunch on top, an orange soda, a coffee. Wanted to write a postcard, but no pen. When it got cool and I got bored, I left to catch my 6:10 bus to S. Maria degli Angeli, the last bus allowing me to make all my connections to Todi (short of an odd trip to Terni rather than Perugia, meeting the infamous 10:30 autobus sostituivo). I got a bit lost, starting to leave town down the hill, but with some help got to the P.zza Matteotti in time; in fact, in time to be accosted by an Australian who was hellbent on talking to people and I was what was available — he asked me more questions than the Curious Cottabus. . . .

Down at S. Maria degli Angeli, the church (badly proportioned overly tall 16c dome) over the Porziuncola was lit up and looked close to the station, so at 6:28 (train at 6:52) off I went; it was in fact about ½ a mile off — it's huge so looked closer — but a brisk walk and I touched the apse; not expecting it to be open, and a bit nervous about the time, I hesitated, but finally trotted the additional 100 m around to the front — open — walked in — the tiny little Gothicº church in the center, all frescoed and marble-clad and lit up — some kind of ceremony going on in the choir of the enclosing basilica behind it, with a procession of old men in white albs and pale violet surplices is what probably accounted for the late opening (normally closes at dark); anyhow, the tiny little building enshrined there, poorly restored by Francis himself (not much of an architect: he's credited with the vault, which is an unpleasantly pointed caricature of Gothic and gives a tight sort of feeling) holds about twenty people; five or six wooden prie-dieu on either side, full, people waiting to get in and pray. I stepped just over the threshold and thought my little prayer and left — threshold marked with inlaid bronze lettering "Hic locus sanctus est", a quote from S. Francis.

[image ALT: The façade of a tiny Gothic church, about 4 meters wide and maybe 7 meters long. It is not outside, but stands on a polished marble floor inside a much larger church in the classical style, with many tourists milling around it. It is the church of the Porziuncola inside the basilica of S. Maria degli Angeli near Assisi, Umbria (central Italy).]
The Porziuncola, inside the neo-classical Basilica of S. Maria degli Angeli
(photographed on a later pass thru Assisi, in 1998).

[. . .] back to Todi, to bed, to sleep as noted.

And now approaching Casabianca on my skate train [. . .]

After my skate, sitting in front of the railhut at S. Maria delle Mole

Trains to Rome no incident today; thank goodness I didn't choose to travel yesterday, the newspapers are reporting a fire at Termini that paralysed rail traffic for hours. No obvious sign of it at the station [. . .]

On arriving at Termini, I realized I had no plan, so before I got off the train I made one, of going to see St. John Lateran; foot, not subway, so out I went, the via Merulana from the front of S. Mary Major a straight shot down a slight slope — much like a Parisian boulevard except greyer, not as clean. Arrived at the Lateran square, I realized that basically I had to leave immediately (no time to find the front of the basilica and go in) if I was to get to Dance Bazaar by 3:35 and back to the station on time. Unfortunately, I took the wrong avenue, something called the via Amba Aradam; and had to make up the mistake by walking up the via della Navicella and the via Claudia to the Coliseum, then up Cavour: a brisk walk — although as it took me right past S. Maria in Domnica, I peeped in for about ninety seconds — the instant tourist — and was rewarded by another of those wonder­ful apsidalº mosaics with sheep — and in this case, Mary holding the Baby Jesus surrounded by apostles and angels. . . this is Rome after all. . . Between there and the backside (in my mind) of the Coliseum, the Arch of Dolabella: nothing much; but followed by a hundred yards easily of huge retaining walls of some kind, Roman —

At the store — late to open as usual — they had good news for me, the dance tops are 20 cm longer than what I was shown and tried on, which should be just about perfect, and at 35,000 L apiece the price is good; with a supposedly solid delivery date of Nov. 14, I hope so. I put 100 ML down on the total — And left at 3:50, arriving quietly onboard my train at 4:01 [. . .]

Giampiero rated my R/L forward crossovers "perfect" today; my L/R 80% — and at the very end of the lesson — frustrating, he kept on saying "Giùº la spalla!" and I kept on pushing it down from above and getting nowhere — I finally stopped and asked "what muscle does the pushing?" — he thought a second and identified a small muscle in the lower back! which is not where I'd been feeling anything — as soon as I worked that muscle, the shoulder fell into place, Giampiero was ecstatic, and made a note of the teaching technique (he's only 24 — I asked); in turn, this is the major discovery of the session for me: I will ask [. . .] to identify the muscle each time — I could instantly feel the difference.

After my skate, while I was having my Gatorade, coffee and not torta but tuna-artichoke sammich, I told a young woman skater (who's been doing waltz jumps for weeks now, they're starting to look good) that she looked beauti­ful on the ice — long conversation, she switched to English for practice, she speaks it about at the level of my Spanish, i.e., pretty well —

Later Note:

a By September 1997, they'd moved it again.

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Page updated: 7 Dec 20