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Saturday 5 November

Another long walk today, it's 8:30 P.M. and I've been back for nearly four hours — time to catch up on this diary — Resuming at the top of Monte Rotondo. . . .

The walk down was haphazard: the forest path on my fifty-year‑old map may or may not have been there, but there were all kinds of others, almost none of which, perversely, seemed to go down. They all went sideways girdling the mountain so I zigzagged back and forth, 'jumping' from one path to a lower one thru brush whenever I saw one — the day basically turned into one big nature walk; a majestic group of six or seven huge horse-chestnuts, maybe 80 feet tall, in what would otherwise have been a block-sized clearing, was the most beauti­ful sight; altho' also some cubit-size rocks here and there, deep red and orange; large cushions of vivid starry moss — Some helpful trailmarks (metal arrows fastened to trees courtesy of something called Martani Trekking, abbreviated MT; also some dots of red paint or occasionally arrows, on stones or occasionally on a tree) — anyhow, I finally got out of the forest, saw Acquasparta laid out to match my map, went almost down to it, then couldn't resist going back up another piece of hill, this one rather barren and brushy so at least I saw where I was and I had some sun, to the little church of S. Michele: of absolutely no interest whatsoever; it was openable, by undoing a piece of string. I went in, there was a glass jar containing money on the altar: I counted it, 22 ML, added 5ML, took my pictures, locked up and left —

Down this time technically into Acquasparta although just slicing thru the city limits out on the roads — Down the road a bit, immediately after crossing the Naia, which here quite upstream is the merest trickle, there was an abandoned church, marked on my map as S. Giovanni: of very real interest but in sorry shape. It is built on top of at least two three‑quarters-sunken stone arches, which I believe are remaining arches of a Roman bridge over the Naia; and partly of large beauti­fully squared blocks concordant with Roman masonry work; the saddest was the fresco over the main altar, never at least very good, 16th or 17th century, but I believe intentionally vandalized — the heads of the figures lost — lost, I think not, but rather crudely detached and sold somewhere. From the feet (stigmata'd) a brown-robed person can be recognized as St. Francis. . . .

[image ALT: A large old stone church, in a field with parasol pines, built on several arches of a Roman bridge. It is the church of S. Giovanni de Butris near Acquasparta, Umbria (central Italy).]

S. Giovanni de Butris, about 1 km SE of Acquasparta.

At this point, the plan was up to Cesi, down to Sangémini, loop back to Cesi Stazione between the two: until I realized the town perched up on my left before getting to Cesi was the town James and I had seen from Configni, that looked walled with two large towers inside the walls; I couldn't resist, and turned off the small road to Cesi onto the even smaller road to Portária (although my photographer in Todi says Portaría), and up I went: and the closer I got, the more charm the place had.

[image ALT: missingALT. It is a view of Portaria, Umbria (central Italy).]

A typical view of Portaria.

After many years of roaming Umbria since I wrote, it's still one of my favorite places.

Portária is not so much walled as built on retaining walls hanging to the 70° slope of a spur of hill, all lengthwise; the land outside the town is steeply terraced and very much cultivated, by far the steepest terrain in cultivation I've seen since I've been here.

The town itself has a small piazza Giuseppe Verdi right inside an old gate; another old gate supports a massive square tower at the top of the piazza​1 — remembering that everything slopes wildly — and thru this second gate, the stretched-out town of tiny stone streets — Portária is one of these places its inhabitants are proud of, flowers everywhere, and it can hardly be for the tourists, it's a real backwater, and there is no sign whatsoever of any tourist-consciousness, although again my photographer says one eats very well at a restaurant in the piazza: quite possibly there is one indeed, but no sign. It was 3 when I got there and I was very hungry, having left in a big rush without any food; I found a bar in the via 2 Gennaio — I was preparing to find my food in Cesi 7 km away — because I heard conversation, looked in thru an open door, and saw a (not very) commercial-looking counter. I had a liter of San Faustino fizzy water, which the young woman had to cross the street and unlock a shed to get, and 2 bags of potato chips totalling 120g and a small box of peanuts: all the rest for sale was candy and chocolate and ice cream. The young woman and the two old men clients were delighted to hear me gush about how lovely their town is — it is — and took me out on the balcony, a sheer drop of 40 or 50 feet and then maybe 100 more at 70°, to point in the general direction of the Eremo, the hermitage currently being restored by a Franciscan brother with help from local youth; also upon my asking, to check my map, the somewhat shortcut to Cesi off the main road, thru Poggio Azzuano instead. As we stood on the balcony I realized that was where the people had been standing as I approached the town from the bend far below, whose conversation, in part because this is Italy, as noted, in part because this is remote and quiet, I could hear every word of. . . One of the old men was proud of his rusty French once I told him I was a Fr. translator; we talked a fair while, and I left at 3:30; ten minutes later as, having passed the farm with the goats — distinctly friendlier now than on the way up that I had some potato chips to share with them — I was leaving the big loop of road down below to take my shortcut away from Portaria, I looked back, and my three friends were up on the balcony waving at me. . . so with a wave I was off.

Evening fell while I approached Cesi, glorious sunset, Umbrian style, a flat stylized coral disc slowly disappearing behind pearl-grey mountains across the valley — I took my last two pictures to try to catch it; fifteen minutes laterregretted it, a chapel on the edge of the road, with a decaying fresco of some beauty — vigorous faces — over the door — [. . .] and finally, distinctly cool, into Cesi, having crept into town, sideways along the hill instead of up the horrendous slope I'd been visualizing for six weeks since the first time I laid eyes on Cesi, hanging onto the hill, from the train to Todi.

More about Cesi:

[image ALT: Seen from above, a sort of courtyard with a wall of rough stone and mortar masonry pierced by a pair of doors; the door on the right is of stone and ogival, clearly of the late Middle Ages. Small trees and vines are growing in box planters on the pavement of the courtyard. It is a street scene in Cesi, Umbria (central Italy).]

I never really went into the heart of Cesi,​a for some reason I didn't feel like it, satisfied to sit in a mildly awful little bar the first place I saw where I could get a hot cappuccinoº (in fact, two) and rest a bit. Half an hour there, getting a complete antidote to my image of Cesi as Nancy Kerrigan elegant — that bar was a rough little hangout; card game in progress, with four players and nine kibitzers, and it could have been more quiet and peaceful; guy repairing a pinball machine — one of three — had the guts all out on a table; couple of teens at the machines; a rather tough-looking girl with one of them; I read a day-old newspaper in my corner and made myself scarce.

Bar's big advantage was that it's at the head of the 2 kms of almost rectilinear road down to the station — 15° average slope — pitch black, night having fallen and the road being lined with trees. The occasional car would light up various stretches of road for me. Not the most comfortable walk down, although at the same time rather peaceful: a dark quiet descent when not interrupted by the glare of a pair of headlights in my face —​2

At the foot of the road, another bar, probably more civilized: I didn't go in, being concerned with my train; in fact I had a half hour to wait — the station was deserted, but the immaculate waiting room was open. By and large I preferred staying out on the platform to be sure not to miss the train, but did use the waiting room to do my pushups: 15. I passed some of the time reciting De ave phoenice, some slight deterioration but I still remember all 170 verses of it —

Train on time, bus at Ponterio waiting, up without incident, hot shower and changed into civvies and took myself to dinner at the Umbria, where I had all new to me dishes: The wild boar appetizers (sausage, ham, hot crostini with a sort of slurry on top that was the best of the 3), the polenta al sugo di salsiccia, the rabbit and artichoke fritters, a red wine, Paterno, from Castiglione in Teverina which is only 2 maps away from here (I had to carry 5 maps for my walk yesterday although as it turned out I only used 3 but could have used a 4th that I hadn't brought); coffee, grappa from Coregliano Veneto — turning down the banana-flavored grappa with, indeed, two shriveled-up bananas in the bottom of the bottle. . . And so to bed.

It's now 9:55 — diary-writing takes a fair amount of time — and on to today.

I was up early, at six, but for some reason moved slowly this morning and didn't leave on my walk until just shy of ten. I was pleased to do 19 pushups, they're apparently starting to move: I want 30 by the time I get back to Chicago thirteen days from now, but that may be tough; we'll see. Situps, 180, sweat pearling onto my lips, legs feeling it, and I don't think I could have done 185: very very pleased — very pleased — yesterday morning I weighed 76.5 with no weight loss overnight; in the evening after my hike, still 76.5; after my dinner at the Umbria 77, item this morning; after today's hike, 75 1/2 = 166 a new low. [. . .] Down to this afternoon's low of 75½ and measuring from my first weigh-in in Todi at 81½, that a loss of 13 pounds since I've been here; I may reasonably be expected to lose 2 more pounds (one a week) but in fact I've been averaging two pounds a week, so I should weigh 162 to 164 when I get back to Chicago on the 18th. (I note that at the train station in Perugia the other day the standard weight table on a coin scale gave 71½ kg as the normative weight for a man 1m76 tall, meaning that 157 lbs. or approximately what I weighed in 1993 is in fact quite plausible; it'll be interesting to see where my waist stabilizes: there's no reason I shouldn't go back to a 29″ waist — except muscle this time (which if anything should make it easier).

Anyway, after my exercise and shower I had a large breakfast altho' not overly so: spaghetti and a large salad with two tomatoes — I'm going to miss the good Italian tomatoes when I get back — and lots of grapefruit juice, and yogurt and coffee; then I bought pens and film and had my lens cleaned and shook hands with my photographer (Mr. Ursini the son, who is going on vacation to return after my departure) — in the photo shop also listened to a rather nice old man proud to be 82, turns out the gentleman was the chef and owner of the Umbria for many years, turning it over to his two sons, the one I know who works the diningroom, the other I don't except from his cooking since he's the chef — the Umbria really is the recognized place to eat in town: people agree, it's better.

And left in cool hazy air and hopes but only hopes of sun: by the time I was down at the Porta Romana, it had become apparent that upstairs Todi was above the weather, as often happens, and the weather was awful; cold wet cloud, at one point actual measured visibility was 125 m (75 double paces, slightly over 4 telephone poles) — Not only I didn't take off my T‑shirt, I put my sweatshirt on.

The beginning of my walk today, as practically inevitable from now on starting from Todi, retraced roads I've already done: up to Chioano; the sun peered out about 1 km before Chioano, and about 3 km after that the cold and the fog were all forgotten and the day was perfectly warm and sunny and the sky was blue, another grade A day for walking, no shirt and more tan, although because I walked NE most of the day only turning W towards the end of the day, the tightness and presumably tan were on the backs of my arms and on my shoulders, although I also feel tanning on my face today again, if less than yesterday. (Tomorrow is supposedly going to be cloudy, rainy, and cooler —)

From Chioano I immediately dipped into the first furrow of valley, the trick as usual being to find the paths to the bridge: walked thru plowed fields on either side of the Fosso di Torrececcona; but found my map's marked bridge: a nice one, too, but sadly not long for this world: trees growing on it, much of the keystone missing, and I certainly would not cross it in a tractor or even on a motorcycle.

The rest of the walk to Torrececcona wasn't much, and neither was Torrececcona, although I believe I missed a bit of it. There is a pleasant settecento probably church that the town is proud to have recently restored (plaques commem. restoration); the doors were flung wide open — I later caught a bit of conversation, it seems something needed to dry out — and of course I went in. Several interesting paintings, which can be called good; and a lovely small patch of Umbrian late-medieval fresco over the main altar, fortunately a patch that counts: the bust of a virgin with her Child —

[image ALT: A single-lane road, crossing gently rolling farmland — a plowed field on the left and on the right neatly trellised vines — leading to a cluster of maybe a dozen two- and three-story houses on either side of it in the background. It is a view of Torrececcona, Umbria (central Italy).]

Torrececcona (or Torre Ceccona, both are correct) — a frazione of Todi; seen from the SW.

Outside I was basically detained by an old man who wanted to read my map, turning it every which way, asking me where I got it, etc. I felt uncomfortable and wasn't sure he'd give it back to me, he had something slightly threatening about him — I was glad to leave — and his bitch with I think cancerous dugs, abnormally large and purple although she was too old to be lactating; she growled and barked in much the same spirit as her master but allowed herself to be petted.

[image ALT: A one- to two-story stone building made up of several angular additions and crowned with a single-arched open belfry of the type known as a \'campanile a vela\', in a flat rural landscape with some low hills in the distant background. It is a view of the church of S. Illuminata in the comune of Massa Martana, Umbria (central Italy).]

The rural church of S. Illuminata.

Santa Illuminata, an isolated church, is only about a kilometer away. When I got there, I found it part of a complex of buildings including a very inhabited large villa; still I wandered around, took my pictures — there's some good and very old (8th century is not unlikely) sculpture in the walls — an entrelacs cross quartering some rather odd stuff: not the usual evangelistic bestiary, but the only quarter I could readily read was a sagittarius. . . .

After I'd circumambulated the building, I asked an old gentleman if I could come into the courtyard — acquiescing, he started to talk about the place a bit — people — a rather large houseparty of say 20 in evidence, including a young black woman and her ten-year‑old boy — coalesced and soon I was part of a knot of six or seven people talking about all kinds of things, incl. Santa Illuminata, built in 1025 and according to the old man the current owner probably on the site of the 8th‑century tomb of the saint herself who had been some kind of bigwig at the court in Ravenna before she retired; also the place of retirement of Boniface VIII: they were much surprised & amused I should remember the slap at Anagni in 1303 (French lycée, of the uses of!) which came out of me as per reflex the minute they said Boniface VIII. . . That I should be American, too, His wife had just come back from the States 12 days ago — Boston, Cape Cod, New York City — they're slowly turning it into a vacation center (agriturismo) — little apartments with kitchens, etc. Among the guests — it's clear they didn't all know the owners very well: church retreat? prospective investors? travel agents? — was a particularly lively and nice woman of about 56 with a wonder­ful positive feeling about her, who'd been a teacher for a number of years —

Left after half an hour . . . . San Fidenzio, the abbey, is a different story. I walked by it: a nice building with a main door arched with pink stone and an attractive, well-proportioned tower.

[image ALT: A small stone building, mostly obscured by a fruit orchard, with a somewhat disproportionately large square tower. It is a view of the church of SS. Fidenzio e Terenzio near Massa Martana, Umbria (central Italy).]

The abbey of SS. Fidenzio e Terenzio, in the comune of Massa Martana.

Since I was in the neighborhood, pretty much as planned, went back to Castelrinaldi the back way — boy was it ever! lots of climbing over barbed wire fences (where sheep had left wool from rubbing up against them) and over a hidden private bridge — but marked on my map — to finally cross the river, elsewhere uncrossable not because of great depths of water (most of these creeks have no water at all at all in 'em, altho' this one had 4 inches trickling thru), but because of massive brambles continuously embanking both sides. Up the very steep path at the foot of the town, power­ful walls and towers, but so narrow the path on the space between them and the river that it was quite impossible to photograph: would certainly not want to have to take Castelrinaldi by assault from that side.

Withal, once up there, the place is of no interest at all: my judgment, the day I went to Zampani and realized I'd missed the bulk of the town, was good. . . .

And from there back to Todi via all but about 1 km of already travelled paths and roads, via Monticello: not the most interesting, either, except for a couple brief but spectacular views onto the city. Total 26 km and back at the apartment before 5 including a pit stop to buy milk and yogurt and brag about all my walking —

After weighing myself, swilled down half a liter of grapefruit juice and half a liter of fizzy water, ate 3 yogurts and a small handful of olives, ran a bathtub, and just before getting into it, I had James on the phone, ringing because a client had a birth certificate and a résumé of one of those artsy little bitches with degrees in marketing — he tried to modem it to me repeatedly, finally came thru, it was garbage because in Word 6 — I phoned him, finally told him to send it back to them — this client treats me like dirt, generally — and why am I getting (a) so little work? and (b) only birth certificates now? which I utterly hate and make no money and take forever — time for a career change, I think — [. . .]

Anyhow, had my bath — Have had for a couple of days now a sort of phlegm-raspy half cough from time to time — legs and feet hurt, yet I'm not really doing that much walking (average: 8.2 km/day, not counting Rome nor skating) — I hope this isn't age creeping up on me — [. . .]

Notes in the Diary:

1 the other tower visible from far away is the church belfry — nothing much —

2 Cesi's beauti­ful Renaissance or 17th‑century church floodlit above me to my left occasionally visible —

Later Note:

a After two more near misses in 1998 and 2000, I finally visited Cesi on my fourth pass, in 2004 — and by the next day was too sick to record it properly in my diary. See my pages on the town, though.

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