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Tuesday 3 November

Saturday 31st I went to Ostia; I was overdue for a skate so a Rome trip was in order: at 4 A.M. the weather was splendid — gorgeous starry sky on the terrace, Orion starting to move toward its setting — so it was Ostia rather than a museum.

At Ostia by ten, skatebag with gatekeeper, no Janet DeLaine — the excavation may be closed for the season — so headed straight for the Area Sacra Repubblicana, and from there slowly down the Decumanus, that I hadn't seen at all: with an eye to finding the Synagogue, down at that end somewhere, and me as usual without map or guide. By 1 P.M. I'd more or less covered the whole area, to the Porta Marina and beyond it to the Terme della Marciana,º and had still seen no Synagogue. Back near the Capitolium, heard a man explaining to some French tourists that no not the big Mithraeum but another was visitable; happening on him again, asked him for precise instructions: he took me there; it turned out he was the chief security man for the excavations and museum, and he was very interested to hear from me that last year I'd found the Museum closed in late October​a, since other than Sunday afternoon it should've been open: I got the impression that personnel sometimes up and close it when they shouldn't, like to take the day off. . . It is closed these days, but only since May.

The Mithraeum itself is nothing much, although evocative; the maze of under­ground passages behind it, service areas for the water supply of the baths above (later taken over by the Christian basilica)​b would surely have been fascinating had I been able to read them, i.e., had I understood what I was looking at. Still, take pictures first, ask questions later.

Started heading back — Synagogue would have to be for yet a fourth visit — when I spotted a man with the Laterza (almost no people most of the day, esp. in the areas I was in; despite splendid weather only clouding over around 1:30 or so); the Synagogue was back out past the Porta Marina — way past it. So, quick-timed it out there — a just barely visible small island of buildings and columns in a large field remote from everything — and was amply rewarded: a beauti­ful and interesting place, which again would have been more interesting if I knew more about synagogues than the average goy —

[image ALT: The ruins of a small building: four tall marble columns next to a rectangular paved courtyard. To the right, a brick niche large enough to fit two people, flanked by smaller columns. In the background, the discreet low profile of a superhighway.]

Later note for this Web edition: the capitals on the 4 tall columns were also found many years ago.

Tromped directly thru the field — chenopodium turning bright red, about a dozen flowering plant species turning it into a regular meadow even if strewn with ancient potsherds: enough to occupy archaeologists for 50 years, I imagine — to the Capitolium, then to the gate, skatebag, stazione and missed the 3:19 train by seconds; half an hour on the platform (5 formerly unrelated dogs in various permutations, affording prim merriment to several groups of returning tourists; one of the dogs particularly friendly to humans as well, adopted me for a few minutes), Magliana a fairly quick change but arrived at Termini at 4:16, ten full minutes after my train to the rink had left.

Several choices — the next train to Spello was a EuroStar, followed by the 7:18 [. . .]

So back to Spello without having skated, despite carrying that blasted bag here and there. On arriving, a fax waiting for me: [. . .]

Sunday, I did nothing: I blew the whole day. I got up around 8, ate breakfast, looked at the news, took a shower, got dressed, went to bed at 10 and woke up at 2:25 P.M.; at which point, determined to do something, I remembered I still have the Ponte Parasacco to photograph, so dashed out and started walking; finally, not seeing my Asino sign, I figured I must've passed it, so stopped and asked two people picking olives on the hill: they turned out to be Angelo and Elisabetta, who told me that not only I hadn't passed it, but had a fair ways to go. At that, I said thanx, checked the camera's exposure readings, kicked a stone and went back home: it was already too dark, because of clouds, to get a good picture in the open, let alone 45 minutes later in fairly thick woods in a deep ravine. Damn.º As a reward for the day's performance, took myself out to the Pinturicchio and ate like a pig, like I usually do. Bed.

Yesterday I did the Nocera to Fossato leg of the Flaminia, one of the few missing pieces for me in Umbria. The weather was so-so as I left Spello and at one point I was even expecting rain, but by the time I got off the (slightly late) train at Nocera Umbra, the day'd turned sunny and low seventies. It stayed that way all day, and I actually got some tan, only putting on my shirt for Gualdo and my little wait at the stazione di Fossato di Vico at the end.

This time I took the Laterza guide with me: I can't carry every book I own, and after all I was looking for Flaminia stuff. As a result, I may've missed something non-Roman in Gualdo — the only real town on the route — but it hardly mattered . . .

At km 181 of the Flaminia, at Colle di Nocera Umbra, the largest factory I think I've ever seen. I have no idea what it makes, but as I walked by it, two trucks went in: Macellari Fashions (sic, in English) and Murfitt Pan European Solutions. For about 150 m along it, there was a smell of silk screen process. Antonio Merloni s.p.A. the road sign.

Speaking of road signs, just after Gaifana the paese — all of 80 m of semi-ruined old houses many of them buttressed and scaffolded from last year's earthquake — the road is approached by the railway and they run parallel for a few hundred yards, which become immediately dull, reminding me of Pian di Porto; at which I allowed my mind to wander a bit, or more truthfully fly into orbit I'm afraid: the sign that did it was "Sogno di Sposi/Abbigliamento Rastrelli" in lurid lesbian lavender — can't imagine the color scheme working for a bridal shop in the States — anyway, off goes bored Booby with visions, I haven't the faintest idea why, of a large grizzly hairy-chested Vulcan type of mountain man who thru the vagaries of human nature wound up an expert in tulle and organdy and wedding etiquette (his first name being Abbigliamento, of course); this vignette from a bad sitcom amused me for the time it took the railway to move off and the road to return to its attractive self.

And attractive countryside it was, foreshadowing the stretch from Fossato to Scheggia: wide open plain, flat walking's always nice, poplars and other trees turning, almost always yellow not red, except for the parthenocissus or vine or whatever clambers up houses, which was vivid crimson here and there.

[image ALT: From across a wooded valley, a rather nondescript but pleasant town on a low ridge with a large pointed church belfry to the left. It is a view of Gualdo Tadino, Umbria (central Italy); from the SE.]

Gualdo Tadino,​c after the sort of buildup it had got from me willy-nilly in the past year (always the place I hadn't been to), was pleasant but didn't seem like much: which is grossly unfair, since I saw it for maybe two hours on Sunday All Saints Day during lunch and siesta time! The same setup as Portaria except bigger and with an attractive medieval cathedral; also S. Francesco where the Roman stuff is, closed and scaffolded. A little Palazzo del Podestà with an adjacent tower, and pleasant broad squares and streets, here and there a view, etc.

A few men — not a woman in sight — standing around on the Piazza, occasionally one of them sitting on the steps of the Duomo, waiting for something. I tried that, too; finally, I weighed finding the station (in the much larger borgo in the plain) against walking, as planned, to Fossato — and did the latter. No particularly good reason for it; rather, boredom, a feeling I need to lose weight, a feeling I really could stand more discipline and less self-indulgence, etc.

I was rewarded for this. The road to Fossato, although attractive, had nothing of any interest, but just before Fossato I finally crept off the Flaminia up the hill to my right a bit, to go thru a little town called Palazzolo, why not.

Arriving in front of the attractive 19c church, I took a picture and somehow fell into conversation with two men sitting on the piazza (a little ledge under plane trees); it turns out the one thing I wanted to see was in the 300 m of SS3 I'd not walked, by turning off to go see what Palazzolo might be: the second Roman bridge of Fossato, found by Prof. Galassi in 1982, that I'd of course seen a picture of.

So, back down, by a little road going thru the area of a spring — old ladies filling up bottles, etc.: on the way up, past the 50 m-long turnoff, I'd said to myself, well that's one thing at least I don't need to visit. . . so what the heck, emptying the warmish remains of my bottle of water, I had about a glassful of Il Saletto water: cold and much better tasting. "Il ne faut pas dire 'Fontaine, je ne boirai jamais de ton eau' " was somewhere in the front of my mind for a while —

[image ALT: A ruined stone wall, about 1.30 meters tall and 6 meters long, with a single round archway in the center. The whole structure is protected by a modern slab roof, apparently of steel, supported at either end by five pillars, and sits in a rural area, with hills in the left background. It is a view of a Roman stone culvert near Fossato di Vico, Umbria (central Italy).]

Later note: this offsite page has a better picture, taken in full daylight and before the culvert was roofed over.

Anyway, Prof. Galassi's bridge, under a metal roof in a field (I was explained the stone was porous and friable); the inside width of the road was 25 shoe-lengths; what I like to call travertine — that grey somewhat spongelike stone locally in fact called here "spugna" as in Nocera's big sustaining wall at località Le Spugne. On the way back up to the piazza of Palazzolo — failing light — saw several pieces of retaining wall made of blocks of this exogenous stone (all the houses are of pink Subasio-type limestone), obviously that's where the road went . . .

[image ALT: A tanker truck zooming along a highway over a culvert.]

To see the Roman stone inside, click on the culvert, of course.

(The other Roman bridge of the walk is minuscule and totally encased in the modern culvert over which the Flaminia runs, about 2 km out of Nocera borgo: my Laterza insisted it was there at 176 km5; finally I went to a restaurant on a knoll about 100 m away, whose owner'd been there for years and knew nothing of any Roman bridge — nearby, anyway — but suggested I crawl under the highway. I did and it was there. I was astonished, not that it could bear huge trailers and tankers, but that the Beni Culturali would have permitted this, even if it's nothing much, admittedly.)

And from Palazzolo to Fossato station, about 500 m away: had a cappuccino and two paste — the first food of the day — bought a cooking magazine and a jar of truffles again, and waited out the train. Foligno, Spello, hill, bed.

This morning, up at 4 to catch the 0524 to Rome: bad weather, Vatican; good weather, prowling, and in particular S. Giorgio in Velabro, open only Tuesdays and Fridays.

Good weather it was, I was at Trajan's Column to catch the remaining unphotographed side under what I hope will turn out to have been reasonable lighting conditions: including the representation of Apollodorus's bridge (I really could benefit from a more power­ful telephoto lens). From there to the Piazza Colonna to do the same thing there — one side missing — and somehow wound up at the Piazza di Montecitorio pestering the good people at Herder's, a German bookstore, for a work on the Via Ostiensis of which I had neither title nor author: they were very kind to me, considering! and having determined they had no such work themselves, sent me to an archaeological bookstore at v. Palermo, 23 — that's right near Termini, for future reference.​d

Didn't go there; made my way towards the back side of the Capitolium and S. Giorgio, with a pitstop for food; for some reason I was starving, at 10:15, despite having had a large breakfast of rice and some of the Norcia mushrooms, pickles and coffee: I had a cappuccino, an eggplant and mozzarella panino on a very crisp sesame-encrusted toasted sort-of‑bun, and a piece of torta di ricotta.

[image ALT: A fairly large stuccoed stone church with an enclosed narthex and a tall belfry, and a sort of stone annex to the left, behind a fence.]

S. Giorgio in Velabro is interesting. For some reason (Laterza mum) lots of Greek inscriptions, but also some particularly attractive antique capitals, Lombard bits, Latin inscriptions too and of interest; an interesting and attractive ciborium. A handsome space, recently restored. A class of Italian fifth-graders or so, maybe 30 of 'em, with their teacher who'd sat them all down and was doing a surprisingly adult maieutic-type lecture with them: about 5 of the kids were fascinated, the rest couldn't care less; I thought she was quite good. I tagged along briefly — having asked her permission — when they went to look at a squib of Cloaca Maxima nearby thru a grill, seemingly quite Minima or at least Media here though. Unvisitable, although every once in a while they open it up, announcing it in the papers.

Up the Tarpeian Rock, or what's left of it — better up it than down it, I say — and into the Capitoline Museum, to "finish" my visit of it. Inscriptions. Retake of the bust of Trajan, the only one not to have come out on my previous visit. Finding Roger Tomlin's inscription(s) here is like an aco in a pagliaio: I finally was given the phone number (06) 6710.30.67 of the Dottssa. Wappner, alternately Dottssa. Mattei, of the epigraphic archive — By then, they was out to lunch (at 3 P.M.) and I on my way out the door to go skate.

The other side, well, nothing much. Lots of stuff seems to have vanished; Wolfie's in restauro, but this is being done in front of the public: white-smockede woman doing scientific things to it with squeeze bottles behind plexiglass. She's lost her nice black color, and is currently a copper-to‑rust color. Although she's not in her room now, her room is also off-limits (in restauro), so that blows RT's — and everyone else's — Capitoline Fasti; curious how many requests I got for that. RT's Arch of Claudius also under white plastic. . . .

[image ALT: A stylized bronze statue of a female wolf, four pairs of dugs quite prominent; beneath her two statues of naked children suckling at them. Two young women are working on the statue, surrounded by various pieces of metal equipment, including a tripod and a powerful ring-shaped light. The scene is in a marble-paneled room; in the background, a 10‑line inscription, about 1.50 meters long set in an elaborate contrasting marble frame with a Baroque broken pediment. The photo shows restoration work being performed on the Capitoline Wolf in Rome in 1998.]

And I did get to skate, this time; walked to my 4:06 in easy time. The rink seemed unusually cold at first (and in fact, it was all fogged up) but I was unexpectedly energetic and was quite warm enough, quickly, with a usual minute off the ice to dunk my head in a washbasin of cold water — only once, tho', instead of my usual 2 or 3 times. Not crowded. Edges; a few waltz jumps, which have now stabilized at 5½ blades but perfect tracings; some good spins, including 3‑4 revs on a backspin out of a lunge (Italian: una spaccata); edge rolls with some vigor; one OK attempt at what I think of as a plunger spin: spin, down into a sit, back up, etc.

Trains all OK so far: the 1858 from the rink, the 2005 to Orte, the 2206 to Foligno — we've just gone thru Terni; only the putt-putt and the hill. (Hey, have I finally caught up?)

Later Notes:

a The date was Friday, October 24, 1997, reported in my diary the following day.

b Actually, not a basilica but an oratory. The Christian basilica is somewhere else; maybe it's the building known as "the Christian Basilica", and then again maybe it isn't. . . .

c There are two places in Umbria called Gualdo that are large enough to be among the region's 92 comuni. This one, Gualdo Tadino, is the larger one by far: it is on the Via Flaminia 33 km N of Foligno. The other is Gualdo Cattaneo: it is in a sparsely populated area of the Colli Martani about 13 km SW of Foligno, and I walked there a month before this. (See diary entry and photo.)

Usually the toponym Gualdo derives from a Germanic word meaning forest (modern German, Wald), and there are thus many places that acquired the name during the period of German domination in the high Middle Ages. For a very brief mention of one of these smaller places, with a link to its webpage mind you, see my walk by Gualdo di Narni.

d In February 1999, the Libreria Archeologica moved to:

Via S. Giovanni in Laterano 46/Via Ostilia 2
00184 Roma
tel (06) 77254441
fax (06) 77201395

Its online catalog and order facility were for a while a very good source for Italian archaeological books; as of 2017 they seem to have disappeared from the Web.

e Don't always believe an eyewitness, even reporting something almost immediately. The photo shows that associative memory can play tricks: no one is in a white smock.

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Page updated: 7 Dec 20