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Saturday 7 November

(On the 0524 to Rome, about a week now before my return to Chicago; preparing with some nervousness actually to meet Jan-Theo Bakker in the flesh after all these months of occasional collaboration on the Net —)

Back to Wednesday, my long-awaited visit to Trevi under the guidance of an expert, Franco Spellani of the Pro Trevi association.

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My big problem with Trevi is that every time I get near it, so much as 2 or 3 km away, I look at the town — one of the most splendidly scenic in all of Umbria — and immediately set myself in gear to ignore the inside of the town because after all it can't live up to the outside, as it were! Then I go away and repeat to myself that of course the view onto the town is fabulous but inside, there's nothing much. . . .

[image ALT: missingALT.] Franco Spellani — whom I'd met very very briefly at the Sagra a coupla weeks ago, manning a sausage-ticket table midst the roiling gabbling crowd — is a young sixty, grey hair, bushy black eyebrows, lively sense of humor and in general a passionate and enthusiastic man; also particularly helpful and courteous, quite insisting on coming to Spello and picking me up at the Caffé del Borgo — I could have easily trained it to Trevi — so we met there over coffee and a cornetto or something; then off we went in his car via the smaller roads, paved or gravel, seemed all the same to him, Treviwards via two of what I always think of as "Franco Spellani's churches" because of his particularly attractive website — [image ALT: missingALT.] S. Andrea and S. Pietro a Pettine; this latter is private property, but beauti­fully restored by the Caporicci family de pecunia sua. Huge lavender bushes around the S side of the church; inside, several frescoes, including the particularly attractive and well-preserved never restored panel of St. Peter: a young woman of the family opened up the church for us, still feels very peculiar to hear myself described as uno scienzato americano but I suppose some truth to it, anyway she was obviously delighted to share the little church with us.

Franco took me around to the N flank of the church to show me the unusual N door (S doors are common in Trevi), but a small fragment of inscription leapt out at me: stunning Franco who'd been here, in his own words, 50 — 60 — 70 times maybe, but hadn't noticed it; he was much moved: as he put it, the discovery of an inscription is receiving, often imperfectly, a communication in some way meant for us, hundreds or thousands of years ago; he referred to the communion of saints, I wasn't far from agreeing, thinking in terms of the akashic recordand Teilhard de Chardin. (Anyway, "my" inscription, as F. kept on calling it, not earth-shaking, communication — for now at least, pending my photos being developed, or probably better yet, clearer pix prolly to be taken late afternoon — not being exactly crystalline, seems to be

] HIMI [

] O?P [

(see this webpage for computer-enhanced pictures and other details)

After a brief stop at Pro Trevi, I got a guided tour of the Roman walls of Trevi proper; I'm somewhat relieved that they don't in fact look like the usual Roman walls in Umbria, and that it took Luigi Sensi finally to identify them as such: thick mortaring and this Booby instantly thinks medieval, and apparently I'm not the only one. Anyway, a good guide certainly clears things up — I'm always reminded of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch — and Franco Spellani certainly played Philip, at least: I saw every bit of publicly accessible Roman wall in town, and a coupla pieces not public, in houses belonging to his family; withal, terremoto damage quite serious in town: doesn't look like anything from the outside, and not like much, even, inside — until you see a half-inch crack in a massive floor about a meter away from the outer wall going down 2 or 3 storeys: meaning the load-bearing wall has partly detached and is bowing out (over all the houses below it). Franco an incredible mine of information on non-Roman stuff as well, such as a 1470's printer in Trevi, the cardinalitial coat-of‑arms of a Valentini where in fact it doesn't belong (and why), etc.

Lunch at Il Terziere (v. Salerno, 1: tel. 0742‑78359), where F. S. would be taking a film crew from RAI to do the celery thing — he also provided me with a satisfactory explanation of why "nero": it seems the celery now commonly found everywhere is a naturally pale kind, which F. calls "sedano americano", bred not to require mounding, whereas Trevi's (which does taste better and more distinctive than the other) is dark green —

To expedite lunch, I ordered the same as he did: ravioli alla rugola e al pecorino — very good, even if a slight overdose of nutmeg (I expressed this opinion to Franco, he immediately turned around and told the owner — knowing a restaurant well, I would surely have done the same, at least if the restaurant were good, which Il Terziere is; but the first dish the first time, I felt a bit embarrassed, especially that it was a minor flaw) — a mixed grill, a tiramisú Sagrantino Arquata '95: Franco rather abstemious, I wound up drinking most of the bottle, with no buzz even; which may not say much for my vitamin B levels?

Anyway, with some apologizing — I of course found this curious, feeling honored instead, Franco took me along to his father-in‑law's since he was due there to celebrate his name-saint's day: his father-in‑law is Carlo Zenobi the author of several scholar­ly works on Trevi (and I would guess of other things I don't know about),​a and Nov. 4th is St. Charles.

Introduced to Mrs. Zenobi, also to Mrs. Spellani and to their three children — two young women and a young man — one of his daughters speaks good Russian, apparently, and rather unexpectedly, greeted me in Russian (Franco'd obviously been on the phone!); and although a total outsider of course, I felt much more comfortable than I usually do in such situations: after standing out on the high terrace — vast view west and north, altho' hazy just then [. . .] we moved in to a medieval vaulted space, serving as a large bedroom and an equally large diningroom with hearth, separated by a partly Roman wall. Fire in the hearth, near it a 16th‑ or 17th‑century device, running on the principle of a cuckoo-clock, for turning from one to three spits simultaneously; large round table, easily seating twelve, with an almost as large green-painted lazy Susan in the center, invented by Mr. Zenobi (I've never seen one in Europe), with a very convenient feature I've never seen at all anywhere: finger holes around the edge to stop and hold it. Laden with various little bottles of homemade cordials (spotted something called cedrino, pale greenish yellow, which Mirko has since told me is a sort of ratafia of cedar), ​b of which I was offered a glass of cherry cordial labeled "Wisner": my reputation as grand Russian expert undeservedly enhanced by my suddenly realizing this non-Italian name is related to vishnya (although the word is apparently Turkish). Good stuff, anyway, considerably better than Cherry Heering, which is the nearest commercial liquor to it.

Mr. Zenobi — I have a suspicion this should be Dr. — after being toasted on his name day, then turned to me and extemporized a simple verse couplet toasting me, to which I merely looked sheepish and mumbled something about feeling much honored; the proper reaction (and here even now I'm still regretting my then ignorance) would have been for me to do likewise — say something like

Invitato a Sua casa sono lieto di starlo —

Comunque, i miei migliori auguri Signor Carlo

which I could've come up with rather readily (Italian rhymes easily); Franco did it for me: but now I'm ready for this should it ever happen to me again. Mr. Zenobi, at 84, is in tiptop condition — sharp mind, firm physical condition, enjoys life thoroughly; and on this festal day the affection of a nice family much in evidence: predictably, I came away from this pleasant visit feeling somewhere between wistful and depressed and emulous although there's nothing one can do about it (and I've been drying up these last years at an alarming rate, turning into a Casaubon without the Casaubon. . .)

Before Franco hauled me off to some elusive bits of Flaminia, I was also toured thru the Zenobi's bedroom: medieval frescoes. . . well, no: posters plastered into the wall and very cleverly feathered and retouched, so that they look — one of them in particular, a Christ from Montefalco carrying a patibulum-type cross, even after I'd been told — quite genuine! Parting wishes and hit the road again, rather quickly for failing light: the quickest turnaround (we didn't even stop the car) at S. Angelo in Nece near Beroide, then a very straight road to S. Apollinare maybe a kilometer north of it, distances hard to gauge when driven but I think I have all the IGM maps at home: the latter church, the oldest in the comune di Trevi, has at least 3 Roman inscriptions embedded in the outside walls.

Final pit stop at Franco's office (always interesting to see the actual computer at the end of theº Internet connection: I took a picture to post in my office) where I looked at some of his road maps, then off to Spello — he insisted on driving me home — "via" bits of medieval aqueduct, actually E of town up on the hill and thus at first in quite the opposite direction: nothing like the Roman aqueducts I know, glad I saw it; home — Franco having devoted an entire day to squiring me around (even if, as he said and I had to agree, I'm surely one of the most interested visitors he's likely to have) — and to bed, no further meal: my goal of 76cm will nowhere near be met; interrupted by James's visit which I used as an excuse to eat very well indeed for three weeks, I'm now oscillating in the 79‑82cm range on waking up. . . No fooling Melvin, either: very few days where I did my exercises, even if now and then I do some pushups — feeling as a result not exactly flabby, but toneless.

Later Note:

a Yep; on a random pass thru the Internet a year later, I found that Mr. Zenobi also built sundials: a nice one on the terrace of his house was once showcased on the site of the Umbrian Astronomical Association, but the page has gone belly‑up, along with most of their site, now reduced to a blog.

b A total garble. Cedrina (the proper spelling) is an infusion of lemon verbena plant. Mariella Spellani, an expert in the making of such things, gave me the recipe for it (recipe in diary, Sept. 1, 2000) and this truly marvelous alcohol has become one of the staples of my household liquor cabinet in Chicago. Tip: it's also both impossible to find in the United States, and cheap and easy to make at home.

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