Italy 2012 – Umbria 1

Sunday 10th June 2012

Attack ALL the garden chairs Whut?

I thought I’d take it easy, easy like a Sunday morning. It was sunny, and pleasantly warm; quite a lot cooler than baking Pisa had been. I made friends with one of the two little cats I’d been introduced to the night before (although I couldn’t remember if this was Maurizio or Giovanni who had turned up — Mo or Jo). I’d brought three, yes three pairs of cheap sunglasses, because I always scratch them. I had the idea of sacrificing one pair in order to repair my prescription driving glasses — yes, I had found the errant lens in the bottom of the suitcase. But I’d need a tiny jeweller’s screwdriver, and I had no idea where to find a tiny jeweller on a Sunday. Then I remembered, my Leatherman tool had a very fine-guage screwdriver, and it fitted perfectly. I stole a screw from the cheap sunglasses, causing a leg to fall off, and put it into the driving glasses. A total success.

And that was about it for my day. I made my own dinner and drank a bottle of chianti and went to bed.

Monday 11th June 2012

Spoleto Spoleto Monday dawned dark and stormy. Mid-morning, it even rained. With the afternoon looking better, I decided to drive to Spoleto and get reacquainted, it having been three years since I’d been there. I’ve always been ambivalent about Spoleto. It’s picturesque and there’s lots to see and do, but for some reason I’ve rarely warmed to it, really. It’s very hilly, for one thing, which means strenuous climbs to see those things worth seeing.

Or at least, that was always the case previously, but thanks now to the wonder of the age, the scala mobile, or escalator system, you can be whisked up from the base of the town to the castle that sits at the peak.

Actually, the first time, I made my way “manually” to the top, having seen no sign of promised escalator. I went round to the amazing Ponte dei Torri and went the minimum respectable distance of half-way across. There’s nothing much on the far side, and, anyway, I’m nervous with heights.

Spoleto Spoleto Spoleto

After winding my way back to the valley bottom, I made a more concerted effort to find the escalators, and located the bottom end in a part of town I had never visited before. There are about eight escalator segments, and I was surprised that at none of the landings is there access out of the system into the town. No, you have to go right to the top.

So I did that, and then followed the winding route back down a second time, before collecting the car and driving to the big supermarket to stock up on more food. By the time I got back to the apartment, it was eight o’clock, a good time to start making dinner.

Tuesday 12th June 2012

I was making a conscious effort to take time to smell the roses, rather than rushing off in all directions. Every year, I try. Some times more successfully than others. I stayed at home all day, with the farthest departure just a few hundred metres up the road to the signpost for ‘Milano’. I didn’t see anyone, so I can’t comment on this year’s fashions.

The weather had definitely turned, making the walk quite strenous in the baking heat.

Wednesday 13th June 2012

I hit the road for Assisi — not really very far away — and arrived by about ten thirty. I didn’t have any particular agenda, just a desire to see the old place again. I did go into the basilica, all three levels, with St Francis at the bottom. Somehow, it seemed significant that there was a Dominican brother sitting next to his tomb, collecting “offerings”. Not Franciscan, with their oath of poverty. (Although for a couple of hundred years after the death of Francis, the Church frequently strove to re-educate monks who insisted that the oath was to be taken literally. Sometimes this re-education was so strict that it involved burning the monks at the stake, presumably to make them see the error of their ways.)

Assisi Assisi Assisi

It had become rather hot, but I carried on with my final plan, which was to see San Damiano, where Francis had his revelation. On a previous visit to Assisi, I had ditched that target at the last minute because I’d been wearing new shoes and my feet ached. This time, I discovered how good a decision I’d made, because the way down is steep with little shade, making the way back up…

My favourite part of San Damiano was the little cloister, full of flowers.

Assisi

When I climbed back up, I didn’t go back into Assisi, but got in the car and headed on over to Spello, city of flowers. Actually, the day after I had arrived in Umbria was the town’s beautiful and famous “Infiorata” or flower-petal ceremonies. I’d have liked to see it, but I was tired from the day before.

There were some faint traces still left, where large artworks had been made in the streets. But, anyway, the main point was just to enjoy Spello. The polygonal towers at the Porta Venere had been wrapped up in scaffolding on my last visit, and although work was continuing, the towers were exposed, pink and clean. Maybe over-restored, but maybe a bit of weather will tone them down.

Spello Spello

After Spello, I drove to the Fonti del Clitunno, taking the minor roads, not the SS3 Autostrada. The weather had been very hot, making the cool shade beneath the trees next to the water even more pleasant. I just like the place. It’s peaceful and somehow primeval, with the water bubbling out of springs in the embankment which carries the old SS3, the Via Flaminia, the Roman road between Rome and Rimini, on the distant Adriatic coast. Incidentally, it was named after Flaminius, the general who was whupped by Hannibal and his boys (and one surviving elephant) at Trasimeno.

On the way back home, I took the route which led me past Castel San Giovanni, site of my first stay in Umbria, in 2006. The castle had been cleaned severely. The little apartment where I stayed, within the thickness of the castle walls, showed no sign of life.

Fonti del Clitunno Fonti del Clitunno

Thursday 14th June 2012

This time, indolence had a purpose. I was going to have an easy day and then drive to Bevagna (just 30km) for the opening ceremony of their Mercato delle Gaite, their two-week celebration of the town’s medieval history. The ceremony was scheduled to start at nine, and even being well aware of Italian punctuality, I was seated in one of the temporary grandstand seats in the central piazza shortly after eight-thirty.

Things kicked off puctually on the dot of ten o’clock, but I ddn’t really mind the delay, having a place to sit and enjoy the mild evening.

Bevagna Bevagna

The ceremony basically consisted of the teams from the four competing town quarters arriving in full costume, being blessed by a (presumably fake) bishop, and sitting down to hear some brief speechifying.

Then there was entertainment with stilt-walkers, clowns, fire-eaters and that kind of nonsense. I quite enjoyed it.

Bevagna Bevagna

By about twelve-thirty, it was all over, and I took to the car for the journey home. Since it was dark and I wanted to stick to main roads, I took the route through Foligno to get onto the autostrade south.

Towards the end of the journey, climbing up the hiils towards home, a big porcupine scurried across the road in my headlights. But he then found that the verge was too high to climb, trapping him at the roadside so that I could slow right down to have a look. The first wild one I’d seen.

Friday 15th June 2012

Another day of which there is little to report, apart from lazing around and ejoying the views, and the weather.

There was a hammock a little distance from the house, under the trees, with views down into the valley. I hadn’t tried it yet. I did. I fell out immediately. I tried again, more carefully, and succeeded in holding position. But it didn’t seem very relaxing, which I had thought was the objective of hammocks, because every small movement threatened to tip me out again. I gave up on it.

Some time later, I tried the other hammock in the garden, and to my suprise, found it needed no effort at all to stay in it, and it was indeed relaxing. The other one was defective, obviously.

Then it occurred to me that perhaps the architecture of the ropes at each end was the problem. I tried untieing and re-tieing a number of times, but couldn’t decide if I was making improvements, or just learning better hammock skills.

That evening, Michelle, Lewis and I went to the very large restaurant-pizzeria at Montemartano, just a kilometre down the road. A nice evening out.

Saturday 16th June

In the morning, I hiked down a pathway which adjoined the house for a little distance, perhaps a kilometre. The weather was very hot and it was steep. Going down was fairly easy, but I was conscious that I’d have to climb back up. There was a ruined casale, or farmhouse, which once would have been a very substantial building. Next to it was a square pond, maybe four metres on a side, still fed by a spring from the hill. But something was dead in it. The smell wasn’t unbearable, but pretty distictive. I moved on.

Montemartano Montemartano

Breaking out from tree cover, I entered an olive grove: regular rows of ancient, but obviously trimmed and well-tended trees cutting across the baked earth. At the other end there was another ruined farmhouse, giving a hint to the way the land would have been occupied and farmed in the past.

I climbed back up, sweating, and missed a turning in the path, because I came out at the road, a few hundred metres from home. Well, I squeezed out, actually, between two iron gates that were chained together, although not well. Back to the garden for some hammock work.

Montefalco In the later afternoon, I went to Montefalco, just for a walk around. But when I saw the town museum, I remembered reading that it was worth seeing. When I asked the receptionist how much the ticket cost, she said “only six euros”. Only. Actually, I found it interesting enough, and there was no-one else there, even staff.

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