Explorations From the Center of Italy*

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Lake Bolsena

 

One of our traveling companions, Paul, came down with a bad cold when we reached Narni and was out for most of the Narni count.  Good friends (and wife) that the rest of us are, we just abandoned him to his recovery and took off on several day trips during the first week in our place in Umbria; alternating days in the countryside with days in Narni.

First adventure:  Based on information in an e-newsletter that I receive, we decided to go to the town of Bolsena on the shores of Lake Bolsena for our first outing.  The newsletter told us that one can find “heavenly” gelato there at a gelateria just below the church of Saint Christina.  Apparently, the gelato makers have many awards for their production and great ice cream is as good a reason for visiting a place as any other.

We, of course, had no idea where the Church of Saint Christina might be located; so, we parked at the top of the town and walked down through typical, charming, winding,  ancient, little lanes, catching glimpses of the lake from various nooks and crannies.  With an unerring nose for food, we found the gelateria straightaway . . . or as straightaway as one can find anything in a town with no straight lines.  The darned place was closed!!  And not a regular closure either; just a hand lettered sign on the door saying that they were closed that morning.  Unfortunately, the afternoon hours didn’t begin until 4:30, which was many hours away.  A reason for another visit with another group of friends.

While in the area, however, we used another e-newsletter offering to lead us to the Ristorante Purgatorio several kilometers down the lake shore from Bolsena. There we had a lovely lunch that included one serving of roast coregone, a fish that comes out of the lake.  It was delicious to both the three people at our table and to the two kittens that were curled up on the fourth chair at our table.  I mean, how could we not share a flake or two of fish with those adorable faces?  We sat outside at the restaurant but when I ventured inside to find the facilities, I discovered a beautiful composition created by a set of stairs, the wall paint, and an interior table.  I think it is just as gorgeous as the paintings that were hung on the wall.

We got home around 4:30;  Paul was still sleeping.

Second adventure:  Our next away day had Todi as its major destination with a planned stop near Casalina (near Deruta) to visit the sanctuary of the Madonna of the Baths.  We were there four years ago with Dave and Claire and greatly enjoyed looking at all the ceramic ex votos.  It was just as interesting this time around; nothing new had been added, which I think is good news.

Instead of going to Todi, we changed plans and went to Perugia instead.  The siren call of visiting our butcher, Francesco, was just too strong to resist.  After completely circumnavigating the town, we, by pure happenstance, found ourselves exactly where we wanted to be re. parking.  Cindy was impressed; I was amazed; and, Michael was just relieved.

We strolled to Francesco’s shop, Michael poked his head in and greeted Francesco, and Francesco practically vaulted his counter to greet us with a face-splitting smile.  It was fabulous.  Uncle Sauro was summoned from his motor scooter repair shop next door and we had a very jolly visit.  As I said in my last post, sometimes you have friends you don’t see very often, who live far away, and who don’t speak your language, but are friends nonetheless.  Such is the case here.  What an incredible half an hour.  We parted with an exchange of phone numbers and promises to call before we leave Italy and with Sauro calling me a treasure.  It’s just so damned sweet I could weep.

We wandered through Perugia revisiting old haunts and eating at favorite places. It was a great day even if Todi remains unexplored.  Back home in the late afternoon;  Paul was upright.

Third adventure:  Our final away game with Cindy and Paul actually included Paul!  On Friday, the day before they had to leave, we headed over to Stroncone, a little medieval hill town across the valley from Narni.  Oh, my goodness.  It is incredible.  In and of itself it is incredible but that impression was made stronger for us because of a chance meeting.

We found ourselves in the city hall looking at reproductions of ancient music scores.  While we were looking at these poorly lit replicas, a gentleman walked into the chamber in which we were standing and indicated, in Italian, that he would get one of the original books for us to see!  This he quickly did and, after rubbing his hands on his pants, he carefully opened the huge book to a bookmarked page.  There on the parchment was a glorious illumination and a few lines of music.

Bruno, for that’s who the gentleman is, told us all sorts of things about these books (there are nine volumes), as well as about the chamber in which we found ourselves and the various inscriptions on its walls.  It is where the city council has met from times way back.  We also found out that Bruno is a city counsellor and that he, almost literally, has the keys to the city.  He retrieved one of those keys and took us out and about and through the door that the key opened and into an artist’s studio that used to be a hospital way way back as well as the Church of Gonfolone.  We learned about the wars between the city states of Narni and Stroncone (I think in the 1200s) and how very important Stroncone is on the via San Francesco.  All of this in Italian . . . very slow Italian, but Italian nonetheless.  Bruno gave me his telephone number and said to call him if we wanted to take an easy walk on 2 or 3 kilometers on the San Francesco way.  I think I will call.

*Narni and the semi-neighboring town of Rieti both claim to be the geographic center of Italy.  Whoop di do!!

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