• James Eric Fristad

Adoptive Townie Words

Updated: Oct 20

I kept debating all day, whether or not I would try again to visit the Etruscan Necropolis (a once-civilized, highly organized cemetery-city) near here. To actually show my Orvieto Carta Unica pass and walk through that unlocked gate.... You see, it's nearly two miles' walk to get there, more or less un-evenly downhill, and another 20 miles to return (all uphill). Same path, but you know. And while that inner argument was raging, I went to church. To two churches, actually. And in the process ran out of time for visiting anybody's burial sites.


First choice after yesterday's wonderful walk through the Duomo here, was the Chiesa di San Giovenale. [Apparently nobody is absolutely certain who this historical person was, nor when he lived, nor where nor, I guess, exactly why he was canonized.] Never mind, it is a sweet Romanesque-architecture building located five or so minutes walk from here. Closed yesterday, but that was Lunedi (or Monday for those of us whose planet-circling orb is called "Moon") when everybody local takes care of personal business week by week. So Eric trudged over there and tried the door. Still shut tight.


Sad, I walked across the stone-paved piazza and sat on the low wall, right on the edge as it happens of a 50 or so foot precipice. But what a view. Tried out the time-lapse feature on my little GoPro camera (it worked, sped up the low clouds drifting across the surrounding valley). Magical. A police car pulled up and parked in the middle of the courtyard. Hmm, ominous? Nobody else in sight. I walked around to the passenger side (two cops inside). Smiling. Asked when the church might open. The woman replied, "Oh, it's open now; you enter on the side." Her surly partner continued to growl into his telefonino. And yes, the door was wide open.


I have a Great Courses DVD on cathedrals, taught by a William Cook, PhD (smart guy although with an aggravating voice) which, happily, I had revisited before leaving home on this trip. And the best advice he gave, which I shall pass along here: "Take time just to be there. Wander around, get different views, let yourself see what the place has for you." Or words to that effect. On an earlier visit to this little city, that apartment hostess had worked at restoring the frescoes in this edifice. You know, the hyper-patient craftsperson working tirelessly with a tiny brush and a very sharp small knife and some solvent and vast stores of time. And I wanted to honor her effort by spending time once more, with those Biblical and medieval-legend figures. The stylized people on the walls---and when those flat spaces ran out, on several columns. "Oh, it's life-size Bishop Giuseppe of Bolsena! Buongiorno, com' estai." A made-up name for the life sized, stern visage on one of the hefty pillars lining the nave. A detail that I must convey. After several minutes in walked my helpful cop who genuflected and went to the tiny side chapel to pray briefly. You have to love that middle-of-workday commitment.


Then my short walk back home and on into the center of town.


Spreading its rounded steps out onto the Peoples' Plaza, was the church of San Andrea with its surprising 12-sided bell tower. I wonder about that: why such a design decision? Dunno. But the thing is, at least one level below the nave of that building, there is an ongoing archaeological dig that I wanted to examine. Evidently these are structural remains of Etruscan predecessors, likely a temple from several hundreds of years B.C. Alas, the wrought-iron-bars gate to the tunnel was padlocked, with a sign warning Italian and English speakers, both, that they must show their proof of vaccination against Covid-19, if they wish to pass. But it was, as I say, tightly locked. I hoped the person in charge had taken his own advice.


And then back to a wine bar I had passed on the Avenue of the Cathedral (Via del Duomo) many times. A great location, with a few tall tables indoors and more ordinary, short ones along the wall across the little cobblestone street. Foot traffic and an occasional delivery van between you and your waitress. Love it. Shade structures overhead, tiny tables for two. Sigh, okay, let's taste four reds: a selection of intriguing liquids to combat loneliness, right? Along came a middle-aged couple, speaking some dialect of English, and ordered charcuterie boards and I think beer. Sat down and once they discovered I was non-Italiano, moved to the table next to mine. Oh, the bliss of conversing without pawing through the dozen words you have managed to retain in your Italian vocabulary.


Shoving stuff into suitcase this evening, and trying to assemble leftovers into some sort of palatable repast. Tomorrow, it's a three-trains journey to Sestri Levante. Six days by the sea.

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