We have a saying in English, “a change is as good as a rest”, and recently we have been spending time exploring places further afield from our beloved Badia Tedalda. It has not been particularly restful, as we seem to have crammed in an awful lot of experiences in a shorter time this year. But it has certainly been extremely stimulating.
As everyone knows, Badia Tedalda is close to the borders of other regions, including Romagna, Umbria and Le Marche, so I hope you will forgive us travelling outside our usual boundaries. We have been spreading our wings. Actually, rather than the image of a bird, we are usually more like tortoises, occasionally sticking our heads out of our shells, preferring to stay local and walk the beautiful mountains round us. A few days ago, we walked in the Alpe della Luna on the ‘other side’, approached from Sansepolcro. But we do frequently get told off by our local friends for hiding away. “Fatevi vivi,” they often say. “Don’t be strangers”.
Because of the “C” word, we have neglected many friends and so we set out to kill two birds with one stone. Over the last couple of weeks, we have renewed acquaintances and visited some beautiful places.
Maurice’s mother was born in Urbino and after visiting his cousins there, we met a history professor from the university. Professor Ermanno Torrico’s specialism is twentieth century history. He remembers Maurice’s nonno, Luigi Micheli, registrar in the town hall of Urbino. A staunch socialist, during the Second World War, he helped partisans and also saved the lives of many Jews. Maurice has several documents kept by his grandfather and the professor was keen to study them. This led us to invite him to Badia and introduce him to the little museum down the road in Casteldelci, which has also recently incorporated a special exhibition commemorating the awful events in Fragheto. If you have never been there, you must. It is so important to preserve these memories of the past, so that dreadful atrocities such as happened at Fragheto on April 7th 1944, never happen again. The museum is principally didactic, laid out in an unusual, moving way: everyday objects, such as old-fashioned coffee pots, hold recordings of the elderly remembering this tragic event. Each time I go there, I am moved to tears. There is a letter from the village schoolmaster, written to a German soldier, asking him how he could face himself after shooting children in cold blood. The museum is open on request and they have a Facebook page (Casa Museo di Casteldelci | Facebook). I urge you to visit.
Days earlier, we had to visit the Questura in Arezzo for documents and whilst over there, we drove to Civitella in Val di Chiana, unfortunately another massacre scene of World War Two. We also stumbled across a grand house in a neighbouring hamlet. Villa Oliveti was used as a camp for Jews during the war and, once again, I was struck by the contrast between the stunning autumn landscape and tragic memories from the past. Incomprehensible to us nowadays but important to remember so that history does not repeat itself in our troubled world. Some of my books are set during this period and I carry out extensive research. Hence the interest. Please don’t feel I am obsessed with massacres…
So on to lighter matters. Have you ever visited the ancient castle in San Giustino? Down the road from Sansepolcro? We spied a poster for a Sunday concert of Mozart to be performed there. (Suoni di Boschi e d’Abbazie, by the Umbria Ensemble). The Belle Arti now run this fascinating building and we were able to tour some of the opulent rooms, mostly furnished in eighteenth century style. Castello Bufalini is not open every day. You need to phone for details. Apparently, the garden is particularly splendid in May, with its fragrant, old-fashioned roses. So we shall return.
On an even lighter note, we were able to help out one of our grandsons with his homework in October when he was on holiday with us. A little way up the road in the bijou Antiquarium Nazionale di Sestino, eight-year-old Luca was able to add to his school project on the Romans. Do you know what this item is that he was shown? And have you visited this incredible museum in our midst? Answer at the end of this article!
We had another friend to meet in Umbertide, so an afternoon in Gubbio was slotted in beforehand. The ducal palace had an exhibition of the fifteenth century artist, Ottaviano Nelli. I love this period of art and especially illustrations of the Virgin Mary. It is fascinating to see how She is portrayed by various artists: the exquisite details of robes and cloaks, landscapes in the far background so like the countryside we love, the hair styles, plump, solemn babies, expressions on the Madonna’s faces already melancholy, a portent of what was to come. We’re not students of art, but we know what we like. The following photos are by different artists, seen in various places.
And finally, Siena called. As this is farthest away from Badia, we stayed overnight in order to meet up with two different groups of friends and after the chatter, Maurice and I explored the city on our own. Being November, it was not crowded. It was also pouring with rain but that did not put us off. We bought a Complesso Monumentale, an inclusive ticket that enabled us to visit the stunning cathedral, Baptistery, Museo panorama, the Piccolomini library, the crypt and San Bernardino’s oratory (the latter closed). My husband remarked in the cathedral, “Just think how many poor could have been fed instead of spending all the money on this…” But we all know that is only part of a discussion. We are so lucky to have these treasures. Giorgio Vasari described this masterpiece and its contents as “il piu’ bello…, grande e magnifico… che mai fusse stato fatto...” I gazed later in the museo at the magnificent 13th century stained-glass roundel by Duccio di Buoninsegna – one of the most important examples in the whole of Italy. It was removed for safe keeping during World War Two, for safekeeping from bombardments. Thank Heavens! We need art and beauty in our lives. One of the highlights for me was the marble inlaid floor. I cannot even cut a carrot properly, so the stone artistry is mind boggling… I spied the marble inlay for the region of Arezzo, which reminded me we were not far from home!
Footsore, we are now home, our senses brimming with everything we have seen during our shorter stay in your amazing country. Usually, we drive back to England with clinking jars in the boot of our car filled with bottled produce from our orto, but there was no time to garden this year as we only arrived in August. Instead, we have bottled memories and images of Madonnas, monuments and fiery autumn landscapes stored in our heads. That will keep us going throughout the winter.
Let’s hope this epidemic will allow us to return with the swallows next year and we shall have more time to spend with our friends locally too. A presto, amici!
- Risposta: Glilarium – a terracotta container used for keeping edible dormice, considered a delicacy during the Roman Empire (and illegal even back then).
Il testo tradotto è disponibile nella versione cartacea di Luna Nuova (Anno III, N. 3 INVERNO/PRIMAVERA 2022)