We’ve been hiding out in Le Marche region for a few days. They don’t do internet here. What they do do, however, is hill towns and winding roads, precipitous drop on one side and verdant green all around.
We have been staying at a farm stay called Fosso del Lupo, which we think means the way of the wolf, or wolf ditch. We’ll check later. But for now, the fields are glinting in late evening sunlight after a day of thunder and rain. The dark clouds are still sailing around like battleships over impossibly rolling green hills.
I’m having a belated lesson in art history. All those times I looked at the landscape in the background of renaissance paintings, all curvy pudding-basin hills, sfumato and misty receding distances, and I said to myself, landscape doesn’t look like that. It’s schematic. Well. I was wrong. It does look like that around here. Lesson one: don’t make assumptions about the domelike hills and cheesecake rocks; they might exist:
Today we saw an altarpiece by Bellini, and some wonderful still life allegories, amongst other things. We were trying to get to Urbino (I am going to write a movie called Trying to Get to Urbino: Part one, 1999; the broken arm. Part two, yesterday; the migraine headache. Part three, today; the Giro d’Italia (just like the Tour de France, only in pink).
We have been assured that the Ducal Palace, home of Piero della Francesca’s Flagellation of Christ and the incredible study of Duke Federico da Montefeltro, will be open at 8:30 tomorrow morning. We will head off, but whether we get there remains to be seen. I will skip over yesterday. Today’s attempt was a disaster in pink – or a word I learned from our farmstay host this evening – ‘e bruto’. Brrruto! Most of the roads were closed, or blocked off with trucks and men moving barriers, minding that these are tiny windy country mountain roads of course, and all of this is in torrential pouring rain. With Urbino’s parking lot closed for the use of the media, and hilltop fortresses being notable for their lack of parking, we tried to escape, heading for the coast, only to find that we were trapped on an endless hilltop ridgeway route with no turnoffs and precisely the road that the bicycles were going to zizz through, therefore a melee of setting up vans and fans.
Let’s skip the swearing and the waving of the map, fast-forward an hour ahead, and pop! - we emerged from the clouds and the rain to find ourselves at Pesaro, a rather unattractively-rimmed old town; medieval centre; industrial wasteland; seaside tatters.
The best of the day was restored, however, after a vague memory “I think there’s a Bellini here” from me, and damn fine finding of both the city centre and a free parking space by James (it’s like Lucca used to be he said…). We stashed our little Fiat and walked under the old gate into the city, heading for the older smaller streets, where it somehow seemed so much better after a coffee and two chocolate pastries, they called them brioches, but I’d have called them filled croissants of a sort. Mmmm anyway, I do not argue when my equilibrium is being restored.
Pesaro turned out to be okay: the Bellini was a lovely piece, in an interesting museum, with Rossini’s collection (he of opera fame and the local son-made-good), and some fabulous Deruta ware majolica. And a rather – er – interesting ceramic figure of Salome. Leave it out, dear.
This afternoon, well, that was for singing your favourite opera aria while pootling about the countryside. We hit the road south to avoid the Giro, and went inland along the road which was once called the Flamian way, heading, you guessed it, for Rome. Not that we went there; the road did. On either side, hills rise abruptly from the broad edges of the river valley, and there are fortresses and imperial villa ruins to be seen perched on the tops. We took our weary souls and our picnic lunch to Montefalcino, a tiny little two-minute-lap-around hilltop fortress of a city block, inhabited by old ladies and one man making sandals on the city walls. He’d wheeled his jigsaw cutter out into the street (such as it is), and was using the battlement as his workbench – too bad if you drop your awl, that’s 50 feet down, and all the way around to the steps to go down and get it!
More bumbling through endlessly green hills and ways, past little top-perched stone towns, down across streams and even, oh the cliché, through a flock of sheep. Or rather, we stopped and they ran around us like a stream of water, the old man in the apé in front, waving his arm at us, lentamente, lentamente, and the two young kids running along behind.
It’s good to have grandsons when you also have sheep.
Home, to our little flat at the farm, where the thunder roars and the farm dog insisted on coming in to lie under the table and fall asleep with his head on my feet. Both he and James snored for a while. Then the cat came in to see what was going, too, and curled up on the dog.
It’s been a good day, despite the thunder on the hills.