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Report 236: Our Italian Sabbatical

By Trishmael from Louisiana, Fall 2003

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Page 9 of 10: Orvieto: ST lunch

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Gary, Cheryl, Art & Barb at the Orvieto GTG

We arrived in Orvieto two hours early for a ST GTG lunch organized by Cheryl Alexander. By now since we'd used Orvieto station several times we had become expert at navigating the funicular and bus from the station into town. This time, however, I wanted to check our bags.

We seemed to have acquired 2 additional ones (a small daypack cradling 2 bottles of Brunello, padded by dirty laundry, and another with the balsamic vinegar Gary insisted on buying, and assorted souvenirs & gifts). That put our total at 5 bags, which was consternating, since we'd packed so light and well and then had blown it by acquiring things. Heavy, sloshy things.

Unfortunately, the baggage check in Orvieto station was closed--it looked as if it had been for some time. I wondered if this was the case in other places and that perhaps it had something to do with the increased fear of terrorism? I'd like to know for the future, since we've found that checking the big bag and carrying a day pack is a good way to travel when you're relying on trains and buses. We did this last trip when we spent a week in Corniglia in the Cinque Terre and just hauled our necessities up the hill with us, leaving the rest in Monterosso until we were leaving the area.

So we were stuck with our luggage, which also meant only one of us could go into the cathedral as planned to see the Signorelli frescoes before lunch. By then Gary was feeling a little over-cathedraled, so I got to go. I spent a lovely hour with them and the relic of the bleeding host while Gary sat luggage- and people-watching in the piazza.

A note about the duomo in Orvieto, and our church-going in general this trip: back when we were in Proceno, Pucci had taken us to Orvieto one day. As we arrived, a confirmation service complete with bishop was beginning in the duomo. Families were gathered and the church was crowded, and the frescoes weren't on view due to the service. We stood close to the transept watching the service, and then Gary and I went to light a candle for our friend back home, a devout Catholic and dear, sweet fellow, who was dying. We lit a candle for him in every single church we toured this trip. The funny thing was, we never talked about who the candle was for, we just did this, and it became our ritual to stand and watch it burn for several minutes thinking of and praying for Paul and his partner. Anyway, on the day of the confirmation in Orvieto, as we lit our candle the choir began to sing, and both of us were completely overcome with emotion. The Orvieto duomo seemed to answer our prayers.

Back outside, I run to a public phone to call Rome and confirm our scheduled time to arrive at our rental. Then back out into the piazza, and it's time to meet Cheryl and whoever else is coming. We have arranged to meet in front of the cathedral. After a few minutes, I see a trio on the steps looking around hopefully, and we successfully connect with Cheryl, Barb, and Art. Barb and Art are sort of legends in their own time to me, having pulled up stakes and moved to Italy from Kentucky, and Barb's blog has become some of my favorite ST reading. Cheryl is building a house near Bagnoregio, and I have an ulterior motive in dragging Gary to lunch with these kind folks (Gary, the complete luddite, thinks that people one meets via the Internet aren't quite real. I'm happy to report he changed his mind after this GTG). My ulterior motive is to put a toe into the water of our fantasy of one day moving to Italy ourselves, perhaps to retire there--which is a long way off--or more likely, to establish some sort of regular home base for summering there. I was looking forward to meeting folks who have taken the plunge. I know it must be hard work, and I admire these folks and am inspired by their stories.

We are joined in a minute or two by Cheryl's friend Carlo and his sweet son Manuelo, and off we go to lunch, Gary and I bringing up the rear with our mess of luggage. We get a little lost in the twisty streets looking for a certain restaurant, but we find it eventually, and settle down to lunch. I like our new friends so much. Barb and Art have stories of their recent car accident. I notice that no matter how hard things are for them as they face the challenges of fixing up their house and becoming ex-pats, they have an abundant and palpable warmth and sense of humor. Cheryl impresses me likewise with her grace and candor. Carlo and Gary seem to hit it off, and we discover that Carlo has a penchant for Frank Zappa, which makes me embarrass myself by trying to sing the song about the dental floss ranch. After our lunch, Carlo kindly offers to drive us down the hill to the train station. We have a quick coffee and then say goodbye and head for the platform. Oh dear, the train is late. And they keep changing the posting. It gets later, and later, and later. Another IC train that is supposed to be later than ours is now ahead of it, and at some point one of the train numbers disappears. We decide to take the first train that comes for Rome, no matter what kind, and eventually, we do just that.

It is raining and dark as we pull into Rome several hours late, and we have to try several phones before I find one that works with my card. We call the apartment as prearranged, and the voice on the other end is Maria who will let us in--later we discover she also cleans the flat--and she has no English and talks so rapidly and in a dialect I can't follow that I just keep saying, "Ritardo! Mi dispiace! Non parla..." whereupon she interrupts and talks a mile a minute and I realize the best thing is just to high-tail it over there. We get lost looking for a cab but finally emerge at the cabstand and ride open-mouthed through Rome in the rain to Trastevere, 217 years to the day after Goethe's arrival on All Saint's Day.

Photo 2: Cheryl, Art, Barb, Carlo, & Manuelo

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