Sunday, September 26, 2004

Bello Spello

Last Sunday was a travel day, as Antonello and I headed into Umbria to visit the medieval hill town of Spello, about 5 miles away from Assisi. We both had never been, but I remember driving by it on a bus filled with Americans two years back (when I was working for AHA), and asking my boss Filiberto, "what's Spello like?"

His response was: "It's an interesting town."

We arrived in interesting Spello at noon on the dot, just in time to hear the melody of church bells sound as we parked the car outside of the city walls. Intermixing with the chiming of the bells was the smell of food cooking on the grill, and somehow these things together made me feel as if we were transported back to medieval times--the bells ringing their ancient tune while the townspeople cooked food outdoors, preparing for a typical festival Sunday.The outline of Spello's churches and towers was perfect in the background.

Almost immediately upon entering the city walls, Antonello and I encountered our first major obstacle of the day. My sandal broke. Somehow I slid on the smooth cobblestone rocks and, while I was moaning over the new pain in my ankle, I noticed the strap on my sandal was no longer ON my sandal. My shoe had broken so badly that it was impossible to walk normally in it: the only walking I could do was a sort of sliding along the street, which Antonello didn't really approve of.

So we spent the next half an hour going from shop to shop, asking for super glue. We went to a ceramics shop, a perfume store, a furniture place: no one had glue. Well, that's not true. People HAD glue. But my husband, being a shoemaker, is very particular about what kind of glue will work, what will ruin the leather, what kind of chemical reaction this glue will have with that shoe sole, etc., so the glue that people had wasn't good enough for my shoe, and we continued up the medieval hill, me sliding along pathetically, stopping at every shop to ask for the right kind of glue.

However, the nice thing about getting to slide slowly up a hill is that you can take in the town on the way. While Antonello was frantically trying to find glue to fix my shoe before the shops closed for lunch, I had the time to notice something particular about Spello. It was a very charming town.

So, just as I was marveling over the little alleyways with lanterns hanging overhead and the pretty arched windows with wooden grey shutters, Antonello came over and said (with agitation mounting in his voice), "The stores are about to close. Let's go buy a pair of sandals out of town." Apparently, one shop where he had stopped to ask about glue had told him that we could buy a new pair of sandals at the super grocery store that was about five minutes driving outside of the city walls (yes, but can you find super GLUE at the super grocery store?). So we were off, and I had to leave the beauty of Spello behind for the moment and slide my way out of the city walls, back to the car.

But we weren't gone long. The store was closed, and after about fifteen minutes of driving here and there, looking for open stores (it was a Sunday, so finding open stores outside of town wasn't very likely), I finally convinced Antonello that my stomach was growling for lunch, and it was time to head back to interesting Spello to at least get something to eat. We tied a shoe string around my foot to hold the sandal on for now, and hobbled into the main piazza in time for lunch.

Wandering through Spello that afternoon with two good feet (after lunch we stopped and bought a pair of navy blue flip flops to replace my ruined sandal), we spent our time following back alleyways that led underneath medieval arches and down cobblestone pathways lined by crumbling walls. It could have been your typical medieval Umbrian town--it seems you find these places everywhere in Central Italy, and they have begun to lose their novelty--but it was somehow more enchanting. For one thing, tourists weren't rounding every corner, and the people that we did see were the locals, leaning out their windows as we passed underneath, or glancing at us from a front stoop. It was a normal Sunday afternoon, and mothers called to their children to come in for lunch.

I must say lately I've lost faith in Umbria, or at least lost interest to a certain extent. After finally visiting Orvieto in June, I started to feel like "that's it. I've seen everything in Umbria," and I began to turn my interests in other directions--up toward Liguria, down to Abruzzo, even westward to Tuscany. But I wanted to visit Spello because it was a day trip, and Antonello and I were in the mood to travel. So we both went there, neither of us expecting anything exceptional.

But Spello was exceptional. It has wide, tower gates to invite you in, and its labyrinth of alleyways is unusually dense, leaving little room to move from one winding lane to the next, but each lane ends up being packed with medieval charm. While my flip flops didn't prepare me very well for the smooth descents of Spello's various scalette (these little ancient stairways were everywhere), it didn't matter. We ran into the tiniest piazzas and tumbled across vast views of the surrounding hills--even Assisi was clearly visible from its post just a few miles away. Churches were beautiful and strange--stuccoed altarpieces and floating houses of Mary intermixed with an intensely rescoed 16th century chapel painted by Pinturrichio, hidden behind glass walls.

We left Spello that evening with new shoes, a bagful of gifts, and me with a more hopeful outllook on what else was waiting to be found in this wonderfully central region of Umbria. More hill towns like this one? More blue flip flops and super glue? Yes, Spello had definitely been an interesting town, and we had had an unusually interesting time.

The sky turned purple with sunset as we drove home.


P.S. Check out these photos that I posted on LTH's travelblog to get a little glimpse of Spello.

ALSO...sorry I have been so bad about posting lately. I will try to do a better job.


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