I left Rome that morning, June 5, 2012, took a train to Florence, and then rented a car for the last few days of my Italian adventure. I’d be spending much of the rest of my trip in the Umbrian hill town of Assisi, but along the way, I had a couple stops to make.
I debated about which smaller hill town I wanted to see along the route, knowing I didn’t have time for more than one. In the end, I went with Cortona, of Under the Tuscan Sun fame. I guess more people know the film, but I hadn’t even seen it at the time, but was familiar with Cortona through the book (which is far superior to the movie). It’s American author Frances Mayes’ memoir about moving with her husband to this lovely town in Tuscany; buying a big, old, dilapidated villa; and restoring it to live there. (I have since seen the film and know that the story was turned into a totally inaccurate romantic comedy about a recently divorced woman who finds love (and a big, old, dilapidated villa to restore) under the Tuscan sun. But with beautiful, authentic scenery, since it really was filmed there. And, in fact, the town is charming. I did not seek out Mayes’s home, Bramasole, because it seemed rude to show up there, though now I kind of wish I had. Despite that omission, I loved Cortona and can completely understand her compulsion to buy herself a little piece of it and become part of village life there.
My other stop was a little stranger and little more personal. All my life, I’d heard of the factory between Perugia and Assisi with my name, PETRINI, in big red letters across the top. The Petrini company makes grain products, including pasta. So, yes, my family does own a pasta factory in Umbria. The locals must have wondered why in the world this crazy person had stopped by the side of the road to take photos of a factory. But how could I resist?
Then it was on to Santa Maria degli Angeli, just outside of the hill town of Assisi, and to Assisi itself. I have written elsewhere about my father’s paternal grandparents coming from Assisi, so I won’t go into my family history here. But I will say that Assisi is breathtakingly beautiful, one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever seen, and is in one of the most beautiful natural settings I’ve ever seen. So much of the Medieval village Saint Francis knew is still there. If he came back to life today, he would recognize it. Of course, this being Italy, some remains from Roman times are still visible as well, along with some newer architecture, too. (In Italy, the Renaissance is “newer.”) But the Medieval atmosphere infuses it all.