The scene: a portly, middle aged, American man is standing in front of a large block of marble in a dusty medieval workshop, dressed in khakis, a polo shirt, tennis shoes and baseball hat. The camera pans back to reveal a few younger men, dressed in renaissance striped leggings and funny hats, crowded around the older man as he places a chisel on the marble and draws back the hammer.
As the camera continues to pan back it is apparent that this is no ordinary piece of marble, but the nearly completed sculpture of David by Michelangelo. In the background a figure, likely that of the master himself, is also watching, along with his assistants. As the older American man commences chipping away at the statue one of the assistants asks, “did you study under our master Michelangelo?” Another asks, “you must have apprenticed with Donatello or Raffaelo?”
The American responds, “Actually I’ve never sculpted before. But I did spend the night at the Relais San Clemente.”
When you travel, especially abroad, for nearly three weeks, you really appreciate a good night’s sleep. The peace and solitude of the Relais San Clemente, a rural hotel and resort located about 20 minutes outside Perugia, is, as a doctor once told me, just what the doctor ordered. Since we had already spent several days in the historic center of Perugia on this trip, the Relais was a perfect antidote to city living, long drives, cramped rooms and crowds. The only regret we would have is that we won’t get to spend much time relaxing and enjoying the property itself.
We have a nice breakfast downstairs in the breakfast room and then back to the room to catch up on work, which has a way of piling up on you when you spend the majority of your day eating and driving. We work quickly and efficiently, however, as we are eagerly anticipating a lunch with our good friend Giuseppe Fioroni, the master painter and ceramicist from Perugia, as well as his significant other and Javier Casuso and his four children. We are given directions to the Ristorante Battibecco in nearby Corciano.
We arrive in Coriciano on time, as does Javier and his family, and Maestro Fioroni and Rita are already heading for the table marked “riservato – Fioroni.” Let the battle begin. Despite being master and student, Fioroni and Javier always seem to fighting to gain the upper hand. Round One goes to Javier, who manages to move the entire party to a table in the back room. We begin our leisurely lunch with the master and student arguing whether to order steak or veal, two kilos of steak or two and a half kilos, two types of pasta for sharing or three. Somehow the waiter is able to follow all the ordering, unordering and reordering and for the next several hours we laugh, talk and eat, not necessarily in that order.
Between courses the Casuso children head outdoors to the vast lawn that surrounds the restaurant and which is clearly visible through the floor to ceiling windows that enclose our dining room. They have brought only a soccer ball, which they use to showcase their considerable soccer skills, but also a baseball glove and baseball which we had given to them on an earlier trip. Unfortunately there is only one glove, which is a bit too small for Marcello and Carlos, the two older children, but they gamely try to master the art of catching a baseball while the other ones, whose skills at throwing the ball with considerable velocity has clearly outpaced the family’s ability to catch a ball, come perilously close to perfecting the beanball. After a while, Bill, who coaches Little League baseball in Washington can no longer stand being cut out of the action, and he heads outside for about 20 minutes, teaching the boys to catch and throw like pros. There is general agreement that a Perugia AAA team is not out of the realm of possibility.
Lunch is finally finished and we say goodbye to Fioroni and Rita and make plans to see them again before we leave. We are off to the hills high above Assisi to fly kites. As we drive past the basilica and past La Stalla we note that there is no wind. The trees are remarkable in their stillness. As we climb higher and higher up the mountain, however, the clouds settle in and we can’t see our hands in front of our faces. We park in a lot adjacent to a big field, assuming we are at the top of the mountain, and get out of the car and into wet, cold gale. We are in reality, in a cloudbank that has settled over the top of the mountain and it is most inhospitable. Fortunately, Javier has brought some extra hats so we bundle up and try to assemble the kites in this tempest.
At last we get the kites put together and Carlos begins to unroll the string. Up goes the first kite, pulling fiercely at the line and hovering only a few feet above the ground, the wind pushing it out, away from us, but not up. Carlos manipulates the line and it begins to climb, then dives toward the ground at an incredible rate, flying in huge circles at a frantic pace, completely out of control before crashing with incredible force into the ground. We repeat this process a half dozen times, each time with the same result, a crazy set of loops followed by a thunderous crash into the mountain. The other children help get the self destructive kite into the air and are rewarded for their efforts by being attacked by the demonic flying machine as its crazy gyrations end in kamakazie dives right at the children. At last Carlos discovers the right amount of tension to place on the string and the kite stabilizes as he pays out more string.
Then a pop and the kite disappears into the mist, Carlos’ string flapping in the wind having been no match for the gale force winds. The children disappear into the mist in search of the kite as Javier assembles the other kite, this one attached by a thick line resembling transatlantic cable. The whole loop the loop is repeated as the children emerge from the mist with the remains of kite #1. After a few trials, kite #2 is airborne and secured with its indestructible cable. Within a few seconds it is completely out of sight, somewhere in the stratosphere above us, but completely invisible in the clouds that enshroud us. What fun it is to fly a string, for we are all huddled around Carlos, shivering in the subzero temperatures (Celsius) looking up a at a piece of string as it disappears into the clouds. Perhaps passing aircraft can enjoy our kite, which has no doubt emerged from the cloud cover on the other side, but it is wasted on us.
In order to stave off frostbite we spool up the line and return the kites to the car and begin a very arduous drive down the other side of the mountain along a rough gravel road, the visibility about five feet and perilous drop offs on either side of the track. We finally make our way below the cloud cover, pass Assisi and make a brief stop at Collepino, a beautifully preserved and reconstructed small hilltown just above Spello. This is definitely a place to return to when the weather is warmer, especially the little trattoria we duck into during our walk, with a pretty veranda overlooking the valley below. We continue on to Spello and stop for a coffee and ice cream before heading back to the Relais San Clemente.
Our final adventure for the day is dinner at the Pizzeria Trilogy, literally a minute down the road from the Relais. We have dined here a number of times with the Casusos and it is the perfect pizzeria for a family outing, with large tables, a lot of noise and a big outdoor area for the kids to play in while waiting for their pizzas. And, by the way, the pizza here is fantastic. They have dozens of different types ranging from classic margarita pizza to exotic pizzas with truffle or pineapple. We’ve tried a bunch of them and have never been disappointed. And tonight is no exception. We enjoy our pizzas and talk about soccer, politics and business. It is a school night so we call it early, saying our goodbyes to the Casuso children and heading back to the Relais San Clemente for another wonderful night of sleep. Holiday Inn Express never had it so good.