The Tiber’s olive waters curve past
Umbertide or, rather, the town curves
to the river in this limpid valley
alive with oak trees, willows, poplars
and millennia of settlements,
monuments – Etruscan, Roman, Lombard.
To impede the German’s retreat northwards,
the Allies bombed the bridge across the river
successfully and, collaterally,
razed a block of tall, narrow houses –
and many of their inhabitants.
The house numbers are brass inlaid in the setts
of what is now a car park in this
medieval town with its Via Papa
Giovanni XXIII, its Via
Kennedy, its Piazza Carlo Marx.
The Eighth Army built a bailey bridge
on the ancient arches – which was still there
when we performed Shakespeare, in English,
at the theatre. Unused and derelict
because of the war, the baroque theatre
was renovated by an alliance
of Communists and Christian Democrats,
I Riuniti. It had been a gift
from the town’s most famous son, Domenico
Bruni, a castrato, emasculated
for the usual reasons – poverty, greed.
A celebrity acclaimed and enriched,
he sang in Rome, Naples, Milan, London
and St Petersburg for Catherine the Great.
He might have stood by the deep canal
that channels the winter torrents through the town
from the mountains into the Tiber.
Our play was The Comedy of Errors,
in which one of the lads from Syracuse says,
‘He that commends me to mine own content
Commends me to the thing I cannot get.’