Wednesday, July 27, 2016

On St Frances, Monty Python, Laughing and Crying on the Way from Trevi to Arrone to Castiglione

Each day the trail offers surprises and challenges, laughter and angst, tears and hopes. Although the girls are pretty much atheists, we still say the prayer to St. Frances as we walk.
... make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

... grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
However one wants to interpret the idea of god, the words and aspirations feel valid to me. Walking is like cleansing. We channel feelings, look out at the world. Walking out of Trevi, we all felt good. The countryside was all around us. Morning due in the midst. Its fantastic to walk these first few hours of the day, before the ancient Roman heat creeps its way into the day.
“The camera can’t capture how beautiful it is,” I explain to Caroline.
She agrees. We’ve walked 27 miles since Assisi, 81 in Italy so far. We have another 18 k to walk to Spoletto. Everyone is tired. But we feel good. We say a little prayer for the day.
I think of my friend kate who killed herself. She always used to reply to our travel posts.
“I wish she had gone for such a hike,” Caroline laments.
I agree, do does her girlfriend kate, chatting on the phone.
Of all the saints and we’ve met a lot along this journey, St Frances seems like the coolest, love of people of nature, of being in the world, not outside of it, of consoling, not asking to be consoled, it’s a powerful set of messages.
“The more I see of the saints, the more I think they like to worship crazies,” elaborates Caroline, sounding more like her usual self. “Pool Mary, probably some high school kid who got knocked up. And then they start calling her a hero. Its like the Life of Brian. He has no shoe. We should all walk with no shoes.”
“He not a messiah he's a very naughty boy,” retorts number two.
We laugh and continue walking along the greenway on our way to Spoletto. We’ll walk this bike path for something like five hours, passing a number of waterless creeks and bridges.
I am thinking of Prospero and the Tempest, wondering what he must have thought on his exile from Italy. He found magic out there.
I look at the empty creek again.
“They always give me an apocalyptic feeling,” lamented Caroline. She’s listening to a podcast about the Russian Front of World War II.
“Whatever pain I have is nothing compared to that,” she groans, listening to the cruelties of Stalin and Hitler, who seemed to fail to learn Napoleon’s lessons.
“They walked with legs frozen like stumps…. Seven out of eight German casualties took place on that front.” Etc, etc. etc.
After some fifteen k of walking past our usual 1 PM exhaustion when we’d rather be in a cool room or pool somewhere, we wandered into Chateau de Pep, a delightful country restaurant off the trail.
“Should I see if its open?”
So we wander in. Some guys are finishing a bottle of wine to the left and the manager is training his daughter to run the place. Seeing our state, they bring us water and beer and wine and cheese immediately. The place is covered with old Italian movie posters, bottles of wine, etc. It’s the best meal we’ve had in Italy.
After dinner, the chef comes our with a beer and talks with us.
That’s from an American in Rome,” he laughs when I ask him about a photo of a man whose eaten a huge plate of spaghetti.
Lamenting we have a few more k to walk, he offers to let us sleep in the back.
“No grazi milli.” We need to walk on.
“Ciao Ciao!”
So we wander into the death heat. Its 3:30 and our map says we’re close. We’re always close. But never there. Its another 90 minutes of being just a few K away. Between tears and angst, despair and fatigue, we keep walking to Spoletto.
There is a minor munity. Well, not so minor.
“Not another, step,” laments Caroline, who now wants to just go to the beach.
But we keep on walking to Spoletto.
It’s a splendid little town. But we all need to chill out a bit before making our way forward.
But after a few hours in the room and sleep, she’s ok.
“I’m dying,” she laments.
So we eat and meander through the lovely town, walk up and around and about, looking at the streets and cafes and piazzas. We discuss our plan for the trip. We want to have fun. But walk into the late afternoon Roman heat wear on us.
And we get some sleep.
The next morning, everyone feels better.
Sleep helps. It really does.
The next morning, everyone’s feeling a lot better. Three cappuccinos and lots of croissants later, we start out.
So we take a detour, down below the mountain instead of over the mountain, on our way to Arrone, a 1200 year old town.
For most of the morning, we walk through a lovely valley, looking up at the mountain we avoided, passing through small a few small towns for cappuccinos and snacks, walking along the Nera, a refreshing river, flowing some 72 miles, through Umbria.
There is less of an apocalyptic feeling with the water flowing alongside us. Little farms, lots of birds to accompany us.
So we walk and we walk. And one PM hits and we hit our usual wall, taking more breaks.
The cyclists ride by.
“Buon journey,” they scream.
They laugh, joke, one falls riding. And we keep going.
The road is different here. Last year 200,000 rode the Camino. This year, there are 2000 hikers on the Way of St Frances, make that 2004. “Two girls, that’s good for our statistics,” smiled the woman at the office in Assisi.
We think we are close at Arrone, but we’re outside Arrone.
“Where are my glasses? I lost my glasses,” number one laments.
We walk back to the park bench behind us, picking up the glasses and stopping in a small deli to pick up supplies for our picnic lunch.
“Amo Italia” I tell the lady at the deli.
“Amo New York,” she follows.
We are ready to eat.
Not so fast. Two more K to go to get to the room.
The grocery bag starts to break and I hold it. No use. It starts to crumble.
Everyone grabs some of our supplies.
No one knows where our hotel is.
“Maybe its up there,” points a man painting a house, pointing up to the top of the town we just left.
“The map says its down here.”
“My gps says its up there.”
So we walk and tell everyone where 2 della sporta in Castiglione is and they point up. We walk up. Groceries spilling.
UP and up. Its up there, the gardener explains. He leads. A man with a fishing rod leads us further up, past the labyrinth of corridors of this town that I later find out to be 1200 years old.
Its there, the man points.
The door is closed. There is no alberge there.
Another older man walks by.
I ask him.
Knock on the door, he suggests.
He screams at the door and someone behind screams back.
I knock.
And she greets me.
Oh my husband is swimming at the pool. He’ll be back to let you to your room.
She invites us in. We chat about life. She tells a few stories. We tell a few. But I really just want to sit down.
Finally her husband arrives and takes us to our room looking out at the valley below. IT feels like a space from another world, like one of the characters in an Umberto Ecco novel would steal a classic book from the convent and bring it here.
WE thank him.
He apologizes for speaking no enblish.
I apologize for speaking even worse Italian.
And we laugh.
We make arrangements for dinner. He copies our passports. And shows us the restaurant, in what looks like an old cave.
“Otto mezzo,” he tells me for dinner.
“Va bene.”
I know so little Italian but we figure out to communicate.
I start to walk back to the room but can’t find it.
I go back and he walks me.
The kids have opened our picnic.
So we look out at the valley, enjoy some cheese and tomatoes and peaches and look at the countryside, away from the heat, and enjoy the magic of another quiet moment on the road.