Friday, July 29, 2016

Raining in Castiglione, Wandering with the Nera

People always talk about epic meals in Italy. When I was studying here back in 1991, we used to go for rounds of primi piatis of pasta and secondis of lamb chops and chicken, carafe after carafe of vino de casa after our daily excursions through the history of art and by extension, the culture, politics and aesthetics of Italy. I adore the food here. And you need a lot of it here. You get a lot of it here.
So last night, we wandered out of our castle room for our 830 dinner reservation at the castle restaurant. No menus, no big options, just lots and lots of rounds of antipasti, pasta, stake, salad, omelets with truffles, steak, round after round, along with the Umbrian red. By 11 PM, the girls finally left and I stayed on to get the bill. A young couple sitting by me overheard my description of our trip and we started talking about Italy, writers, Boccaccio, Dante, Petrarch, Pirandello, etc. We talked about the difference between Italy when I was first here when the Lira was still the currency, before the Maastricht Treaty, and Italy today, more a part of Europe than ever. Many worry about the nationalistic tensions of the Brexit. Others worry about Italy becoming more just a part of Europe. I’ve always been a supporter of a unified Europe in bed with each other financially, with a disincentive to fight each other as other generations have. They mentioned they were 27 years old. So they were just babies when I was studying here. Its odd getting old. We said goodnight.
I wandered home to the kids, one of whom was planning to boycott the hike the next day. We all have our moments on such trips.
Thunder chimed through the sky when I awoke, looking outside my castle room to the lightning in the distance. We only had a short, 18 k hike, mostly flat. So number two and I wandered out to get breakfast while number two and Caroline negotiated.
“Just go to the ‘grand stada’ and take a left,” explained the owner of the restaurant the night before when I asked about breakfast. So we wandered down the windy zigg zagging streets out of our castle town.
“Is that the grand strada?” I asked number two. “Does that look grand enough?”
“No, lets try the next one.”
Never mind directions or names for the streets, we were wandering in the lightning.
“It will probably hit steel above us” I explained to number two. ‘Never mind that I have steel protruding out of the back of my back pack. Just make sure my novel gets sent to the right place,” I explained. “If I get hit by lightning.”
So we walked, past the pool and the Nera river, where we walked the day before, up to a bigger street at a dead end, and walked left. Two hundred meters down, people were running in and out of the bar in the distance, holding the cappuccinos I’d need to hike, the candy and croissants number two would need to get through the 18 k.
Eventually number one and Caroline join us for breakfast. We stock up supplies and start walking by820 Am. Not too bad a start.
The cool Nera river wanders along with us, birds and butterflies accompanying her and us.
“It’s a fairy tale of a river,” notes Caroline.
“It certainly is.”
The morning hikes are the best. We talk about the kids. Number one is taking in every step, enjoying the mysteries of discovering the towns such as the one we’re leaving. Number two loves swimming and playing, but gets overwhelmed with the idea of hiking quite so much.
So we all walk. Number one and two have grown up, grown synapses walking these trails, throughout Spain, Toshua Tree in California, the Appalachian Trail in New York, and these mysterious roads through Italy.
“These woods remind me of the Black Forest in Germany,” where she walked as a kid.
We look at the fields, where farmers have towed for thousands of years.
And we walk. Soon, we’ll be getting to the Cascata Della Marmore in Umbria, a waterfall the Romans build to divert water back in the second century BCE. It used to flood the Nera. The flooding wasn’t resolved until the 15th century.
Campers start arriving. Its like we’re all going to Yellowstone National Park.
But the waterfall is immense and spectacular. We feel the mist from thousands of feet away.
Six miles down, we are more than half way through our day’s journey by 11 am so we sit for coffee and look at junk in the souvenir shop. I buy a thimble and we get going.
By now its noon and we have four more miles to go. But we always slow hiking in the afternoon. We take lots of breaks, wander through the woods, along the river. We sit under trees. I used to skip the breaks and walk ahead. Now I stay on to relax, napping, sleeping, saying hello to the butterflies, looking out for Puck conspiring.
“This is what we are doing this for!” declares Caroline, stretching, looking about. The kids vacillate between playing and fighting with each other.
We wander another two and a half hours. We catch glimpses of Piediluco, through the forest. It’s a magic scene, like one of the river towns in middle earth.
We meet a couple of hikers from Scotland, on the trail. They wander off in a snap?
Italy is a yes in a world full of maybes. This is an affirmative.
We arrive at our river town and swim away the afternoon. Its good to be here.
Tomorrow we have a hard hike. But we’ll visit a tree St Frances knew and loved, walking there together again.

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