Another ‘Boar’ing Italian Day!

(This post is from the evening of October 14th)

I left my formerly insect-infested cabin outside of Premilcuore early in the morning, just as the sun was coming up.  The first part of the walk was very pretty.  I descended even further into the valley and spent some time walking along the small river which runs through its lowest point.  Eventually, I left the river behind, and began to climb through more forested hills.  I hadn’t seen anyone when I left Premilcuore, and I didn’t expect that I’d be meeting anyone along the path, so I was getting ready for a day completely on my own, in the middle of nature.

While climbing one of the many steep paths, I thought I heard an ‘oink’ come from below me on the left.  Remembering that wild boars are fairly common in Italy— and that they can be dangerous—I paused for a moment and clapped my hands a few times to try an scare off whatever was near me.  I didn’t hear any further noise, so I thought I must have imagined the sound, or whatever had made it was farther away than I had initially thought.  I continued on, thinking that I was now free from any unwanted company on the hike.  As I went on walking, however, I heard another ‘oink’—this one definitely real—and then the rustling of leaves up ahead of the path.  I nearly jumped out of my skin as I saw a boar run off away from the path in front of me.  Then, several more followed after it.  These were all very small, baby boars, no bigger than a large beagle, but that’s exactly what scared me.  If there were baby boars around, that must mean that their mother was nearby, and she was the one I had to look out for.  If she thought I was trying to hurt her babies, I knew she would attack me, and that was the last thing I wanted out here in the middle of nowhere.  The last boar of the bunch to run out of cover was larger than the others, and I hoped that one was the mother and that they had all gone.  I stood still for a while longer, catching my breath while clapping and shouting to scare off any more wild animals.  In the end, I’m not sure who was actually more scared—me or the boars.

The whole day was one long climb before coming back down a little bit to my final destination—Corniolo.  The path passed through no towns or villages, and I was alone for the whole day.  It was beautifully quiet and peaceful, although at the top of the path, as it went along the ridge of a mountain, it got quite cold and windy.  This sort of weather was totally different from what I had experienced just a few days ago, on the first stage of the pilgrimage.  Although the coolness was pleasant for the hard climbs and distances I had to complete, it was really unpleasant on the exposed top of the mountain.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to stay there long, and soon began the descent into the small hillside town of Corniolo.

I followed the signs through the twisting main road of Corniolo and arrived in front of a house with “Casa di Pellegrino” written on it.  There was no one there, so I called the number on my guidebook to see if someone could come and let me in.  I told the man who picked up the phone that I was a pilgrim, and he said that beside the door there was a safe I could open, and that held the key to the house.  Opening the door to the small place, I was pleasantly surprised with what I found inside.  The first floor looked to me a fully furnished kitchen, with a large table in the center of the room.  Off to the side were the bathrooms, and above, there were sets of bunk beds.  By the main door, there were two bulletin boards with various pieces of information for pilgrims.  One sheet of paper discussed the origins of the pilgrim house, describing that the building used to be the stable for mules, and in medieval times pilgrims would often stay in stables while on their journeys.  Stables are uncomfortable, though, explained the sheet, so the local church had decided to upgrade this one when the Way of Assisi was created.

On a dresser by the front door, there was a book of pilgrims that the man on the phone had asked me to sign before leaving.  I sat down at the kitchen table to read through the entries and write my own.  The overwhelming majority of the pilgrims from the last few years were Italian, and practically every person who had written in the book was from Europe.  There were three exceptions that I noticed—one Brazilian and two Americans.  Don Alfeo had not been kidding when he said I was the first American this year.  Very few of my countrymen—even fewer than on the Via Francigena—had attempted this pilgrimage.

Also on the bulletin boards were a few ads for restaurants in town that had special prices for pilgrims.  This reminded me how hungry I was and I went out into town to check things out.  It was still too early to eat, but I took a walk through the small town to see if there was a market or something open. I found the alimentari, but it was, of course closed, and had been since 12:30 in the afternoon.  How anyone does any shopping, I don’t know.  I also wondered what the owner of the shop does for most of the day when the place is closed.  There was no one around, except a few kids playing in the main piazza in front of one of the two churches.  One of the restaurants advertised in the pilgrim house was close by and looked alright, so I decided I would go there when it was dinner time.

A bit after six thirty, I couldn’t stand it any longer and walked down to the restaurant to get dinner.  Despite the large sign by the door that said ‘OPEN,’ the door to the restaurant/hotel was locked, so I rang at the intercom to see if they were actually going to be open for dinner.  A man arrived at the door and I explained to him that I was a pilgrim and saw his dinner ad in the house.  “You’re a little early, aren’t you?” he asked, looking confused.  “Not in America,” I thought, before answering, “the walking makes you hungry.  I can wait though.”  “No problem,” he replied.  Just come over to the bar here while I get things ready.  We walked across the street to what I guess was his bar, and after he unlocked the door and let me in, I sat at one of the small tables and took out my computer to use their Wi-Fi connection.

The man returned a bit later and said things were ready for me in the restaurant, so I walked back across the street to another table set for one.  Again, I was asked if I ate meat, and the man was relieved when I said I did.  After bringing me some water and bread, I received another plate of pasta ragù.  I didn’t mind the same thing two nights in a row, though, as it was something warm and tasty.  Next, I was brought a bowl of lettuce, some steamed vegetables, and the main dish—pork medallions in lemon sauce.  I started with the salad, and drenched the leaves of lettuce in the balsamic vinegar on the table.  This was from Modena, a town famous for its vinegar, and it really gave the salad quite a kick.  Balsamic vinegar here is very different from what we have in the states, and describing its flavor would sound eerily similar to describing a wine.  There’s a smokiness that just isn’t present in our purely acidic type.  The pork wasn’t the best meal I’ve had in Italy, but it tasted alright, and was something else warm, which was really appreciated.  After I had finished, the man returned to ask if I wanted fruit, coffee, or dessert, to finish my meal.  I hadn’t had anything sweet in a long time, so I asked him what the dessert was.  There were a number of choices, but I stopped listening after he said “caramel mousse.”  “That’s what I’d like to have,” I said, “the mousse.”  He soon returned with my plate.  It wasn’t what I thought I was going to get, but it looked good nonetheless.  There was a cylinder of not-quite vanilla ice cream in the center of the plate covered with hash marks of caramel sauce.  The caramel sauce tasted unlike most caramel you get back home.  This was darker and you could really taste the burnt sugar in it, unlike American caramels which just approximate the taste.  I spooned up all the sauce I could before polishing off the plate.

While I was eating, two older people, who I assumed were the man’s parents had entered the restaurant, and began to move around the kitchen.  After I finished dessert, I waited for a while for the man to return so that I could pay, but no one was coming, so I stuck my head into the kitchen to ask if I could pay the bill.  The old man told me to go back to the bar and pay there.  I walked out of the restaurant again and over to the bar.  Inside, there were two groups of people gathered around the small tables, playing cards.  The man who had made my dinner was sitting by one of these, watching the games, and stood up when I entered.  I paid him for the food and bought a pack of chips for the road tomorrow.  As I exited the bar and walked back to the pilgrim house, I looked up and saw the stars.  Although it was a bit cloudy, there were still far more than I’m used to being able to see.  I could see my breath in the cold air, and the smell of wood fires from the town’s chimneys made me think of Christmas before falling off to sleep.


~ by pminnig on November 3, 2011.

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