A return to civilization

(This post is from the evening of October 19th)

The campground in Caprese Michelangelo was still empty when I woke up.  My first task was to look for water to fill my bottle, but the sinks in the campground bathroom were too shallow for my container to fit under the faucet.  I went back outside, and saw a spigot coming out of the ground, but a large plastic hose was connected to the end. I tested its flavor before filling up.  The water was disgusting, tasting of metal and chemicals from the plastic, so I figured that this was not a potable source.

In the light of morning, I could see a door through the large wooden fence that I had missed the night before when trying to get into the campground after dinner.  I was grateful that I didn’t have to negotiate jumping the fence again with my heavy bag, and began the walk down the hill to the center of Caprese.  Clouds were everywhere, and a heavy mist hung in the air.  I wasn’t too worried about the weather, though.  Already on this Cammino, I had experienced many mornings like these, and the clouds would always end up being burnt off at some point later in the day.  On my search for water, I passed by huge tents with signs advertising all the types of chestnut products they were offering at the time of the festival.  Finally, I found a small public fountain, and after filling my bottle went back to the center of town to where the path to Sansepolcro began.

As I was finding the start of the trail, it began to rain.  It wasn’t very hard, but it was enough to worry me.  My guide even had a footnote saying that, at the time of writing, a number of the paths had been washed away due to rain, and it was better to take the road.  While I had reason to believe that the guide was written over a year ago, I thought that if the trail had been washed away once, it could easily happen again, and decided to take the road, just to be safe.  I walked along the little-used highway for a while, but the light rain didn’t stop or let u, so I decided to stop in order to put on my poncho and cover my pack so that my things wouldn’t get soaked.  I turned off the road into the driveway of a beautiful house in front of a small artificial lake, ignoring the “PROPRIETÁ PRIVATA” sign.  I fished out my poncho, and the covering for my bag, and while I was getting everything attached, I saw an old man come to the window of the house, watching me.  He stayed there until I passed out of sight of the house, so maybe I should have paid attention to the sign he put up in his driveway.

Of course, a few minutes after I got going again after putting on the poncho, the rain stopped, but I kept on my rain gear to prevent any future showers.  For hours, I followed this highway through some small towns, but the clouds and fog remained throughout the day.  Then, I saw a sign pointing out the trail to Sansepolcro, and decided that it was now safe enough to leave the road and join the official path.  It was around this time that the clouds finally cleared, revealing that I was in a completely new area topographically.  Tall hills and mountains had given way to a vast plain, home to the beginning of the Tevere River and much larger pieces of farmland.  The path I was now following consisted of long, flat, and seemingly endless, stretches of gravel roads.

At last, I came to the outskirts of the city Sansepolcro.  The coming of this large city was heralded by the busy network of roads I had to traverse in order to get there.  After passing under overpasses and behind the train station—this is the first place I’ve been to in nearly two weeks with one of those—I arrived in town, outside a church listed in my guide as one that hosts pilgrims.

I rang the bell on the intercom and a man answered on the other end.  “Sì?” he said.  “I’m a pilgrim and I was hoping you all would have a place available for tonight.”  Without pausing, he answered, “I’m sorry, we’re completely full.  Arrivederci.”  Uh-oh.  I would have to try the other place listed in my guide.  I took out my phone and dialed the number of the Cappuchin monastery, hoping for better luck.  Another man picked up –“Pronto?”  I made the same request I had minutes ago at the church and received a better answer.  “OK.  Hold on a moment.”  A moment lasted just an instant, and a woman’s voice came over the phone—“Pronto?”  The speed with which the speakers had switched surprised me a bit and I didn’t answer until prompted again by the woman.  “You want to stay at the monastery for the night?”  “Yes, please.”  “OK.  It’s 20 euro just to sleep, or 35 to sleep and for dinner.  Which do you want?”  I was pretty tired and had seen signs for a supermarket in town, so I had sort of been looking forward to making a small dinner with items from the store and going to bed early.  “Just to sleep,” I replied.  “OK.  See you soon.”

I found the supermarket and got the provisions necessary to make sandwiches and a few other snacks before making my way to the opposite end of town to the monastery.  I rang at the door, and a short woman answered.  “I’m the pilgrim…” I began to say before she interrupted.  “Did you call?”  “Yes,” I said.  “Follow me.”  She led me through the courtyard of the cloister into another wing of the building.  We went upstairs, and she opened the first door in the hallway by the stairwell.  “Here is your room.  The shower is over there,” she said, pointing to another door.  She left, and I stayed in the small room, sitting on the bed while taking off my shoes.  I was organizing my groceries when there came a knock on the door.  “Avanti,” I said, inviting whoever was there to come in.  It was the woman again, and she poked her head in the room to tell me that, “The padre says you can have dinner too for 20 euro.  OK?”  I obviously couldn’t refuse the padre’s hospitality, so I thanked her and said that that would be great.  She told me that dinner was at 8 o’clock and left again.

I went to take a shower, and found that weird “European” set-up that is just a small bathroom with a sloped floor leading to a drain and a shower head in the middle of the room.  What I didn’t expect to find was the beautiful view from the bathroom window.  Just below was the monastery’s garden, but out beyond the walls of the complex lay the whole city of San Sepolcro and the valley beyond.  After a week of being only in the tiniest of villages, San Sepolcro seemed like a huge metropolis, and I stood there a while, admiring the view.  After my shower, I went back to the room to go get my camera in order to photograph the scene.

A few minutes before 8, a tall, bearded man came to knock at my door and tell me that dinner was ready.  I went downstairs to find a strangely arranged dining room inhabited by a few men and the woman who had let me in before.  The large, rectangular room was bounded by wooden benches built into the walls.  In front of the benches were hefty, wooden tables, with a few more resting in the center of the room.  An old and robed monk was sitting on a bench by the doorway, and the bearded man, a short man with a goatee, and another person were all standing in spots to my right.  This big “U” arrangement seems popular in Italy, but it makes it impossible to communicate with anyone other than those sitting right next to you.  Three spots were set on the right side of the room, and we seemed to be waiting for those people to arrive before we began.  A few minutes later, three people came down, and judging from their limps, they were pilgrims too.

“Shall we do an Ave Maria, padre?” asked the woman, turning to the monk.  Everyone began crossing themselves, and I followed suit, not to look out of place.  Everyone then began muttering a prayer in Italian, and I felt stupid, standing there with my mouth shut because I didn’t know the words.  After it was finished and there was some more making of the sign of the cross, everyone sat and the woman began to walk around taking plates and filling them with food from the cart in the middle of the room.  The first thing we had was minestra—which I thought would be the same as the minestrone soup I know. It really was nothing like that, however, as the body of the dish was less of a broth than a watery paste of peas and beans, something that I’ve never eaten in Italy. When we finished, the woman took away our bowls and began grabbing plates to fill with food.  Mine came back with fried cauliflower, fried green tomato, a slice of turkey, some strange sort of sausage thing with what looked like fried egg in the middle, and a salad.  The salad was covered in oil and what must have been garlic.  The use of the garlic was so liberal that even I—someone who is a big fan—couldn’t handle it without tears welling up in my eyes.

By now, it was nearing 9, and the monks—who were actually all the men eating with us, even though they were wearing street clothes—wanted to watch a soccer game on TV.  The woman told me that breakfast the next morning would be at 8, and I made my way up to bed, looking forward to sleeping in an actual bed with sheets for the first time in too long.

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~ by pminnig on November 13, 2011.

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