Muddy Trails

(This post is from the evening of October 21st)

Before heading to the kitchen this morning, I went to the fireplace to ensure that my clothes had dried over night.  I found my things in a different formation than I had left them last night, but everything was there and, for the most part, dry, so I couldn’t complain.

Breakfast was waiting, and as I came in the man made a fresh cup of coffee.  When it was ready, it poured out into my cup pitch black—the color of moist, rich soil after a summer’s shower (to be poetic about it…).  I dropped a packet of sugar in, and it tasted really good.  It was by no means sweet like the things you find at Starbucks, but it didn’t have that nasty, bitter aftertaste of some of the other coffee I’ve had in Italy.  The other main attraction at breakfast was something I had never seen or heard of before—chestnut butter.  As I’ve learned, chestnuts are quite the thing in Italy during the fall, and not just in the roasted form.  Chestnut butter is sort of like peanut butter, but not quite as thick and a good bit sweeter.  It was delicious on bread, or spread on the small, biscuit-like cookies Italians like to have at breakfast.  I lingered, even after the man had gone to school, and talked with his wife about the pilgrimage and other things and eventually realized that it was getting late.  After gathering my things, I went into the kitchen to say goodbye, and the woman handed me a bag which she said contained my lunch—a salami sandwich and some more cookies with chestnut butter.  She was in no way obligated to give me this, and I appreciated the gracious and thoughtful gesture.

Beginning my walk, all the clouds of yesterday were gone, and I could see for miles across the flat, green land.  When I reached the small town at the foot of the hill, I crossed the highway and walked up behind a man who was singing to himself as he strolled down the road.  He saw me and stopped for a moment before continuing on, but a bit quieter now, as if he hadn’t actually been embarrassed to be caught.  As I was passing him, he turned to me and asked where I was going.  “Assisi, eventually,” I replied.  A look of bewilderment crossed his face, an expression that I was used to seeing in people who found out what I was doing.  He offered me water, and led me into the back yard of a house, which I presume was his own, and pointed me to a spigot coming out of the ground.  After I had filled up my bottle, he even offered me some breakfast.  I replied that I had eaten, and had plenty of food—tapping the plastic bag tied to the back of my backpack.  He wished me luck as I walked away into the fields.

I was now in a totally different region geographically than earlier portions of the pilgrimage.  The flat land was fertile and farms covered nearly every square inch of the area.  I saw beautiful gardens holding all manner of vegetable, and some small pens holding animals, including chickens, goats, ducks, and a donkey.  The dirt path I was walking on had been severely affected by the rain; the footing was slippery and very muddy, adding weight to my boots that I tried to shake off every 20 yards or so.  At least everything was flat, and I made quick progress compared to the previous days of going up and down mountains.

After walking through a particularly muddy field, I came to a small creek which had a small dike built on it.  The route actually called for me to walk over the disintegrating structure, and I tapped each spot up ahead with my walking sticks to make sure everything was solid before proceeding.  The little creek bed was a pleasant place, so I decided to have my lunch sitting on the other end of the dike.  I opened up the bag I received this morning at the agriturismo and found two slices of bread stuffed full of small, round slices of salami—it must have been nearly the whole stick of meat.  Wrapped in a paper towel next to the salami sandwich were two sets of sandwiched cookies with the chestnut cream used as filling.  This was one of the first times I’d eaten a proper lunch on the trail, and I couldn’t have had a better one.  It was so pleasant that I probably lingered too long by the creek enjoying the nice weather, but I thought that my destination—a refuge on the other side of Città di Castello—would be fairly close by.

Città di Castello was a fairly modern town, without any particular charm.  I got to an apartment complex in the middle of town and completely lost any sign of the trail.  Often it has been the case that in urban areas where there are many more options for walking, the green arrows guiding the way actually become less numerous, and it is confusing, to say the least.  Finally, after about 30 minutes of searching, I found some more spray-painted arrows that led me out the back end of town, through the parking lot of several abandoned buildings.  As I passed the cemetery at the edge of town, I noticed new signs pointing out the direction of the path.  These large blue and yellow indicators on metal posts read, “Via Francigena of San Francesco: To Rome.”  The Via Francigena that I knew about and had walked on goes nowhere near Assisi, so I’ll have to do some more research to learn what these signs were indicating.  More and more, it seems that the name “Via Francigena” can be given to any pilgrimage route that runs through France and leads to Rome.

After getting out of Città di Castello, I walked for a while on small country roads until I was finally meant to turn off onto a path that led into the hills.  This was more of the sort of thing I had been walking on before and I was glad to say goodbye to the roads and buildings of the city.  I was less glad when I saw the next sign along the path—“Candeggio: 2.5hr.”  That was a problem.  If Candeggio—the location of the refuge where I hoped to stay the night—was really two-and-a-half hours away, I would be arriving around 7PM—just after sunset.  I was already a little worried that no one had answered the phone at the refuge when I called earlier in the day, and I didn’t want to show up and have nobody there to let me in after dark.  I kept on walking through the hills, however, knowing that if I was too slow, I might end up lost in the dark in the middle of nowhere.  With little of the sun’s light remaining, I called again and got the answering machine for the third time.  Finally, I saw a large building at the top of the next hill and hoped that it was the place I was looking for.

Walking up to the building, I could see lots of cars parked in the driveway of the gigantic house.  It certainly didn’t look like a pilgrim refuge, but I decided to go knock on the door anyway.  Opposite the house on the other side of the path was a large barn and pastures with signs saying, “Sheep at pasture.  Beware the sheep dogs.”  Just as I got to the driveway of the house, a small dog near the front door began yapping at me, and then I heard a more powerful bark from behind my right shoulder.  Turning around, I saw that a gigantic white dog had appeared, and as I watched, about a dozen more like him came over the crest onto the path and began to bark at me.  Soon, they ran up and started growling and nipping at my legs.

At this point, it was properly dark.  As I approached, I saw several signs on the road pointing in the direction of the building.  “CHE PASSO PELLEGRINO?” the signs said.  I called one more time, and was relieved when a woman picked up the phone.  She appeared at the gate to let me in, and apologized for being out earlier.  I was led into the building and up a narrow flight of steps to the second floor.  There, in a doorway, was a man, holding a little girl in his arms.  “Welcome!” he said, smiling.  The woman led me up another flight of stairs into a room full of bunk beds.  “Here is the pilgrim’s room,” she declared.

Around 8:15 I heard a call from downstairs.  “Dinner is ready!” shouted the woman.  I went to find everyone sitting at the dinner table in the kitchen—the little girl in a high chair.  The meal was unusual, in that it was lighter than most Italian dinners—tortellini served in broth, a cold spinach frittata, and some salad.  A black cat sat quietly on the chair next to me during dinner; the little girl, on the other hand, was somewhat restless.  Earlier, the woman had remarked, “We moved here to start an Eco-Village.” At the time, I really didn’t know what an “Eco-Village” was, but now I think I understood what it all meant.  Meatless dinner, books on “green cooking” lining the shelves, and the protest poster on their refrigerator, making use of a nuclear symbol distorted to look like Edvard Munch’s The Scream.  While most Italians I had met were more conscious about the environment than the average American, these people were truly living their ideals to the fullest.

The stage tomorrow would be much shorter, thanks to my long walk today, so I was looking forward to sleeping in a little.

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~ by pminnig on November 17, 2011.

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