Inside and Out: the Journey and the Destination
This evening in Assisi, Tim, Terri, Denis and Judy–awestruck pilgrims–watch the setting sun shine gold on the Basilica di San Francesco. The church and piazza rise 100 feet above the surrounding valley and the whole scene is surreal, stunning. We soak it in, then walk to a choice dinner spot where Terri can finally order wild boar. More on that theme later.
Let’s wind the clock back twelve hours; we depart for Assisi from Spello in enormously high spirits. Our host at the medieval hotel where we are staying gets up at 6:30 to put out a massive breakfast spread for us (“Not what Italians usually eat,” he explains.) We down hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, cereal, juice, cornetti, other pastries, and two coffees apiece — heck, we are carb loading for a hard walk up Monte Subasio. We share Nathaniel’s story with our host, thank him for his profound hospitality, and he directs us to the Cammino route which runs right by the hotel patio.
Mist recedes from the sleepy town of Spello as we climb and the view is spectacular, magical. We ascend steadily to 900 meters in only a few km and are already working hard, but loving it. Our legs say, “We can do this!” There had been some discussion the night before about taking the lower route (there are two trails from Spello to Assisi) to spare Judy’s knee, but she is eager for the higher climb, since the descent into Assisi is a gradual one.
The route leaves the ridge and dips into woods, taking us into deep shade on trails padded with fallen leaves. Sign confusion stumps us at several intersections, but we think we are on the right track until we realize that we are going downhill steadily. Before we know it, we have lost the elevation we worked so hard to gain and are now on the lower trail, leaving the high road behind (with its magnificent approach to Assisi). We take a side road directly up the mountain again to try to find the higher route, but to no avail. Why should the last day be any different than previous days? Getting onto the wrong trail seems to be a common theme. Is there a metaphor here? Are all trails the right trail?
As we finally approach Assisi on the lower route, we traverse a ridge of the mountain closer to the valley and begin to pass houses as we re-enter civilization. “Attenti al Cani” is a sign we have seen hundreds of times over the past two weeks, and most refer to dogs behind fences that bark at us as we passed. Today, a friendly (we thought) German Shepherd follows behind us a short way on the trail — no bark, no growl — and as we pass by his family’s gate, he lunges and bites Terri soundly on the left calf. What?! Stunned, we tend to her wounds, and are reassured to see that they probably won’t need stitches, but they definitely warrant medical attention and antibiotics. We are 2 km from Assisi. So close.
For the second time this week, we are stopped in our tracks by life’s fragility and unpredictability. Earlier in the week, we had learned that our daughter Carrie had badly dislocated her elbow after a rock climbing fall and had to have surgery yesterday. We have Skyped often with her, and the surgery was not as extensive as expected, but how we wish could be with her and lift her pain. As Terri said while we were cleaning up her bite wounds, “I can identify with Carrie. Did she also think, ‘Why me?!'”
The dog owner drives Terri and Tim to the nearby clinic/hospital while Judy and Denis finish the walk, crestfallen. Outside the city gates, we eat a sorry lunch of stale cheese sticks and snack bars while we watch high school students stream out of school (Saturday morning classes, imagine), and when we finally pass through Porta Nuova into the old city, we feel no elation. At least we’re here, along with thousands of other tourists and souvenir shops every 10 feet. But no TnT! Our pilgrim cohort has been ruptured, and that is when the truth dawns: the cammino destination is not the point. The shrines, the pomp, the Basilicas built for saints are second to the journey itself, where we test ourselves, handle hardship, connect with friends, share laughter, relish a good meal and a warm bed — these are the gifts.
When we reconnect with T n T later in the afternoon at St. Mary of the Angels outside the gates, they report that the hospital visit went smoothly. No charge, as the business office was closed. (Wow, free medical care even for international guests. The antibiotic is 2.5 euros). We watch the long procession into the church for the Transitus of St. Francis, then head back to the old city for the sunset at the Basilica and a celebratory dinner. Terri orders the boar, and we decide that we need to enliven the day’s story by insinuating a wild boar attack. Denis suggests the wounds are Terri’s stigmata. We share a bottle of good Assisi wine, and by dinner’s end, Terri declares, “What dog?” All’s Well That Ends Well, but what a day of highs and lows.
Hard to believe our pilgrimage is over, but we will be feasting on the memories forever. Thank you, Tim and Terri, for joining us on this crazy adventure. Your companionship was treasured. 10/04/2015