Archive for December, 2016

Thank You, Italy

I wrote this the day before leaving Italy, on my run from Rome to London:

I held the scrunched up napkin in my hands and told my two fellow pilgrims, “This napkin is the pilgrims and my hands are Italy.” Then I wrapped my hands gently around the napkin and held it to my heart.

“This is what it feels like to be a pilgrim here.”

I have spent the last forty days in Italy, traversing its length from Rome right up north to the base of the Alps, where I sit now whilst writing.

Displaying IMG_20161020_182651.jpg

It has been the most incredible forty days. I have run through Tuscany’s rolling hills, I have clamoured alongside Lazio’s motorway, I have plodded through Lombardy’s endlessly flat rice fields and I have limped my way through more hours than I care to count. Through it all, the ever-present warmth and care of Italy for it’s pilgrims has nudged me on when I felt I had no more to give.

Here I have lost my heart and I am not sure I will quite feel complete ever again until I return. The joy of bathing in Italy’s musical language has been a rollercoaster ride of fun, confusion and education. I am now fairly fluent in the essentials of saying no but ‘grazie‘ to the constant lifts I am offered, explaining that ‘si,’ I am travelling ‘a piedi‘ and have done all, ‘tutti,’ by foot from Roma and will ‘finisce a Londra‘. To their shocked faces I explain that I am a pilgrim, ‘sono una pellegrina‘ and as their faces show recognition, ‘ah, la Via Francigena?’ and I nod, they wish me luck, ‘buona fortuna‘ or ‘in bocca al lupo‘ and drive off. It is a conversation I have at least five times a day.

Italy’s stunning landscapes have surprised me time and again. From crossing streams in thick forests to climbing mountain passes, every day brings with it a new terrain and a new challenge for me to encounter. I love just trusting myself to the route waymarkers and seeing what will happen. The route, the Via Francigena, does occasionally spit me out in a field someplace with no indication of what to do next and no clue where I might have gone wrong, but on the whole, I can trust it to get me to my end destination for the day. Every time I pass a marker, I say a little “grazie” to whoever took the time out of their day to put it there.

Displaying IMG_20161002_110336.jpg

The red and white stripe on that tree is waymarker for the route

I also say a “grazie” to all the people in towns on the route who put water or food out for pilgrims to take, for the people who keep a room in their house for passing pilgrims to stay in overnight, for the people who’s religion leads them to show kindness to the pilgrims who come asking for a place to stay. I have stayed with nuns, monks, priests. I have stayed in convents, monasteries, churches and a 1000 year old Cistercian abbey.

To be a pilgrim in Italy is to feel a whole country take you into its arms and guide you gently through.

I am now halfway through my run home from Rome. Tomorrow I will go to Switzerland and leave this wonderful country behind. I have no idea what awaits me in Switzerland or France but I already feel a deep sadness about leaving Italy that will take a while to overcome.

Advertisements