Our packs seemed too heavy as we sped through the Albuquerque airport yesterday, and again as we exited the Oakland airport and rode the BART and MUNI to our stop at 7th and Irving near Golden Gate Park.
We are still considering what we can leave out—sleeping bags, most likely. We fly to Barcelona this evening.
Meanwhile we managed a nap and enjoyed some family time as Kent practiced carrying a load of a different kind on his back.
I am nervous about this Chemin, as there will be several days in isolated, rugged mountains with few services, but all that is yet many days away.
Meanwhile, I will live in this day, and start with this meditation from Paula:
Imagine the lush sounds of a Brahms string sextet filling a red rock grotto, as a rapt audience sits around the perimeter, on rocks, on logs, and on the sand beside a small pool. This was a hike-in concert at the Moab Music Festival in Moab, Utah, now in its 27th year.
To arrive at this spot involved a twenty-minute ride on a school bus, followed by a hike through an overgrown, brushy, sometimes sandy, sometimes rocky trail that led under and over some fallen branches through a narrow slot between red cliffs. Finally, after about half-a-mile, the canyon widened into a glorious natural amphitheater aptly named “Middle Earth.”
People of all ages had come from from places near and far, including Salt Lake City, Grand Junction, Chicago, and New Zealand. Kent and I drove scenic roads from Albuquerque. A PBS feature on the festival last fall introduced us to the festival and inspired us to make the trip. We were not disappointed.
We attended “A Paris Revue” in historic Star Hall on Friday night, an eclectic program introduced with panache by Festival Music Director Michael Barrett, very much in the style of his mentor Leonard Bernstein.
Then early on Saturday morning, we took a bus through the red rocks east of town, to a one-mile hike down a mostly sandy wash to Mill Creek Overlook, where we heard classical and modern pieces performed by wind instruments, singly and together. Claude Debussy’s “Syrinx” for unaccompanied flute was followed by a “Duo for Oboe and Bassoon” by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Modern pieces by Toru Takemitsu, Adam Raph (for unaccompanied trombone!), and Bohuslav Martinü, were followed by several Italian baroque ensemble pieces that concluded the concert.
On Saturday evening, we traveled again by school bus, upstream along the Colorado River to the Sorrel River Ranch and Spa for a concert under a tent, in celebration of the Jazz-age genius of Bix Beiderbecke. Food and drinks were available for purchase, and intermission came just in time to allow us to walk about the grounds along the river and view the red rock buttes in the distance turn even redder in the setting sun.
For Kent and me, whose musical tastes are eclectic, who enjoy nature and a bit of adventure, and who are willing to risk a bit of uncertainty, the Moab Music Festival was pure delight. The uncertainty? The dreamy performance of Brahms in Middle Earth was abruptly interrupted by a flash rainstorm, resulting in an unplanned, hasty exodus along that narrow brushy trail, followed by a return to Star Hall for the concert’s conclusion, with performers and audience alike still dressed in their hiking gear.
Tickets for the more expensive concerts, which involve travel by raft are already on sale for the 2020 season.
On Wednesday morning, May 1, our small group of Pilgrims, guided by Giuseppe and Herta, traveled by the #62 bus from the convent of Caterina di Volpicelli to St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican where we were greeted by Alberto and his wife and Giancarlo and his wife Norma, and other members of the Gruppo Dei Dodici. There we presented our credentials at the Pilgrim Office and received certificates for completing the walk.
Afterwards we attended the audience with Pope Frances, along with a few thousand others, and then dispersed, our pilgrimage over.
Today, Kent and I followed pilgrim trails through Rome. We’d tried to visit San Giovanni Lateran yesterday, but found the entire plaza blocked by a huge, super-loud May Day rock concert and swarms of young people.
We had more success today visiting this oldest church in Rome dating from 312. I recalled the story that Pope Innocent had a dream that the Lateran was crumbling, but saved from collapse by one man. When St. Francis came before him shortly after to plead approval for his order, Innocent saw in him salvation (and reform) for the church as a whole, and gave approval to the founding of the Franciscan Order.
From San Giovanni Lateran, we headed to San Clemente, which was closed for lunch. We had lunch, too, nearby, then visited the Basilica created from the Baths of Diocletian, before returning to San Clemente, with its multi-layered history of two churches built over a temple to Mithras. Our entire day was devoted to the many layers of Roman church history, from early days of persecution to the creation of a powerful church and continuing reforms.
Tomorrow we fly to San Francisco—the influence of the church and its saints has spread far from Rome.
Our pilgrimage will officially end tomorrow in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, but today will take us into Rome, on what will be our longest walk yet: 26 km.
It has been an amazing and sometimes exhausting two weeks. Every day has held surprises, new experiences, and new challenges. One of the biggest challenges for me has been letting go of expectations and control. Explanations of what each day was to hold were seldom forthcoming, and translation of Italian conversations were not always available. I am unaccustomed to following a pace other than my own. Nevertheless we have been a congenial and joyful group, and our leaders, Giuseppe and GianCarlo, have been enthusiastic and hard-working to make everything happen, making often-complicated arrangements for food, lodging, transportation, and visits to important sites.
Yesterday morning just four of us, set off from Victoria Domus B&B high on a hill on the outskirts of Priverno. The remaining two German walkers were returning home, and Torill and Herta were suffering injuries. Ned, Kent, Sylva and I, under Giuseppe’s careful leadership, descended to the edge of Priverno, getting a good look at the hill-top city as we walked. Giuseppe pointed to hills in the distance. “That’s where we’re going. There will be a 4 km climb.” One of the hills was topped by tall antennas.
The day was hot, and we stopped in the shade of trees and walls now and then. Giuseppe pointed out his home high on an olive covered slope. We followed small roads along canals lined with yellow and purple flowers.
Eventually, after quite a climb on roads we embarked on a path that grew increasingly steep and rough. Then we came to another road, a descent and then another path up, this one not so long, but steeper and tougher, with views out over flat agricultural land that had been reclaimed from marshland. a stumble here could have sent one rolling over limestone rocks and scrubby brush with little to stop one for a very long way.
A cool breeze on the high slopes mitigated the heat, but the air remained too misty to see the sea and distant islands. It was not long after our picnic lunch that we scrambled up one more rough track to find ourselves at the edge of Sezze and just a few houses along the road at the most delightful B &B of the trip.
Kent and I retreated to our room and after showering pulled a comforter over us and fell asleep for at least 3 hours. There was no wifi, so I had no distractions.
That evening our hostess Alma prepared a wonderful dinner of lentil soup, veal cutlet, mounds of artichokes braised in olive oil, a delicious green salad and delicious strawberry shortcake for dessert.
I had no trouble sleeping another 8 hours that night.
Well rested, we set out from Sezze this morning, with several new Italians accompanying us, under the leadership of Giancarlo. After a brief stop to buy sandwiches for lunch, and a tour of the local archaeological museum where we were offered cakes and sodas, we exited the charming medieval town and climbed ever upward.
Eventually we reached tracks through meadows with grazing cows, more mountain road, and then a lovely track that led through trees — some of the most untouched vegetation we have seen on this route. We also encountered a few other pilgrims today, all heading south from Rome.
As we neared the top of one long ascent, “Salida!” Giancarlo encouraged me, as I was, as usual the slowest one on the ascents. Then one more climb and we heard shouts of “Restaurante!” And there amidst a flock of goats we found picnic tables where we had our lunch.
Down again, we could see another hill town — Sermonetta— with a castle and swarms of tourists. We also encountered a group of 5 walkers, heading south, but apparently not taking our mountain paths. A welcome stop for beer, but I was dismayed to learn we still had a long 4-5 km and 2-21/2 hours yet to go to this abbey outside of town in lower Norma.
We could see it in the distance from the second of two wildly overgrown, steep, rocky descents we made this afternoon.
It seemed we’d never get here, but after many ups and downs we were here sometime after 4 pm. Made our beds, showered, and will rest until supper at 7:45 pm.
We have walked through beautiful scenery from hills to the seaside, and had some wonderful cultural experiences, but almost no time for sleeping or writing.
So what follows is a too short summary of recent days on the Via Francigena of the South.
Donna and Ned presented a Kei and Molly textile from Albuquerque to a helpful nun
It is hard to sort out the days. As so much has been crammed into them. Following the moving procession on Good Friday evening in Sessa, we had a jolly, simple meal of pizza together, then a long walk in the dark, past barking dogs and under a full moon to our lovely lodgings at the Convent of Santa Caterina di Volpicelli.
We have been treated as celebrities, greeted by mayors, treated to an extravagant lunch at a daycare center, and accompanied into Terracina by musicians playing ancient pilgrim music on réplicas of antique instruments. We’ve also been given talks on an important early suspension bridge, the largest and best-preserved Roman cistern dating from the time of Julius Caesar, and an ancient fort in Terracina.
We’ve had fabulous meals and walked through sites important in both ancient and modern history. There is too much to see, and too little time as we make our way through southern Italy on our pilgrimage to Rome.
Today, April 24, we have reached our halfway-point.
We have completed our first two days of walking our pilgrimage to Rome with the Gruppo di Dei Dodici. The Gruppo is an all-volunteer group devoted to maintaining, developing and promoting the southern branch of the Via Francigena, of which the better-known part stretches from Canterbury to Rome. This section goes both ways from Rome to Brindisi, from where pilgrims could cross the Mediterranean to reach Jerusalem, or travel from the south of Italy to Rome, as we are doing now.
Our first day from Teano involved a very long climb during the first half of the day, then at least one very steep descent and ascent at the end of the day. I was overjoyed when we reached the lovely town of Sessa, only to grow weary as we passed through the town, climbing higher still and then winding down for another kilometer to the Convent of Caterina Volpicelli on the outskirts. That was truly the longest mile.
During the day we stopped briefly to rest and eat sandwiches on park benches in lovely old villages.
Last night we returned to Sessa where we witnessed a moving Good Friday procession.