Spiritual trekking on “La via di Francesco”
Deep inside the Italy one only sees in movies from Tuscany to Assisi
by George Teker
George walked on the path “La via di Francesco” from La Verna (in Tuscany) to Assisi (in Umbria), together with the group of Italian Wonder Ways. Let’s follow his journey through his daily ravel diary.
I have visited Italy – many times. I did not know that there are, in Central Italy, large forested areas, almost tropical -lush undergrowth – signs on the steep mountain passes warning motorists to beware of deer. Hills and mountains tripping each other up like young bridesmaids, instead of billowing dresses there are billowing clouds, whiter than white. Reminiscent of Sabie in Limpopo, Italy is beautiful. The countryside is beautiful.
Italian Wonder Ways – the world’s best hosts. True story. Our group of 12 members of the fourth estate, Photographers and Journalists from around the world have visited Mt. Alverna, the sacred place where Francesco d’Assisi was reputed to have received his stigmata. We have been graciously hosted by the Mayor of the Town La Verna in the valley, – a meal. An Italian meal. A buffet with all things deliciously, fragrantly, wonderfully Italian. Meats and cheeses and wine and breads and pastries and every one a gastronomic wonder. Many gastronomic wonders in one room on the Wonder Ways. Now to sleep after a trip that took 20 hours. I’ve been up for 40 hours. Did I mention the awesome beauty of the countryside? The sublime peace of Mt. Alverna? The meats and cheeses and wine and breads and pastries, this has been a good day. A good day.
Well, Italian Wonder Ways day 2 has ended. I have never been (yes, I include my own ones) on a tour so well organized, run and thought out. I have learned more about history, religion, the arts, gastronomy and archaeology in the past two days than I normally learn in any one year. The sacred and the profane.
The sacred: one of the places we visited is the reputed tomb of the wolf, yes – the wolf that terrorized the town of Gubbio until Saint Francis befriended it. A church, all medieval, surrounds the tomb and the alter is the stone slab upon which the wolf lay its head on Saint Francis lap. This town IS history, from Neolithic times to the present. The profane: well, I’m writing this from the Hotel Relais Ducale, my room has a balcony which overlooks everything. It’s the Italy one only sees in movies. We had dinner in Il palazzo dei Consoli (described in Hermann Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf), built in 1332/1349. 4 different sets of food, four meals on four different levels in four separate museum sections, 4 different epochs, Roman, Medieval, Renaissance and 17th century Italy – each meal historically accurate, each museum section described by its curator – an experience of a lifetime. I think that just today I have had more than 5 separate experiences of a lifetime. Overwhelmed does not adequately describe me right now. I am, literally, trembling with sensation.
The good town folk of Gubbio consider themselves crazy. Crazy with a passion for life, to see the world with the eyes of a grownup but with the heart of a child. In a moving ceremony that involved a fountain and water and running around we 12 were granted, by town council degree – the appellation of honorary ‘Crazy’ ones. I always knew it but now – its official.
Today’s Wonders on Italian Wonder Ways. A walk through thick forest and greeted by the people of a small town who performed a full historical pantomime for us – Knights in armor, archers, Friars, Horse, Berserker viking and local food feast, Bilbo would have felt at home, a second breakfast feast. A walk through Assisi, I think its grander than Rome. Then a walk through Saint Francis’s wood to another buffet feast. And yet this pales before what came after. Sublime. Ethereal. Sacred. We went to a mountain top way above Assisi – 1300+ Meters and walked to a dolomite sinkhole where some musicians, pupils at a local college, climbed down to the bottom of the dolomite depression, carrying medieval musical instruments, 10 pupils in all, far from any sign of the 20th century. From any century. They performed a medieval music fest, just for us. I was watching perched in-between some thistles close to the outer edge of the cavern and I turned my head and, Oh Lord… there… standing quite still, seemingly listening, were 4 horses, not eating but – listening to the fairy music floating up into the lambent air. When the music stopped the horses started eating once more. I cried like a baby.
The Italian Wonder Ways press visit… I find it hard to express just how much work has gone into this. Tonight above Assisi is a 12 century castle/fort, now a museum. La Rocca Maggiore. The 12 participants on our leg were invited there tonight. When its closed. Awaiting us were 5 drummers, pre medieval drummers, a drumming. 5 Trumpeters, medieval trumpeters, a trumpeting. And 8 medieval banner bearers – bearing banners. A Throwing them into the air and catching them. We were given a triumphal arch (made up of crossed banners) drum/trumpet entrance followed by a half hour long display – a medieval pageant, the players outnumbering us. These festivals that we are witnessing occur only once a year – they are being enacted out of season – for the participants of Italian Wonder Ways press visit.
Then – yes, there was a then, – then we went into the Ducal dining hall and dined. As in times ancient, no forks, food served by men carrying enormous table-sized platforms bearing the various courses – surrounded by ancient farm implements and tools. The heads of various Italian culture and tourism bodies hosted us and the Mayor of Assisi – a Woman (for the first time in history) graciously paid us a visit and partook of some victuals with us. Burning torches set in the ancient stones illuminated the scene while various personages (I interpreted) enlightened us with stories about history and antiquity. We then strolled down into the village below where our transport awaited to carry us back to our hotel. A castle opened – a 12th century dining hall brought back to vibrant life – for the Italian Wonder Ways press visit. All by people wearing that era costumes, whilst we supped on that era’s food prepared and served in that very same dining hall in which Kings and Queens, Royalty and Popes and Saint Francis himself banqueted. It was like being in a Fellini movie. What a great honor it is to be a participant. What a blessing!
This is, after all, Italy. Therefore food is important. I am only now beginning to understand the care, preparation and love that has gone into the meals, feasts and banquets that the participants in the Italian Wonder Ways Press contingent have been gifted with. Today our lunch-time host was Luciano Loschi, author of ‘Le Buone Erbe’. We were presented with several courses of locally grown, pesticide free and personally collected and prepared produce, from meats to vegetables, from cheese to wine. There is a difference in taste, in feel, in the aroma, in the very look of these foods. At times my taste buds were waltzing, at other times they were doing the flamenco. The point being – each component of each course has its own distinct flavor, texture and aroma. I have learned that there are hundreds of tastes and, here on the Italian Wonder Ways Press experience, each one is the expression of the world’s finest cooks and foods made incarnate.
The Italian Wonder Ways is drawing to a close… tonight the 5 groups gathered together for a dinner. In Rome, the eternal city. Of course each group thinks that they are composed of the greatest, the very best people. In truth, most of the groups are wrong. Our group, the journalists and photographers on the Via Di Francesco squad are the wisest, most funny, the best looking and all round greatest group of journalists and photographers anywhere, anytime, ever. True story.
The Italian Wonder Ways Press Tour is over. This may be one of the saddest things I have ever written. “The Italian Wonder Ways Press Tour is over”. I am Italian, born in Italy, have worked for Italian companies and have returned often – as a visitor. The Italian Wonder ways reminded me of what I am – of who I am. I am Italian and I have fallen deeply, madly, passionately in love with Italy. Its as if the warmth, the sunshine, the ancient stones and welcoming people, my people, have always lived in my heart. As if I have lived unknowing that I was waiting for the clarion call – the call of home. I know now, that wherever I may find myself I will be lost – a sailor on the sea of ‘somewhere else’ – a cold, storm-tossed sea. My only compass point will from this experience onward, be Italia. I hope that my fellow sailors, those who came to report, have also felt something deeper. I miss them, I miss the organization and I miss Italy in anticipation of leaving, of going back to South Africa. The truth is – even though The Italian Wonder Ways ended some days back, I have continued in a spirit of passion and using the new eyes that The Italian Wonder Ways gave me, have carried on sojourning for a few days in the very same Italy that the Italian Wonder Ways introduced me to. The Italy of small village festivals, of friendly people, of town squares filled with running and laughing children, of old folk sitting in the sun and enjoying the wind. The amazing variety of life that is so much very more than I knew from the ‘tourist’ route. I have discovered a world in one country. I am Marco Polo. I am Cristoforo Colombo, an explorer. I am Italian and I have found home.