Tuesday evening over dinner, Michael and I had negotiated a nine o'clock start time. It was half past when we closed the door of the pilgrim's hostel in Piacenza behind us and got underway. Well actually, we walked about 50 m back the way we'd come the evening before so that Michael could have a look at the sports section of the morning paper while we both drank our morning coffee. Call it 9:45 then, when we set out for Fidenza, some 32 kms away.
The rain that had been forecast turned out to be drizzle for the first few hours, with a steady breeze coming in from the left. I kept my poncho on, since even a drizzle can soak a person to the skin if the exposure is long enough, and I knew that in our case it would be. The thing that amazed me is that Michael had no hat, hood, or scarf. He was walking through the blowing damp with his head fully exposed. Small wonder he doesn't want to walk in the rain! (We stopped by a parish church later in the morning, and he was given a change of clothing, including two hats.)
There were numerous stops today, so in spite of our fairly constant pace of 6 km/h, we had only covered 15 kms by the time our lunch break ended at 3:00. With half the distance left to cover and his inflamed shoulder causing great distress, Michael opted to catch a bus to Fidenza and meet me at the Cappuchin monastery there.
(We had tried calling them several times earlier in the day to give them a heads-up and confirm that we'd be able to find shelter with them for the night, but one of the numbers simply rang out, while the other resulted in a "Call Failed" notification.)
I arrived just as the evening Mass was ending. One of the departing worshippers took notice of me, dripping water on the floor, draped in a bright yellow poncho, with the bulge of my backpack beneath said poncho giving me a striking resemblance to Quasimodo. When I explained I was looking for a place to stay the night, she led me back to the sacristy where the celebrant was removing his vestments.
As I'm sure some of you have already guessed, their hospitality to pilgrims is not on offer year-round, coming to an end in October. The priest suggested that I find a hotel for the night. I could certainly have done so, but I hadn't seen Michael anywhere, and he should surely have arrived long before I did.
I'd spotted a café in one of the buildings of the monastic complex, so when the parishioner asked what I was going to do I told her I'd get a coffee and warm up a bit. As we were leaving the church, she pulled out her wallet and attempted to give me some money. As graciously as I could manage, I thanked her and explained that I have money. She was insistent on doing something, so I agreed to let her buy my coffee.
As we were walking towards the café, Michael spotted me from the sheltered corner where he had spread out his bedroll. He joined us in the warmth and light of the café, which sadly was set to close in less than half an hour. Our kindly host seemed quite shocked at the notion that he was resigned to sleeping outside on the doorstep of the monastery. (Remember the weather forecast I mentioned yesterday? Yup, rainy overnight, temperatures hovering around 7 Celsius.)
After paying for our coffee, she pressed the €15 she got in change on me, and this time I felt I had to accept it. As we left the café, I asked Luciana (Lucy in French - we'd been speaking together in a language foreign to both of us) to pray for us as we continue our pilgrimage. She promised to do so, and likewise asked for our prayers.
Not ten minutes after returning to the corner of the roofed walkway, the priest with whom I'd spoken earlier walked up and told Michael and I that we could sleep on the floor in a room in a wing currently housing several Chinese refugees. Apparently shame is a more powerful motivator than mercy for some folks.
Once he'd shown us to our room, so to speak, I pulled out the letter of introduction my parish priest had provided me so many weeks ago. The Cappuchin monk read it through and then asked it he could take it and photocopy it. (?) I wasn't about to say no, and when he returned, he handed my letter back saying (in the English he'd claimed earlier he couldn't speak), "This is most important." Strange.
Unlike the past few (open) parish accommodations we've stayed in, the heat is on in this building. There's a toilet and sink next door, but both my clothes and I will have to do without a proper washing until later. (Tomorrow? That would be nice!) My accordion-style foam sleeping pad has seen regular use as a seat cushion while walking, but tonight will only be the third time I've actually slept on it. My clothing bag (half full) will serve as a rather rank-smelling pillow.
For tomorrow, my guidebook lists two towns as having any parish accommodations for pilgrims: Medesano is 21 kms distant, while Fornovo di Taro is 30. Both have phone numbers listed, we'll be trying them both tomorrow, well before arriving. I suspect that we will be shown the door as soon as daybreaks tomorrow morning (i.e. 7:30 or thereabouts), so if we stop off in Medesano I could even sink-wash some clothes and still have time for them to dry overnight. We'll see what tomorrow brings!