Nov 25, 2014

Perplexing Pilgrims

To date, all but two of the pilgrims I've spoken with have been foreigners: Germans, Swiss, and English. (Well, there were six Italian women I met on the street, but our conversation lasted all of a minute.) The thing which I find most peculiar is that these two Italian pilgrims will not walk when it's raining unless circumstances compel them.

On the one hand, I suppose that's not surprising. After years of doing deliveries through all sorts of weather, I can say quite clearly that my least favourite weather condition is rainy with the temperature in the single digits Celsius. (Wind adds to the misery, but is not an essential component.) It's not weather fit for anything other than watching through a window, sipping hot chocolate while seated in a comfy chair next to a good fire. (Other types of weather are also good for this!)  Since neither of these two inclementally dis-inclined pilgrims face any sort of time pressure, ‎there's no good reason for them to expose themselves to the cold raw nastiness if they have the option to stay put and wait it out.

On the other hand, it's late November in northern Italy! What were they‎ expecting?!? The one pilgrim has a K-Way rain jacket and pant set, the other has a mini-umbrella and a lined three seasons jacket over a light leather jacket and no rain cover for his backpack. "There's no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing." And yes, I know that I cut my first day back on the road short last week due to the rain, but that was because I had forgotten how to properly layer my gear for this particular type of misery.

This morning, my travelling companion had a quick look at the newspaper in a café. Later on, he mentioned it was supposed to rain tomorrow, so he would ask at the hostel tonight if we could stay one extra day. I don't *think* I looked at him as though he were daft, but that was certainly my internal reaction. I also knew that the weather app on my phone was forecasting a greater than 50%‎ chance of rain each day for the next six days.

When the subject came up again a little later, he mentioned that maybe we could start a little later than usual and hope to avoid the worst of it. That sounded better to me, but I'm hoping to make it to Fidenza tomorrow and take refuge with the Capuchins, which is at least 30 kms. There is another option some 5 km closer if we find ourselves benighted in the cold dark rain, but I rather fancy enjoying monastic hospitality again. (Plus, I still have that timer ticking away - averaging 30 kms per day gets me to Rome four days earlier than if we log 25 kms per day.)

Today, we took nine hours to cover 25 kms. Well, 29 kms, except that four of those were sitting in a power boat cruising down the River Po.‎ We'd set out at 8:45, having booked a 10:00 river taxi ride with the most memorable Danilo Parisi. Pilgrims on the Via Francigena who have met him have nothing but good things to say about this kind and generous man, and Michael and I are the latest.

After completing the 4 km passage, Danilo invited us to his home for coffee. We signed his impressively large pilgrim's logbook, and got our pilgrim's credentials stamped.‎ After chatting for a bit, he left us for a moment and came back with an immense loaf of fresh bread, some homemade cheese, and a good sized chunk of salami for Michael. He also gave us pretty good directions for the rest of the day's walk, and a few pointers for tomorrow. It was 11:30 by the time we took our leave, having covered 7 kms in three hours. Most of that time was spent sitting and drinking coffee. :-)

Michael and I powered through the next few towns pretty quickly, pausing for a brief lunch break about 5 kms outside the Piacenza city limits. Things slowed down considerably after that. Each subsequent time ‎Michael suggested a coffee break, I was all too willing to oblige, even though it takes me longer to get back up to speed the later it gets.

Eventually the sporting goods store that Danilo had told us about came into view, and we knew the parish office was only a few hundred metres beyond that. I looked at a few different shoes, and eventually settled on a pair that seemed like a good fit. I knew that I'd be replacing my footwear at least once this trip, but I thought it would be due to wearing out my shoes rather than the shoes wearing out my feet. Now all I can do is hope that the new shoes ‎work out better for me than the last pair did. I certainly won't be taking them back to the store for a refund!

After easing my feet into their new armor, we proceeded to the church office of San Lazzaro to sign in, get our credenziales stamped, and get directions to our night's lodging. The parish of San Lazzaro is responsible for ‎the pilgrim's hostel attached to the Church of St Peter the Apostle just a few kilometres distant. In the Middle Ages, San Lazzaro hosted a leprosarium on the church property. While that aspect of their service has been handed over to the state, they still maintain an active Caritas programme, providing food and clothing to the needy, as well as the regular activities of a large and thriving urban parish.

I'm not sure why the Church of St Peter the Apostle no longer has an active parish, but the adjoining hostel was housing pilgrims since at least the 11th century, when it was run by the Templars.‎ The Knights of Malta eventually assumed that responsibility in addition to their more martial duty of keeping the Roman bridge over the River Nure. According to my guidebook, part of that bridge can still be seen near the modern one. 

I don't know whether this building has been in continuous use as a hostel for the past millenium. I rather doubt it, but it's wonderful to see it returned to its original use. It was completely renovated in 2000 as part of the Year of Jubilee, and Pope John Paul II was present for its (re?)dedication.

And so tomorrow evening I hope to be in Fidenza‎, although it may be a late arrival. As I write this, Michael is looking rather the worse for wear, and asked if I could wait for him in the morning, "Maybe ten, maybe noon." Although he's a little on the chatty side for an extreme introvert such as myself, he's not bad company. Perhaps in the morning I'll suggest that he meet me at the Capuchin monastery, and let him decide for himself when he'll arrive. (sigh)

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