I am grateful for the concern of various kind people who have been worried about my wellbeing because of the interruption on the blog. I am in fact fit and well. Today is my 79th day from Canterbury and I am getting near to Rome. I am in a small and inconspicuous town called Ponte D’Arbia, after Siena. Several things have conspired to prevent the blog continuing, temporarily. I will continue when I can. It is not a daily travel diary – it is something different from that and takes some time.
The major impediment is the frequent lack of a phone signal in rural areas of Italy. And now on this Italian section where there is a profusion of small ‘Camino-like’ simple ostellos provided by the parish or local commune there is very often no wifi either. It is very peaceful in this respect. Rather like being in Wicklow where I normally live. Interestingly it is in marked contrast to the Camino in Spain or Portugal where there is astonishing provision of 3G signal and WiFi in every remote bar and restaurant.
I still have my daily walking trace on Strava each day. And I post irregularly on Facebook (though I find it increasingly annoying and will at least disengage from it, if not leave altogether, when I get home).
The nature of the path has changed radically over the past two or three weeks. After wonderful peace and solitude in France, Switzerland and the north of Italy, the path has now entered tourist country in the tourist season. And tourism is important for the Italian economy and I have no issue with that. But trying to find a bit of space between coach loads of tourists in chic tourist outfits or dividing the noisy cheerful masses of hen parties and stag parties in the rather Disney-fied, over-manicured, cities of Tuscany is a very different experience from beating a solitary path through the empty battlefields of northern France. And different too from a solo trek through fresh Alpine snow. I leave it to you to infer which I prefer.
The first part of TS Eliot’s Journey of the Magi comes to mind :
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
It is the wistful, melancholy nostalgia I like. Looking back from here on Canterbury, France and Switzerland seems like going back in time a long way. There was still snow on the ground in Wicklow when I left. The wheat and barley are ripe for harvesting here.
The other difference now is the increase in pilgrim numbers. The other morning I counted 19 people along the path before 10am, which is more people than I met in the first 1000km combined. This certainly changes the dynamic. For me, overall, not in a good way. For others, that is what they came for. But there is room for all of us.
As ever thanks for your interest and support. When the technology allows, which could be tomorrow(!), I will blog further.