I recently walked an ancient Roman road in northern Italy and learned that along this byway centuries ago a Roman soldier, gone awol, was tracked down by assassins hired by the emperor and beheaded. His name was San Fedelino. He'd served his emperor until one day he chose to believe differently, he became a christian, and he fled north along a road I was walking. In 900 and something A.D. a tiny church was erected where he had been killed and his bones were disinterred and taken to Como where he now rests. He later became a saint. It takes courage to stand up against the powers that be; to go against the flow; to resist being like everybody else; to do what you believe is right despite the consequences. San Fedelino means "little faithful one". The church that commemorates his passing is in an isolated spot that can only be accessed by foot or boat. I haven't visited the place, but it seems fitting that it lies off the beaten track.
"Heavy" is the word that best describes the feeling I have had on this visit to Italy. Italy is a country heavly beautiful; deeply traditional. Hand in hand its natural and manufactured beauties walk blending stone, wood, metal, water and earth into forms that rise and fall and are as beautiful falling as rising. Like an ancient woman bent over with age, walking on crooked legs fingering a rosary of Hail Marys and Our Fathers; and like a boisterous, handsome young man full of himself and casting caution to the wind, Italy be-comes and is beautiful.
I drove to Pontremoli with Iris and Camilla yesterday. We travelled through fog, chestnut forests and over foaming creeks to pick up whole wheat flour at a water generated flour mill, "come una volta". We stopped and walked the streets of ancient Pontremoli before returning home. Iris treated us to a hot chocolate at one of the three Swiss coffee and pastry shops that were founded by three Swiss brothers in the 1800's. The one we visited in Pontremoli is the best preserved one. Enjoy the photos I've posted on Facebook.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
I've been hiking around Am'dam, north of the city and tomorrow will drive to East Holland near the German border with my friend Mark-Hans. Mark is a gracious and gregarious host. He and I and Ernst-Jan, another friend I met 7 years ago, discussed culture and our affinities and dis-affinities towards our native culture and supposed foreign ones. Ernst-Jan asked me, after I made the comment that Am'dam seemed more livable than San Fran, why I thought so. One thing you can count on from the Dutch is there directness and forthrightness-they often say what they think and ask what they want. It's refreshing and perhaps that is one reason why I find their largest city more livable? There are many reasons: an efficient and modern public transport system, an apparent commitment to clean air, water & energy systems, recycling, bicycling, multi-culturalism and widespread tolerance of human diversity and vice. Perhaps their attention to the maintenance of civil infrastructure and civility is a direct consequence of their need to constantly combat the water's rising tide and the sand's continual shift? They literally live on moving ground and water. Mark and I stopped to look at a street in a village north of Am'dam under re-construction; sump pumps were humming, steel pilings were being driven and ancient beams uncovered. The brick path atop the dyke we walked bowed from the center to its edges. Marks hikes regularly around the polders out to Marken Lighthouse and informed me that he has noticed an obvious change in the path since last year's hikes.