Fabio took us to Assisi today. But before we got there we stopped at the Santa Maria cathedral where St.Francis’ church is built. It’s a modest little chapel that now sits inside the massive cathedral the Church built over it after his death. Fabio was upset by the Church’s complete disregard for St.Francis’ philosophy. There certainly is a stark contrast between the two buildings. There were tourists from all over the world praying over the site but it didn’t prepare me for the rest of the day.
We arrived at Assisi around noon. The view from the road is pretty spectacular. The whole city is built into the mountains out of the same earth stone and the air is so ancient you feel like you’re being transported back in time. We went into the basilica and saw all the Giotto frescoes, the tourists, the pilgrims, the nuns and the monks. We listened to the songs and prayers near his tomb. We walked through the city and went to no less than a dozen churches. All the while Fabio kept up a steady monologue regarding the philosophy of life and St.Francis and the spirituality of the place and the dignity of man and the history of the architecture. There was a festival for May going on and everyone who lived in the city was dressed in medieval costume. They played lutes and carried flowers and laurel wreaths and sang on the steps of the Etruscan temples. The girls had flowers in their hair and the men wore tights and hats. It was hot and the walking was uphill the whole way, but Fabio wouldn’t stop for coffee.
Next we went to an errata, that’s the place in the mountains where hermits go to pray and live. In this case it was where St.Francis went to meditate in the forest. We stayed there a long time walking around the rocks and trees and talking about the barefoot hermits we saw in the city center living just the way hermits have been living for a thousand years.
From the errata we went the see Chiara’s cathedral and tomb. We discussed the amorous nature of her relationship with Francis and commented on the new musical that opens next month. Then we went to St.Domini’s, I think. By then I lost track of which saint we were talking about but anyway it was the church St.Francis went to when he heard the voice and received the stigmata. We went in and waited for a miracle. None came but I did see a very good looking monk. I don’t just mean good looking in the everyday normal way, I mean gorgeous. He was dark haired with olive skin and piercing green eyes. I didn’t say anything but kept walking. When we passed him Stefania said, “Did you see him? What a waste for a man like that to become a monk.”
That was exactly what I was thinking.
The nuns were making prayer beads to support the reconstruction and blessing them for an offering. I bought one for Orion while Fabio turned his questions and discussions to the handsome monk. Stefania and I walked away to rest in the shade and plot out a plan to get Fabio to stop for food.
All day Fabio asked what our impression of Assisi and St.Francis was. All day Stefania said we’d talk about it later. When we were walking away from the monk he asked her again and this time she broke. She told him our impression was that it was waste for a man so beautiful to become a monk.
Well, if we thought we had been flooded by philosophy all day we had no idea the tsunami of conversation that comment would bring. Fabio was determined to get through the shallow nature of our being and so he whisked us off to a new town and a lot more churches.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this I did have the best gelato yet. Amarena. Fantastic. Amazing, delicious.
It was Spello where he made us wander up and down the hills and alleys of yet another medieval village built upon Roman ruins and crawling with basilicas. When it was getting dark and we really couldn’t imagine taking one more step and we swear we didn’t mean anything about the handsome monk, this 82 year old finally relented and let us get back in the car. We drove home and ran to the kitchen to make some food. When it was ready I called him, “Pronto!” but he didn’t want to come right away. He said he was thinking. “About what?” Stefania wanted to know. It was the handsome monk, he said. Why would we have said such a thing after the spiritual journey we went on today?
So it was pasta and salad and more conversations that finally got Fabio to decide that he was learning from us. He said women are practical. We must be very practical to look at a handsome man and decide that he would’ve been better off making babies than making such a spiritual choice. Of course, I don’t see it as spiritual. I don’t see anything spiritual about a man that looks like that wearing a dress and sitting outside St.Domini for the rest of his life.
Anyway, I’m tired. I walked for hours up hills and through churches. I know that none of that can compare to how tired Stefania is. Translating philosophy all day has worn her out. I know all she really wants is a nice shower but I’m not sure there’ll be any hot water. This lovely place, just like the ones I dream about, is the oldest house I’ve ever slept in and modern luxuries are not a given. But I like it. It’s better than all the Assisis and cathedrals and miracle sanctuaries I could possibly see in a day. It’s a simple place, a farmhouse, built on top of a hill with a view of more hills from every window. It’s a little piece of paradise, so special and true that even hundreds of years after its construction it stands just the same as practical and peaceful for me as it has been for the generations who’ve eaten, risen and rested in its walls. I wanted Stefania to tell Fabio how much I preferred his house to the spiritual journey we trekked through today but she refused to translate. Those places mean so much to him it might be insulting to think this common house, as much as he loves it, could be as divine as the forest errata of St.Francis or the roman ruins at Spello or the tomb of Chiara at Assisi.
As for St.Francis, it’s nice to know that his call to Pax et bonum, peace and goodness, are still celebrated. I imagine that if we all were to focus so deeply on one purpose, we may be able to bring a bit of it into our own lives as well. Maybe we’d even be able to overlook the face of a young monk and see the spirit of man instead. But then, what’s the point of being human?