More on the title of this post later. Let’s start at the beginning…
I’m awakened about 3 a.m. by nothing more than a bad taste in my mouth. I get up to brush my teeth and get back in bed. Within minutes the first sounds of the birds chirping come about. I want to sleep, so I keep my eyes closed. I could close the window, but it’s so rare to be able to sleep with the window open and fresh air coming in. I think about counting sheep or cows jumping over the moon. Strangely, I conjure up an image of a cow jumping over a little bald man. Don’t ask.
The birds get louder and hunger starts gnawing at me. Sleep eludes me. I spread Nutella from a small package over my last piece of bread from the train and sit in bed, reading my book at 4:30 in the morning, listening to the birds. This is not something I really ever do at home. I like being able to move at a slower pace. But I don’t have a life here. I don’t have a livelihood, i don’t have a job. Maybe when I get home I can take some more time to move slowly. I’m trying not to think about all the work I have when i get back.
The first light hits, barely, and there’s no point in staying inside. So off I go.
When I leave the hotel, there is a box of freshly baked croissants waiting outside the entrance. They’re still warm to the touch (at least, the one I take is. I didn’t go poking at all of them), crisp on the outside and soft inside. The air is chilly and I’m glad to have brought a hat, scarf and gloves. There’s a tip for traveling between seasons: prepare for a variety of temperatures with light layers, and don’t underestimate the value of keeping head, neck and extremities warm. A great way to add extra warmth without bulk? A pair of stockings under jeans. Seriously, world of difference.
I walk empty streets, taking in everything around me — the uneven stones, the slightly blue tint of the sky, the arched doorways. Most of the time, unoccupied streets make me nervous — no one around to hear you scream — but here, I just want to keep walking.
I come across Piazza San Rufino, home of the Assisi Cathedral, where Saints Francis and Clare were, reportedly, baptized.
Continuing on, I come across a rock wall and jagged rock tower. And here is where the post title comes in. In a move that would that horrify my parents (sorry, Mom) and (I hope) make my climbing friends proud, I scramble my way up the wall and then up the tower.
I realize what an absolutely stupid move this is. I’m alone and completely inexperienced. The possibility of plummeting to my death or severe injury is not non-existent. But I feel like I’ll be okay. It isn’t that high, maybe 100 feet or so. Let’s just assume the saints were with me or something.
Going up is fun. Going down is terrifying. I was hoping to see the sunrise, but either I missed it or I was looking in the wrong direction. Oh well, it felt good. Kind of amazing, actually. Doing something I have no reason to believe I can actually do is pretty spectacular. And yes, I know it’s not all that tall, but for someone who doesn’t actually know how to do this, it’s kind of a big deal.
Feeling a great sense of rejuvenation after my mini-triumph, I continue on toward the Basilica di Santa Chiara, the Church of St. Clare. Despite the signs, I get lost in the winding streets of Assisi along the way.
When I finally find my way to where I’m going, the basilica is set on a now-empty piazza that will fill up within a matter of hours. The church itself is formed of pink and white stones, in a striped pattern, and the view, like all the views here, is beautiful.
Chiara, who ran away from parents determined to marry her off to a wealthy man, was one of the first followers of San Francesco. The founder of the Order of Poor Ladies, she is believed to have been the first woman to have written a monastic rule.
I tiptoe inside the church and I’m the only one inside. There’s a sign forbidding photography, but with not a small amount of guilt, I snap some pictures. Apparently, Clare is not thrilled with me for this, because none of them actually come out. At one point, my camera makes a whirring sound, disturbing the near-silence. From the other side of the wall, in a cloistered area, I hear a man speaking and women responding in unison — a priest giving mass to some nuns, I assume. I feel like a horrible person. Here I am, in their holy space, sneaking around at 6:30 in the morning, trying to document my visit to a place I barely understand. Several young-looking sisters hurry in and genuflect before the altar before slipping behind a closed door. I keep my head down, pretending to be in deep reflection, and I’m pretty sure I’m officially driving the bus to Hell. I know these churches have become public spaces, attractions almost, but right now, I feel like an intruder.
Outside, I cease to hold my breath and eventually come across a sign pointing toward Rocca Maggiore. I have no inkling of what this is, but I’m assuming it’s something akin to “big rock.” Okay. Let’s see what this big rock is all about.
Overlooking Assisi and the Spoleto Valley, it is a fortress rebuilt by Cardinal Albornoz during the second half of the fourteenth century. Thre a sign leading up a path to a ticket office, but it’s far too early and besides, I have no desire to trail along on some tour. Emboldened by my earlier ascent, I want to take the unbeaten path. And I do. Trailing over uneven ground, I climb up as far as I can go, to the outside walls of the fortress and look out. The view is stunning, majestic, and I can see for miles. I have a delicious feeling that I am absolutely not meant to be here.
Making my way back down, I come across an open gate leading down a pathway. I start to go in but see a sign: Attenti Al Cane, beware of dog. Typically, if a gate is not closed, I’ll go there, something I would be less inclined to do at home. However, my canine-phobic self will not venture farther here. It’s a good thing I don’t because I soon spot another sign – Propretia Privata. I’m not inclined to knowingly trespass if I can help it. So I just step inside enough to glance down the way.
I start to walk back around a hill. I notice a golden retriever on the hillside where I just was. Attenti Al Cane, indeed. I thank every available higher power for the timing. I see it coming down, so I rush down a flight of steps and see another path. I go down that, but it doesn’t lead anywhere. I go back and there on the path is the same dog, about 50 yards away. It just stands there, wagging its tail, looking disinterested. Then it turns around and follows a man in a hat down the Vicolo San Lorenzo.
I’ve noticed more dogs off leashes in Italy, and God knows I do not want a reduction of leash laws in the States, but the dogs here are also scaring me less than the dogs in America because they’re not being loud and frenetic and invasive. Maybe it’s akin to the European attitude on drinking – don’t make it a big restrictive deal and there will be less hullabaloo about it. But I have a personal appreciation of pet restrictions, as I don’t actually appreciate pets, so whatever legalities can keep them away from me — please.
Apparently, the owners of a property I pass feel the same way about trespassers that I do about dogs, because the top of the wall surrounding a house is lined with pieces of broken glass.
Walking back toward town, there are signs of life. The day has begun and I no longer have the city nearly to myself. Children walk with their backpacks toward school. Yes, there are actual young people who go to school here. It throws me for a moment. A woman sits outside her home, her apron suggesting she is taking a break from her morning chores. Her house overlooks a small chapel.
For the record, yes, gelato makes an excellent breakfast, thank you very much. And I’ve walked enough already to not feel guilty about the calories. Besides, there is more walking to be done, back up the hilly twisted streets and steps, to a road that leads out of the city proper. My goal is to reach the Eremo dell Carceri, a small hermitage where Francesco di Bernardone (later St. Francis of Assisi) spent time in the 13th century. I walk along the road, viewing what I’m certain are olive trees on both sides. Of course, I have no knowledge of botany and so for all I know, they’re fig trees. Do figs grow on trees? I think they’re olives.
On each side of the road are images that some might imagine would mar the beauty of the landscape, but to me, they just add character. On one side, down in a valley, is what looks like a large tent surrounded by refuse. On the other is a small, dilapted brick structure, up on a craggy ledge above the road.
Unfortunately, my feet start to feel too much stress from the morning’s ventures and I have to give up the quest to walk the four kilometers beyond Assisi’s borders up to the Eremo, at Monte Subasio. So I head back toward town, make my way back through the narrow vicoli and the piazzi, now coming to life, in search of something slightly more substantial than ice cream to eat.
After that, I will return to Via Fontebella, to the Hotel Fontebella, methodically pack up my backpack, tie my plastic food bag to the top loop, and walk back down, past the path overlooking the courtyard of the Basilica di San Francesco, past the construction site, down to the bus stop, where I’ll catch the bus to the train station.
Today, I am off to Cortona.