Today was Jed’s last day walking with us. We got ourselves up and ready to go in the camper and left when Roger and Ginny arrived, refreshed from some indulgence a la italiano.
We had some bursts of highway, but mostly calm secondary roads or tracks through the forest, chestnut and olive and cypress and the occasional banana tree (apparently for show rather than for fruit). Wild mint and oregano still sprout up everywhere. The highest peaks of the Tuscan countryside were off in the distance, but we went up and down gentle hills and in and out of a few more stony villages. The weather was lovely once again. We plopped down by a modest mausoleum to eat lunch, then made our way down out of the hills till we reached the river that flows past Lucca. We followed it the rest of the way in.
There was, at last, another episode in the random acts of hospitality. As we rounded a bend by a soccer field with a ramshackle bar-café next door, an old gent in a car started shouting at us, albeit in a friendly fashion. After some exchanges in our horrible pidgin Italian-French-Spanish, he invited us for coffee. A couple dozen more old gents sat around inside and out, discussing something or other loudly and intensely. There was a lovingly rendered drawing in colored pencil of Fausto Coppi, the record-setting Italian cyclist, hanging framed on the wall. We ordered our respective drinks and then he left us to drink them. We enjoyed the bemused stares from the assembled company.
After some logistical coordination with the camper half of our team, we walked into Lucca, which—like Nördlingen in Germany, a city we passed through about a hundred years ago—sports an intact city wall all the way around. It’s quite a charming place and seems chock full of history. My previous association with it was solely from the first line of War and Peace, “Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes,” though I know this not from reading War and Peace but from Peanuts cartoons.
Zeke has been pleading to do some pilgrim walking with us, so he came that last kilometer of our day’s journey, and so this time he got to see where we’re staying, an old convent at the basilica of San Frediano repurposed as a hostel. Then the three of us and Jed grabbed some cecina, the local chick pea-flour pancake, to tide over our pilgrim appetites until dinner.
While waiting for the restaurant to open we met another American couple, Erv and Lois, on a two-month European tour that ends tomorrow, so we had fun comparing notes of life on the road—they too have gone from Germany to Italy in the past eight weeks.
Our party of six expanded to a party of eight with the arrival of our friends Marion and Jonathan. They’re Americans but live in Geneva. She works at the English-language Lutheran congregation, and he as the Program Director for Peace-Building and Disarmament with the World Council of Churches. They promised long ago that they’d catch up with us at some point on the pilgrimage, and today was the day! They’ll be along for at least the next two days.