Marion and Jonathan both joined us this morning as we headed out along the levies from Ponte a Cappiano, accompanied by a swarm of mosquitos, many of which were the black-and-white striped anopheles mosquitos that once upon a time carried malaria all across this part of Italy. In Dante’s time (late 1200s and early 1300s), the area around Florence was a horrible disease-festering swamp (so we learned from the introduction to the Divine Comedy), and—a fitting connection with our own journey—Luther and his companion came down with what was likely malaria a short distance north of Florence during their trip toward Rome. We are hoping not to relive that particular aspect of his pilgrimage.
After a couple of hours of good conversation we arrived in San Miniato Basso (there’s an upper San Minato too, which is the older one with convent and various towers), where we enjoyed a last coffee with Jonathan and Marion until our road crew came to pick them up and take them back to their own camper. Andrew and I then proceeded onward, up and down rolling hills, finally off the highways and on farm tracks instead.
From what we could see of the countryside it was quite lovely, though fog masked a good deal of it. There is a wonderful variety of greens, the shimmery gray-green of the olive trees, the bold dark green of the arborvitae evergreens standing like soldiers at attention, and the bright yellow-greens of grass and deciduous trees. Here and there we saw cacti with fruit, and now the gardens sport huge patches of cardoon—Tuscany is the first place we’ve seen them growing. Dill flourishes alongside borage on roadsides and in lawns. Several fields were planted with sorghum, which forms a big orange-red head of tiny beads on top of the stalk. We found a volunteer olive tree in a forest so we decided to test out the rumor that olives right off the tree are inedibly bitter. It’s true!
The only real adventure in the day’s walk (barring the usual car-dodging along strips of highway) was in the last ten minutes, when the Via Francigena suddenly gave out at a large fenced-in area with every imaginable warning of hideous death posted all around. A power line was down, and the area inside was bulldozed, though from the looks of it years had passed since anything had been done about it. Casting around for solutions to the sudden problem we spied the track that previous pilgrims had apparently taken: they just climbed up the slope on one side and jumped the power line and fence alike. We did that, came to the other end of the fenced-in area, and were faced with even more significant barriers. In the end the only thing to do was climb a gate a few feet taller than I am—some kind soul had torn a hole in the gate halfway up for a foothold—and shimmy over to the other side. Actually, one of the most common sights in Italy has been abandoned construction projects. Everything from apartment buildings to bridges with arches jetting off either bank and a solitary support in the middle but nothing to connect them—and they always look as if they’d been given up on ages ago.
Once past this obstacle we met up with the grandparents, child, and camper in the hamlet of Capiano. From there we drove to Castelfiorentino, where we repacked, took the boy, and headed into Florence for 24 hours while Roger and Ginny set off for a campground overlooking the city and a trip to an abbey recommended by a Benedictine friend for tomorrow. We didn’t see much of the famous city this evening beyond the immediate vicinity of the train station, but we did meet up with our friends Paul and Melissa—Paul hiked 700 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon and Washington with Andrew a dozen years ago—who will be with us for the next few days. We have been richly blessed with company lately!