Oh my, it was hard to leave that beautiful place, the generosity of good friends, and the restfulness of a day off. But all the rain had washed the haze away, so we stepped out into a brisk and clear morning, and that conveys an energy of its own.
One of the owners of the B&B had mentioned to us that this had been the last tourist weekend of the season, and now “autumn really begins.” Coming from chillier climates, we find it amazing to be in a place where summer lasts until the middle of October. But it’s certainly colder now (as cold as Germany in August, Andrew pointed out), and though it’s still very green, the vineyards have turned half yellow, and the vines climbing all over the pale brown stones of houses are a vivid red. The sun was gentle but weak and we kept bundled up longer into the morning.
By what turned out to be a lucky mistake, we ended up on the alternate cyclist’s path instead of the standard walking course of the Via Francigena. It cut 5 km off what would have been quite a long day, and it was altogether quite pleasant—only short stretches on infrequently traveled highways. Some of it was along farm tracks between fields all plowed up, the earth rust-red and just as dark. One plot had pink-and-gray pigs snuffling up the overturned roots.
We are a bit reluctant to reveal our day’s destination, as it’s another walled hilltop town all in stone, but this one doesn’t make it into the guide books (or at least the one we have along), and accordingly it’s not overrun with chintzy shops and tourist buses. (Though we did hear at least two other American families in town.) So don’t tell anyone else, OK? It’s Monteriggioni. And by a very delightful coincidence we saw, as we ascended the steep and windy dirt road up into the carless town, one of the city wall’s stones carved with a reference from Dante’s Inferno: “As Monterregion’s ring-shaped citadel / Has all its circling rampart crowned with towers…” (Canto XXXI, ll. 40-41; of course the quote was in the original Italian, and this one here is from Dorothy Sayers’s translation in the Penguin edition). And a very apt description it is.
In fact, since today was the first day in a long time that we didn’t have any living company along, we invited Dante to fill the time instead. I was particularly delighted at these lines that fit so well with our drawing near to the close of our pilgrimage.
When by the sacred stair we now again
Were climbing, lighter far meseemed I trod
Than I had done upon the level plain;
Wherefore I said: “Master, what heavy load
Has slipped from me, so that I walk with ease,
And scarcely feel fatigue upon the road?”
And he: “When from thy forehead all the P’s
Which, half-effaced and dim, remain there yet
Are rubbed clean out, as one already is,
Then shall good-will so over-rule thy feet,
That they will climb, and not be merely strong
And uncomplaining, but delight in it.”
(Purgatorio, Canto XII, ll. 115-126)