John Lennon used the phrase in his song Beautiful Boy.
Last week, Mr International Athlete, I stumbled, tumbled and twisted my foot; I jumped up, rubbed some dirt on it and continued on like nothing happened. Luckily, it didn’t interfere with the day’s Dragon Boat paddling. I paddled twice; we finished well back, out of medal contention.
After some hobbling about, it became obvious it was more than a wrench. Quietly, I sneaked off to the hospital in Ravenna. The good news is the Italian health care system works like a charm. An x-ray confirmed two toes on my left foot were broken. They only had to be taped but the doctor affirmed what I had already figured out; my plans for two weeks of walking the St. Francis Way, a rugged 280 km two week walk from Florence to Assisi were broken like my toes.
There’s nothing heroic about tripping and nothing dramatic about a broken toe. No mythic stories, no yarns, no heroism; just a month or more with my pinkies taped together and walking in flip flops. And who wants a big fat foot for a month? Almost embarrassing, actually.
Life had intervened; I needed a new plan.
Two weeks of lodgings and meals were prepaid and I wasn’t likely to get a refund, I just needed to get there; I can’t walk, so I’ll drive – my ‘Plan B’. In Florence I rented Skippy, my Fiat 500. Enjoying the new plan would involve flexibility, optimism, a change in attitude and a little luck.
Why do we always rent a standard shift car with buttons and knobs in unfamiliar places in the middle of big cities full of aggressively insane drivers? A streak of Masochism, the male Y chromosome, or the gods laughing? Skippy and I made it out of Florence alive, white-knuckling along at half the speed limit, trying to remember the rules for entering and exiting traffic circles whilst translating Italian road signs and monitoring the Google map on my I-phone; yes I was using it for the first time. More fun is not imaginable.
Second, I have been blessed with side roads not autoroutes, although I’ve been surprised by the number of huge trucks using side roads with speed and abandon as their drivers train for their next demolition derby. Italian drivers…
The hotels along the way have been generally good – two cheap-and-cheerfuls, five worth going back to. I met up with Norm and Kim, two hikers from Edmonton on exactly the same itinerary from Edmonton (I know, how small is that world!) who have become dinner companions. I drive, they walk. We part tomorrow, but the serendipity of that coincidence has been a bonus.
What I am seeing is some wild forests, rugged country, lots of hills and dales, winding roads, rustic farmhouses, even a wild fox. All that is good.
The meals have been universally good, some excellent. Besides pasta, I’m slicing my way through a lot of cured meats these days and funghi seem to be the recommended vegetable of choice. The local, deli/coffee shop/restaurant/general store has enough cured ham on display to last a lifetime. Very rustic.
There are always sweet spots, even on ‘plan B’. I happened across a hermitage. Established in 1012, it just celebrated 1000, yes 1000, years of continuous worship on the site. There are about a dozen priors/monks or whatever they call themselves, living in glorious isolation in the middle of the Apennine forest. They have a huge complex and a simple austere church that captivates. It’s small, seats for 60, but the artifacts, paintings, frescoes, and stained glass go back as far as the 1500’s. The monks celebrated mass while I was there so I stayed, happy to discover a place so imbued with tranquility and spirituality.
I am constantly amazed at the human condition; men who voluntarily withdraw from society to live a life of sanctuary and silence. I am filled with wonder.
I visited the Franciscan sanctuary of La Verna where, in 1224, St Francis is reported to have received the stigmata of Jesus Christ. I am not a Catholic or a religious person although some twenty years ago a Franciscan retreat centre outside of Calgary played a powerful role in my life. An instant affinity mixed with deja vu rolled over me as I approached the iconic statue of St. Francis outside the Sanctuary complex. At mass again; I recalled the peace, tranquility, simplicity and calm that seems uniquely Franciscan.
Michelangelo was born on March 6, my birthday; we do not share the same talents even though our horoscopes align. His birthplace in the rolling hills, small villages, terra cotta roofs covering firm stone walls, defines pastoral tranquility. I’ve spent a whole day, mindlessly tracking clouds and shadows as they drift across the landscape laid out before me.
Maybe I’ll try painting while lying on my back, maybe that will work better for me than standing up…
Slowing down was not my choice; yet the challenge has become the opportunity. Plan B has affirmed the Law of Unintended Consequences. Nothing that I expected to happen over this past week has happened; vague expectations have been replaced by delightful surprises.
Maybe I’ll fall down more often…