Friday, July 13, 2012

On the Way to Rieti: Lost, Lost, Really Lost, and then Found

I sat with a few other members of our Franciscan study pilgrimage to do some faith sharing. The topic: What have we learned so far from our experience? Have there been any “A-ha!” moments of insight so far?

Well, what have I learned so far-- after one week into this 21-day experience is that nobody has the whole picture, but that everyone has a piece of it. And the more pieces I have access to, the richer my experience and the better off I am. Let me explain myself a little by telling you about my experiences (plural) of getting lost and found one recent afternoon.

We were at the Franciscan shrine in Ponte Colombo—the beautiful and still-secluded wooded hillside where Francis wrote his Rule for the order he was founding (approved in 1223) I noticed a poster on the message board announcing “Francesco: Il Santo”— a special temporary show of artworks and artifacts relating to Francis of Assisi on display in Rieiti, about three miles from where we were staying at the Centro de Spiritualita di Madre Cabrini in suburban Quattro Strade.

I got very excited and spread the word among my fellow travelers. Would they be interested in coming along during our free time in the afternoon. “I might be interested….. I’ve got to fold my laundry….Oh, I’m so tired, I need a nap. You go. Tell me if it’s interesting and maybe I’ll go tomorrow…” So. This Little Red Hen was prepared to trek on alone when one of our companions, Margaret, offered to accompany me on the adventure. I eyed her skeptically: a grandmother in ankle-length dress, no hat for the blazing sun, and flat shoes, no socks. Only a purse and a water bottle for the journey. This ain’t gonna work….. Margaret insisted she would be fine (and she was). Oh, what the heck, never mind, let’s just go.

I had heard that there was something called the Cammino di Francesco—a posted walking path stretching the 150 miles from Assisi to Rome. Right now, we just needed to access the tiny slice of the Camino which would get us to Rieti without having to hassle with the main highway. So, first, I did what any self-respecting world citizen of the 21st century would do. I went online to get Mapquest directions. Then, I asked Sister Franca, who was working in the kitchen, for directions. With Sister Franca, I tried to test one of the fundamental operating principles of travel here: If I pretend to speak Italian, people will pretend to understand me. In doing so, I ran up against a basic assumption The World has about travelers: That when you (honestly) tell people you speak only a little bit of their language, they (honestly) think you really know a whole lot. So I was able to follow her directions as far as “You go down the drive, turn right, and then you come to the sign for Aqua Martina….” And after that, I / we were totally lost. Brother Conrad, fluent in Italian, came into the picture to help with the translation. With his good help, we got a bit more information, “… but I’m not exactly sure what she’s saying,” he confessed. “Her directions are so complicated. Anyhw, good luck.”

At the end of the drive, we ran into a young couple on their scooters. They confirmed the part of the directions we understood from Sor Franca. Ten minutes later, an older man in his front yard gave us another bit: Turn right at the next corner. Great. After that, we suddenly found ourselves on somebody’s suburban shortcut as cars whizzed by us at 50mph. And no sign for the Camino. But we kept trudging, bravely chatting along, gobbling up our 8-ounce water supplies in the blazing afternoon sun. Onward! Lots of cars, lots of curves, and no human beings. Our spirits began to flag when we passed a ‘descanco’—a homemade memorial to the victim/s of a fatal accident at that very location.

Buses (plural) passed us in the opposite direction. None of them going anywhere close to where we were headed. An elderly couple sitting in the shade of their garage came up to the gate and gesticulated eagerly. What are they saying? That we’re going in the wrong direction. Oh. Well, should we take this bus that’s coming now?

He who hesitates is lost. The bus slowed down, then decided to pass us up. Trudge on. Another farmyard. This time, a teenager hanging out in his car, listening to the radio, probably dreaming of getting his license (and out of the farmyard) soon. “You are headed in the wrong direction,” he told us. Oh really? Well, could you fill our water bottles? Sure. By the way, I noticed a sign to a sanctuary for Padre Pio. How long would it take to get there? On foot? About 3-4 hours. Oh. Thanks for the water. Mille grazie.

Okay, we’re out of here. Should we find some shade and wait for another bus? How about if we hitchhike? How do we do that? It will work better, I told Margaret, if you try instead of me. Just stick out your hand and thumb. Like this? Screeech!!!.... Door opens, into the back seat. Grateful gesticulations in Spanitaliano. Americani. Locos. Perdidos/ lost-os. Smiles. Then zoom….. reducing our travel time from hours to less than five minutes.

Sorry, I’m not going to Rieti. I have to let you out here. No no, that’s great. Where’s here? In front of the gelateria, across from the parish church. In Quattro Stade. Exactly where we started out more than an hour ago. Okay, now what. Let’s keep going. How about the bus? What does the schedule say? Let’s wait in the shade; if it takes longer than 20 minutes, let’s walk home. No. Let’s get a gelato first and then walk home. Okay. Deal.

Truck, truck, car, truck, bus (no, another truck). Bus! Right! Rieti? Si si si. Cathedrali? No no no. Stazione de busses? Si? Cuanto cuesta? 3 euros, but don’t pay me now. My colleague will come in about five minutes. Great. Grazie…. Five minutes later, bus stazione, no colleague, no fare. Grazie. Now what?

There’s an exhibition poster. Let’s follow it. An Italian man walking down the hill: keep going up and up. Bilgeterria. Okay, grazie. Ticket office. Benvenutti. 10 Euros, please. Three shows, three venues. You can use the tickets until November. Grazie! Actually we just have one hour. Today. Okay, first, go to the Diocesan Museum. Over the square, to the left, across the piazza, next to the Cathedral. Clear! Great! …. Here’s the cathedral. No exhibition signs, just a red “T” (Franciscan tau?) and an arrow. Through the entrance to the underground parking garage. Up a flight of stairs. Up two more flights of stairs. Into a darkened, unlighted room w/ paintings all around. This must be the place.

And so the rigamarole continued. From the first venue to the second, to the third (top floor of the municipal building). Eureka! Beautiful show, but we were followed by an excited curator: “I love America! California! Facebook friend, Burbank, maybe September. Maybe. Hollywood! American boyfriend! Maybe maybe. I so excited!

Show’s over. Get home. Buy ticket. Tobacco shops. No ticket. Tia, where do they buy tickets? On the square. Tobacco shop Number 2. No tickets. Cluster of corporate t-shirted people. Tickets? Bus stop? Four Italians, four different answers until one gentleman guided us physically to the corner: Tobacco shop. Buy your ticket there. Tobacco shop Number 3. Ah! Tickets! 90 cents each. Schedule? I have one, but it’s for winter. Oh. Bus stop? Well, you have two options. Grazie grazie. Did you understand anything he said? Of course not, but I didn’t want to be rude. Where do we go? The bus stazione where we got off.

Bus stazione. Tobacco stand Number 4. Tickets? No. Bus stop. Outside, next to the police booth.
A one-way street. Only interurban buses pass: Roma. Wanna go to Roma? Let’s wait 20 minutes then take a taxi. Good. Fifteen minutes. A teenager gets out of his car. Great. He won’t know anything. Try anyhow. Bus stop? Number 423/424? You’re in the wrong place. Straight ahead two minutes, turn right at the fountain. Grazie. Two minutes. No fountain. Three grandmothers on a park bench. Si si si. Straight ahead. Duay minuti. La Fontana. Grazie. Duay minuti. Bus 423 is turning the corner. Hey! HEY!! Stop! Wait for us! In perfect American. And the bus stops.

Quattro Strade? Si si si. Ahhh. Let’s just relax now. What are we going to tell them when we get back? Well, we don’t have to tell them everything. Just the part about hitching a ride, then finding a bus. And then, the great exhibitions. Right. That’s our story…. Off here? Aqui? No…. you missed your stop? Madre Cabrini? Ahh, next stop!
Ahh. Grazie. Off the bus, back to the gelateria, Slow stroll home.

How was your trip? Great exhibition! Great exhibition! Gosh, what you missed?
Oh? I knew I should have gone. Yeah, you should have come along.

I counted. We asked a total of 22 (!) people for different directions within the space of four hours. My Italian direction asking vocabulary is now perfect….Everybody had a piece of the story. But nobody has the whole thing.//

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