27th June 1901: The Carts to Rome

Belloc spent the night climbing the ravine. As the sun began to rise in the east, he reached Radicofani. A man lounging on his doorstep wished him good morning.

Belloc passed straight through the town and left by its southern gate.

Ahead lay another valley; it looked even rougher than the one Belloc had just passed. As he didn’t have the heart to cross it in the increasing heat he looked about for somewhere to rest. At that moment,

… a cart drawn by two oxen at about one mile an hour came creaking by.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (ignatius Press 2003) p.411

The driver was asleep. Belloc jumped on board and closed his eyes to rest.

The oxen plodded along. Occasionally the driver stirred but made no move against his unexpected guest. The sun reached its zenith then began the long descent into the west. Finally, the cart reached the foot of the hill that lead up to Aquapendente, Belloc’s next destination.

The driver woke up.

He looked at me a moment and laughed. He seemed to have thought all this while that I was some country friend of his who had taken a lift.

The Path to Rome, p. 412

The driver urged his oxen onwards. As they trudged up the hill, Belloc gave him a cigar by way of a thank you for letting him stay on the cart. The driver promptly smoked it with great satisfaction.

Aquapendente. Belloc notes that the town was famous but can’t understand why – ‘To the pilgrim it is simply a group of houses.’ (The Path to Rome p.412). He ate there, and then left. Outside the town, he settled down on the bank of a stream and slept until evening.

Tonight, on 26th June 1901, Belloc walked into San Lorenzo. Leaving by its southern gate, he saw ahead of him the lake of Bolsena below.

I sat on the coping of a wall, drank a little of my wine, ate a little bread and sausage; but still song demanded some outlet in a the cool evening, and companionship was more of an appetite in me than landscape. Please God, I had become southern and took beauty for granted.

The Path to Rome, pp.419-20

To be honest, if that’s what it meant to be southern then I think Belloc always was. I can’t think of any point in his pilgrimage where he puts landscape ahead of companionship.

Anyway, another cart passed by. Its driver was awake. Belloc stopped him and boarded it. The two men sang of their homelands; they ate and drank together. It was a perfect time for Belloc. He writes,

That was a good drive, an honest drive, a human aspiring drive, a drive of Christians, a glorifying and uplifted drive, a drive worthy of remembrance for ever.

The Path to Rome, pp.420-1

His tongue is surely very firmly in his cheek but you take the point. He really enjoyed himself!

Belloc and the cart driver parted ways at Lake Bolsena. There, Belloc ate at someone’s home. He intended to carry on walking but they insisted on giving him a room for the night. Not wanting to be misunderstood, Belloc acquiesced. He did not stay the night, though; instead, he snuck out ‘not long after midnight’ (The Path to Rome, p.423) and continued on his way.

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