23rd June 1901: Sillano and After

I don’t know for sure that Belloc stopped in Borgo a Mozzano but it is on the direct line to Rome so seems a fair bet that he ended the day there.

The transition between yesterday’s ‘entry’ in The Path to Rome and today’s is very vague. For the first time since the start of his pilgrimage, Belloc neither says ‘I went to sleep’, nor, ‘I woke up’.

Instead, he ends yesterday’s ‘entry’ with the quotation that I tagged on to the end of yesterday’s post, and opens today’s with a flight of fancy about the soul being able, in ‘very early youth’ (Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (Ignatius Press 2003) p.374), to remember its heavenly origin.

From whence comes such an unorthodox thought? It’s because Belloc sensed something of heaven in the sight and smells of the Sillano valley last night. As might be expected, they made a deep impression on him. Belloc describes the feeling as ‘the blessing of Sillano’ (Ibid), and says that ‘here was perhaps the highest moment of those seven hundred miles – or more’ (The Path to Rome, pp.3734-5).

Unfortunately, this great moment has a negative consequence for the reader – Belloc now loses patience with the story of his pilgrimage; he apologises if he now ‘press[es] on much more hurriedly to Rome, for the goal is almost between my hands, and the chief moment has been enjoyed, until I shall see the City.’ (The Path to Rome, p.375).

Belloc laments that he has to tell the story of the ‘next sixty miles of way… as of a real journey in this very repetitive and sui-similar* world’ (Ibid) rather than being able to ‘wander forth at leisure through the air and visit the regions where everything is as the soul chooses’ (Ibid).

That would certainly have been preferable. Perhaps, then, he might have decided to come back to his book and told us about some of the friends he made during that time, and friendships that were created. As it is, today’s ‘entry’ contains no mention at all of either.

For the record, Belloc spent the day walking in punishing heat. He passed through a town called Castel-Nuovo (possibly Castelnuovo di Garfagnana) where he found numerous bridges before arriving in a town called Borgo (the second of this name that he has come across on this pilgrimage, though he avoided entering the first). By the time he got there, it was evening, and he decided to stay the night.

*I have never seen this word before. As ‘sui’ is Latin for ‘of itself’, I assume that Belloc is emphasising the sameness of the countryside that he passed through

19th June 1901: Inn and Out

Belloc stayed at Firenzuola d’Arda last night and walked to an inn just outside Medesano

Today, it stopped raining. Finally. For the first time since Milan, two days ago. The great event happened just outside Borgo in the morning.

Avoiding Borgo out of ‘distaste’ (Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (Ignatius Press 2003), p.321) for Italian towns – the weather may have improved but Belloc’s temper certainly hadn’t – Belloc paused to give thought as to how he might cross the Apennines, which now loomed ahead of him.

For want of a suitable path, he would not be able to cross them directly. Instead, he’d have to follow a path that would take him a little out of his way before rejoining the straight line from Toul to Rome, ‘near a village called Medesano’ (The Path to Rome, p.322).

He started walking. It started raining. Again. But not for long; soon, the skies broke and the sun came out.

… a new warmth began to steal over the air and a sense of summer [began] to appear in the earth about me.

The Path to Rome, p.324

By evening time (? Belloc isn’t entirely clear on this point), Belloc was ‘[q]uite tired and desiring food’ (The Path to Rome, p.324). He stopped at an inn not far from Medesano.

It was a true local’s local: full of noise before the outsider stepped in, then absolute silence afterwards. Belloc walked to the bar.

… one man asked me a question in Italian. I did not understand it, and attempted to say so, when another asked the same question then six or seven – and there was a hubbub. And out of the hubbub I heard a similar sentence rising all the time. To this day I do not know what it meant but I thought (and think) it meant “He is a Venetian,” or “He is the Venetian.” Something in my broken broken language had made them think this, and evidently the Venetians (or a Venetian) were (or was) gravely unpopular here. Why, I cannot tell. Perhaps the Venetians were blacklegs. But evidently a Venetian, or the whole Venetian nation, had recently done them a wrong.

The Path to Rome, p.325

The situation got very hairy and could have got out of control. One of the locals approached Belloc aggressively. Fight or flight. Belloc chose to fight. He vigorously protested his innocence of whatever charge lay against him by shouting at the aggressor in as much Italian as he knew. This could have been the death of him but it worked. Not that the locals became friends: they now started shouting at each other in support or rejection of Belloc’s innocence. The innkeeper took Belloc’s arm and winked in a friendly manner at him, but as Belloc says,

[It] was probably because he was responsible if anything happened… he alone could not fly from the police.

The Path to Rome, p.326

Whatever the reason, the innkeeper played his part well. He,

… made [the patrons] a speech which, for all I knew may have been to the effect that he had known and loved me from childhood, or may have been that he knew me for one Jacques of Turin, or may have been any other lie. Whatever lie it was, it appeased them. Their anger went down to a murmur, just like soda-water settling into a glass.

The Path to Rome, p.326-7

The anger ‘went down to a murmur’ but was still there, and Belloc knew that at least one of the locals was armed with a knife. Wisely, therefore, he chose not to stay overlong at the inn. Instead, he ate his food and left straight after. Probably to save money but perhaps also because he simply didn’t feel safe being in the company of anyone from around here, he eschewed staying overnight in another inn or hotel but hid himself in a shed.