22nd June 1901: Calm Went With Me

Belloc started the day some miles north north-west of Collagna and ended it in Sillano (though for the first time he doesn’t specifically say where he stopped for the night)

Today appears to have been a largely solitary day for Belloc, he records few friendly encounters, or indeed, encounters of any kind with other people.

We left him yesterday heading towards Collagna. As a result of a misunderstanding, he thought it was close by when it was actually still several miles away. As a result, he never reached it until the morning.

At around, or just after, midnight, however, he came across one of the few people he records meeting today.

Extreme fatigue made it impossible, as I thought, to proceed farther, when I saw a light in a window, and went to it quickly and stood beneath it. A woman from the window called me Caro mio, which was gracious, but she would not let me sleep even in the straw of the barn.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (Ignatius Press 2003), p.362

There is a moral in this story: always mean what our words say, especially if we speak kind ones; it is a sad thing – and quite wrong – to lift someone’s heart only to purposefully let go of it again. To lift it implies that we support it; to let go of it, therefore, makes a hypocrite of us.

After a difficult night – Belloc tells us that ‘my loneliness oppressed me like a misfortune and… my feet, going painfully and slowly, yet gave a little balance and rhythm to the movement of my mind.’ (The Path to Rome, p.365) – day broke.

… colours came back to things; the trees recovered their shape, life, and trembling; here and there, on the face of the mountain opposite, the mists by their movement took part in the new life, and I thought I heard for the first time the tumbling water far below me in the ravine.

The Path to Rome, p.366

Now Belloc lay himself down to take a well deserved and long overdue rest. He awoke when the morning was still young and entered Collagna. He doesn’t mention it, but presumably he ate there and hopefully met some kind people as well. After leaving the town, he settled down again to rest and remained in situ until later in the afternoon.

Upon rising, he climbed to the top of the valley.

After its laborious hundreds of feet, when the forest that crowned it evenly was reached, the Apennines were conquered, the last great range was passed, and there stood no barrier between this high crest and Rome.

The Path to Rome, p.369

Later, Belloc went through a Pass. He says,

… I went between the chestnut trees, and calm went with me for a companion.

The Path to Rome, p.372

Here is another good lesson: we can find friendship in more than just other people. Yes, it is better to have a human friend but we need not regard the things of nature as wholly a stranger to us.

Presently, Belloc arrived in the village of Sillano. There, he was ‘courteously received’ (The Path to Rome, p.372) in the local inn. He spoke to a priest in Latin and watched the ‘one star of the west [call] out his silent companions in their order’ (The Path to Rome, p.373) before retiring for the night.

The fire-flies darted in the depths of vineyards and of trees below; then the noise of the grasshoppers brought back suddenly the gardens of home, and whatever benediction surrounds our childhood. Some promise of eternal pleasures and of rest deserved haunted the village of Sillano.

The Path to Rome, pp.373-4

21st June 1901: The Best of Men

By the end of today, Belloc will be several miles north-north west of Collagna (note also Tizzano Val Parma where he tried to overpay for some wine)

Today was a good day for Hilaire Belloc. It didn’t rain, and he was helped along the way by several kind people.

Early in the morning, he met a peasant who walked with him for awhile.

… we walked along together, pointing out to each other the glories of the world before us and exulting in the morning. It was his business to show me things and their names… He also would tell me the name in Italian of the things to hand – my boots, my staff, my hat: and I told him their names in French, all of which he was eager to learn.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (Ignatius Press 2003), pp.345-6

But perhaps the kindest thing that the peasant did was to not laugh at Belloc when he came round the corner singing his heart out. Belloc was so shy of being heard that he describes himself as being ‘ashamed’ (The Path to Rome, p.345) when suddenly seeing the peasant ahead of him. He did not yet realise, however, that the peasant, too, liked to sing.

When they parted, Belloc gave the peasant a token of his friendship. In return, the peasant gave Belloc a word – molinar – that would soon become very helpful.

It meant miller, he being the man who would help Belloc cross an otherwise impassable river. Thanks to the kindness of an old country woman, Belloc soon found the miller.

… I saw a great, slow mill-wheel against a house, and a sad man standing looking at it as though it were the Procession of God’s providence. He was thinking of many things. I tapped him on the shoulder (whereat he started) and spoke the great word of that valley, “molinar.” It opened all the gates of his soul. He smiled at me like a man grown young again, and, beckoning me to follow, led radiantly up the sluice to where it drew from the river.

The Path to Rome, pp.347-8

For the second day running, Belloc mounted his guide on the back and they set off over the river. This time, however, they did not go alone. There had been three men at the mill-house. One of the others was ‘a young man with stilts in his hands’ (The Path to Rome, p.348). He now walked on the stilts ahead of Belloc and his guide, so as to make sure that the river was still fordable.

Belloc paid the two men for their troubles. His fifty centesimo payment to the young man was deemed so generous that the latter took him to Tizzano. There, Belloc accidentally gave the impression of being mister moneybags by trying to overpay for a bottle of wine. I guess that makes a change from him being overcharged. But not only did the innkeeper not overcharge him, he accepted only a peppercorn amount for the wine.

Late this afternoon, Belloc found four peasants sitting at the side of the road. Their day’s work was done, they were having a rest before returning home. He asked for directions to Collagna and misunderstood what they told him. As a result, what he thought would be a short journey, ending this evening, would go on into morrow. The men, though, were friendly. ‘They drank my wine,’ Belloc tells us, ‘[and] I ate their bread’ (The Path to Rome, p.359). A simple but profound act of friendship, as will be known by anyone with ears to hear.

Belloc arrived in a tiny hamlet named Ceregio. The inn was the antithesis of the inonen he had visited two days ago.

… several men driving oxen took me to a house that was perhaps the inn, though there was no sign; and there in a twilight room we all sat down together like Christians in perfect harmony, and the woman of the house served us.

The Path to Rome, p.360

After they had eaten, one of the men, the oldest, offered to put Belloc on the right path to Collagna. When the time came for them to part, Belloc gave him the gift of his best pipe; in return, the man gave Belloc ‘a hedge-rose which he had plucked’ (The Path to Rome, p.361)

Here is Belloc’s judgement on the people he met today,

Certainly these people have a benediction upon them, granted them for their simple lives and their justice. Their eyes are fearless and kindly. They are courteous, straight and all have in them laughter and sadness. They are full of songs, of memories, of the stories of their native race; and their worship is conformable to the world that God made.

The Path to Rome, p.361

It was a pleasure to read Belloc’s account of today’s walk; a relief, too, that after several days of suffering, he is happy again. Bravo those Italians who helped him.