Time for Tenet

The last post took two months to write; this one has taken just three weeks. I’m getting better…

Tenet
A week last Wednesday I went to see Christopher Nolan’s new film. Like most people, I came out thoroughly bamboozled regarding the plot but still enjoyed the picture. The two leads, John David Washington and Robert Pattinson, were very good in their roles. Washington’s Protagonist is a somewhat distant character; he is all about the plot rather than character so I was grateful for Pattinson’s Neil who is a little more of the reverse, whether it is in his clothing choices or warm smile. Since watching the film, I have learnt that John David Washington is Denzel Washington’s son, which I can hardly believe. And what’s more, JDW is 36, so he has been around for a while. It turns out that that Denzel Washington is 65. How time flies.

What was it like going to the cinema? Tense. Because of the coronavirus risk, I umm’d and ahh’d about going for several days before hand. Had it not been for Christopher Nolan, I probably wouldn’t have. I went to an 11am screening in the hope that it would not be busy. Thankfully, it wan’t – there were just a handful of people in the screen. Why did I feel tense? The cinema was very clean and tidy; if the staff’s PPE was anything to go by, Vue take their health and the cinema-goers very seriously. Of course, the answer is that despite the cinema’s best efforts, the virus may still linger somewhere and I may catch it. This was on my mind beforehand, while watching the film, and afterwards. It won’t start to go away until after next Wednesday – the two week mark when symptoms of the illness usually start to manifest themselves.

While watching the film, I wore my face mask. Doing so will never be enjoyable but at least the temperature in the screen was fairly even. As a result, my glasses only steamed up once or twice.

Why next? I really want to see Bill & Ted 3 (it opens on 16th Sept.) but I have to admit I’m umm’ing and ahh’ing about it even harder than with Tenet. I could easily see myself deciding to wait until it appears on DVD or streaming service. The next film that I will do all I can to go and see in the cinema is No Time To Die. The latest trailer for James Bond 25 looks absolutely stunning. The film is due out on 12th November.

Home Life
Nothing much has changed: in the morning, I work; in the afternoon, I read and write. This week has been different, though. It has gone really well. Every week day for several months now, I have written a list of all the things I would like to do during that day. Rarely have I ever been able to tick everything off before day’s end. This week, I have managed to do so for four days in a row! I can’t tell you how extraordinary that is. As a result, I have managed to :-

read a little more of Rob Johnson’s Lawrence of Arabia on War
develop my plot outline for my as yet unnamed Camino Story
write and schedule tweets for my Hilaire Belloc Twitter account (@SineAuctoritate)

every day. I’m very proud of myself for that. I have no expectation about what I will achieve today, or any day into the future: I don’t want to think about that at all. Every day is a gift so I would prefer to focus on where I am and what I am doing now. If I can tick everything off again, great, if not, not to worry.

Books
A new book about Alexander the Great has been published! It’s called Philip and Alexander: Kings and Conquerors and is by Adrian Goldsworthy. He has written several books, mainly about ancient Rome, so is very solid. I can’t wait to get started on it.

Podcasts
I’ve been enjoying listening to Clare Lydon’s and T. B. Markinson’s Lesbians Who Write podcast. On a practical level, it is full of useful writing tips. Its greatest virtue, however, has to be the warmness of the hosts’ friendship. It is very evident in the presentation and makes for nice, homely podcast. If only Christopher Nolan could make a film that was as friendly! I’d like to start listening to at least a couple more podcasts regularly but I don’t know which ones to choose, yet.

Formula 1
The season continues. As I write this, Free Practice 2 is taking place in Tuscany. Tuscany! The F1 circus is using Ferrari’s test track at Mugello. I have visited Tuscany twice in my life and had a wonderful time both times. Well, almost. My first visit (c. 2002) was my first solo trip abroad. I had a two hour panic attack after I arrived. Once I recovered, though, the rest of the trip was fabulous (except for the time an Italian guy swigged my wine outside a trattoria!).

It’s Lights Out…

On-Line Gaming
As I have probably mentioned before, I love watching people play video games online. My current favourite is Codemasters’ F1 2019 – soon to be replaced by this year’s iteration of the game. The lock down period has been a blessing for discovering Formula 1 Twitch live streamers.

As I write these words, however, I am listening to an LMP 1 car race around LeMans in a virtual 24 Hours of LeMans live stream. Each team has four drivers, each of whom drives for a certain number of hours before handing over the to the next person. I don’t know who organised this race but it must have taken a lot of work. I imagine the stamina required to race is also pretty high!

The Last of Us Part 2
I discovered Twitch in 2014 when I started watching The JHN Files play the original Last of Us game. I was captivated by both game and the live broadcast. The Last of Us Part 2 finally came out on Friday, and I can’t wait to play it.

The game was originally meant to be released at the end of May but earlier that month was suddenly and indefinitely delayed. A specific reason wasn’t given for this, which led me to wonder if it was because the game – in which your character has to survive in a world that has been ravaged by a pandemic – might not sell so well in a world currently being ravaged by, well, a pandemic.

Fast forward a few weeks and all of a sudden, Naughty Dog, the company behind the game, announced that it would come out on 19th June. Why? Probably because an irate developer who had left the company/been sacked published spoilers about the game online. Thankfully, I managed to avoid those so can still look forward to diving into the game as soon as I have a chance.

The Path to Rome
Today is 21st June. In 1901, Hilaire Belloc is eight days away from Rome. I have written my tweets (@PathtoRome1901) covering his journey up to the 25th. Today, I hope to write the last four days worth. Then, I will be able to relax and think about ‘what next’? I want to read more Belloc. Do I have the time? If I do, what should I read?

Protests
The protests that started out as a reaction to the death of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis (USA) are now in some places morphing into a wider campaign against statues of people from various periods and backgrounds.

Predictably, statues of slave owners have been pulled down – here in the U.K. a statue of Edward Colston was dropped into Bristol Harbour by protesters.

Less predictably, I have seen photos/footage of a statue of Union General and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant being pulled down; the same treatment has been meted out to a statue of George Washington and St. Junipero Serra. A bust of the novelist Cervantes has also been defaced. All these have happened in America.

What’s going on? I have read that Grant only ever owned one slave, who he inherited, and who he set free as soon as he was able. Cervantes was not a slave owner but rather, held as a slave for several years. Maybe these details are incorrect. But if they are right, they provide proof that for some people, what started out as a Black Lives Matter protest is dissipating into a campaign against anyone they happen to dislike. If that is the case, their campaign, lacking any solid foundation will surely collapse in due course.

But maybe they know perfectly well what they are doing and these acts of destruction are part of a deliberate campaign to destroy public remembrances of the past. Is this a good thing? No. Individuals or unauthorised groups who destroy statues are declaring that they have the authority to shape how society remembers the past. But this authority belongs only to the people as a whole (through the government) or the private organisation that owns the statue. Individuals who destroy statues or any public remembrance make themselves petty tyrants.

If the government or private organisation takes down the statue without considering first the pros and cons of doing so also acts in a tyrannical fashion. Once a statue goes up, it should only come down after the matter has been given full consideration. Nothing else will do.

When we ask ‘what is going on’, there is, of course, another option that we should be alert to: that agent provocateurs are acting in order to discredit their rivals.

Football Returns
The Premier League returned last Wednesday. Sky Television is broadcasting its games on two channels – one with fake crowd noise and one without. Neither are satisfactory. Hearing the fake crowd noise and seeing the empty stands is too distracting to be acceptable. Watching a game without any crowd sound at all takes away any sense of urgency and almost all the excitement. With that said, I prefer watching the games with no sound as at least its more honest.

I am not fond of the fact that all the players take the knee/have the Black Lives Matter wording on their shirts. I dislike particular causes getting so much publicity when there are so many others out there that are extremely important and necessary yet get little or no publicity at all.

Sainsbury’s
Up till last Friday, the queue for Sainsbury’s was getting shorter and shorter every week. On Friday, though, it was a rather longer. A sign of things to come? Probably not. I think I just arrived at the wrong moment. For example, a week or two ago, I arrived at the store when there was virtually no queue and left when it was as long as this week’s.

Also, per Government guidelines, I have started wearing a face mask when in store. Strangely, though, most people are now not doing so! The other week, one of the Sainsbury’s staff very kindly showed me how to wear it in a way that reduces the amount of fogging over on my glasses. Very useful! (I’m probably the last person in the world to realise this but in case you don’t know, you just bend the metal strip so that it follows the contour of your nose).

The Camino
I have heard that the Camino is opening again in July, which is great news. It won’t be like before, though: face masks must be worn in albergues, and I think there will be a reduced number of beds available. Next year is a Holy Year for Santiago. This should mean that pilgrim numbers go up, up, up. It will be interesting to see what happens if the coronavirus remains an issue (as will likely be the case bar the discovery of a vaccine). I would like to walk the Francés again next year. In the current climate, I really don’t know if that will happen.

An Unexpected Letter
This week, I received a letter from HMRC saying that I had paid too much tax over the last year. The reimbursement will be very gratefully received. This week, I found an old USB stick and on it was a document with my Government Gateway number on it. This means I can finally sort out my tax status for my current job, which is a great relief.

The Path to Rome and Other Journeys

Last Week
It has been a week of up and downs. I won’t go into the downs; I’d rather leave writing about those to another day, but they have certainly made me grateful for the ups.

What ‘ups’ have there been? Chiefly, Duolingo and Efrén Gonzalez.

Duolingo
Last Sunday I reached the one year mark for my streak on Duolingo. For 365 days in a row I managed to earn a minimum of 50 XP every day in learning German. On Monday, I set my account to private so that I would be excluded from the league system and took the day off learning anything. From Tuesday to Friday I started learning at my own pace without having to worry about relegation (I was already in the top league). It was great! No more doing the same stories over and over again just to learn the XP to stay above the relegation zone. I know I should not have been concerned with that in the first place; I am too competitive for my own good.

Films
I think The Bookshop and Corpse Bride have worn me out in terms of watching films while exercising for the next few days, or foreseeable future. I just wasn’t inspired to watch any this week. Instead, when I did exercise (because my Belloc work – see below – is taking up the time that I would use for that), I started watching my favourite Camino series on You Tube.

In 2017, Efrén Gonzalez walked the Camino Francés. He recorded his journey and then uploaded it to You Tube. You can watch it here. It is really well edited and even includes some beautiful drone footage. Gonzalez brings out the joys and pains of the Camino really well. I watched the first five episodes in one exercise session last week and was so lifted by seeing the places that I walked through last year.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome
On 4th June 1901, Belloc left Toul in eastern France at about 8:30 in the evening to begin the first stage of a pilgrimage to Rome that he hoped to complete on 29th June – the Feast of SS Peter and Paul. The Path to Rome is his account of that journey.

Four or five years ago I started reading the book on the anniversary of his departure from Toul through to 29th June when he did indeed arrive in Rome. The book doesn’t contain any chapters but Belloc always states (with only one exception) when his day started and ended so it is easy to follow him on a day-by-day basis.

Almost as soon as I started my tradition of reading The Path to Rome on the anniversary of Belloc’s pilgrimage, I started writing about it. In previous years, I did so on my Tumblr and Twitter accounts. Last year, I followed his journey on this blog.

This year, I created a new Twitter account (@PathtoRome1901) to tweet his journey from there. I was inspired to return to Twitter because the platform has just introduced a scheduling function, meaning that I can now fulfil something of a dream by tweeting his movements as close to the hour as possible in which they occurred.

In truth, this is a fool’s hope. Belloc does sometimes say ‘it was noon when this happened’ but he rarely names the hour so precisely. A lot of guesswork is therefore involved in working out where he is at any given time. Sometimes, you can’t even guess – you just have to plump for a likely sounding time.

Still, I love The Path to Rome to heaven and back so reading and tweeting it is a joy. The latter is also a labour of love. One thing it means I don’t do, though, is read each entry on the appropriate day (as I write this post, I have written and scheduled the tweets for Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday). I wouldn’t have time to both read and tweet it on the same day. That’s a shame but a small sacrifice.

ChurchTalk
Churches open again – though only for private prayer – from this Monday (15th). As matters stand, I doubt I will return to my parish church just yet. I can pray at home, after all. My heart yearns for Mass and particularly confession.

When Carlo Maria Viganò burst onto the scene two years ago he seemed to have something important to say. Nowadays, though, he increasingly resembles a character from a Dan Brown novel. He has hit the headlines again with the claim that ‘that restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 were part of a Masonic plot to establish a new world order.’ (The Tablet). Because of course.

In the last few days, Church Militant – to which I will not link; you can Google them – has accused the Archbishop of Washington D.C., Wilton Gregory, of lying over an attack on Donald Trump’s visit to the Pope St. John Paul II shrine last week. In so doing, it called him an ‘African Queen’. African because he is black, and queen because he is allegedly gay.

I saw Church Militant’s response on Twitter to criticism of this racist and homophobic appellation, which was that it was fine because that’s what homosexual seminarians used to call him.

Where does one start with this wicked and spiteful nonsense? Church Militant don’t deserve to have the name ‘Catholic’ in their title. They are as bad as the Militant organisation that ruined Liverpool in the 80s. Every member of it, every supporter of it, ought to get him and herself to confession. I want to hate them but all that would do is ensure that the cycle of hatred continues. So, I gotta pray for them, instead. This is all the more needful because I’m a sinner, as well. Maybe one day one of them will pray for me.

In the meantime, I hope Archbishop Gregory is gay and that this was known as he progressed up the clerical ranks and that because he was celibate it was not seen as a reason to hold him back let alone push him out because then the Church would be a lot more loving and open armed body than it currently gives the impression of being.

Books (I)
I can’t end this post on an angry note so let’s talk about books.

A few weeks ago I finished Anthony Beevor’s account of The Second World War. It is very long (just over 900 pages) and very readable. So much happened in the war that despite its length the book almost feels like a glorified overview. When I closed it for the last time, these were the things uppermost in my mind:

  1. All the leaders – political and military – made big, big mistakes. We were very fortunate that Hitler’s were the biggest of all
  2. Allied soldiers committed war crimes. Only a few and not for the same reason as the Nazis (for example, some Allied soldiers summarily executed Nazi guards after entering a concentration camp and seeing what they had done there) but it still happened
  3. The Allies were sometimes hardly that (unsurprising in respect of the USSR and Britain/USA but surprising in respect of Britain and USA) and some of the generals had monumental egos.

I learnt a lot from the book – chiefly about the Pacific campaign, about which I hardly knew anything, the eastern campaign (of which I only knew a little), and one or two other aspects of the war. For example, I never knew that only the Red Army entered Berlin at the end.

Books (II)
Over the past few months, I have been engaged in a programme of cleaning my book shelves and getting rid of books I no longer want. I have got rid of a lot. As a result the shelves are now looking a little more tidier and cleaner. I’m sad to have got rid of so many books but I decided to do so because I knew I would never read them. I only want to keep those that mean something to me. It doesn’t matter on what level, but they have to mean something.

29th June 1901: Rome

But as I slept, Rome, Rome still beckoned me, and I woke in a struggling light as though at a voice calling, and slipping out I could not but go on to the end.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (Ignatius Press 2003) p.437

Belloc’s day had a martial start to it. He saw a sign saying ‘”The Triumphal Way'” (The Path to Rome, p.438) – ‘I wondered whether it could be the road where ritual had once ordained that triumphs should go’ (Ibid) – and two soldiers from the current Italian army out on manoeuvres.

Not long later, however, the military gave way to the spiritual. Belloc climbed a little hill, and between the walls of a villa, he saw Rome at last.

This sight marks the beginning of the end of The Path to Rome. Belloc now launches into a long and operatic goodbye. It has a touch of the mock epic about it, for while the farewell begins with Belloc it ends with no less than God and St. Michael in the heavenly heights. And that’s just the beginning. Where does one go after the Lord and his most powerful servant?

Home, of course. Belloc made his way down the hill and walked across a plain to the gates of the city.

… I went on for several hundred yards, having the old wall of Rome before me all the time, till I came right under it at last; and with the hesitation that befits all great actions I entered, putting the right foot first lest I should bring further misfortune upon that capital of all our fortunes.
And so the journey ended.

The Path to Rome, p.445

Belloc passed through the gates and made his way to the nearest church – Our Lady of the People. Mass was just ending, but another would soon be starting. He retired to a café for a breakfast of bread, coffee and brandy and to write the ditty with which he ends the book.

So, there we are! 29th June is the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul (unless you are reading this in England or Wales, in which case the feast has been transferred to tomorrow). Belloc has walked from Toul to Rome.

I think this is the fourth year in succession that I have read The Path to Rome and I am still not bored of it. I don’t think I ever will be. To be tired of Belloc as he recounts his journey is to be tired of living because that’s what he does, with all its ups and downs, commitments made and commitments broken, joys and griefs – all these things that mark our lives also marked his journey.

In terms of friends and friendships, Belloc made no flashing friends along the way. He did, however, experience friendship many times – The Path to Rome is a wonderful book to read if you want to experience the kindness of Men towards strangers.

Ultimately, though, I find my thoughts being directed away from the idea of friendship in the book and towards what I said about The Path to Rome being about living. I have to admit, I never thought of it that way before. Perhaps that will be the theme for next year’s reading: The Path to Rome as a microcosm of life.

28th June 1901: Rome Beckons

At daybreak, Belloc reached Montefiascone. The path to Rome did not run through the city, however, so he ignored it.

Next, he came to Viterbo. The road didn’t go through this city, either, but after a brief debate with himself, Belloc decided to enter it. Viterbo was a famous place, after all; and on a more practical level, he needed ‘wine and food for the later day in the mountain’ (Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (Ignatius Press 2003) p.427).

Viterbo was teeming with life but Belloc stayed only long enough to buy his provisions. He may have been a man who loved – needed – companionship but right now the call of Rome was stronger on his soul.

As the morning wore on, the heat increased but thankfully remained below the furnace-like levels of ‘the oven of the Garfagnana or in the deserts of Siena’ (The Path to Rome, p.429). Indeed, the air was so cool in the horse chestnut forest that Belloc walked through that it reminded him of home.

Upon leaving the forest, Belloc came to a ‘a bare heath’ (The Path to Rome, p.430). He started to sing. Two carabinieri passed him; they also were singing. The two parties saluted each other, friends in song.

Belloc stopped to eat at a house. A woman served him while an old man sitting nearby refused to speak to him. Belloc did not hold this unfriendliness against the man.

… I should dearly have liked to have talked to him in Lingua Franca, and to have heard him on the story of his mountain: where it was haunted, by what, and on which nights it was dangerous to be abroad.

The Path to Rome, p.430

In was still morning when Belloc arrived at the Campagna where – am I correct in saying this? – the armies of Rome once trained. He looked into the distance for city itself, the dome of St. Peter’s, but the Sabinian hills blocked his view. Something which he did see was Soracte.

… Soracte, of which I had read as a boy. It stood up like an acropolis, but it was a citadel for no city. It stood alone, like that soul which once haunted its recesses and prophesied the conquering advent of the northern kings.

The Path to Rome, p.433

Soracte, which played such a big part in the life of another famous English travel writer, perhaps the greatest, Patrick Leigh Fermor.

The Campagna seemed too small to be the place where the destinies of the world were worked out. Belloc could barely fathom this. He ate his food and drank his wine and did so in a reverie as he tried to make sense of what he had seen.

After eating, Belloc turned off the road and fell asleep. When he woke up, it was evening. He started walking and entered Ronciglione where he ate once more. He spoke to a lot of people – but about Rome.

Belloc kept walking. He passed Sette Vene – where he had intended to stop for the night. Nothing mattered now except Rome. Eventually, though, he did stop. And now, he stayed at an inn. Belloc flit ghost like between the tables before settling down at the end of one where he ate a good meal, and drank good wine. Belloc took strength from the atmosphere of the place.

Unfortunately, there was no room at this inn, either; the inn keeper kindly showed Belloc his granary. It would do for the last night of the pilgrimage to Rome.

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.

26th June 1901: The Kindness of the Cool

Belloc didn’t quite make it to Radicaofani today but note San Quirico d’Orcia between it and Siena

Belloc walked through the night and into the day. The sun rose and it was hot but interestingly he doesn’t blame the heat for soon making him stop.

It was not so much the sun, though that was intemperate and deadly; it was rather the inhuman aspect of the earth which made me despair. It was as though the soil had been left imperfect and rough after some cataclysm…

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (Ignatius Press 2003) pp.401-2

He lay himself down in the shade of some bushes and remained there for the rest of the day, waking and sleeping in turns.

Belloc resumed walking late in the afternoon. He stopped at an inn where the Italians speaking to him tried to make themselves understood by shouting at him.

As the sun set, Belloc arrived in San Quirico. The cooler air made everything ‘kinder’ (The Path to Rome, p.403). He didn’t make any friends here but he did see kindness in action.

… for the first time I saw in procession one of those confraternities which in Italy bury the dead; they had long and dreadful hoods over their heads, with slits for the eyes.

The Path to Rome, pp.403-4

If you would like to see a representation of the people he is talking about, I thoroughly recommend watching A Room With A View – the Merchant Ivory adaptation of E. M. Forster’s great novel.

As I said, Belloc didn’t make any friends in San Quirico, but he did talk to the people there, and they made a positive impact on him.

They were upstanding, and very fine and noble in the lines of the face.

The Path to Rome, p.404

Leaving San Quirico, Belloc walked across a plan that led to Radicofani, which was perched on the side of a ravine. He came to a farmhouse, and desiring companionship, entered it. There, a very kindly farmer immediately took pity on the weary traveller and insisted that he stay the night. He took Belloc to the stable and settled him down among the oxen.

Having slept all day, Belloc was ready to walk all night but so as not to insult the farmer’s kindness, he took the bed of hay being offered to him. After the farmer had left, Belloc listened to the oxen eat and decided that when he arrived in Rome he would buy two ox horns and on his return home have them hollowed out and mounted so that they could be used as cups. He even composed two ditties to be engraved on the side of each. Then, Belloc sneaked out of the barn, and resumed his walk.

25th June 1901: To Cut a Story By Telling a Story

Belloc neither started in Lucca nor finished In Siena today

Belloc walked through the night. He ‘saw nothing’ and refuses to tell us what he was thinking, even though

… my interior thoughts alone would have afforded matter for this part of the book]; but of these if you have not had enough in near six hundred miles of travel, you are a stouter fellow than I took you for.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome, p.389

As the sun rose, Belloc took his rest ‘under a tree of a kind I had never seen’ (The Path to Rome, p.390). He slept well and, as he thought, long but actually woke after just one hour. It sounds like Belloc had something of a power nap.

It was in a trattoria that Belloc found out the time (his watch had stopped working), and while there he counted his money – three francs and a few centimes. Not much, but money was waiting for him at the post office in Siena. Did he have enough to get there? Yes, if he took the train… And so, he did.

From the way he writes it doesn’t look like Belloc seriously considered walking. According to Google Maps, doing so would have taken between 21-23 hours – but that’s if he had started from Lucca. By the time he reached the trattoria, Belloc had walked all night. We don’t know how many miles he had done, but let’s say it was around 12 and he was now in or near Castelfranco di Sotto. Depending on the route, Siena would have been between 52-59 miles ahead. That would have taken Belloc two long days or three shorter ones to accomplish.

He could have walked that. But only if he had reigned in his spending. It was wise, therefore, of him to take the train, for as we saw between Como and Milan, reigning in his spending was not one of Belloc’s strong points.

In Siena, Belloc collected his money, heard Mass and left. He had spent less than an hour there,

“After all, my business is not with cities, and already I have seen far off the great hill whence one can see far off the hills that overhang Rome.”

The Path to Rome, p.394

Belloc now skips over the next 20 -30 miles of his journey by telling an amusing story about human attitudes to bureaucracy, authority, and the long arm of the law. He justifies not telling us about his journey by saying that it was made in the dark ‘the description of which would have plagued you worse than a swarm of hornets’ (The Path to Rome, p.400)

And that is the end of today’s entry. As you can see from the above quotation, we have reached the 400th page (for the sticklers among you, today’s entry actually ends on p.401). Only 48 to go. Will Belloc find friendship further on? More to the point, will he tell us if he does?

24th June 1901: Soldiering On

By sleeping at Lucca during the day and continuing his journey at night, Belloc resumed what had been his original intention to make his a night time pilgrimage to Rome

Belloc slept badly last night.

I discovered this great truth: that if in a southern summer you do not rest in the day the night will seem intolerably warm, but that, if you rest in the day, you will find coolness and energy at evening.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (Ignatius Press 2003) p.382

And today does not see an improvement in his desire to keep writing an account of his pilgrimage.

The next morning with daylight I continued the road to Lucca, and of that also I will say nothing.

The Path to Rome, p.382

Belloc knows the awkwardness of his position, for he has LECTOR ask ‘Why on earth did you write this book?’ (The Path to Rome, p.382). Of course, AUCTOR – Belloc – has an answer; and it is a suitably Bellocian – contrary – one: ‘For my amusement’ (Ibid).

The above notwithstanding, Belloc does share some details of today’s walk. He passed a town called Decimo. There, and in the surrounding region, he saw towers with numerous arches. He entered Lucca, which he found to be ‘the neatest, the regularest, the exactest, the most fly-in-amber little town in the world’ (The Path to Rome, p.385).

It was another extremely hot day, and rather than try and brave it out, like he did yesterday, Belloc checked into a hotel until evening. Of course, it was an unusual request to book a room just for the day, but happily, the hotelier was happy to accommodate him. Belloc ate ‘such a meal as men give to beloved friends returned from wars’ (The Path to Rome, p.386). And that’s a lovely, and very grand, turn-of-phrase to describe what is just a big meal!

It’s also as close as we get to anything resembling the idea of friendship in today’s entry. Belloc left the hotel in the evening and does not record meeting anyone along the way.

The villages were silent, the moon soon left the sky, and the stars could not show through the fog, which deepened in the hours after midnight.

The Path to Rome, p.388

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