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

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