Veni,Todi, Approvi I
A month in another country. Its what you do. Now you have retired. No more holidays, you dont work, so its change of location, that is what is is called for. The boxes get ticked. Where once the faithful went on pilgrimages to pick up enough spiritual points to achieve grace and hopefully a passport through the heavenly Border Agency(Stansted took 40 minutes on Friday) now foreign travel is viewed as the celestial key.
But how many countries do you need to achieve the required state? Is ten enough? Twenty, thirty? Must you speak the language, eat the fish eyes, dance with the bulls? Is it like a Starbuck card after five countries do you the next one free? Whatever, I’m collecting ,as are many others, like drunks in someone elses dream we float through the piazzas and squares, the cathedrals and galleries, boulevards and vias, tracks and alleys. We are not travelling we are flying and one day the music will stop.
The last month has been southern Umbria, as the tourist brochures gleefully state “The Green Heart of Italy.” We all know that God was showing off when he made Italy and the Italians have built so many lovely churches to show their gratitude. Medieval towns with populations of 2000 sported places of worship numbering 100. Do the math.
Rapaioli is the hamlet, just north of Todi and within an hour the headline delights of Perugia,Castiglione, Assisi, Spelo, Spoletto and Orvieto. But in between countless hilltop towns and villages not to die but to live for. Some of the villages are wasting away ,the locals apologise that the café is only open from 8-10 in the evening because “we are too small”. But they try to hold your attention as there are a few houses for sale.
WE are in a designer house owned by one of Vivien’s many curly haired cousins. On her second marriage she married a Sicilian vet who worked in England and together they have celebrated their autumn marriage by building a dream house. Classico.In the morning the sun and the bird song come through the bed room window and the blackest heart melts.
Sometimes we walked. Long country lanes with high wheat fields, thick road side flowers and no traffic. Other times we cycled, pushing our exhausting beasts up the steep sides of the valley. It was the time of year that on a circular walk you felt that on the return the wheat had turned from green to gold. Another local miracle, best not tell, they would build another church.These are the days, there are the wine tastings, the divine meals, we eat better than in Paris for a fraction of the cost. Often on a terrace overlooking the valley and the castles on the other side. One day the farmer came and cut the next door field.. After he had left, the field once so proud in its heavy grass looked as ugly and self conscious as sheep in early summer. The bees drone on in the lavender.
Occasionally on the horizon a balloon, a private plane. Always the sunset dropping like a burning stone behind the mountains that defend Perugia. But 28 days is nearly a month and like a prisoner you tick them off. Come again or bag another. The world is full of hard choices but our eternal life may depend on which road we take.