Sunday, September 11, 2011

End of a short walk

EDIT:  For some reason my blogging software deleted the text for this posting.  I am not going to retype it one-handed on the European keyboard of my hotel's computer.  Suffice it to say the wrist is broken, I'm off the Via Francigena, I'm a one-armed tourist in Rome with the other arm (my writing arm) in a sling for six weeks.  On balance I count myself lucky.  The business with the dogs could have turned out worse, and I was very lucky to get excellent orthopedic care in Rome on a Friday afternoon through the resourcefunless of my wife Susan, who orchestrated the whole thing in Washington.  On the other hand, a revolting development.  Twenty-five kilometers on the Via F. was barely enough to whet my appetite.  As the Brooklyn Dodgers used to say, "Wait 'til next year."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Road Less Traveled

See any pilgrims on these medieval cobble stones? I saw three today, one more than the number of loose dogs I encountered.

As for pilgrims, I walked briefly with two men from Poland leaving Altepascio, until they shopped to have their passports stamped (our ability to chat with their limited English was about exhausted).

Then I later walked with a French woman, a four-time diplomate of the Camino who had left her home in France three weeks ago to walk to Rome. We instantly got lost because of some recent slashing of new dirt roads that disrupted our trail. Luckily, after backtracking from a path that deteriorated to brambles, we followed her "let's go right" instead of my "it must be left." (Defer to the senior pilgrim.)

As for the dogs, I handled that badly. The official Via F. route wanted me to leave the highway out of Fucecchio and double back to walk along the Arno a bit. I could see two dogs acting territorial about the concrete plant I had to skirt. So I picked up a handful of rocks.

Unfortunately, the smaller dog hurled himself at me with no preliminaries. Luckily, I got off two rocks and the second one hit him in mid-air a few feet from me. He yelped and pivoted in mid-air (don't ask me how) and they both retreated to bark at a distance. Unfortunately, I hadn't got my backpack balance yet and it pulled me over when I leaned back to buy time to throw the second rock.

I should have just stayed on the highway and away from the dogs. Junkyard dogs can't help being junkyard dogs (any more than lawyers can help. . .).

At first I thought the left wrist I landed on was just twisted. But pretty soon I couldn't bend it or do anything with my hand, and some localized swelling appeared that's sensitive to touch. So now we're doing ice and aspirin while I type this with my right hand. Sure hope it's better in the morning.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Need a left-handed scythe?

If so this hardware store in Lucca has you covered. Even if your Italian is even worse than your intentions. It has all the sharp-edged instruments of mayhem a vacationing psychopath could want thoughtfully labeled in its window, "Machete" is easy. But if you're a lefty and nothing but a left-handed scythe will do, just ask for "il fauci sinistre."

Of course, I knew that, or at least the "sinistre" part. After six weeks of sort of studying Italian, I was able to tell my first lie in Italian this morning. "Sono maggiori di sessantacinque anni e di Norvegia.". Of course only the part about being Norwegian was a technical fib (my grandmother was, so in a way. . .). But it seems so unfair when they let old people from the EU in free at museums but expect Americans to pay.

Other than that, trying to strike up conversations in Italian has been a struggle. Taking pictures in a vicolo this morning (that's an alley for you civilians), I did have two guys come out of their photography studio who didn't speak a word of English. They were very curious about my cutting edge lightweight camera. With some considerable difficulty we were able to agree that a large sensor in such a tiny camera was a feat possible only with a mirrorless design (it helped that "mirror" in Italian is "mirror"). Other than that, most people have smiled and insistently switched to English. Rome wasn't built in a day (now, what's the third-person plural passato prossimo for "fare". . .).

Tomorrow I start walking. Can't wait.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Italian Strikes Through The Looking Glass

I was going to lead with, "Except for walking, riding trains is the best part of travel. . . .". That was before the ticket seller at the Roma station told me that I could take the express to Firenze, but the local trains were on strike until 5 o'clock, so I would not be able to go on to Lucca until sometime after five.

Drat. Whacked again by the Italian transport unions' speciality, the non-rush-hour strike. So Italians are not inconvenienced. They're at work. The only victims are tourists who want to take a train at midday. But what do tourists have to do with these labor squabbles?

But sure enough when I got to Firenze a little before noon, the customer service desk told me to come back at five. Maybe I could hike downtown for a quick whirl around the sights? But before doing that, I went back to ask whether maybe a bus would be a better bet? This time I was told there was an express to Viareggio leaving in 7 minutes which stopped in Lucca. It wasn't on strike because it was an express that stopped at local stations. Not to be confused with a local that stopped at express stations.

A country that can demarcate the scope of its strikes with such precision, timewise and targetwise, surely deserves some award.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Another walk. . . .

Planning a walk is a lot less fun than walking the walk.  Monday I fly to Rome and then take a train to Lucca in northern Tuscany.  There I'll join the Via Francigena for a mini-pilgrmiage to Sienna. This week long walklet is the consolation prize I awarded myself when grander plans to walk all the way into Rome collapsed.  I've discovered, though, that planning a short walk is as just about as much a matter of lists, internet searches, various small purchases, etc. as a longer trip.  Especially so in this case, since my walk will be unsupported (except for some good advice from Kate Goad of, who scouted this section of the Via F. in laying plans for the pilgrimage to Rome that didn't happen).  So I've been making hotel reservations, downloading maps, translating the "official" Via F. directions from Italian into English, etc., etc.  I can hardly wait to put all this busywork behind me and start walking. . . .