October 22, 2008
We sit atop Assisi with St. Francis in his tomb and out. This land is his church. We left Pisa and to avoid traffic took back country routes to Volterra, an up and down town, with the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre and baths. We strolled and sipped cappuccino outside the church, and then, wandered up and down and all around and ate lunch in a perfect spot, and above the Roman ruins viewed what seemed in that moment, the entire world. We passed San Gemingnanio, and saw its glow on the hill, but didn’t stop as it is said to be crowded though our timing has been perfect as to that. We are floating leisurely through. We didn’t set a destination for today, having sunk enough into medieval time to understand that it is about the journey, not the final spot, so considered Perugia, and then, keep going and arrived in Assisi. Well, initially we were in the valley, and then, we looked up and could see the city shining on the hill so programmed an address into our GPS and she led us literally, directly across a very narrow path to the entry to the city.
We curved up the narrow streets and I hopped out and saw a place to stay right next to the church. It is a continuation of the wall. I asked for a room for two nights, and he offered a suite for the same price, so here we are up next to the church leaning out over the hill with two balconies, one for the living room and one for the bedroom. We are birds in the sky in an elegant nest, and incredibly aware we are beautifully blessed. This is where I will turn 59. I can't stop looking at the view.
Now, I backtrack back to Pisa. After two glorious hours of rain thundering down, all cleared. We enjoyed bounding through the rain, and then, in sunshine returned to the piazza and climbed up in the Tower of Pisa. Put this in the top experience category. You enter through a tilted door and swagger back and forth as you curl up on tilted, well-worn marble steps. many, many marble steps. You can come out at various points and look around. People are panting and sweating. Then, you come out on the top. Wow!! It tilts at the top so you walk in a circle going up and down. You are convinced you are going to fall off, but you don't. It is astounding. When we got down, one little boy proclaimed proudly, "I didn't throw up." It takes awhile to recover land legs. It is like being at sea and the view is incredible. The cathedral is astonishing. We sat a long time, absorbed in the ceiling. We wandered around the town and enjoyed another romantic dinner. All feels like candlelight here. My eyes absorb the dark, my mind, the Etruscan, Roman, medieval streets.
So, that was Pisa and now remember I type in Assisi, up on the hill.
When we arrived today in Assisi, I went into the church, and then, down within the church and saw and sat with and encircled the tomb of St. Francis – unbelievably sacred – I strolled the streets – an elderly woman helped me with directions and showed me her arugula – an elderly man helped me too – they didn’t speak English – I don’t do much in Italian but the universal language works – the views here are astonishing – we are up on a hill – we ate dinner with a view of the world – again, we unite centuries, and consider the connections that built these churches just as connection builds the high-rises of today.
I sit here now, feet up, looking out. It has been suggested there might be prejudice against Americans because of what we have done to the world economy. I have not found this to be so. Maybe it is my stunned look most of the time, a look of absorption, excitement, contentment, awe, appreciation, and sometimes I am just lost. I walked around Assisi today with a smile of awe, the universal language. All is love and peace and this place where very few people seem to stay this time of year is my kind of place. The world is literally at my feet. We will stay here two nights, then four nights in Rome. Our trip is coming to a close. How am I changed? I might have come with some apprehension, might have thought it would be strange, but though it is exotic and I do a lot of sign language to converse, I feel welcomed, accepted, and held with reverence like the rising stones.
I have never had so much awareness of stones. I look and analyze, touch, drawn into them. Speak to me, I appeal, and they do.
It is warmer here. We are more inland, though maybe the heat is the sweat required to get up these hills, these streets. All is up and down. We paid to go in the dome in Florence, and in the tower of Pisa, but in Volterra and in Assisi, the up and down sweat is earned as our own. We offer moisture to the clouds.
It is empty up here tonight. We have it to ourselves, and I intend to take full advantage of this holy land reserve. I am in heaven and give thanks for St. Francis and his home of Assisi.
We sleep, windows open, looking out to sky and far below lights. Steve thinks campfires down below might have shown up against the dark. I’m not sure. It it stunning to be in the midst of so much history, and to imagine life then even as one has the modern conveniences of now, and yet, what really has changed. People walked between the towns. There was exchange. Food is probably more abundant and yet St. Francis took a vow of poverty and ate very little. He would have lived longer if he had been less brutal to himself, and yet, here we come to Assisi, a town, a city of peace. People kept telling me we had to come here, and since it was a bit out of our way, I kept wondering why. Now, I know. The peace is palatable. I woke feeling a whole new part of my heart, a deeper seat or step, the place in the body Marion Rosen calls the seat of the soul.
It is said of Assisi, the City of Peace, home of St. Francis, that
“it has become its ideal and propulsive center, the meeting place of all consciousness, Catholic and non-Catholic, believers or atheists, who strongly believe in the values of the coexistence of all humanity. For years in this superb city there has been a succession of peace marches organized on regional and world scale, demonstrations, meetings and conferences on the same theme. From this place the highest messages aimed at the resolution of the problems affecting humanity have been sent forth.
The first peace march from Perugia to Assisi was organized in 1961. Its conceiver and promoter was Aldo Capitini, philosopher, pedagogist, poet, but above all apostle against violence. From then on this occasion became an annual event and it now attracts crowds of people from all over the world.
In Assisi, right in the square in front of St. Francis’ Basilica on 27th October 1986, there occurred a really exceptional meeting, destined to become historic. The highest representatives of all the most important religions of the whole world from the most widespread such as Catholicism or Islam to those which have a limited number of followers but have been historically established for thousands of years in the civilizations of their respective peoples, came together overcoming the particular nature of their faith in order to recognize and confirm the universal concept of diversity and above all, the absolute value of peace as an unreplaceable postulate for the coexistence and dignity of all peoples. Assisi, already rendered so mystical, so spiritually rich, so universal by its most famous son, who made the town a beacon of religious renewal and deepest Christian sentiment based on simplicity and purity of soul, continues even today to fulfill this role that St. Francis had indicated, and to act as a guide to that part of humanity that believes in the values of existence and cooperation.
The town seems more than ever to correspond to the concept that Dante Alighieri saw in its name. Assisi in fact for the great poet means “Ascesi” (risen) or “Orient” because in this town St. Francis was born, and that sun rose which was destined to shine over the whole of humanity. Today we may resume this happy image of Dante’s and affirm that Assisi, continuing to act in the wake of this tradition that sees it as the protagonist of history and Christianity, is approaching a new dawn and in fact has already become the “Orient” of a new humanity since it is the “City of Peace.”