In 2007, Australian author & journalist Stephanie Dale joined her son Ben for the middle leg of his pilgrimage from Canterbury, in England, to Jerusalem. Her newly released travel memoir, My Pilgrim’s Heart, is the story of their adventures.
EXTRACT – ROME: let the journey begin!
It is past midnight by the time we get home. We’ve been out doing what the Romans do best at such hours – drinking wine and eating pizza. And now we prepare to walk into the dawn for the next one hundred days. I am being poetic. We have no idea how long the walk to Istanbul will take.
I would like to sleep but I am wide-eyed and keen with the morning’s coffee. Ben dives into his sleeping bag. I swear my son can sleep anywhere, anytime. It’s been that way since was a child. In his teens, his sleeping bag tendered the kind of companionship others might expect from a faithful dog. He took it everywhere.
We act normal, as if tomorrow will be like any other day, wide open grins and bursts of uproarious laughter giving the game away. September 22. Vernal equinox. A Saturday unlike any other. I bed down and do my best to settle. I think of the Vatican, just down the road, imposing and cold by day, a stunningly majestic apparition bobbing about in the sky by night.
This particular night it is backlit by the silver-gold half moon. If you’re going to proclaim yourself God’s spokesman for all time, then by night it’s a hard act to follow. I can only imagine what the medieval ones might have given for that lighting. I edge into restless sleep to the tune of a t-shirt I saw this afternoon outside the Sistine Chapel. It is the perfect pilgrim shirt. In three words it sums up the road ahead:
Free and Dirty.
I stretch into the morning, feeling into my body. Mind and belly a little woozy from the wine we drank at midnight. I do a body roll-call. Feet sweet. Shoulders relaxed. Heart raring to go!
I make ready to walk into a hundred sunrises. We haven’t been able to find a map to the scale we need, but we know we’re heading to Pescara, due east on Italy’s Adriatic seaboard, and from there we will catch a ferry to Split, on Croatia’s central coast. East to Pescara. East to Istanbul! East to the East. East to Byzantium. Besides, we looked it up online and have a vague idea of how to get out of Rome.
I holler into the morning: ‘Yeeeeeeehaaaaaaa!’
‘Hey Ben,’ I say, lest he missed the wake-up call. ‘Let’s go!’
We rise. We pack. We load up and we take a good long look at each other and smile. Let the journey begin, we seem to say. Let the journey begin.
We roll down the hill to God’s Castle where, still running high on yesterday’s brew, my biggest decision is whether or not to have another coffee. With a good two thousand kilometres to walk on four hours sleep, naturally I lean towards the affirmative. We buy cheese and salami rolls at the deli across the road and return to the Vatican concourse, propping ourselves up against a small fountain.
We sit on the cobblestones, unfurl the new backgammon board between us, and eat as we roll the dice for the inaugural backgammon challenge. We film ourselves against the backdrop of the papal palace, speaking our dream-prayers for the road to the camera.
For Ben, it is a journey continued, the minor matter of five thousand kilometres between him and Jerusalem.
For me, it is a new chapter in my life begun, the walk of a thousand incarnations, the minor matter of a showdown with myself that I hope will clear the path for the rest of my life.
Let the pilgrimage begin!
“You won’t find Stephanie Dale in My Pilgrim’s Heart, you will find yourself.”
Leasher Robinson, Talk the Talk Ladies Book Club