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 – ITALY: Bed is where you find it
We make it to San Cosimato and neither one of us is willing to scale the steep steps straight up the hill into the town proper to scout for bed and food.
We walk on.
We take a break for bread and cheese and chocolate among the shattered glass and graffitied walls of a roadside bus shelter.
Night is falling.
We walk on, winding around the narrow road overlooking a small river below.
We come to a rather closed looking restaurant. We ask for pasta and happily they feed us. We ask for a hotel. They shake their heads. We ask for a camping ground. They shrug. We ask for ‘tente’. More shrugs. Our fingers make the shapes of church steeples.
‘Tente,’ we say.
They shrug again.
Delirium takes a sharp, silent left hand turn. I don’t know what our faces look like but they’re enough for the owners to take pity on the pilgrims and offer us their verandah for the night, tiled and clean.
We pitch our tents in the dark beneath the full-bellied moon. Both of us have new tents. Neither of us has put them up before. We have no idea how they work and neither tent stands without ropes.
A half hour of madness ensues, until we each tie one end of our tent to the legs of a wrought iron table and on the other end I post my sentinels for the night, a pot of rosemary and a money plant, delighted with the symbolism of both.
We return to the restaurant, which is around the corner of the same verandah, and order wine. I write while Ben reads Don Bruno’s bible. We roll out the backgammon. Ben asks how I feel.
‘Very tired. Very sore. Better than yesterday,’ I say.
Pilgrim humour being what it is we roll around laughing.
‘That about sums up every day,’ says Ben.
The family who owns the restaurant gathers for photographs with us. They are as delirious about our presence on their verandah as we are.
We film them.
Our common language is the language of joy. We laugh. I give the mother the only prize I have, a small handful of Baci chocolates. We hold hands as she receives them.
It’s not long before I leave Ben to his carafe of wine and the company of two young women who have rolled in with the night.
I lie down in my tent. The body remembers. I have walked the road to Santiago and there is nothing novel about this pilgrimage as it lives in my body.
What is novel is a land of no hotels or rooms or camping grounds; just the earthen-tiled verandah of strangers kind enough to meet the needs of those they don’t understand, linguistically or otherwise.
I close my eyes.
Tired. Sore. Better than yesterday.