Some of you might be wondering why it’s taken me so long to finish telling you guys about my amazing vacation. It’s hard to say this, but here it is – I lost a blog entry. Lost it. Zip, zero, gone, not coming back. Somehow I ended up erasing an entire day of my vacation, and since the only existing copy of my journal entry from that day was here, locked up on the backend of Compass & Quill, I will never have those exact memories from that afternoon again.
What really sucks about that (or maybe it’s a boon – you tell me) is that the writing I lost was a recap of the best day of my vacation. In all two weeks, my favorite day, the day I think back on, wish could have been much longer, the day that is sepia-toned in my mind, like some slow motion, driving-through-the-countryside scene from a heady emotional drama (you know, where sunlight glints off of waving blades of grass, and the heroine rides in passenger seat, gently fiddling with her hair or her sunglasses, and the camera goes in and out of focus in a way that both slightly irritates you and simultaneously breaks your heart?)…that was this day.
Naturally, you can see the kind of emotional turmoil I went through after finding that I’d essentially misplaced (forever) my memories. I felt like such a jerk. And I am. There’s no getting around it. But the show must go on, so here’s what I remember from the rest of the day…
The Franciscans don’t ask that you pay any fees to explore St. Francis’ birthplace and final resting place. However, there are little donation boxes everywhere, and with my heart overflowing with joy, just like Francis intended, I gave freely. I donated money for two long, slim, beeswax candles to be burned in prayer during one of the brothers’ daily services. I put change in boxes for the basilica’s upkeep, and for the brothers’ many missions for the poor across the world. I bought souvenirs – a lovely poster of St. Francis’ Peace Prayer, which contains one of my favorite quotations, a new medallion for my necklace of sacred baubles, and lots of little gifts for family. I bought The Man some anise candies that turned out to be the best gift of all – delicious!
When it came time to see where St. Francis was laid to rest, I was a little let down. It’s just a room, nothing too special. But I can’t say that I wasn’t touched. He’s buried with his four companions, the men who were his support in later life. We assume they were good friends, and I hope for his sake that they were, but this was long ago, and stories get twisted in the telling. Such is the way of the world. I’m doing it right now, whether I’d like to or not, by leaving out small details and remaining too long on things of little consequence. C’est la vie.
After exploring the basilica, I walked around the town. It’s a winding town, a quiet town, a friendly town. I met travelers all over, and took other peoples’ photos for them at every stop. It began to feel as though it was my tiny mission to make people happier by making sure they had commemorative snapshots. I didn’t ask anyone to take my picture, an oversight that still bugs me. I met a tour group of teens and their chaperones from Georgia, taking a tour of sacred European sites. After I took the group’s photo, they all gave me hugs and one woman handed me a lovely little St. Francis bookmark as a gift.
It was sometime after this that St. Francis started to make himself known for real in my life. I went to the ATM to get cash, and my card was declined. I realized that I had forgotten to tell my bank that I was heading to Europe, and since all the cards I had with me were from the same bank, I was essentially screwed. A short while later, I ran out of all the change on me. Luckily I’d already purchased a return ticket to Perugia, so getting home wasn’t a problem. I tried using a pay phone to call the out of US number on the back of my card, but the pay phone wouldn’t make the call, telling me that the number I dialed was “not allowed.” Instead, I gave up and spent the last hour in the city walking around, checking out old architecture, soaking in the atmosphere.
Finally I gave up and waited for the bus. As I waited, an older Japanese lady came to stand beside me. She had been on the bus to Assisi with me from Perugia, and I knew she spoke English, so I made some pleasantry about the weather to be polite. For some reason, something in her demeanor really made me like her immediately, and I tend to have very strong and accurate gut feelings, so I went with it. We ended up chatting for the next hour, sitting next to each other on the bus, sharing stories, life views, laughing, philosophizing. It was an amazing moment for me. At one point in our conversation I felt certain that she was a kind of angel, someone I was meant to talk to and learn from.
Her name was Ikuko, and she lived in California but was originally (and maybe still – I didn’t pry) from Japan. She spends a good deal of time travelling for pleasure and personal growth, and has quite a few friends in Italy, so she was in the middle of a three month vacation when we met. She asked if I was Catholic, and I said no, but that I felt drawn to St. Francis. I thought that she would maybe be confused, or brush me off in some way, but instead she nodded sagely and said that she believed we got what we needed from the Universe, that religion was just a piece of the puzzle, and an interchangeable one at that. Our conversation ran the gamut from religion (she had a genuine epiphany a few years ago, and went from having no religion to being a pretty devout Catholic) to coffee, and how to order an American coffee without offending your Italian waiter. Have you ever met someone that you just loved immediately? That’s how I felt during that bus ride. It was a ‘coming home’ feeling, and we’ve remained in touch. I plan to go out to California in the next year or so, and hope to visit her while I’m there.
The rest of the afternoon was nowhere near as pleasant as meeting Ikuko. My cards didn’t work, and as it turned out, no phone I tried would let me dial out to any of the credit card company’s numbers (multiple), including my hotel room phone, my cell phone, the front desk phone or any of the pay phones I tried outside. I’ve already recounted how horribly unhelpful the desk staff were at my hotel, so no need to go through that. Bottom line is that I cried buckets, but finally got through to the bank via Skype on my iPad – a free app that literally saved my life. Without Skype I would have been stranded in Perugia until someone could wire me cash, and given how irritatingly unfazed the Italians I met were when it came to my financial crisis, I’m not sure that I could have gotten money for at least a couple of days. But oh well, it’s over. I’ll know better next time.
After getting the money sorted out, I wandered the streets of Perugia, enjoying the sights and sounds one last time. I had dinner at my hotel – OK, but not my best decision ever. The only great thing about it was having very old fashioned service, complete with a rolling cart for food and beverage delivery, and waiters with gloves and little towels thrown over their arms. It was out in the courtyard of the hotel, and with the sounds from the street echoing in, and the whole place lit in a soft yellow glow, it was a little magical.
The only thing left for my evening after dinner was to write in my journal, check in with Facebook, and get some gelato and an espresso like a proper Italian. I headed back to the gelato spot that I’d found the night before, this time ordering sweet cream and hazelnut. The shop owner and the counter guy chit chatted with me a bit this time, asking where I was from and how long I planned to stay. Their service and friendliness was impeccable, something I treasured about staying in that area of the city. They even brought me out a special cone-holder so that I could type on my iPad without having to hold the gelato cone! The gelato place had all of these tiny outdoor tables, and there’s something magical about sitting outdoors at 11pm, eating gelato and drinking an espresso, listening to a town that’s still going just as strong as during the daylight hours, hearing snippets of music and laughter…I’m getting teary-eyed now.