Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A journey to Assisi

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time

Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)

Sometimes reminiscing old journeys tend to be bittersweet, the sweetness haunts and the bitterness lingers. You may not remember the details that you would if you wrote them then, yet they seem so sweet. Such was my trip to Assisi. It happened to be my first ever road trip and remains close to my heart. I joined an old friend of mine 'John' a sweet boy who constantly reminded me of my Indianness through his endearments of me as 'akka' ( big sis) . 3 years ago when I really did meet John, never did I know that, he would be the sole 'soul' for me out in Italy to console, and tolerate my frights and flights in an alien city.
So when we thought of catching up in between my Erasmus project in Padova ( or when I persuaded him to travel with me in my explorations of new cities) he suggested a trip to Assissi. Though this small trip was planned unexpectedly when John's friend Illai ( my first Chinese friend ever) offered to drive us to Assisi ( as he was from Perugia and Assisi is in  the province of Perugia), I was thrilled. We soon had Marina- Illai's friend join us too our journey sort of rolled. We planned to touch Florence where I obviously fell in love with 'David' ( already written earlier) .

I often wonder if I should have had the luxury to explore every city but the fun of rushing from one city to the other skimming through visual landscape is an adventure of different sort.
When one enters Assissi what strikes you first is the serenity in the atmosphere. Ours was no pilgrim trip but maybe my associations with St Francis of Assissi made me feel calm and serene. The saint of poor, animals and nature had captivated my mind as a child. Of all the places in the world I dreamt of visiting, Assissi never made any place in the list, yet I was touched by what this beautiful city had to offer and to some reason it stays etched in my mind as one of my favourite destination.

Perhaps what amused me was how ancient and traditional this city looked. Unlike Florence, Milan or Venice with modern buildings and crowded cities, Assissi was quite traditional with stony huts, old , narrow roads and houses that had a low ceiling. The weather too was sunny and the houses were beautifully adorned with flowers.

The visitors who came here came for a quiet retreat, many were pilgrims and the others wanted time out from the madding crowd. We were a mixed group two of us god believers and the rest agnostics.So for us the trip was a mix of pilgrimage and retreat. We did not spend much time in the church as some of us would have loved to, but the journey was beautiful. Though I don't remember much of it except for what my snaps tell me, I do remember going to the church and feeling peaceful reading the lawn mowed into the three alphabets "PAX" which meant peace.

The church has a thorny bush in a glass jar for display, it is believed that St Francis embraced those thorns when he felt tempted by carnal desires.We also visited the Convent of St Claire's and I remembered the story my mother told me of how Francis and Claire were to be betrothed and St Francis decided to become a servant of the lord and Claire decided she too would give her life to services. Italy and Europe has always fascinated me with struggling actors who dress up for a living and perform on the street. I was fascinated by this actor who bore such a strong resemblance to 'Jesus', We met him on our way back from St Claire's

After all god does reside inside every man :) I don't know if I did contemplate on these thoughts behind my camera, but I love these shots of all those I clicked in Italy. I also fell in love with spinach in Assissi while tasting one of the wraps they prepared at a cafe.John being a vegetarian always tried something new in veg. It is here that I learnt from Illai that lunches and dinners can be fixed by choosing basic ingredients from a supermarket. And this is where I had by first bagel with cheese for 1.5 euro.

And for reasons many as these, I loved my first road trip to Assisi and I look up to many more back here in India though the roads may not be great but the journey could be long enough to enrich me. And I pray they do teach me a lot in the long run. I am not a travel writer, and I think Indians don't travel much, maybe we are lazy and find excuses or wait for the best opportunity to travel to that one dream destination. But I think we should travel more often, meet new people, taste new flavours and learn new cultures.And for those who visit Italy please visit Assisi it's worth it.

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