Yesterday morning my alarm went off at 2:30. I had slept since 12:30 in two one-hour instants, separated by a nightmare in which I was ten minutes late for the first-act curtain of a magic show that I left ten years ago. I said my prayers, hauled my body out of its bed in our rented Florence apartment, and shook the head attached to the top of the body: time to make the coffee.
On our itinerary, yesterday was the day Marian and I went our way toward the head of the Camino de Santiago, and Katie went hers, toward an art workshop in Sevilla and a visit with her brother's family in Barcelona. That much happened. But the rest was a searching, multi-level reality check. A good day, but hardly easy.
I pushed the button on the coffee maker and sat down to my morning mass readings, the on-line version offered in a not-quite-USCCB translation by EWTN. (Non-Catholic readers: never mind.) As it does every day, the Eternal Word Television Network offered a meditation before the Scripture. Yesterday's mediation could not have been more apposite:
"The everlasting God has in His wisdom, foreseen from eternity the cross that he now presents to you as a gift of His inmost heart.... Let us love [our vocation] and not trifle away our time hankering after other's people's vocations." — St. Francis de Sales
Reality Check #1: Cinque Terre
We dropped Katie in Bologna and drove two hours west to the Ligurian coast and Cinque Terre, five cliffside villages linked by walking trails and elevated to National Park status by the Italian authorities. The five "lands" are (north to south) Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Rio Maggiore. This five-mile piece of heaven combines the terraced village setting of a Greek island town like Santorini with the natural drama of the Cliffs of Moher in western Ireland.
Cinque Terre can also be a piece of hell. Linking the cliffside villages are hiking trails: the easy contour-following lower trail and a webwork of oxygen-tank-requiring vertical ones. The two middle stages of the lower trail have been closed pretty permanently, I gather, since devastating rain and mud-slides last October 25, which were responsible for nine deaths. Having resolved to take the train from a parking lot north of Cinque Terre to Rio Maggiore in the south, then work our way back, we walked the first stage north from Rio Maggiore to Manarola along the touristy walkway, with its doodad shops and wine bars open even in the morning, then ran into the CLOSED sign on the next leg. We had a choice: wimp out and take the train back to our car, or strap it on and climb.
I could have wimped out. Remember, I'm the 60-year-old dad in this story, who has been a relatively good soldier so far — though I admittedly negotiated three Get Out of Jail Free cards from Marian yesterday, good for the duration of the trip. I had awakened at 2:30. I could have bagged it without shame. Glad I didn't.
We took the intermediate path, climbing from near sea level to 450 meters (apx. 1500 feet) at the apogee between Manarola and Corniglia. It was more or less straight up hill with some switching back. The first day's climb on the Camino will be about three times as high and will include a 20-pound pack. Still and all, Marian and I survived, though I was never worried about her. And I could still walk in the morning.
A consolation of the climbing was to arrive at two smaller up-cliff villages en route and finding a pristine village church in each. We entered both, and I left a euro in the OFFERTE box in exchange for a prayer card at the Church of Our Lady of Well Being (Salute).
Reality Check #2: No Wifi.
I have come to expect reliable internet service on this trip, though I know that the Camino will be spottier signal-wise. We arrived in Genova (Genoa to you) at 5pm after an hour's drive from Cinque Terre to find that the Wifi in our room did not work. Nor did the toilet flush. Otherwise, four stars. There is little that can make contemporary homo sapiens feel more lonely or adrift in the eternal vastness of space than the lack of dependable Wifi. Nuf said.
Reality Check #3: No Katie.
This was partly a consequence of Reality check #2. Without internet, Marian and I could not verify that Katie had arrived safely in Sevilla. This exacerbated the aforesaid loneliness and adriftness. I began to feel like an eight-year-old who has dreamed of sleep-away camp for a year and suddenly finds himself waking up with night sweats in the Little Beavers cabin without his mommy. Oh, and did I mention that he peed the sheets?
I miss Katie.
Reality Check #4: Who the hell is that?
I woke up from a pre-dinner nap and opened my eyes. Facing me from the twin bed no more than 23 centimeters from my own was a strange woman, whom it took several seconds to recognize as my 24-year-old daughter Marian. If I haven't said this before, Marian is my baby. OK, was my baby. But she's not a baby now. Back from four months in India, Nepal, and Southeast Asia (which I can only associate with Apocalypse Now jungle-type stuff), she is a brilliant, able, resourceful, courageous woman, which is pretty cool for this father to realize. But. Do I even know who she is?
Reality Check #5: What the hell are we doing here?
And as that strange woman in the next bed said to me over a dinner of potato pasta and pesto after a walk through a very real city indeed, Genova, neither of us really knows why we are walking the Camino de Santiago. I guess we'd better figure that out soon.