(Journal from 5-7 November)

Last time I posted, I was on a 3-hour train ride to a small village near Lodi to meet my Via Francigena contact, Immacolata Coraggio. I think I’ve mentioned more than once how fond I am of riding trains. I’ll do my best to stop repeating myself! Once the sun departed and there was no scenery to watch pass by, I sat reading through my VF guidebooks and revisiting my list of questions to be answered about it, and writing. I was consumed by all this information and contemplation. I did not have a map of this train route or know the progression of stops, and I wasn’t paying too much attention to the loud speaker until it was getting close to the expected arrival time. I’d heard enough to know the train was running late. But when I asked a gentleman how much longer until we would reach Piacenza where I was to change trains, he answered 45 minutes. It was already past the time we were supposed to be there. As such, I would be an hour late, missing my connection. There wasn’t another one for more than an hour. Yes, while I love riding trains, it does come with its challenges and perhaps more in Italy than some other places. I called Immacolata to alert her and apologize, but she was OK. Of course, she’s Italian and knows well the late trains in Italy.

I arrived 2 hours late and tired, but we stayed up enjoying the wonderful meal she’d prepared and extensive conversations. It turns out she is definitely a kindred spirit in many ways, in her vagabond ways and in her way of walking on this earth. Her career as a research biologist has turned into something she does about 4 months of the year and continues only as a means to another end, that of walking the way…it is there now to pay for the other 8 months of her year which she spends in the ways that pay her soul and spirit…in qualities that are infinitely more valuable than money. These riches you can take with you when your time in this life is done. She has committed herself to walking and to promoting a way of walking on this earth and through this life. Last year she walked the Via Francigena in its totality and most of it she walked alone. She took photographs and wrote daily. Since then she’s compiled a traveling exhibit, with the help of some very generous graphic and web designers who believed in her cause and the way of life she’s promoting. Her website is www.pontidiluce.org (meaning “bridges of light”), though it’s only in Italian and French. When she’s not working her “real job”, she’s promoting this exhibit and simpler, more aware way of walking in life. It’s very similar to what I’m doing. This particular trip is for learning and growing. Next year’s journey on the Via Francigena is a journey I look forward to and know I will be forever changed by it. But beyond reaching Rome next fall, I can’t say where I will go or what I will be led to do. One step at a time.

I was able to talk a bit more with Immacolata over breakfast the next morning about her experiences with the Via Francigena and her opinions of how I might plan our walk with a group next year. And as Immacolata pointed out, my current trip is as much about connecting with people who are committed to a path of walking with awareness and who might be interested in joining the walk next year. My other plans for places to stay and peole to meet in the next few days have fallen through, so this reminder was good to hear. A bit of vacanza is in order. Perhaps I’ll visit Edi in Vicenza. It will be nice to visit the place I called home for 2+ months during my first visit to Italy.

Immacolata and I parted ways at the Lambrate train station in Milano, she on her way to work, and me on my way to wherever I’d end up! We left with big smiles, hugs and knowing it would not be our last meeting. Afterward, I ran a couple of errands, and made time to visit the Milan Duomo, for which I hold a deep fondness. (In a couple of days when I have nothing to write for you, I’ll share a paper inspired by the duomo that I wrote as the finale to my first summer in Italy, the one that started everything), then I made my way over to my Vipassana friend’s apartment, Rachana and her boyfriend Danielli. I spent a very nice evening with them as we shared the spaghetti dinner Rachana prepared for us and compared notes often laughing about our experiences in Vipassana. Of course, she and I had very different experiences. I found it to be close to heaven, though not always enjoyable if that makes any sense. Rachana approached it from a much different angle and had some interesting points of view to share. I personally have no doubt in the meditation technique itself, only in my preparedness at this point in my life to commit myself fully to it as a path. I know I am ready to take it only so far in my life and will continue to practice the technique most mornings and evenings. When I’m ready to commit at a deeper level to something as focused as Vipassana practice in all aspects of my life, there will be no turning back. We had a nice breakfast the next morning with fun conversations. They helped me with my ridiculous baggage situation to the subway station, and then went on their way to start their Saturday. They were on their way to secure tickets for free hugs from Ama, the round-faced Indian woman who travels the world spreading her seemingly infinite wellspring of compassion and embraces. I decided that since all my other plans had fallen through, I would take a couple of days to revisit the place I first called “home” in Italy—Vicenza…