013. A PILGRIM AND A PIE / by Cara Hines

I'm way behind on my entries. I have some catching up to do. But as today is Thanksgiving, I thought I'd post my current writing and backtrack in coming days to catch you up on what's taken place in between. I arrived last night in Bolsena, Italy, and am staying at www.conventobolsena.org ...yes, it's as amazing as it looks in the pictures on the website. More explanation of it will follow later. For now, let's focus on the antics of today.

This was likely the most unique Thanksgiving I’ve ever had. I rested this morning, but as today was potentially the last for fair weather in the area, I soon set out to gather what footage I could of Via Francigena and the charming village of Bolsena. It was my typical day of wandering the streets, finding beauty in the cracks and crevices of every day life—cracks and crevices, I might add, that are more likely than not older than the country in which I live. I often garner more pleasure from the green moss-covered alleys and decaying doors, windows and fences, than I do in the awe-inspiring cathedrals and such.

It wasn’t until later in the afternoon, as the light was just beginning to fade from the soft golden cast of the 3:30 to 4:30 hour, that I made my first pilgrim sighting. I'd say that's a respectable finding for Thanksgiving Day, though I suppose it's not quite the right type of pilgrim, it's an appropriately timed allusion. I was strolling with Z1-Kenobi (aka my Sony video camera) near a Roman arch at the NW entrance to the old part of Bolsena when I looked ahead and saw him. It felt like I’d spotted a rare and endangered species in the wild. This simply is not the time of year, I’ve learned, that one typically sees pilgrims wandering the streets. He was dressed in full Pellegrino regalia:  sizeable backpack/rucksack, hiking boots, brimmed hat with patches, and a carved wooden walking stick. He was walking across the path rather than on it, looking slightly unsure of his whereabouts and carrying an amply tattered copy of the Lightfoot Guide to the Via Francigena. I called out to him in my broken Italian. He answered in broken Italian. We attempted this for a minute or so until we finally realized we both speak English. He’s British and the first official pilgrim I’ve met actively making the trek from Canterbury to Rome. In only six days he will take his final steps along the trail into Vatican City. He is also only 18 years old. And based on all accounts he’s come across, he’s likely the youngest modern-day pilgrim to make the entire walk alone from Canterbury to Rome.

I offered to buy him a snack and coffee or other if he wouldn’t mind allowing me to get some footage of him doing what pilgrims do, and talking to me about his experiences. He more than happily agreed, and we proceeded to have our very own movie set. It was a riot! When we finished that bit, we sat in a bar, I with my café macchiato, he with his tea, and I listened as he entertained me with stories. He had so much to say, and I was grinning from ear to ear. It turned out he was planning to stay at Convento Bolsena as well, so I led him up the hill to check in. We both took time in our respective rooms checking email and settling in, and then walked back into town for a bit of dinner. I insisted he try something besides his usual pizza in a box. I’ve been the recipient of so many kind souls on this trip and otherwise who’ve fed me and housed me without much if anything in return. I felt obliged to pay it forward. We enjoyed a dinner of various fish from Lake Bolsena, and he tried his first insalata mista. He’d not ever had Limoncello, a typical Italian aperitif that’s so lovely and sweet, so I ordered one for him. He winced as he tried a tiny sip. That’s OK because I was the recipient of whatever he didn’t want. We soon paid, had the restaurant owner take our photograph, and set out to find the dessert that has become one of his favorites—an ice cream delight known as “Magnum”. We walked into every open bar and caffe we could find, some of them 2 or 3 times, hoping this elusive sweet would materialize from thin air. We laughed and told stories as we wandered back and forth, and I’m quite sure we gathered plenty of attention from the locals out for their evening passagiate. We finally found one place with something similar to the Magnum and settled on that, enjoying it on our walk back to the convent.

I came back to my room to get Z1-Kenobi to join us, and I discovered a small plate with a piece of pumpkin pie waiting for me along with a note wishing me a “Happy Turkey Day”. I was thrilled! I’m sure my family was home at that very moment enjoying the same, and I shutter to let them know I preferred scarfing down my second favorite dessert of all time in my own room at this fairy tale place in Italy!

But Z1 and I were on a mission, so I saved most of the pie for later. We met up with Josh in the library. I hooked him up to the lavolier mic, adjusted the camera and tripod, and turned the lens on him. He spoke to the camera like a pro, sharing his experiences on the Francigena, how he came to choose it, what he's learned, and whatever wisdom he felt compelled to impart. At 18 I would have wilted in that situation, but he was brilliant! Turns out he’s had plenty of experience in front of the camera as well as with some of the equipment. He was one of the stars five years ago of a British reality TV series called “Rock School”. In this, Gene Simmons of KISS fame had a short span of time to take a group of classically trained music students from Christ’s Hospital School in England and shape them into a fully fledged rock-and-roll band. Josh, also known as “The Emperor”, was selected by Simmons as lead singer and was widely regarded as the highlight of the program. At one point, Josh and his mother hosted the veteran rock star for tea in their home, after which he drove Josh to school in his limousine. This guy has more interesting stories for his 18 years than most people have at 80! You can follow his journey from beginning to end on his blog at http://lethimcomehither.wordpress.com and be sure to wish him well on his final few days walking. He’s one person who is seizing his life with gusto and a grin…carpe vitam.

Now I’m back in my room seizing some pumpkin pie. And giving a cornucopia of gratitude for every moment I get to spend in this life. I’m amazed by it all. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! (please visit the photo gallery for pictures of the day...and of Joshua Bell)

Visit the A PILGRIM AND A PIE photo gallery.