There is little better than watching the landscape slip past beyond the windows of a train car. I had almost 6 hours to enjoy this pursuit on the ride from Paris to Turin. Turin, or Torino as it’s called in Italian, is the capital of the Piedmont region located in the northwest part of the boot. It was also the first capital of the United Kingdom of Italy for a brief period until the title was given to Rome in 1871. As such, this modern, cosmopolitan city also boasts a great deal of historical architecture that's worth visiting. I hope to return when I have time to explore its rich cultural and historical legacy.
I was looking forward to being greeted by Rosalba, a woman close my age who I met at the Vipassana meditation retreat. In the few minutes we were able to speak after our vow of noble silence concluded on that last day, we conversed briefly about my project and the purpose of my travels. I explained that, in addition to wanting to be immersed in other cultures which, for me is the source of a great deal of inspiration and learning, I am here to learn about the Via Francigena. She instantly lit up. She’s an avid pilgrim herself, having completed the Santiago de Campostella in Spain as well as others. We traded contact information, and since she lives in Torino, it was perfect for me. I had plans to meet with Enea Fiorentini, a man in the nearby town of Aosta, which is the first stop in Italy on the Via Francigena after descending from the Great Saint Bernard Pass in the Alps.
Rosalba was at Torino Porta Susa train station to greet me with open arms and her signature warm, child-like smile. We piled my things into her car and drove to the apartment in the north of town that she shares with her girlfriend, Elena. Rosalba speaks a little English, and I speak even less Italian. We spent a long time that evening conversing by way of Google Translation. I know, it’s cheating, but when you want to convey a lot of information and concepts quickly, it’s a great tool. Soon Elena arrived home from work, and she’s quite fluent in English. This resulted in a lot of extra work for her to translate during my stay with them. I’ll have to dedicate a future trip to deepening my understanding of the Italian language, because I was quite spoiled on this journey with friends who speak English. It’s OK. My brain is saturated with new information. I’m not sure it could have taken in much more.
Rosalba and Elena felt right away like very old friends to me. They were more than generous in their willingness to make sure I was fed, transported to and from where I needed to go, and able to make appropriate travel arrangements. We talked and laughed until the wee hours each night I stayed with them about life. I felt instantly at home with them, and I think I have lifelong friends who I HOPE will visit me in Colorado someday. We went out for wine and pizza on Friday night with two of their friends, Roberta and Mattina. On Saturday, we got up to meet Irene and Letizia for a hike. From the village of Chiusa di San Michele west of Torino, we hiked along a fairly steep trail up the side of Mount Pirchiriano. The reward at the top of this mountain is an early Christian basilica called Sacra di San Michele, or Saint Michael’s Abbey. Its beginnings were in the late 10th century, the same era as Sigeric Archbishop of Canterbury’s journey to and from Rome upon which he provided us with the earliest known written account of the Via Francigena. This means he would have passed very near the spot this abbey sits upon as it was being conceived over a millennium ago. This all took place hundreds of years before the USA was a glimmer in the eyes of our founding fathers and mothers. And here I stood. Moments of realization like these hit me with a sobering awareness of the diminutive yet enduring role our existence can play in the entire scheme of things.
On the hike, the five of us laughed and played like young schoolgirls. Half-way up the mountain, we met a small band of Harley Davidson enthusiasts. Some of you who know me may be aware of my proclivity for meeting and befriending these two-wheeled gangs in unexpected places. Like the time I enjoyed an unplanned day of touring through the countryside near Seville Spain with a large Harley-Davidson crew. I didn’t have the pleasure of riding with this group, but a man named Sergio volunteered to let me join him on his Hog for a photo opportunity. I also discovered for the first time the delicacy known as chestnuts fallen from the chestnut trees abundant in this region. Apparently their North American cousins were almost completely eradicated early last century by a fungus, and as such I’ve not previously had the pleasure of foraging for these wonderful treats. I came away that day with a pocketful of them and a slightly upset stomach from consuming far too many raw. Later, I enjoyed oven-roasted chestnuts with our meal, courtesy of Elena. All told, the day was wonderful! We enjoyed a reprieve of rain and fog for views across the Val di Susa, bits of youthful nonsense, and quiet moments of walking meditation along the colorful autumn path. Ahhh, the pleasures of adult-childhood.
I’m now waiting for Rosalba to pick me up from the home of Vanna and Paolo, parents of my friend and former business associate, Davide. They live in a beautiful home in an affluent part of Torino, a neighborhood called Crimea. I already knew that Davide is adorable. Now I know why. I discovered an immediate fondness for his mother. Vanna is about my height, perhaps a bit taller; she has a strong character, and a deep, kind soul. I can see a great intelligence and tenacity in her. My favorite part of the evening was the time she and I spent in her study sharing tea and biscuits. It was far too short for my liking, as I enjoyed hearing her thoughts and wisdom. She asked me about myself, so I told her a little about the documentary project and my plan to walk the Via Francigena next year, as well as my new way of life as an inspired vagabond. She cited Herman Melville when she said I swim in deep waters. Melville makes reference to fish that swim in either deep or shallow waters. In deep waters the challenges and the risks are much greater, but if you brave them, the rewards are boundless. She told me how she’s always resolved to swim in deep waters of her own. I can see this in her. It’s a quality I greatly admire. Hopefully I emulate it as she suggests.
She seemed excited by my story and soon proposed we join her husband and his business associates in the living room. They were just finishing their meeting when we entered. I was nervous at this unexpected audience, but I did my best given my travel-weary appearance and state of mind. The couple Paolo was meeting with are in the advertising business and live in a town near Torino famous for its peaches, wine, and a particular kind of white truffle. Vanna wanted to introduce me to them as potential contacts for marketing ideas or other for the project. You never know, right? They immediately focused on the matter of sponsorship and offered some practicable suggestions. While I truly appreciate and comprehend the financial realities of the endeavor, I’ve felt that I must concentrate, at least up to this point, on the heart and soul of the project, the vision and its development into a viable undertaking. They inquired about a proposal, of course. Otherwise, how will they know that I’m legitimate and not just a flighty dreamer with big ideas, a lot of talk, and no product? I assured them that I’m committed. I’ll return home from this trip with enough information, experience and contacts to finalize a complete and compelling proposal, including a website and short video demonstrating the project’s purpose and aesthetic sensitivity. I promised to send this to them when I have it ready, and they agreed to receive it.
Luckily I wiggled out of talking shop for a few moments, because my heart’s true fondness is for knowing people’s passions. I learned that his is banjo. His personal calling card has a clever Peanuts cartoon on the back in which Linus says, “The way I see it, as soon as a baby is born he should be issued a banjo.” That’s a nice thought, isn’t it—that each of us at birth would be issued the tool of our soul’s fulfillment? Apparently he’s quite adept at playing the instrument in addition to enjoying it immensely. It’s a shame I didn’t have an opportunity to hear him play. I derive great satisfaction from catching people in the act of doing what makes them come alive. Next time?
Visit the A TIME IN TORINO photo gallery.