Everything is out of order, since my internet availability is limited. I have more entries ready to post, and more videos as well. but they are subject to finding a place with an Internet signal somewhere in the hill towns of Central Italy. Where is a McDonald's when you need one?
This then, is the daily pattern that life in Collemincio has become, by convenience and by necessity. Isolated in the hills, without convenient communication (Caris is leashed to the world by his mobile phone), I only recently discovered a friendly and comfortable cafe to bring forth the sacred Internet.
So, each day, Caris and I both seem to emerge from sleep in the same post-noon hour. (I could be kidding myself, though. As I make toast and heat water in the electric kettle, he makes his appearance. Fully awake and dressed, he says, “Good morning,” and we accept my foolish conceit.)
Arise, awaken, shoo flies from the dining table, eat, shower in less than a blink. dress and load the car for the 30-minute drive down through the hilly countryside to Assisi. Green hills dotted with olive trees move slowly past us as the narrow road unwinds.
I’ll sit in the Internet cafe. Caris will strum his guitar and sing in the Piazza Santa Chiara.
After 17 years, beautiful Assisi now seems tiresome to Caris, like a faded lover. I have no interest in history, he explained to me one night as he pointed his blue BMW sedan to the top of the mountain back home. But its history that bade him here: St. Francis, a catholic saint who attracted the non-catholic.
And that’s quite another story, with no great arc, so let’s move forward.
I park myself at the terrace cafe in Piazza San Ruffino in mid-afternoon, as the west coast of America is just waking. My sturdy Macbook will give me two, maybe three hours, of battery time (There are few outlets here. This isn’t Starbucks.), but the growing list of things to accomplish each day stands tall as I whittle away at it; a conversation there, an e-mail here, an assignment there.
From my perch overlooking the plaza, my back against the stone wall of the cafe, I wave away the endless cigarette smoke and watch a stream of tourists huddle and take countless photographs in the Piazza San Ruffino, a basilica of simple design two sloping stone paths up from the Piazza Santa Chiara (St. Claire) where visitors and locals gather each evening to watch the sun descend somewhere in the vicinity of Rome. Some of St. Francis’ remains were buried in the church there where the body of St. Claire still remains on view. His remains were later moved to the “new” cathedral in town, around the corner from McDonald’s
Caris opens his guitar case, displaying his CDs for sale, He strums a G, then maybe a version of C, an E minor, a D, and songs emerge, a stream of them, as he plays a repeating chord pattern. Not whole songs necessarily, or very often. Just whatever lyrics, melody or couplets come to mind. Not thematic, just stream of consciousness. Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” begets “Homeward Bound” begets “Who’ll Stop the Rain” begets “Slip Sliding Away,” and you now have the idea. What holds the tunes together is his strong voice and a simple subtle passion for making music.
These days 30-ish women approach him and tell him they remember him singing there when they were little girls. That can’t be good.
This week there’s been talk of a new album, new songs, all of that attendant energy. That can’t be bad.
Sitting in my conning tower at the terrace cafe, I’m surrounded by smokers, talkers and tourists. German tourists going on and on and on and on in their dark, guttural language, the English with their maps and tour books, and Italians with their cigarettes.
As darkness falls, the piazzas, both large and small, take on a new energy. Families stroll and young boys on bicycles sweep across the piazza always thisclose to an accident, but never colliding with anyone or anything. Bars (we call them restaurants) sell gelato (ice cream) as fast as they can scoop it Franciscan monks walk away, in full habit, happily holding cups of gelato, chatting up friends and tourists. We’ll get to them in a minute.
The tiniest cars I’ve ever seen whiz up and down the narrow medieval streets. Much of the medieval part of Assisi was severely damaged in the earthquake of 1997, and has been rebuilt to much of the original design and specifications. As in most European plazas, buildings are lit upward, highlighting their dramatic stance, something American landscapers and builders never seemed to get the hang of.
Tourist shops sell the usual postcards, cheap Franciscan monk bobblehead dolls, and full suits of armor. How does anyone get those things through airport security?
I need to stop here for now.
Next time, what is the deal with those monks, anyway? Plus, more video, Charlie Yelverton, and busking in gas station.s