June 12, 2003:
Today was close to a perfect travel day. It began in Rome and ended in Assisi — not far as the crow flies, but a significant difference in feel and attitude.
We left the Hotel Carriage after suffering through another sweltering breakfast. (In fairness, no one but me seemed to think the breakfast room was like a sauna, but what the heck! As soon as I sit down in there I feel like a melting candle.) We took a cab to Avis and got our rent-a-car. I have to say, I approached the car issue with a lot of trepidation after observing Rome traffic and the infernal scooters darting in and out. However, Avis is fortunately located close to the Rome ring road, and we we able to get out of Rome without much difficulty or bother.
The drive to Assisi is pretty basic. Italian roads (particularly the Autostrade) seem to be well-marked and accessible. We made it to Assisi with only one wrong turn, and lucked out by finding our hotel on the main road into town. It’s a nice place, although the heat continues to pester us. Once in Assisi we had a quick lunch (for which we were gouged) and then went to the Basilica of St. Francis. It is an interesting place, perched on a hill at the edge of town. However, it is not difficult to reach a sort of overload on large, overpowering cathedrals. One thing that I noted was the ornately carved chairs — for what purpose, who knows? — but each was distinct and lovely, and probably the product of months of labor by a medieval craftsman.
After St. Francis’ Basilica, we walked back to the hotel so Kish could take a break. The boys and I then set out to the Cathedral of the Poor Clares, which seems to be crumbling away, and the large castle at the top of the town. The Cathedral of the Poor Clares was very thought-provoking. At some point, it appears to have been greatly decorated with frescoes, but the frescoes seem to have fallen apart or faded away, and much of the walls are now whitewash. It made me think about the nature of religious faith and fervor, and how there are probably not nearly as many purely devout believers as there used to be. At some point, churches like the Cathedral of the Poor Clares were probably packed with pious worshipers; now the Cathedral seems to be largely a tourist attraction.
The castle was very cool, because it has a commanding view in three directions and is probably 1000 feet above the center of town. The boys and I took lots of pictures and climbed to the top of the towers. A very striking view of the scenic, rolling Italian countryside, under a bright blue sky. There were some German kids up at the castle with us, and they were acting like punks — loud and uncaring. As we walked back, they would shout “Achtung!” and then roll their large water bottle down the steep hill leading up to the castle.
When we finally got back to town, the kids went to the hotel, and I decided to duck into one last church. It was a small church, but it is where I have had my best travel moment of the trip so far. I came into the church dripping with sweat. There was no one in there, save for a monk in brown robes and a rope belt and sandals, who was doing some chores. A CD of Gregorian Chants was playing softly, and the church was dark and cool. I sat on one of the pews and drank in the atmosphere. I was along for a few minutes and simply let my thoughts wander over the simple paintings and decorations, all as the Gregorian Chants played low in the background. A Supreme Moment!
Kish and the boys and I then went out for a drink before dinner (after Kish had lost our debit card to a machine) and the kids discovered some shaved ice concoction. We had dinner at the hotel, which was a fine, multi-course affair, then we walked back up the hill to the castle, with Russell towing Kish a good part of the way. We later strolled back to the town square, where Kish and the boys had another shaved ice concoction. We are now back in our hotel room. It is hot, and the window is wide open. It sounds like there is lots of activity on the square, and we are hoping that things finally cool down. It was another bright, cloudless, very hot day.