A day of quiet in the mountains of Ascoli Piceno
With no need to be anywhere else but here in this quiet garden with no distractions but the ants and that strange smell of grey water drainage on the air, I am inspired to contemplate and write to share, what is so for me, with you.
It is easy to lose a sense of Self and equally simple yet magical to find it again in a single moment. Last night I was ready to leave this paradise in the mountains where I have found myself three days early. It seems that within the grandeur of the Sibillini mountains of central Italy, I had driven through for six hours yesterday, I not only ended up somewhere I hadn’t planned but lost my sense of Self somewhere on the journey and began feeling afraid and alone by nightfall. The silence was intense and the lack of company and loved ones overwhelming. I’m still not sure which thought had this be so but here I am the next day feeling completely grateful for the experience, back in my heart, feeling a sense of wonder and curiosity of the nature of the Infinite in all things.
For ease of expression here I will call the God energy, the One that we all are, The Infinite.
Nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. I am grateful for the imperfections of life (or ‘dukkha’ a Buddhist word describing suffering or unsatisfactoriness or even stress, fear, dread, friendlessness and isolation…) because it brings me closer to my heart and am reminded of my vulnerability and a deepened sense of Self.
I have experienced such joy, curiosity, beauty and delight at all I have feasted my eyes upon here in Italy through its history, art, architecture, music, food, vistas and people and began to expect it as constant only to find ‘life’ is still with me in all its opposites. With Life comes polarity and imperfection, the wonderful and the frightening, paradise and bad smells. This is not a new thought, many have discussed the opposites of life, the light and shadow, good and bad, faith and doubt, but today I am inspired especially by Fr Lawrence Freeman’s article on the subject. Written January 6th 2010 and can be found at www.wccm.org a site for the World community for Christian Meditation.
I awoke this morning with the words “What you need to know will appear before you in unexpected ways” It has as beautifully as always and, no doubt, will continue to do so. The magical moment of transition from dark to light or fear to Love for me was when I picked up Lawrence Freeman’s article my new friend Stefania had given me in Perugia. It was one of those guided moments as I was silently asking for assistance. I had had these pages in my luggage for 10 days without looking at them. This was the perfect moment to read them and I read every page, all twelve.
I am reminded that every moment is equally purposeful, the wonderful and the frightening, the joyous and the empty. Each day is new as if nothing I thought I knew before today matters…but simply a layer that today adds to on the journey back Home to Self.
As I sit here under the walnut tree listening to Torino, the caretaker of this property, gabbling away in his native tongue to a friend that has dropped by, I am grateful for this present moment and all that I become aware of in it. It matters not where I am in the world but this present moment and who I am.
Below are some stories about where I’ve been and how I got here. I hope they’re entertaining, at best, and perhaps a little inspiring for your own experience.
On the Road in my Fiat Panda
For a week before I was due to leave Assisi to pick up my Fiat Panda, I’d pre booked from Australia for 8 days, I was nervous about driving on Italian roads.
Did I say earlier that I’m travelling solo? Travelling alone is such an opportunity to find out what you’re capable of. I have found that every challenge has a solution if I trust it is so. I knew I just had to do this and I wanted to challenge myself rather than taking the safe option. No adventure there. I do love an adventure, not too dangerous, but new, exciting and stretching myself beyond my comfort zone. Makes life so much more interesting…and just a little stressful… ok, a lot stressful but worth it.
Anyway the time came to put the key in the ignition and drive away. No friend or even English speaking friendly acquaintance around to assure me or lead the way. I was on my own with all the crazy Italian drivers on strange and winding roads all signed in Italian. Not only was my new friend the Fiat left hand drive I had to remember to drive on the right side of the road without scratching the right side of the car on stone walls. The next challenge was to find the freeway towards Ascoli Piceno and find a comfortable place to stay over on the way.
After missing the first entrance to the Freeway I was winding through quaint villages looking for a sign I recognized that would direct me towards Ancona on the east coast. The Adriatic sea. Turning left at a sign that said Tutti Direzione, all directions, I stopped to look at the map. No joy there so I went inward and asked to be guided. Driving a little further on through an industrial area I saw another Tutti Direzione sign towards what looked like a freeway entrance. I was soon on my way to Ancona. How extraordinary that ‘All directions’ means the freeway. Just like the old saying ‘All roads lead to Rome’
Note to Self and All: Always ask for Guidance when you’re stuck.
Guidance or pure luck? I prefer to see it as being connected to the Higher Intelligence, the One energy that is in everything, The Infinite. I learned when I was young to ‘Ask and you shall receive’, so I do.
I was pretty pleased with myself and asking again “Where should I turn off to stop over for lunch?” I heard “Go to Gubbio”
Gubbio was another beautiful historic medieval city high in the mountains, 28 km from the freeway through lush and breathtaking scenery. It felt like I was, again, in the right place. Yay, this is fun. Risky but fun! Here I am, a 50 something year old woman travelling in a strange car in a strange country alone with very little Italian winding upward towards an unknown place with no fear whatsoever.
Note to Self and All: Fear of what? If I am One with everyone and everything there is nothing to fear. Every challenge has a solution and I know I am loved so that is what I create wherever I go.
I parked the Fiat outside the city centre and after passing a fruit and vegetable market and following the narrow cobble stoned streets upward I found myself near the upper city wall where a small procession of young people dressed in medieval costume were about to take off through the city. Ten young men playing the drums and five gorgeous young women in trailing velvet gowns leading with offerings for …? I never found out. Perhaps to the Virgin Mary as this was the weekend of the Annunciation, I was to learn more about in my next stopover.
Loreto and the Holy House
Legend has it that the stone house of Mary, where she lived with her parents, and where Archangel Gabriele came to her with the news she was to have a baby she will name Jesus, was carried by the angels in 1291, when the crusaders were finally expelled from Palestine, first to Illyria (Tarsetto, in modern Croatia) and then to Loreto. More recently (1962-65) archaeological excavations at Nazareth and the ground below the holy house all seem to confirm that the stones of the Holy House were transported by ship, thanks to the intervention of a noble family that ruled Epirus. A Basilica was built around it sometime in the 16th century. Here it still stands in Loreto giving hope to millions of people.
In my search to lay my head for the night I drove from Gubbio to the coast and headed north to Senigallia. Apparently the beaches all over Italy are largely owned by the big hotel chains and are covered with lounges and umbrellas in the Hotel’s colours with a ‘free beach’ every seven ‘not free’. Not very attractive at all, I thought. I have been spoiled in Australia. Our beaches are so beautiful in their natural state and free to all to enjoy. I stayed here for an hour or so soon realizing this was not to be my resting place.
OK, “where to now”, I ask. Looking at my trusty map I pick Loreto, south beyond Ancona and towards the Ascoli Piceno turnoff, where I have a reservation the next night for seven days.
As I was drawing closer to my new destination I saw a stone village built around an important looking Basilica atop it’s hill and hoped it was Loreto. So it was. The perfect place for me to be especially on the Eve of the celebration of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. I have a particular connection to Gabriele, who is featured in the Annunciation story, and which alerts me with special interest. After much celebration in the town square I enter my piccolo single room, in a cute hotel in the main street, to finally sleep. The noise of the celebration forbade this before 11.30pm, with bells sounding every 15 – 30 mins and the public mass being given through a loud speaker with hymn singing to follow. Everything going on in these ancient cities can be heard all over the city and, it seems, are usually attended by everyone. As communities lived together, as a community more publicly in those early centuries , this was just the way it was. Perhaps we, in more modern times, can learn from this…to live with respect for each other as a community instead of isolated and separated families and individuals behind high fences and personal masks.
The next morning I went out onto the rooftop garden to stretch, do some yoga and breathing and view the surrounding vista. I was delighted to be able to see the ocean as I thanked All That Is, The Infinite, for this glorious morning atop this hill which is Loreto. More bells sounding every half hour had me feel part of this community.
After breakfast at a restaurant, I had tagged the night before, I let myself be taken to where I was to be next within this fine city. The Basilica was packed for a high Mass on this important holiday and I wandered respectfully around the edges as the devout were taking communion, before finding a garden overlooking the valley below. I asked whether it was time to leave Loreto yet and heard very definitely, I was to stay a little longer and I would know when to leave for Ascoli Piceno.
Under a pine tree I read more about this celebration and the importance of Loreto in the catholic faith and a woman named Mary Ward who fought for the right and sought guidance in the Holy House of Loreto, to build a female religious order. I was to learn that a few years after her death in 1645…. ‘The Church’ finally gave permission and the Loreto sisters began. Today they are in many English speaking countries and doing amazing work in underdeveloped countries tending to the poor and suffering. I have loved learning about the history and legend of such established, heart centred work. Without going into what who believes and why, here, I will venture to say that the Catholic Church has been responsible for a faithful and giving community alongside its shadow of controlling the people for so long. Adventurous of me to touch on this subject of religion here but I am surrounded by it in this country as I travel through ancient cities where this was the glue that kept our European ancestors together, albeit with much killing in the name of The Church… but that’s a whole other subject.
I was compelled to meditate under my tree for an hour or so and reverently found some more clarity of what I am to do whilst here in this colourful country. Looking up at times, I did absent healing for those afflicted physically and who were probably here today to be blessed by the celebrated one, the Virgin Mary.
A Peaceful Retreat
I’m in the countryside, high up in the Italian mountains now near the east coast in a bed and breakfast called ‘Il Casale degli Ulivi’ in Rasaro, Ascoli Piceno all by myself. No one else on the property, not even my host. Although I know how, I still ask myself, “How did I get here?” It is exquisite, peaceful and … perfect! I just know it’s Divinely planned I will simply wait for it all to unfold.
This traditional Italian country home, painted terracotta, has well kept gardens, olive groves, a swimming pool and a huge vegetable garden ripe with hundreds of pomodoro, tomato, plants dripping with red juicy fruit of several varieties, also various types of aubergines , pumpkins, lettuces, carrots, melons, chilli, broad beans and some basil. The swimming pool has been well cared for and has chairs and tables surrounding it imitating a scene from Beverley Hills or the Riviera. Well prepared for many guests its backdrop is the top of a small mountain, green and lush, dotted with an occasional house and some more olive groves.
I had arrived at about 6.30pm not knowing how to even enter this amazing country house. It looked all locked up but for a party of Italian locals inside. A man that looked as though he’d worked hard all his life on the land and looked to be a very healthy looking 60 or 70 something years old was about to get into his car on the road outside the property and asked me, in Italian, what I was looking for, or something. My lessons in Assisi hadn’t prepared me for this. When he realized I couldn’t understand him he called over one of the day guests. This man’s name was Stefano, strikingly good looking with a strong jaw line, brown hair to his chin with only his skint bathers hugging his bronzed and muscular body. Stefano was about 42 and spoke some English. Enough to let the first gentleman know I had a booking from today for seven days.
I found out later, when he turned up near my room with a glass of wine for me, that he was a professional soccer player.
While the first man and his 10 year old granddaughter were sorting out what to do with me and find the keys to my room, in the absence of the host, Stefano invited me over to meet his friends and family. He very kindly cut a cantaloupe and offered me some on a plate. I had trouble keeping my eyes off him and there was a moment where our eyes locked with that ‘I know you’ feeling. At least that’s what it felt like to me.
Later that evening I sat on the stairs looking over the garden filled with noisy day guests. I was eating the salad I’d made from the vegetable garden behind the olive grove. I didn’t want to go into Ascoli to eat and I hadn’t eaten well all day. Without planning to I had gone for a walk to survey the property that was to be my haven for the week. I found myself looking for the gate to the garden, and upon entering, found ripe salad ingredients and plenty of it. I picked 3 tomatoes, found a cucumber already off the vine and some basil. Perfect with the parmesan cheese, the yummy Balsamic creme vinegar and olive oil I’d bought in Assisi along with some salt, pepper and oregano. Better than any salad I’ve paid for thus far.
Along with the wine, Stefano had another surprise for me. He asked me if he could come back and see me tomorrow. Perhaps stay the night. Oh oh… he was here with his wife. I blurted out, “But you have a wife!” to which he replied with a shrug of his shoulders. And so the seduction had begun. Next came the poetry…in Italian….which of course I didn’t understand to his disappointment. His usual lines weren’t working with me and he went back to his friends.
They all left around 11pm leaving me in silence in this beautiful countryside villa all alone and not knowing whether Stefano would return the next day or not. I slept well regardless.
The older gentleman turned out to be the caretaker of this abundant property and was to be my only company for the week, serving me colazione, breakfast, and working in the gardens. Gentile, the hostess who was on holiday for the next two weeks, arrived the next day to complete my registration and view my documents before going back to the beach at San Benedetto del Troppo. Next week she is off to Sardegna, Sardinia. A large island off the Mid western coast of Italy, for those who haven’t checked lately.
She is learning English and we were both pleased we could successfully have a conversation in English. I find it so much easier to attempt my limited Italian with someone who is keen to speak English, both needing to take the risk of having to be corrected.
Time in town on my first day here to buy some credit for my Italian phone was another series of synchronicities. I happened across an authentic restaurant with no menu and a rather clumsy, slow but quite lovable owner/waiter. This was going to be interesting. Fortunately the only other 2 patrons spoke beautiful English and, not only assisted me to order successfully but, took me to a nearby Language school where my new friend Antonella was the Director. There I was able to do my emails in comfort.
Generosity abounds for this solo traveller. I am bursting with gratitude for all that I am experiencing; for the generosity of Italy.
Ah…peace and quiet to write listening to the chirping of birds and surrounded by trees a far as I can see…but wait…I have company.
Two Italian families have arrived for a stay, who knows for how long. This changes everything. I shall have to see how this unfolds also.
From the Mountains to Orvieto (to come