As a child, I loved the books of Scott O'Dell, which were, for the most part, compelling stories of Native American life before the coming of the Europeans, like his most famous book, Island of the Blue Dolphins. The historical fiction that I read as a child, more than anything, is what made me so interested in history as an adult, so willing to slip into other worlds and other times, as we did in Assisi yesterday.
In Assisi, I was reminded of another of O'Dell's great stories, The Road to Damietta, which, like all good children's books, is something that I would probably enjoy today, if I were able to get my hands on it (apparently it is now out-of-print). The Road to Damietta is about the life of St. Francis of Assisi, the man who made the city of Assisi famous and whose devotion and simple poverty inspired so many faithful Christians to emulate his lifestyle.
In Assisi today, with its lines of antique shops and its overwrought churches and basilicas, there seems to be little of that medieval devotion, though the city has plenty of charm, nonetheless. Chuan and I spent several very happy hours wandering up and down the streets of Assisi, until a thundercloud engulfed the city and we took refuge, quite literally, in the massive complex of the Church of St. Francis, to revel in its frescoes (supposedly Giotto's) and explore its crypt while we waited out the storm.
It rained on and on, so we said "What the heck," and set out again through the stormy city, touched upon two more churches (Santa Chiara and San Nicolo), and hailed the first bus we could back to the train station. When we arrived our train was just pulling in and we raced off the bus, through the tabacchi store in the station, out to the platform and on to the train -- drenched, but in good time. I've never been so close to missing a train.
When we arrived in our town again, just a few valleys over, the sun was shining as if rain had never seen Umbria, and it was a long trek up and through the town to get back to the house again. Gelati made a fitting end to our pilgrimage: