d a y d r e a m e r

"karma is experience, and experience creates memory, and memory creates imagination and desire, and desire creates karma again" - deepak chopra

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today I went to the beach. It was hot and sunny and I took a koing aman and a sparkling water for breakfast. I drove approximately 5 miles per hour to shorefront road, and then the parking attendant let me go through without the proper documentation to get to the water. thankfully.

I was happy and excited this morning to go. I felt inspired and knew there was nothing else in the world to do on a day like today but sit on a quietly at the beach. but somehow the stillness of the activity let my mind drift. 

I found myself daydreaming on the New England coast, the clapboard houses, the happy families, the sailboats. It was a perfectly serene afternoon, I felt my mind reaching to make anything more. I daydreamed. What if I was in Nantucket? What if I took a helicopter from the East River there instead of driving? What if I owned one of these houses with a private beach? What if I had a more perfect body to lie here in? What if I had 1 million followers, or 1 billion dollars?

I let these kinds of thoughts wash up in my mind. I realized what I was dreaming was awfully close to what I was living now - if I had all of these things, I would be still sitting on a beach on a beautiful day. I thought about all the other times that I dreamed like this -

Finishing a marathon, consumed with the dream of if I had finished 5 minutes faster.

Sitting by a pool in Montauk with my friends for the weekend, talking about how nice it would be to stay the whole week.

Being at a beautiful party, and wishing I was a different girl in a different dress so I could enjoy it.

Working in an office, and dreaming that I was someone more important working in the same office. 

I realized the difference between my dreams, and the reality - reality defined as what I could hear, smell, touch, see, taste - in all of these cases, was pretty small. In fact, it was as big or as small as I made it.

I let my phone die. It was hard to see the little screen anyway in the bright sunlight.

I touched the sand with my hands. I made little sand stones to fit together into walls like the ones I saw marking the houses in the distance. I discovered some sand was a better consistency for building. I put too heavy a stone on the top and watched the whole structure topple to one side. 

 

 

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l a k e • c o m o


Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here.

- Leo Tolstoy

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A wonderful reunion with friends led to a peaceful day spent with family, when we chose to board a ferry boat around Lake Como for our last day of vacation together.

Collecting our tickets, we admired the beautiful town of Como, “the rationalist city” once again in the daylight.

When we climbed aboard, the breeze moving along the lake tossed out hair, chilled out skin, and emptied our minds.

I saw smiles returning to faces.

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Although all kinds of differences of opinion and disagreements seemed to come up over the last week spent in close quarters, everyone was lulled into a wondeful feeling for the 7 hours spent on the lake. 

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The ferry stops rattled by.

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We explored the three levels of the boat, from front to back. We tried out different places for taking photos, cooling off, warming up, standing or lounging, and everywhere enjoyed panoramic views of the lake and mountains.

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I resigned myself to the fact that there were thousands more beautiful views and pictures around me than I could possibly capture. I  was content when my phone battery faded and I could repurpose it as a paperweight in my skirt pocket; perfect for holding my light clothes down on the windy deck.

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We stopped in Bellagio for lunch.

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The restaurants looked fairly crowded, so we had made to order sandwiches from a speciality grocery store and made a small picnic.

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We saw many fine shops, but we didn’t need anything but maybe another taste of gelato.

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It was a beautiful voyage of discovery to share. 

c o m o

 “Sometimes miracles are just good people with kind hearts”

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What a difference a day makes! After seeing the major cities of Italy, it seems we ran out road or at least names we recognized on the train departures board. 

But soon after we arrived in Milan, I heard from my cherished friends from the Via Francigena in Tuscany. 

“Why don’t you and your parents come to Como and visit us?” 

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So we did! 

The train from Milan to Como is only about 1 hour, so there was plenty of time to travel and still explore the city.

Arriving was a breath of fresh air, coming from the mountains and rising over the shores of Lake Como.

It was cooler. Summer tourism was in full swing and it made for a light and lively atmosphere, not quite as intesnse as the crowds we had been a part of in Italy’s biggest cities. 

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We saw the city center all together- my parents, my friends and one of their children. Just like on the Via Francigena, it was a lot of walking and a mission for gelato.

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Then we retreated back to the agriturismo they operate as a family, L’Arcissa - just above the city. It is a wonderful property where we met friendly dogs, an affectionate outdoor cat, a horse, and maybe my favorite of all, a baby donkey. 

We shared meals prepared with what was grown on the land - fresh tomatoes, zucchini, kiwis, figs, stevia, blueberries, olives and pears. We chatted late over the dinner table, and at night, slept like rocks.

 

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v e n e z i a

“There are two kinds of stones, as everyone knows, one of which rolls” - Amelia Earheart   

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We took the train from Florence to Venice. When the automatic doors of the station slid open into the city, I was shocked. 

It was hot and sunny, and people from every corner of the world trotted by with sunglasses and luggage. I couldn’t help but see what the NYTimes article on Venice I skimmed on the train lamented-  high energy, commercial tourism playing out at thousand decibels through old city streets.

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I squinted in the sun, and we found a hotel; clean and cold. 

I worked with a few South American tourists to get this a postcard picture on the first big bridge outstide the train.

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We took public transportation to another one of the small islands to eat lunch. After, I found welcome shade and solitude in a nearby church, like I had made the habit of doing walking the Via Francigena. It was a huge gift to walk into someplace big, empty and beautiful as my senses felt overloaded by the streets.

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I remembered a thoughtful disagreement I had with another pilgrim on the way about the difference between pilgrims and tourists. We had experienced being among crowds of other travelers in cities like San Gimignano, Lucca and Siena, and I didn’t feel our journey was so far removed from the others wearing souvenir shop hats and eating ice cream

cones. I took the bold stance that the difference between “Pilgrim” and “Tourist” was mere semantics.  

 Everyone is searching in their own way.

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The next day, we found the bright coincidence that our family was following the same stops as a retired American couple from New York- an overpriced drink to sit in the lovely air conditioned cafe outside the boat terminal, then a 12PM organized tour to Murano island. 

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They told us their youngest child was almost twice my age, but I laughed so hard my little pilgrim back spasmed when they said about their tour of Venice - “the best part is sitting down!”

100% relatable.

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f l o r e n c • e

 Men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, for everyone can see and few can feel. Everyone sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are. 

Niccolò Machiavelli

 

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Traveling with my parents through Italy has taken on a rhythm of its own after four days; a continuation of my pilgrimage where each day sees a different city, but adapted to their preferred mode of transportation- the high speed train! 

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Standing in front of a red ticket kiosk at Roma - Termini, luggage in hand, we took a decision.

“Firenze- That’s Florence, Dad!”

I have really been showing off my expert knowledge of Italy to my family these past few days... 

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It is my second one-day visit to Florence. The first came at a moment when I was still very much in the middle of my pilgrimage to Rome, a rebellious detour. I remember the feeling of seeing the Duomo for the first time and thinking that Florence must be the grandest, biggest city of Italy. 

Visiting Florence after Rome, the size perspective is wildly different, but I still find Florence beautiful. 

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Instead of walking this time, I decided to take a bike.

I remember meeting cyclists on the Via Francigena that said they envied walkers for having a pace conducive to thinking. I don’t why this is, but I found the opposite! The pace of the bike seems to flood my brain with happy feelings and revelations. 

Like the place my pilgrim friends had showed me to find an excellent gelato in Florence, behind the Ponte Vecchio. 

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This combination of flavors is banana, a rich Nutella sold under a different name, and whipped cream. 

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Afterwards, in the quiet shop, I learned about gelato from an artisan. The first lesson is that a good gelato is one that makes you happy. But it can be like a fine wine too, where different elements of taste and color show the work of the gelato maker.

Things are always more than what they appear.  

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- l a • s t o r t a

 “Life is either a tightrope or a feather bed. Give me the tightrope.”

- Edith Wharton

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Today saw a powerful 30km Romewards. Somewhere after La Storta, I technically entered Rome but I also have no concept of where I am exactly in the labyrinth of suburbs, so I will not feel “Mission Accomplished” until the testimonium is in hand.

But who knows what the future will bring, so here’s the closest thing I can offer- a rough impression of today in the wake of a delicious pasta amatriciana...

This morning- a late start around 9am after a wonderful dinner with pilgrim friends from Florence and Reims!

How it ended -

“Keep in touch! I’m interested to know how your life will change after this experience”

Me tooooo!

Then this morning. I took about 3 cappuccinos at breakfast before promptly heading out the door in the wrong direction.

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But I’m a girl with a compass. So within the hour I settled on the Via Roma in the good direction. I heard that the original ancient road is actually somewhere underneath this “Brutto” industrial road, sooo good enough for me. The cars never bothered me anyway.

Actually, I kind of like these “ugly” roads, where you can sense the direction of the energy towards civiliation. The Via Roma turned into the Via Cassia. a concerned motherly type rolled down the window to ask if “tutto” was “benne”. This doesn’t happen in the woods.

The car horns can even be cool. Today, in a surreal moment, one perfectly synchronized with the car horn audio in one of my favorite songs.

I think I’ve posted some of the lyrics before, today it was this part-

“There’s a world out there it’s calling my name, it’s calling yours too”.

What a vibe!

I also discovered no less than three trees with ripe figs.

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Somewhere on this way, I was so high on the life and the energy and momentum- the chocolate, the sweet fruits, the occasional VF trail marker on this busy road so clearly leading to Rome, I went 2km past my target for the day, La Storta; a city with no center. Literally blink and you might miss it.

I kept going. I couldn’t stop singing, even when I passed concerned pedestrians.

John Lennon-

“How can we go forward into something we’re not sure of? You know...”

And again, too stoked to notice the Via Francigena signs dropped until I was on the sketchiest road of all. I had to pause to find any way forward on a grassy knoll of garbage next to speeding, merging, traffic. I toed the line of the concrete barrier, tightrope style.

At least there was a train/bus station just beside. I hustled to a stopped bus to ask the drivers for advice. They weren’t going anywhere, actually, and a 5 minute discussion between three people yielded only this- take the train to San Pietro!

I say discussion, but the only serviceable Italian coming from my end was “Vaticano” accented by folded *prayer hands*.

I copied this useful gesture from a woman selling cigarettes along La Storta who I asked for directions the first time. She also recommended I take the train to San Pietro.

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So I did. About 4 stops from Igpageo Devli Ottavia to Gemelli. I just felt like getting off here, no reason, or maybe the name sounds like a shape of pasta.

The train station belongs a sleepy part of town connected by a bike trails and made up of almost nothing but family-operated one room grocery stores. Not a Bed and Breakfast in sight, let alone an pilgrim refuge. I wondered for a moment if this would finally be the night I sleep on the street, but after less than an hour of trial and error, things panned out in the world’s okayest hotel by the Phillipines embassy. 

And although checking into a hotel sometimes feels like it lacks the quality of divine intervention fit for the last day, really, the silence was holy, right down to  the inexplicably broken WiFi and first bathtub since I crossed into Italy at Valley D’Aoste; my feather bed.

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- c a m p a g n a n o


“What God intended for you goes far beyond anything you can imagine.” - Oprah Winfrey

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today saw 15 km of walking, frescos, sheep, friendship, and at last an end in the set destination for the day - campagnano di roma.

I am now, so so close to Rome. Today I saw a road sign showing Rome was closer than Viterbo, which I understood.

The momentum feels strong. Part of the way I orient myself now is definitely the mentality that I am already “in Rome”, but I am in Campagnano di Roma. Yesterday I was in Sutri. And that is everything.

 

Sutri

I woke up from a very good sleep yesterday in the apartment that was generously offered by the owner a pilgrim refuge where there was not one available. Everyone went their own way, and I stayed the latest - until 7AM, to return the key.

“Do you have time for a cappuccino?” 

Always a question with only one answer.

I was glad for a chance to chat with Jill, who had hosted us. She had moved to Italy from the United States after traveling abroad in college, Greco-Roman studies. The way she spoke about the Etruscan history and early Christian frescos in Sutri gave me all the motivation to absolutely visit them before I left. She explained the thousands of years of pilgrims who had taken some of the exact path modern day Via Francigena pilgrims will to Rome. She explained pilgrims who would walk by proxy and return a white feather from Rome.

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And she explained all the love her family shared in the place where we had stayed- working on the renovations; the close community of Sutri, evident in way to find the apartment you would ask their family name - not a street address, and now her own pilgrimages - soon to Santiago and everyday in Sutri with her friends to keep the memory of her husband. 

Our conversation explained to my mind all the good energy I felt in Sutri and woke up to continue with the morning. 

I felt much faith all of the sudden - more than enough to carry me the rest of the way to Rome. Understanding just a little part of all the love behind Jill and Claudio’s kind act of hospitality in Sutri, the last stop to Rome, was empowering. 

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I didn’t hurry to the next city, I lingered by the ancient ruins at the edge of the city to see the frescos of pilgrims of Rome that Jill spoke of, and I was glad, it was really cool. 

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vi t e r b o - v e t r a l l a

 “You're right to say "hold on to" instead of "keep." To keep is presumptuous. To hold means you realize that today it's yours and tomorrow who knows” -

Erri de Luca

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Yesterday’s walk saw another 20 km of the last 100km to Rome- Viterbo to Vetrella. It feels surreal to be so close to the end, yet walking Southeast all summer, isn’t this the natural conclusion?


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Exiting Viterbo I stopped into a church with some enchanting music and a big youth group wearing matching Calabria shirts.

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Once in the path, the  day was hot and the trail was mostly flat and passed along a highway.


With few opportunities to stop for a rest and a sandwich along the way, I climbed a big fence to buy a solid lunch of prosciutto fromagio on ciabatta bread and an espresso at a highway gas station.

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I turned my head to the dust of some construction and found blackberries everywhere.


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Later, a huge treat came in the form of an ice cream cone 4km from the town. When I stopped to ask to refill water bottles at a house and the homeowners chatted in a lot of Italian I didn’t quite understand, except “gelato?”

 

I saw some fresh graffiti paint, including a scrawling that means, “the way gives me everything”. 

 

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Vetralla came quickly and without much of a climb. I arrived at the sleepy siesta hour in the old town and laid flat on a stone wall.

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Later, I washed my clothes at a lavanderia. It was a good alternative to the traditional and symbolic burning of clothes near the end of a pilgrimage. 

- v i t e r b o

The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.

- Leonardo da Vinci

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Yesterday saw the first step of the last 100km to Rome along an ancient road, finally some blisters! and reaching maybe the last major city before Rome, Viterbo.

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Leaving Montefiascone was one big hill with a beautiful park overlooking the city and Viterbo in the distance on one side, and Lake Bolsena on the other. It was also a very well planned park, with benches at overlooks and playground equipment. Best of all was maybe the playground equipment placed at overlooks.

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Maybe stopping for 30 minutes before the walking even started for the day is no way to compete with the rising sun. The later you start the hotter it gets. Yet somehow, now that the finish line is in sight, I take less and less care about these things. I want to enjoy the moment and take in the sights. This day that meant the light feeling of swinging in an open sky and keeping my phone in my pocket. 

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Tomorrow I don’t know, but I’m prepared to find out one step (or swing) at a time. 

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- l a k e • b o l s e n a

“There is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon , for each day to have a new and different sun.” - Jon Krakauer

   Today’s walk to Bolsena started and ended later than usual, I took one night outside of the familiar pilgrim dormitory and seemed to lose the habit of beginning to walk at 5AM.

 

Today’s walk to Bolsena started and ended later than usual, I took one night outside of the familiar pilgrim dormitory and seemed to lose the habit of beginning to walk at 5AM.

I felt a devotion to this ritual. Like doing things in this way - was 100% correct, and without this ritual I would perish in the sun, but actually the day was just fresh and as wonderful starting to walk at 8:30AM after breakfast.

I met other pilgrims from Milan at breakfast. They were also marathon runners walking the  Via Francigena. I took heart in their perspective - even if you have run marathons, walking uses very different muscles and the soreness can take you by surprise!

I caught up to them after the first stop, and we shared the rest of the road to Bolsena.

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The air had a breeze in it from the lake, and the path was flat, so even though I started much later walking in the sun this day was a pleasure. Lunch came on the road. The blackberry brambles growing everywhere have almost become a staple of my diet on the Via Francigena in Italy, but today they were especially ripe near the waters of the volcanic Lake Bolsena.

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Just before jumping in the lake, I made a friend by land. A new dream flashed through my mind- if I travel the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome encore it could be on a horse (or donkey).

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- a c q u a p e n d e n t e

 I am little concerned with beauty or perfection. I don't care for the great centuries. All I care about is life, struggle, intensity. 

Émile Zola

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Yesterday saw a 25 km stage to leave Tuscany and enter Lazio, very few photos in the sun and struggle, and a huge portion of pilgrim menu pasta for energy.

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“Meno di quattro giorni” was the good word a long table of sweaty travelers raised their glasses to. I spent the next twenty minutes asking for an explanation of this meant. 

Literally- “less than four days“.

Meaning less than four days to Rome. 

How? 

How is it possible is that the other two Canterbury pilgrims leading the group plan to leave their backpacks in Viterbo and begin walking twice the recommendation - about 40km by day for 3 days - to arrive in Rome earlier and beat the holy days crowd at the Vatican. The last stage through the suburbs of Rome involves taking a bus per the overwhelming local recomendation. An ironic way to end a journey of thousands of kilometers on foot.

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And what all this means I guess- the rythmn I have carried from Aulla is changing again, the group, the province, the landscape.

When we arrived in Acquapendente, the city structure was noticeably different than it had been in Toscana. The city hall was massive and for the first time we walked up a great staircase to get our pilgrim stamp from a very beaurocratic looking office of sport.

I took very few pictures or cultural education notes when I arrived in the city. In these final stages, the first thing to see in a town is more often the grocery store or pharmacy than the duomo. 

Somehow, the beauty of the sweaty climbs and early mornings is enough to feed the soul until Rome. 

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