I’d slept well last night felt rested after yesterday, dressed and stepped out, I’d left a little bag of rubbish under the front wheel last night with the intention of binning it next day, somebody had taken it, seemed odd somebody had been so close to Pearl, I’d not heard a thing. I peered across the gritty overgrown wasteland to the square, the café bar was already open dishing out the coffee. All around Pearl were cars that hadn’t been the night before; I’d not heard a thing. A market was setting up right out front of the café, so I went over
I must have looked rough as the guy serving looked deeply at me, a puzzled look, but with warmth. I sat there all that morning editing, had 5 Italian Americanos, which really hit the spot, delicious. I was happy within myself just doing what I was doing. The place was full of little old ladies with their attentive chivalrous partners, or lovers, who knows. It was just nice to be there, looking up now and again, watching the ebb and flow and the little kindnesses between people.
I’d clocked the loos were single with a locking door, it is something whilst traveling like this you look for, hot water and the chance of it. But what’s that expression “best laid plans etc?” I’d got in and was splashing around, unfortunately I didn’t lock the door properly and a poor old lady walked in on me whilst I had my best friend in the sink, trousers around my ankles,
“Oh escuse escuse” she exclaimed and shut the door.
Oh the shame of it; but ah the laughter too. I chained the door firmly and finished up at lightening speed even managed to wash may hair, dried and cleaned up the place, left it cleaner than when I’d gone in, always good karma. I didn’t look around as I left, it never crossed my mind, I was focused and ready for off
Instinct told me a little gritty town like that had to have a wonderful bakery, It’s these things that keep little places like that stitched together. So I followed my nose, found it, stepped tentatively inside, I felt like I was very tall in my Black leather jacket, though I’m my eyes were bright and happy and I spied three fresh little focaccia’s with olive oil splashed on them to help them go down. 2.50 euros, and the sweet girl let me off 25c. I was really touched, I love these things. Back at Pearl I cut one open and put a good helping of peanut butter in-between, you can take the boy out of Blackpool but you can’t take the boy…. etc etc
Then off up into the hills on the SS62 towards Parma, the road wound like a snake up into the mists, the damp and the forests. Up and up and still further up we wound, it would be a very long snake through and over the mist shrouded mountains and down the other side, it was a beautiful ride up there, I was feeling much better. Spring had just managing to touch the tips of it’s refreshing fingers all the way up there, buds just opening, fresh green shoots, the delicate grasses reaching upwards, splashes of yellow purple and white wild flowers and when the clouds broke apart it was lush wet forest as far as I could see.
We twisted on through sleepy villages, grey stone churches, greens, grey stone, but not a soul to be seen. It seemed the air was dripping sliver grey and green, I breathed it in deeply
It was a relief to be away from traffic, I glimpsed the motorway below and wondered why nobody was on this road. But it began to dawn on me the higher we went, as more and cracks appeared in its surface as if it were all about to be washed away into the forest below. It went on, and on, higher and higher, on and on, twisting and turning. Another turn after another bend after a curve, left and right, left left right, turn lean and lean again. I felt like a cork, Pearl took it all so well, I’m really happy with her. Trouble was we were now in the mists so for about an hour and a half so there was no view to speak of, just that sense of peace, I zoned in, drove well, kept a sharp eye on the white lines visible for about 10-15 feet.
Then as it is with these things, the sense of descent, a few more ghostly villages as the road began to straighten; then surprisingly splashes of red all along the road side, lush floppy red leaved poppy’s, the mist made their colour appear to run and blur into the green as if freshly painted. Then as mists began clearing, their beautiful red orange splashed out as if cast across the lush green fields and then as the mists finally disappeared it was all sadly replaced once again by Italian traffic, my focus changed as if from a dream into, staying alive
We rolled from there in a straight line right into the center of Parma, I’d read somewhere it was an old Phoenician word for shield and so I was expecting a circular town. We shot like an arrow straight to the heart of the place and low and behold it was an old circular city; oh and it was pouring with rain.
It was 3.30pm when we pulled up and had miraculously found parking space right in the center under a long line of trees, it looked pretty and it felt just right. safe and protected. I set off out immediately.
I wandered up onto a main street I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself, so I went into the first church I came too partly to get out of the rain and partly because I’d wanted to sit. That is a huge motivation for this journey, I, we need time to connect and in our normal environment we sometimes just don’t have the time or the inclination. So here I was, the church was enormous, a little old lady in a red coat stood guard on the opposite side underneath an enormous pipe organ. She stiffened up when she saw me stood there peering up at the gorgeous painted ceiling. I caught her look turned my chin down and just waved; she puzzled, but involuntarily waved back mumbling something or other.
I stepped forward into the place, sat in a pew, rain dripping off my hair down my nose, closed my eyes and opened up, I went quickly deeply again I’m not sure how long it was but realized my head had tilted forward, I may have even been leaning forward, the old lady must have thought I’d gone to sleep and I sensed somebody at my side, I slowly opened my eyes turned to the feeling and there she was, I looked up at her made contact with her, right in the eyes, and just said ever so quietly
She nodded approvingly stepped away and left me be.
I closed my eyes and went in again. Not sure how long it was but I found myself back at the cave of Mary. I was watching a scene. A man was being shown a door to the right hand side of the cave, it was open, a beam of light shone inwards into the darkness
She said “Step outside and you will find what is rightfully yours”
I was expecting to watch the man find something, a physical object or something when he got outside, I followed him, watched him make his way to where the light poured in. Then I realized the man was me and I was jolted back to the pew in the church. I was puzzled. I‘ve said before, in the moment I am many times at a loss for the meaning, I’m so nosey and wrestles, it takes a few footsteps outside in the daylight for meaning and the language of symbolism to dawn on me, I’m such a dummy at times.
So there I was expecting to find a thunderbolt, a pot of gold, nirvana, a profound experience, when in fact I’d just had one, but it was trickling down through the rocks in my head, I do always know when I’ve seen. I stepped outside into the rain and the silver light of the street, noted the smudged pastel colours on the wet black road, and just wandered off along it.
So what to do? Well, I just dipped into the next church along, there were so many of them and as I stepped in through the little door to the side of the main doors a man stood there, saw me come in, he seemed to have been waiting and just lit up with a wonderful smile when he saw me. He stepped towards me like an old friend and shook my hand firmly, his hands were soft and warm, it was a deep and genuine shake, a clasp, I nodded at him and smiled back warmly and openly, we let go and for a split second, looked at one another, I had no way of talking with him, so I just stepped aside and took a pew at the back.
As I settled in I noticed right away there were only 6 people in that massive cavern, including me. A rounded silver haired lady sat on the very front pew repeating every word a white haired priest was reading. He was sat at small table just to the left hand side, down the three steps in front of the main alter. It was obvious after a few seconds he knew every word he was saying. Though I didn’t understand a word. It dawned on me I had walked into something sacred. I glanced around the place, it was dimly lit and gritty but in those corners high above, twinkled dulled gold, cherubs saints and gods staring out and down upon us, glassy eyed from beautiful pieces of long forgotten art hidden in the ancient unmoving shadows of the place. I sat still and listened to the intention of what was being said.
The lady followed every word sound for sound, then they’d pause and the white haired Priest would break into a sweet gentle piece. I have heard these things in Britain, France, Hungary, USA, Mexico and Spain, and maybe its true after all about the Italians, as that man could really sing, it was so lovely gentle and heart felt. As he sang he kept glancing at me, checking me, over again and again, wondering perhaps who I was. He was a fairly big guy with a tough pale face that had been softened like marble a river had flowed over for a thousand years or more
The old man who’d shook my hand had moved forward to sit on the front pew at the opposite end to the lady away from the priest. As I looked on he suddenly began convulsing and shaking, obviously weeping, I couldn’t hear him as the priest the lady and the caretaker were chanting, but I could see his convulsions and his distress. It was so dramatic, nobody skipped a beat, the mantra carried on the caretaker too behind the alter, the whole thing seemed designed for that very thing, it was beautiful to see that emotion released.
I milled it over later when i had left the place, he’d moved up onto the front row, so the priest could see him, as close as he could, he’d wanted his distress to be seen, he if you like had switched it on, was he missing somebody or did he need forgiveness? If his sadness seen and observed by somebody would he be forgiven, who knows, but it was quite a puzzle to suddenly see.
At one point I glanced to my right at the other person in the room sat one pew back from me in the right hand corner, I couldn’t quite catch her, she was rounded, dressed in dark clothes and seemed to be all of a jumble but at the same time calm and a witness too. I was sorry that these beautiful places and these beautiful things are dissolving, it was because a trust has been broken perhaps, but not by this man, the priest, my heart went out to him across the great grand dimmed place, there was something beautiful about the white haired man
I sat for some time then as I got up to leave it hit me. ‘Step outside and you will find what is rightfully yours’ “Life” I stepped quietly out of that place and stood still on that street outside those doors with the rain spattering down onto my face watching all the faces flow past me. ‘Life’ it’s all right there under my nose, what is rightfully mine, step out of the cave. Look! It was pouring down but I was so warm
I began walking along the road almost in slow motion. I heard drums so I followed the sound, it turned out to be medieval drumming group who where throwing flags into the air in rhythm to the drums, I let myself enjoy what ever came into view. Then popped into another church just to see, Noted the offerings and the little photos of dearly departed on an alter, I gently touched each photo felt the sadness, i realised the feeling was from those still here, I said quietly,
“Your all ok aren’t you” I knew they were
There really were so many churches in Parma how could they ever have all the congregation they wished for, gosh, just too many, it was over whelming, To visit them all and spend a few minutes would take a week at least. Still I popped into quite a few, all much the same style, dusty beautiful masterpieces.
I wandered on up the road in the rain looking into people’s faces some appeared startled others peered back and met my smiling face. I crossed the river and ended up in a little bakery
“Vegetariano” I said pointing to myself but looking longingly down at the pastries. The young sweet girl found me a spinach pasty, then let me off 50c as I looked for change in my pocket.
All the way along the Italians have given little things, they have been generous and kind. I even learned to say Apple ‘Mela’ & Orange ‘Arancia’ from a lady on a stall who was laughing at me laughing, my energy was wide open and outward bound, I could physically feel it from my stomach, I just didn’t pay too much attention to it, I was simply happy and ‘that’ is what is rightfully mine, happy with the things around me, seeing it all, breathing it in, absorbing. It seems silly to say, but it came as a surprise, I’d been shown and I’d genuinely been told. I’d been looking for a physical thing and it turned out to be just that, but not how you’d expect.
It was getting near to parking ticket anxiety time 5.30, though somehow I just knew I wouldn’t be bothered.
I was soaked to the skin by the time I got back to Pearl. I Climbed in and as I sat there in the cab still, I realized just how high I was, wide open. I’d been so peaceful, happy and aware, just gliding through the place. I’d not realized. You know I’d said the other day, how a person can warm themselves from the inside, consciously… well; it’s true, it’s not instant, it’s like a fire taking hold, you have to tend to it otherwise it will run its course and fade, but I’d done well that day
It had been a good visit on all counts, but I wondered what to do next, stay there, walk back into the city and write there that evening? I’d found a great space to park, trouble was it was on a main road and I knew by now Italy would keep rolling through the night and I would get no sleep, also it was still absolutely sheeting it down, another walk through the city would have dampened even me that day. So very reluctantly I rolled out and headed to somewhere down the road. If I could find a little dinky town, there would be a bar with wifi or at least a plug, that’s all I needed
So off we sped in the hissing pouring rain on the through the drenched farmlands we sailed on the Mantova road. Right then I trusted and followed my gut and 20 km along just turned off at a place called Brescello, the dinkiest place on the map, in fact it wasn’t on my map, I’d just zoomed in my phone which it doesn’t give much detail away from wifi, but enough to get the size of a place. We swung off and around a back road and then bingo, I thought I had driven back into Mexico as we drove through the pot holed streets and out onto a piazza. I couldn’t quite believe where we’d ended up, just where I like to be out there and off the track with some warm friendly lights glowing
“Yesss” I said triumphantly
I circled, dogged legged and negotiated Pearl through the narrow streets found a car park with no meters and pulled her up against a wall under a thick lively bloom of ivy. I wondered if anybody ever came by this way, but it turned out to be a thriving little place and it would turn out to be very famous in Italian culture culture, though i’d never have believed it at that moment. I instantly loved the place.
I’d initially gone, drawn by the brighter lights into the bar on the main plaza “Café Don Camillo” but it was just so loud, some gathering going on, woman screeching, the staff stressed, a wifi code you honestly wouldn’t believe, I was amazed the Chinese owner could even remember it. I stayed half an hour then thought enough, I can do without wifi for an evening, good grief.
I walked around the corner hood up down a cracked potholed street to a place called ‘The Tropical bar’ which was anything but. I’d seen it as I’d driven through earlier. I asked but they had no wifi but it was peaceful and the handsome young guy and his beautiful girl welcomed me, nobody spoke English but they looked in on me all night. It’s where the towns restless young men came to hang out in the doorway, everyone clocked me but just let me be. Out there, there are always manners, it’s what makes the “out there” click and tick. I sat there cozy and peaceful tapping away till around 12am, they were still open as I wandered, a little wobbly, I have to say, through the silent soaked streets to my hidden harbour and climbed aboard the good ship Pearl to sleep.