Day Five: Pietrasanta to Lucca — 33.2 km (20.5 miles)
“Do you have any panini without meat?” I asked the bartender in Camaiore in Italian.
“How about this one with prosciutto?” she replied, pointing to a panino with meat in the display case.
“No thank you,” I replied, a little louder. “Do you have any panini without meat?”
We finally settled on a panino on focaccia with tuna. “May I have it hot, please?” I said loudly.
“It is made of tuna,” she said as she placed in on the serving plate.
By this time I not only was doubting my Italian, but I was doubting my sanity.
“May I have it hot?” I asked, very loudly. With her eyebrows raised she pointed at the toaster oven on the counter behind her.
“Yes. Please!” I said.
Why, I asked myself as I ate my hot tuna panino, had that been so hard? Then I realized what it was. Seated on the other side of the room were ten, elderly, Italian men shouting at the top of their lungs.
I had walked right in to a meeting of the Italian Men’s Shouting Club.
I’d awakened several times through the night at the hostel in Pietrasanta. Four men in bunk beds in a small room made for stuffy air, and I wasn’t the only one who made a couple of trips to the bathroom. One pilgrim was out the door by 05:30. Daniele left at 06:00, and Paolo and I packed and headed to the Caffe at about 07:00. After a couple of croissants and cappuccinos I suggested to Paolo that he go on ahead, since I was certain to be slow.
After he left, I loaded up my things and headed out. Already it was obvious it would be a beautiful day, but I did not in any way look forward to the 33.2 km (20.6 mile) distance to the stage end at Lucca.
The day felt like a trudge. I was tired. My foot hurt. And today there was no choice but to follow the official route through the mountains and across the river to Lucca.
The first obstacle was a steep path through overgrown vegetation — shades of yesterday. The next challenge was walking on the busy highway. And what turned out to be the day’s biggest challenge: where would I find food and water?
Which brings us back to the Italian Men’s Shouting Club.
There I was, in Camaiore with a hard fought hot panino, at one of the only cafes I could find, and ten elderly men were screaming at each other.
A nicely dressed 35 year old woman was sitting next to me, rolling her eyes at the ongoing tirade. We were both trapped, along with a deaf bartender, in an Italian shouting match.
This had happened to me once before. While Theresa and I were pausing at a bar in Montelibretti in our 2014 walk to Rone, about five men had walked in, shouting at each other like they were in a blood duel. After ten minutes of screaming they suddenly sat down and started playing cards, as though nothing had happened.
In this walk I’ve had men shouting at me. Like Frederico in Massa, a veteran pilgrim, who saw me across the parking lot a couple days ago, knew I was a pilgrim, shouted me over, and insisted on a selfie. We’re Facebook friends already. Then there’s the fellow today. As I left Valpromaro he saw me and shouted me down. Running across the highway, which I’d begun to enter, he told me I’d taken a wrong turn and then showed me the right path.
I’m thankful for both of these fellows and glad they used their vocal gifts for the good.
But the Men’s Shouting Club at the bar was still a curious mystery.
I guess I knew implicitly why they were shouting. They’re all elderly and perhaps almost deaf. But I think also they were shouting because of their joy in community and the stability and confidence of their relationships. They are poor, rural, and have known each other forever.
The Shouting Club reminded me that we Americans love our decorum in public, but it’s too often a sign that we’re isolated from each other. Cafes and restaurants become an extension of our cocoons of isolation. We don’t really have decades of friends with whom we’ve grown up, whom we’ve watched graduate and get married and have joy and experience hardship and grief. Maybe in comparison we walk on eggshells with our friends, unsure how long we’ll be together or what level is our mutual commitment. You have to like someone pretty hard to shout at them everyday in the Shouting Club, after all. Every day for the rest of your lives.
I don’t think the Shouting Club members thought I could speak Italian, because I could clearly hear them guessing, at the top of their lungs, who I was and why I was there.
So I threw on my pack, paid my bill, and walked over to the nearest Shouting Club members.
“I’m an American pilgrim walking from Piacenza to Rome on the Via Francigena,” I said loudly, for an American, while other members shouted in the background.
“I’m a shepherd,” said the dark haired one. “I’ve walked parts of the Via Francigena myself,” said the other. We exchanged a few pleasantries and I headed out the door.
From 10 meters away, with the door closed, I could hear a man shouting at the top of his lungs in Italian:
“HE’S AN AMERICAN PILGRIM ON THE VIA FRANCIGENA WALKING FROM PIACENZA TO ROME!”
And for just a moment I was a topic of conversation at the Italian Men’s Shouting Club.
P.S. A very long day, accompanied by hunger and thirst. Note to Via Francigena stewards: The green scenery is nice, but don’t forget to steer pilgrims toward food and water. There. I said it without shouting.