Monday, 10 September 2007

Day 47 - Ponzano Superior - Pietrasanta -43km

Aching, sore but rested nonetheless, Paul and I slog back up the hill this morning and resume the authentic Club Alpino version of the VF route down to Sarzano via yet another cliff face. Next time those clever geneticists want to give an unsuspecting animal the attributes of a goat, they should try adding a cog or two from our bikes. By the time we reach the bottom, our bike brakes are as smooth as the proverbial baby's bum and we have two punctures. Then, just as we scrape ourselves together, the rain starts, again.

Does minor blaspheming and irreverence really deserve such a sustained display of celestial grievance? First a week of closed hotels, restaurants and cycle shops just when we need them most. Then days of intermittent splattering rain and today a storm to beat all storms. All this when in spite of our agnostic views I still do my best to respect the ten commandments, more or less. As an almost lifelong vegetarian, I have never, knowingly, killed a living thing (unless it was a mosquito, rat or ant). I have never committed adultery before my ex knew he was one and the divorce papers were on the way. Never coveted my neighbour's ox, only lied when my back was against the wall and never worshipped idols - apart from George Clooney (does he count?). So why this vendetta? Why rain on me when in terms of degrees of wrong-doing, people like Saddam Hussein and Hitler should have had a cloud burst over them at birth. Shut all the shops for Robert Mugabi. Break a major engine part in Bush's biggest and most important Bushmobile, but please fit the punishment to the crime for pathetic little sinners like me.

These are entirely internal thoughts, but perhaps someone is listening, because just as we enter Sarzana the rains eases and we meet Danieli, or il Maestro, whose bicycle repair shop is not listed in the yellow pages. In fact it does not even have a sign over the door.

Danieli takes one look at the broken gear mechanism, tells us it is a stupid design and then sets about making a new one out of a piece of metal he scavenges from of a pile in the corner. Meanwhile an unceasing flow of visitors of all ages drop in and out to exchange a word or two and take a look at what the Maestro is up to now, leaving us with the sense of being in a coffee house without the coffee but an overflow of conviviality. An hour and 20 euros later, we can ride the bike we have been pushing for the last seven days. It is impossible to convey just how wonderful this feels.

As we clip the panniers back on, Danieli nods at his handiwork and asks us to tell our friends back in France that it had been made in Italy. You bet Danieli, and the rest of the world! Then more rain, but also progress, right up into Pietrasanta, one town before Camaiore and Lucy and two days ahead of schedule - not bad going!

In Pietrasanta, everything that had won our hearts in Tuscany last year comes rushing out to knock us senseless all over again. Having negotiated a place in the hostel, Paul and I wander out into the square and drink in the atmosphere, washed down by some beer. What is it that makes this particular region so utterly right for us? Perhaps the saturation in art and culture, perhaps the sun, perhaps the people, perhaps it does not really matter - Paul and I are in no doubt about where we want our next home to be - here.

Later when we return to the hostel we find that two other pilgrims have arrived, the same, superhuman Italian couple we had met in Fidenza all those days before. We exchange the usual pilgrim news and through this discover that they had avoided the mountain route to Sarzana because it was too hard - shame the bush telegraph could not have got to us earlier. Still, in spite of our mistakes and and foolhardiness, it appears that even pushing bikes we have managed to cover the ground faster than they have, which must mean that we are superhuman too ... or something like that.

The maps we are using tell us that we should make our way from Sarzana to Pietrasanta along the foothills of the mountains. However, it is such a shame not to take in the opportunity to see the Mediterranean sea and use the broad paths that flank the sea and so despite the rain we choose to track the sea front from Sarzana to Lido de Pietrasanta. The convent in the main square in Pietrasanta gives us a warm welcome and shower for 10 euros per head. Our Italian friends manage to live up to all of the best and worst of our experiences on the St James Way - with the wind section in full voice over night and an hour of clanking and packing before leaving ahead of first light.

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