Louis Jebb, who is walking to Rome in the footsteps of his greatgrandfather, Hilaire Belioc, reports from Milan on the Italian stage of his 1200 mile Holy Year pilgrimage.
SLIDING doors opened by tripping a beam are enjoyable things. At least they were for two very small American children at Interlaken station last week. They jumped in and out of the beam, getting no closer than they had to, making the doors Jolt and jar open and shut. No one, least of all their parents, seemed to mind the cold air they were letting in, probably finding it as legitimate an attempt as any of theirs to make light of the oppressively bad weather.
Continuous rain Isolates the pedestrian from his
surroundings, potential victims are driven indoors, while layers of waterproofs reduce the amount that can be seen or heard. I have found the almost continuous rain hard to bear, but have had to feel sorrier for sedentary tourists
Driven by snow-blocked passes to a train under the Alps, I found the contrast in the Ticino Valley as welcome as it was dramatic. The vivid late
afternoon sun picked out the immense but subtle variety of foliage on the steep valley walls, which Edith Wharton, like her fellow countryman Walt Whitman, found merely "expressionless".
The houses were now four square, stone faced, and Italian, the hotelier voluble and the atmosphere touched with warmth. Alluvial Lombardy and the tortuous Appenines prevented me from imagining that the final 500 miles would be all downhill, but I felt the heartening tug of Rome more strongly than ever, being further prompted Iss the unexpected arris al at the hotel of tw o busloads of Dutch, bound for the Italian capital.
Numerous painted shrines accompanied me on the Alta Strada clown to Biasca the next day. Two thousand
metres above the sane} bottom, I followed the mountainside along narrow roads anti rocky stream beds, passing rough stone churches on precipices — their Romanesque belvederes open to the winds, and silent shuttered villages. Belloc followed the valley bottom. But modern traffic makes the road unbearable.
I stopped to chat to an old man scything his garden. Neither of us understood much that the other said, but I explained my mission and he doffed an Imaginary cap.
In Bellinzona the next evening I discovered the Italian habit of standing, sitting or kneeling during Mass, as each prefers — a welcome indiscipline after a hard day on the road. The next day in Lugano I arrived at the youth hostel to find that the office would be closed for the next hour and a half, and felt shades of free school cricket pitches washed out by rain as the balding Dutchman opposite me set about a file of National Geographu.s to pass the time.
Lugano's postage-stamp cathedral was additionally filled that evening for a christening, the baby being tipped into the water rather than vice versa.
I fell rapidly out of love with Como and its crowds on the first fine Sunday for several weeks, people standing idly at the edge of the floodwaters looking for non-existent inner depths before bustling along the narrow promenade.
Arriving in less straitened circumstances than Belloc, I was no less impressed by the long, wide boulevards to the North of the centre of Milan. I found a cheerful and immediate welcome in the launderette, as I always have on this journey . In Beauvais, Reims, Beifort, Interlaken and now Milan I have found cheerful helpful people in launderettes, willing to talk, exchange money and give soap powder.
The choir of Milan's great cathedral Is masked off for repairs, yet I heard a crowded but peaceful Mass, finding the circling tourists less distracting than In Como.
The rains seem to have passed momentarily and I have already had to adopt the midday siesta in the shade, something that I will have to use more frequently and for longer in the coming weeks.
• Louis Jebb is accepting sponsorship for his walk in aid of London's St John and St Elizabeth Hospital. Enquiries c/o Catholic Herald.