entirely. So, as I turned the last page ofrnthe book, I resolved then and there tornmake a roughly planned pilgrimage tornRome and Assisi, flying to Italy and walkingrnas far as time allowed on the pathsrnthat had been trodden by St. Francis. Irnwould leave it to Providence to look afterrnall the details and to make sure thatrnthings turned out safely for flie best.rnMy pilgrimage certainly kept Providencernbusy. On any number of occasions,rnI was rescued from disappointmentrnand disaster. On the only occasion Irnwould get to see Gozzoli’s frescoes of thernlife of St. Francis at Montefalco, I arrivedrnas the church was about to close; therernwas no way my schedule could allow mernhme to wait for it to reopen. Seeing myrndisappointment, the doorman let mc inrn”just for ten minutes.” I was disappointedrnto find the apse filled with scaffolding:rnThe paintings were being restored by arnteam of experts. But they had just gone tornlunch, so I was able to climb their towerrnunchallenged and get as close to thernpainhngs on the ceiling as Gozzoli hadrnbeen himselfrnWlien I stupidly lost the path after Valfabbrica,rnI foimd myself following thernmain highway to Perugia for miles, pickingrnmy way through roadkill and Cokerncans while container lorries tugged at myrnbackpack with their slipstreams. Butrnwhen I cut back toward Assisi at Planello,rnI encountered delights that I would otherwisernhave missed, including the intricatelyrnunrestored castle of S. Gregorio,rnwith tall, woody weeds growing from thernbroken line of its battlements, and a gatehouserntopped by a grinning overhangrnwith slits through which boiling oil hadrnonce been poured onto less-welcome visitors.rnA few hundred yards further on, asrnI sat down under a wayside shrine for myrnlunch, the Angelus bells jangled and tinkledrnacross the countryside to put my enjoymentrnof the landscape in context.rnPerhaps the greatest good fortune I enjoyedrn—in matters practical, that is—wasrnto have been able to find and follow sornmuch of the Franciscan Footpath at all.rnOn one of the colorful maps I had obtainedrnfrom the tourist office, the SentierornFrancescano between La Verna andrnGubbio is not marked, and though thernleg between Gubbio and Assisi is boldlyrnrepresented by a fat line running in arnzigzag between them, the more detailedrnmap shows it running straight. And thernlarger-scale map I had been given was arnblack-and-white photocopy. Withoutrncolor, whether the lines on it representedrnroads, paths, railway lines, rivers, orrnboundaries was anybody’s guess. Worse,rnthe elaborate wayside signboards thatrnmark the key stages of the route itself displayrnnot directions but lyrical descriptionsrnof the landscape. 7nd though theyrnare invariably placed at junctions orrncrossroads, not one that I found gaverneven a hint as to which direchon to turn.rnJust as frustrating was my discovery thatrnthe route is considered to run northrnfrom —not south to—Assisi, so the fewrnfingerposts that I did find at junctions onlyrnpointed back the way I had come, leavingrnme to guess which way to go next.rnYet, somehow, none of this mattered.rnI found myself inspired by an irrationallyrncalm confidence. Even when I thoughtrnmy number was up near Biscina, I wasrnstrangely unbothered by the prospect.rnThere is something about a walking pilgrimagernthat sfills the mind and soothesrnthe spirit. It is as if the distractible part ofrnthe imagination is busied with controllingrnthe physical effort required, leavingrnthe rest of the mind calm and at peace.rnThere is a sense that you have somehowrnconquered time, which no longer nagginglyrnreminds you that a beautiful sight,rnsound, or smell is transient. On a pilgrimage,rnsuch pleasures are enjoyed fromrna moving perspecfive: ‘Hie pilgrim movesrnon before the beauty has had time tornfade.rnAnd the beauty of Umbria is timeless,rneven if it is no longer quite that suggestedrnby the half-tone photographs published inrnFranciscan Italy in 1926. Gubbio hasrnbeen overenthusiastically restored onlyrnrecently, and last year, Assisi’s streets andrnbuildings were still braced with the brassknuckledrnscaffolding that had been putrnup after the 1997 earthquake; and thoughrnevery town of any size has long been besiegedrnor invaded by the motor car, thernplaces in between are much as they mustrnhave been for centuries. It really is possiblernto lose oneself in the landscape andrnsever contact with the business and thernburdens of contemporary life. And it is inrnthe landscape more than in the basilicas,rnshrines, and convents that one finds thernspirit of St. Francis, for whom the earth,rnsky, sun, moon, and stars were brothersrnand sisters, and who spent his life keepingrnmaterial possessions at bay. The buildingsrnthat St. Francis knew—including thernchurch at S. Damiano, which he helpedrnrebuild with his own hands — seem tornspring from the landscape, their softedgedrnarchitecture in gentle harmonyrnwith the soil.rnWhat a disheartening contrast I foundrnin Rome, where spirituality seemed to liernentombed under the cold, angular, marble-rnand-gilding triumphalism of thernBaroque. But that glorious, infernal, eternalrncity was not quite the last stop on myrnpilgrimage. Between it and Giampinornairport lie the S. Sebastiano Catacombs,rnand, having met up with a friend who hadrnbeen following me at a distance in his car,rnI planned to make a brief visit to them beforernI had to check in for my flight. Denserntraffic and irrational signposting nearlyrndefeated us. We got to the catacomb entrancernten minutes after the last tornrnshould have departed. But it hadn’t: Therntour guide was late, too, arriving just afterrnwe did. So I was able to mark the end ofrnmy pilgrimage by taking 20 steps downrnand 1,600 years back into the tomb-warrenrnof the early Christian commimity.rnOn one of the timnel walls, I saw a marblerntablet carved with the outline of a fish.rnWlien the guide wasn’t looking, I ran myrnfinger over it. It was wet with condensation.rnWitliout thinking, I crossed myselfrnIt was one of many blessings I encounteredrnon my pilgrimage in the footsteps ofrnSt. Francis. Perhaps the greatest of themrnall is the knowledge that, even if I am neverrnagain in Franciscan Italy, tliere will alwaysrnbe a little of Franciscan Italy in me.rnMichael McMahon is a freelance writerrnwho lives in Norfolk, England.rnLetter From Texasrnby Wayne AllensworthrnBeen There, Done ThatrnIt is a beautiful April evening in Hico,rnTexas. My wife and I are having dinnerrnwith my in-laws, and I am eyeballing arnstatue of Billy the Kid across the streetrnfrom Lilly’s Restaurant. Hico, you see,rnwas the home of “Brushy Bill” Roberts,rnwidely believed around these parts tornhave been the notorious outlaw/folkrnhero, who, according to the “Hico Legendrnof Billy the Kid,” escaped the longrnarm of the law and lived out his goldenrnyears right here in Hico. Our waitress, arnpretty, blue-eyed Hico native namedrnAnn, says that Billy the Kid groupiesrnflood the place for an annual Billy thern40/CHRONICLESrnrnrn