One of the weird and wonderful things about travel is what I think most about when you come home. It always surprises me. Having lived nearly three weeks in Assisi, where seeing the Giotto’s magnificent frescoes was a simple matter of strolling down the street to the Basilica of St. Francis (which I did countless times), what I can’t get out of my mind is a blue butterfly that I saw when I took a walk to the Rocco Minore one day.
The walk was, predictably, up. I followed a tree-lined path, delighting in the view of silvery olive trees to my right as I went. The Rocco Minore was blocked off by orange construction fencing, but I could still climb around the edge of it well enough to see the spectacular view promised by the other walkers in our group.
I had the vague idea (wrong, as it turned out) that if I kept following the path up, I would eventually get to the Hermitage, another of the many St. Francis “sites” in the Assisi area. But when I’d walked about twenty minutes and came to a fork in the rocky path, neither option seeming more or less likely to be the way to the Hermitage, I decided I’d turn back—after a long drink of water and a little rest. I sat down on the path, taking note of my surroundings: blue and yellow wildflowers, butterflies dancing over them; the whine of cicadas; the scent of pine; and, through the trees, a glimpse of the green and yellow patchwork of fields in the valley far below. It occurred to me that this was the kind of path people must have walked all the time during the Renaissance, maybe leading a mule laden with their belongings. Piero himself walked such paths in his travels through Umbria, and surely stopped to rest in shady spots like the one I’d found.
I sat a long while, daydreaming, and in a while the butterflies that flew away when I first sat down began to return and settle on the flowers near me. They were small, with intricate brown markings that reminded me of Oriental rugs—so close, so still that I could capture them in the lens of my camera. There were Madonna-blue butterflies, too, but they wouldn’t light—or so I thought, until one of the brown butterflies opened its wings to lift off and I saw that the insides of its wings were blue. (Look closely, you can see just a slice of it.)
The brown butterflies were the blue butterflies. This seemed to me like a secret revealed.
Home since Thursday, it’s the blue butterfly that stays in my mind. It’s what I want to tell people about when they ask, “How was your trip?”