Petrarch and the places he lived

Mont Ventoux

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To Francesco Petrarca,

I reached the foot of Mont Ventoux late this morning after cycling through a thunderstorm, and leaving my soaked jacket and shoes to dry in my room, I decided to make the most of the sunny afternoon and ride up to the summit of the mountain. Although the distance to the summit was just under ten miles, it took me nearly four hours to reach the top, numbed and bleary eyed from the cold wind. The mountain is famous among cyclists, and I attracted quite a few astounded stares from the other riders wearing spandex and windbreakers on their lightweight road bikes. I suppose not many people ride a mountain bike up such a steep road wearing shorts and sandals, and I learned the hard way that the weather on the mountain was windy, cold and wet. This literally chilling experience made me appreciate the mountain much more, and prepared me for the next morning, when I set out to follow your own trail up the slopes, Petrarch.

I first rode to Malucene, the same town you described starting from, and ditched my bike at the first rocky pass that seemed to match your description in The Ascent of Mont Ventoux. Did you really climb this mountain, and finally arrive at the conclusion that everything external is in vain, and there is no truth outside of the interior life? Or was this description just a metaphor for a journey you took with your mind? Ventoux is a formidable mountain, and although it is neither very steep nor technical, the weather and footing is quite inhospitable to the would-be hiker. The crumbling rocks lack any clear sign of a trail, and the overshadowing clouds continually dampened both my jacket and my spirits.

The summit has changed since the fourteenth century, and now boasts an observatory, broadcasting tower, souvenir shop and sausage stand. The boisterous atmosphere was a far cry from the peaceful view of nature that you experienced, and I was quite disappointed. I was fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the breathtaking view, as I left the summit and the clouds started rolling away. I was happy to return to the Le Guintrand Bar/Hotel/Bakery /Cafe before nightfall, and enjoyed a generous helping of the house specialty: lasagna and red wine.

I stepped outside after my ascent, and looked at the mountain, now bathed in the glow of a sunset. I realized that you climbed the mountain not for the sake of the mountain itself, but for the perspective it afforded you. I know I tend to focus on things as goals to accomplish for their own sake, but perhaps I should take time during my hikes, both physical and mental, to enjoy the elevated perspective on the other surrounding ideas. In any case, I certainly found the heights of Mount Ventoux more conducive to thoughts than the sunken marshes of Venice.

Written on this 20th day of June, in the year of Our Lord 2011.

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