Petrarch and the places he lived

The Valle Clausa

To Francesco Petrarca,

Today I visited that quiet valley known as Vaucluse, a place where you spent many happy days. The warm sun filtered through the sparkling Sorgue River as I cycled my way up to the center of the village, marked by a column dedicated to your memory.

The town itself has grown somewhat to accommodate the tourists that arrive each summer, searching for a peaceful corner where nature may still be found. It has developed into a picturesque scene of restaurants and souvenier shops clustering along the river bank, with a generous sprinkling of glaciers and patisseries.

I was fortunate enough to find a museum focused on your life here at Vaucluse, and saw many original depictions of you, Laura, and the Valle Clause, as you called your enclosed vale. Here I began to realize that my idea of following in your footsteps was not as original as I had imagined, and many had preceded me in the six hundred odd years between your death and my own quest.

Aside from these limited modern alterations, the valley remains unscarred by the onslaught of human progress. The spring itself was initially a disappointment, for after I had read your high praise of its gushing mouth, I found that today it gushes forth only in small channels from the hillside. The old stream bed, which was allegedly deep enough for sailors to reach the mouth of the spring, is now a dried tumble of boulders, and the cavernous spring itself is sunk into a veritable cave.

Could you have guessed that the rain and snow that runs off of Mount Ventoux provides the life force that refreshed your valley? That mountain is faintly visible from the hills surrounding Vaucluse, and I felt a challenge to climb it as it, rambling across the crown of the valley, as you described.

I fell in love with your valley throughout my day of exploration, and on the second night decided not to return to Cavaillon where I had booked a hotel. Instead, early in the day I scouted for a shelter, and found a discreet cave near the crest of a nearby hill. Visiting the local market back in town, I picked up a meal that would have fit well on Petrarch’s humble table, with a few exceptions. Roasted bacon, a hunk of baguette, red wine and dark chocolate made one of the tastiest meals of my journey, as I built a small fire to guard against the night chill. Never on my trip did I feel such hospitality and a sense of belonging, whether in the city of Avignon or the wilderness of Mont Ventoux, but the one drawback for you was its location in France, far from the ruined glory of Ancient Rome.

Written in a rustic pen by the fountain of the Sorgue.

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