Oct 31, 2011

All Saints Day

There is a great article already written in Italy Magazine on All Saints Day or All Souls Day so I rather direct the attention there than write about it again.

I remember going for a motorbike ride a couple years back, before I realized just how celebrated this day is in Italy and was extremely thankful we were on two wheels. It enabled us to pass all the cars making their way through clogged narrow streets heading to pay the expected visit at the various cemeteries.

If my first impression of this ritual was to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of people making their pilgrimage, I was unprepared for the magic that night when we were heading back home.

Every cemetery was lit up from the dancing flames on candles set before each tomb. Every flickering light proclaimed a love for someone and it was intense having such a visual declaration from so many at once.


Oct 29, 2011

Pillars of Strength

I know I've many times looked at the churches around Italy as grandiose and
overwhelming, but nevertheless beautiful (mostly the structure from the outside as the inside is usually a bit too ornate for my taste). In their enormous shadow I can't help but feel puny and humbled and I enter the towering doors with a sense of awe and respect.

Today I am feeling a little desolate and as though I have lost something and find that those pillars are not so subjugating as before, the immensity is not so awful as it is comforting. What in one mind set was colossal and overpowering becomes in another perspective a symbol of strength to those who pass beneath.

 Photo:  (Nameless) Church in Verbania
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Oct 17, 2011

We've had unusually warm weather for October but lately the mercury is having trouble edging up past 50 F if even that.  I've discovered that one of the more effective ways of chasing away sleep is to get into a freezing bed. Seeing I don't have warm flannel sheets, I believe it's time for other bed warming measures.

Not listed in order of preference or availability:
1. Brick heated in a fireplace and wrapped in cloth to protect sheets.
2. Large plastic detergent bottle filled with hot water. Dad puts several of these on mom's side of the bed, perhaps because he goes to sleep before she does and she used to use the...
3. Hairdryer
4. Lover, but make them get in first.
5. Electric blanket.

For a step back in time, the container below was heated and used by the Walser's (early German immigrants to the upper Valsesia) as an iron to warm the sheets.


Oct 8, 2011

Packing to Alpe Campo Alagna

An indian summer, a weekend without A, and the call of the wild were the reasons for an overnight in the Alps.

Italy's mountains are generously covered with mountain huts; some offer food and lodging, others just food. Alpe Campo, one of the closest to the town Alagna in Northern Italy's Valsesia region, falls into the latter.

However, when I called to make sure they were still open for the season, I was told I was welcome to stay over as it was just me and Tala. I discovered the building houses the manager and has one extra room. I still took my tent because sleeping out in nature is a very special experience.

I followed the trail No. 9, easily marked but not the easiest walk as it was constantly uphill. It's maintained by the Alpine Club, CAI, and they placed rocks to simulate stairs. I'm really not sure if that makes an uphill climb any easier. And I am certain it is harder on tired legs and knees on the way down. Anyway, one step at a time and I arrived at Alpe Campo.

When the cluster of "huts" came into view, I stopped to catch my breath because it just doesn't look good to arrive huffing and puffing. What did I learn from the Italians? Image is everything. No wait, pure vanity taught me that a long time ago but the Italians have made it into an art.

At the stairs, I was greeted by the manager Gilberto who had been sitting with his friends on a corner of the patio that looked over the valley. As you can see, it was warm enough even for October, to be half naked. They offered me prosecco and cake while I relaxed at an adjoining table but other than a short conversation, I didn't join in their discussion of their early morning trek to rock climb one of the tall nearby peaks.

Tala the in-indefatigable dog was off searching for an appropriate site for my tent and put in dibs for a spot near the water. I agreed it was a good place and we were set for the night. Gilberto invited me to have dinner in the hut as (as he put it...) "he has to make something for himself anyway".

I spent the next few hours in the company of another soul who also embraces the solitude of mountains. His dream had been to restore the mountain home and with the help of a few friends, a helicopter service and a lot of time, the hut was finished. It became a part of the CAI and he began maintaining it for hikers, hunters and anyone passing by. He transformed a boggy piece of land into a lake and soon after, the inhabitants of Alagna watched in bewilderment as a small boat passed over their heads and disappeared into the hills.

The morning after, my first view out the tent window was of mountain majesty and after a few photos, I headed to the hut for coffee. I learned that Gilberto's mother had passed away that night and he was closing up to head into town. I was sorry for his loss, but in some circumstances, death is sometimes a release and this was the case for both him and his mother. On a personal level, this news meant no lunch so I was forced to stay only as long as my salami and cheese lasted in my tummy.

By 2pm, I was back on the trail and heading home - where I proved that stairs are more painful for already tired and sore muscles.



Oct 6, 2011

The Butcher's Window


 There was a time when I didn't know the Italian names for different types of meat so I never went to the butchers where I'd have to actually say something in order to get an order. Instead I'd go to the supermarket where I could stare at all the names and try to identify them by the appearance of the meat. I like to do things the hard way, I know.

Now, in addition to asking for whatever meat I need, I occasionally request any left over bones they have lying around to prepare for Tala to gnaw on. One young man asked me about Tala's size and when I said medium, he came back out with a giant bone that was bigger than Tala herself and with a grin asked if it would do.

Would it?
Oh, you bet. And I think that is personal service, with a smile.