Wednesday, April 04, 2012

the pursuit of Giulianna and other thoughts on happiness

For poets and wimps. Or wimpy poets. That’s how I would describe today’s hike. In other words – beautiful, but gentle on the body.

For many days now, the forecast for the rest of this week has been “rain.” Ed tells me – they can’t predict. But it’s been unwavering. A front, steadily moving here, promising a continuous stream of showers.

My hotel proprietor has a folder of hikes. Trekkers from these parts have put it together. They gave it the title – “Wandering on D.H. Lawrence tracks.” And it is (awkwardly) translated into two languages (the well worn pages are the German ones).

And by the way, D.H. was no wimpy hiker. Along with his companion Frieda, he appears to have hiked to Lake Garda all the way from Germany in days when they didn’t have lightweight packs and trails were only approximately marked. Tough going. Shockingly, his companion, six years older and married to a German at the time, did not dump him immediately after. She eventually was to be his wife and they spent the rest of his life in restless travel.

Given the meteorological signals (even though it hardly looks threatening outside...)


... I asked for a “hiking light” suggestion. “La Toscana del Lago” (Tuscany of the lake). Do that one. It’s very nice.

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And it is. Perhaps you wont quite love as much the various pictures of olive trees, but to me, the trees are so unique in shape and size that I cannot tire of them. Like grapevines only taller. A canvas of spring color.


So here’s my quiet walk, during which I contemplated not poetry, but why I’m not a poet, why writers (of the famous sort) lead such troubled lives, why it is said of people from Gargnano that they embrace both the joy and sadness of life with a passion. I came to no conclusions.


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It is a rural walk. This is the time of continued olive pruning. Ed, you wanted to see a photo of the ladder-type post they use for reaching the highest branches, here you have it:


... and again:

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In one olive grove, I spot a gray heard woman in a vivid red jacket – she, along with someone who must be her husband, are engaged in pruning. He’s up high among the tall branches, she is trying to get the power machine going. Three tries, no luck. He laughs. She goes back to pruning with a tall pole. He sings to her, mia Giulianna, mia Giulianna, la mia... They hack away at the branches.


I consider for a second going up with a greeting, then decide against it.

My walk on this day is always in the apron folds of the mighty Comer.


But the elevation of this hike never exceeds 300 meters (except when I take a wrong turn, but that’s quickly corrected... a poet’s walk would not suddenly climb straight up!). Occasionally I see the lake, but not very often.


The beauty here lies in the groves, the old farmsteads and in the flowers.



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Eventually the path leads back toward the lake, toward the curious next hamlet of Bogliaco. If Gargnano is sleepy, Gargnano is in a complete trance. This is the center of the great annual (September) regatta on Lake Garda. The place comes alive and puts on a spectacle watched the world over. In the interim, it stores boats, plenty of them, some right on the (hushed) village square and hibernates.


Or at least it quietly goes about its business here, then goes next door to Gargnano for the friendly encounter.

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It never rains on this day. By evening, it finally begins to look as if it might, but by then I am retreating from town and as my evening meal is at the hotel, I’m not even sure how much of it was rain or just a momentary release of a drop or two from a passing cloud.

And now that I mention “retreating from town,” I have to give note to two separate trips I made today down to the main port of Gargnano. The first was early, before my hike, on an errand that proved ill-timed as the place I wanted to see was closed on Martedi which, for some reason, I confused with Mercoledi. (Tuesday/Wedensday). But that jaunt did afford some good moments of gazing up at building designs (Gargnano has some delightful painted trim on many of the buildings -- you already saw this on the old farmstead house from the walk).


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Oh and, of course, store offerings.


In the early evening I went out again, this time, predictably, to the café by the port (the "Olimpia"), where the sweet old man as usual brought me my now suddenly beloved spritz.

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If ever there is a routine that easily sticks to me, it's that of staying loyal to a café. I cannot imagine forsaking Olimpia anymore than I can imagine giving up on Paul’s back home. The familiarity and predictably welcoming atmosphere in each are everything that’s good about a place for that end of day retreat.

At the café, I listen to the conversation of two older men – they’re from Gargnano and if you would see them, you’d not guess that what they were passionately discussing is the proper culinary preparation of Coregone (lavarello) – the favorite catch from Lake Garda ("favorite" because the flavor is so damn nice – none of the heavy fishy taste, it’s delicate and lean and almost completely free of bones). Eventually they are joined by this woman. Passing through, pausing for a few minutes.


She may be married to one of them -- I couldn't really tell. Everything about the encounter was very ordinary and very gently beautiful.

On my earlier, morning walk to town, I had a chance to watch the fishermen clean their nets and sell the fish of all fish (lavarello).


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This, too, offered opportunities for extensive conversations between the fishermen and net menders. Eh, if there were no nets to mend, the men (and, separately, the women) would still find an excuse to stop, gesture, and talk.

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And what of dinner at the hotel? It was the "other" fish here -- the trout, which lives on the muddy bottom of Lake Garda and, too, is quite flavorful and delicate. Mine is served steamed in foil, with potatoes, tomatoes and capers. My pasta dish is with a venison ragout and the dessert is an extraordinary lemon cake and I have no photos of any of it for you, because it’s good to avoid becoming too predictable.