Tuesday, March 26, 2013


I am, for so many reasons, very happy to have Diane with me in Italy. There are the predictable reasons. And, as it turns out, ones I couldn't have predicted. And the ones that you wouldn't necessarily have predicted -- like the fact that she, too, likes to take her camera to breakfast.

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But much as I love spending time with her here, today we went our separate ways again. She'll stay around Gargnano. I will go to the mountains for a long, solo climb. Not to any summit in particular. Just as far as I can, given the circumstances.

What circumstances? Well, take a look at what happened up there overnight:

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At the hotel, Valerio tells me this is the coldest March in Gargnano in fifty years. And it continues to be cold. Low of 35, high of 43 -- these are January readings for this gentle place nestled in a pocket of Mediterranean air. Snow falls in the mountains maybe two or three times each winter. Never in the week of Easter.

And yet there is, suddenly, unexpectedly snow up there. The heavy fog and dripping clouds transformed the world up high. Not that I can see the summits.  But halfway up, the mountains shed their spring appearance and hide under a wet, thick and frilly petticoat of snow.

More than anything, I want to be up there now.

My father loved the mountains. It wasn't an obvious love of mountains per se -- he would vacation only in the Polish High Tatras. And he never really hiked through them. At least not in my lifetime. I think they were, for him, full of childhood memories -- of less complicated times when you could scramble up a trail effortlessly, with your brother, or maybe your school pals. And the war came and it  ripped everything to shreds and by the time it was all over, you were grown and in search of ways to support a family.

In later years, he would go down south and soak up the aura of the mountains just by taking a stroll along the lower valleys and later he didn't even do that -- he just stayed put in his small pension-hotel until it was time to return to Warsaw.

Once you develop an attachment of this sort, you never really let go of it. Ever.

So I spent a day in the mountains today. Climbing, with my father in my head. 

Photos -- I did take those. Here's a quiet run through them all:

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At first, only traces of snow

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then, quite suddenly, the world is white

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clumps of snow fell periodically to the ground -- like being doused with wet confetti

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the cypresses stood tall, but the olives sagged under the weight

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Lake Garda, visible below

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olive garden, revisited

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stunning and memorable; I made a tape of its pounding waters

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a glance down to Gargnano

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olive grove, just outside Sasso

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and two hours of climbing -- Sasso

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I took a trail to climb even higher, but, after a half hour, I had to turn back. The path was snow covered. I could not pick out the rocks.

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following a different trail to Gargnano; past one of the region's old lemon houses

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thick clumps of snow around every spring bud

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easier now, with a clear path

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two layers, mismatched

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and finally, spring again

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a mountain, torn between two seasons

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for a fleeting second, the summits reveal themselves

In the evening, Diane knocks on my door. Take a look outside! Two men, rowing oars on the now very still waters of Lake Garda.

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It's always better not to go at it alone.

Our hotel dining room is closed and so we go the Trattoria Sna Martino, a.k.a. 3 Oche -- it's like a warm blanket of love there: they do well by you. They do well by us.

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Night. I see the Comer summit is reemerging.

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At the hotel I talk to Valerio about life's events. Just the other day I had watched his parents sit in the entry way, holding hands, watching the visitors come and go. He tells me now -- there's an Italian saying: vivere tutta la vita da maleti per morire sani. [Live life by malady to die healthy]

I smile and go upstairs with a glass of their local white and a plateful of peanuts.

{P.S. Thank you so much for all your kind comments, emails, words. There is one thing that I know and it is that good words reflecting good feelings are what make life fine.}