The feast of the Madonna

[Part 3 of the Como series]

On Sunday, we decided to first visit the small church in our town, Lezzeno, before continuing to Bellagio. Visiting the church on a Sunday morning is a fast-disappearing habit in parts of Europe, and we thought it a good idea to preserve a memory or two of this ritual before it becomes extinct. But what we saw on this Sunday showed that our fears were for nothing. The whole town turned up at the church that morning, some in fine grey suits with sailor caps on their heads and wind instruments in their hands, and the ceremony we watched went back, we were told later, six hundred years.

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A curious old town

[Part 2 of the Como series]
In 1867, during his travels in Europe, Mark Twain visited lake Como. He writes, in The Innocents Abroad, that he reached “the curious old town of Como, at the foot of the lake” by train from Milan, and then took a steamer to Bellagio where, along with his co-passengers, he was locked in a cell and exposed to “a smoke that smelt of all the dead things of earth.” The locals resorted to this method of “fumigation” to “guard themselves against the cholera, though we hailed from no infected port.”

After this pungent beginning, he settled down and took in the beauty around him:

A great feature of Como’s attractiveness is the multitude of pretty houses and gardens that cluster upon its shores and on its mountain sides. They look so snug and so homelike, and at eventide when everything seems to slumber, and the music of the vesper bells comes stealing over the water, one almost believes that nowhere else than on the Lake of Como can there be found such a paradise of tranquil repose.

Mark Twain stayed in Bellagio for a few days, before journeying further to the town of Lecco. Later in the book, in a passage that pokes fun at the Italian obsession for Michealangelo, he says the artist “designed the Lake of Como.”

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The Como weekend

Driving southeast from Germany, through Switzerland towards Italy, the Italians reach you before you reach Italy. In a service area near the Swiss-Italian border, the small grey-haired lady behind the coffee counter (who turns to customers with a sprightly “Prego!”) is surprised by our request for a Cappucino mit Sahne (cream); for the Italians, coffee goes only with milk. We are heading towards the Italian Lake District, to a town next to lake Como, about 20 kilometers from the city with the same name. Como is close to the Swiss border, which explains the Swiss-Italian blend visible there. The roads are small, but the traffic exhibits traces of Swiss restraint. Fashion shows a stronger Italian influence: the elegant costumes in Como mirror the styles I’ve seen in Milan. The elaborate lakeside villas and the expensive cars – Mercedes Benzs, BMWs, Porches – paint a Swiss-like glossy, rich canvas. You could take in the alpine mountains all around and believe you are still in Switzerland. This isn’t the Italy of the South, not the real Italy, as some would say.

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