Yesterday I was sitting in a mountain refuge with my oldest Italian friends. It’s the thing I like doing best. Walking up a mountain, taking in the views of the said mountain and then sitting in a mountain refuge and eating mountain food. It was an early birthday celebration, a day with friends and their teenage son who I remember being born and have known all his life. It happens when you live in a place for a while. You make history here.
“I’ve just realised I’ll be twenty years older than the age I was when I first came here,” I said as I finished off the polenta and wild mushroom stew.
And in twenty years nothing much has changed. I’m still sitting in mountain refuges, older, with two children and an Italian husband.
Conversation in the car with my elder son.
“But mum,” he began, “could you not speak ANY Italian when you came here?”
“No, I learned it when I got here.”
“But how long did it take you to learn it?”
“I can’t remember. A few years. I learned most of it in the mountains, when dad and I used to go skiing every weekend.”
Silence, which means he’s thinking.
“You know what I once did. I once needed a stamp and I didn’t know the word. So I made it up. I kept saying to the guy, timbra, timbra. I thought, well it’s timbre in French so it could be something similar.”
Elder son starts laughing.
“Anyway, so he said francobollo. So, I thought right, it must be a shop called Franco Bollo.”
“Yeah, you know, Franco. Franco Bollo. So off I went to look for a shop called Franco Bollo.”
Once there was a young woman who went round a shopping centre for a good half hour looking for a shop called Franco Bollo.
She’d arrived in Italy only a month before liked some kind of 90s Lucy Honeychurch with a bright orange puffer jacket and a vague desire to travel. She stood out like an amber traffic light. Very few Northern Italian woman wear bright orange puffers jackets and certainly not in provincial lakeside towns. She got on and off trains and went up and down a lake and looked at the mountains and wanted to go. She loved all of it: the food, the scenery, the places, the people. Which is what Italy is all about, all that, and never judging a book by its cover.
That’s the bit you learn later, when the dream becomes reality.
*For those of you who don’t know, Lucy Honeychurch is the main character of EM Forster’s novel A Room with a View and a lush Merchant Ivory film with a very young Helena Bonham Carter who plays Lucy.
Play this, and it should get you in the mood:
And this is the trailer for the film:
Alternatively, read the book. Great cosying-up all-year-round reading with a cup of tea and something sweet.