Orta San Giulio & Pella & music


A concert tonight (Monday) and even though it begins at 9:15, I don’t manage to get us out for supper in time. We’ve become very lax about supper. Most restaurant don’t begin serving until 7:30 and we tend to wander about looking for something somewhere around 8:30. I should have checked the poster announcing the concert earlier in the day but I didn’t. Instead, I checked at 8:30 and finding out it began at 9:15 made the executive decision that gelato would make the perfect quick supper. Julia didn’t disagree.  

We re-visited Arte del Gelato and had cones, Julia had Nutella, I had baci. The ingredients of both of these flavors are the same, chocolate and hazelnuts. However, baci candy and Nutello have distinctive tastes and likewise their gelato cousins. We tasted each other’s choice and each agreed that we had the better flavor.

A fine supper.

Chinese di S. Maria Assunta is at the top of a hill. We had already climbed the hill once today to visit the sacred mountain of Saint Francis. We did it again for the concert but when we got to the top, I wasn’t carrying enough euros to buy tickets. So, back down we went to replenish the wallet and up again, this time a bit quicker to guarantee we would not miss the concert. Me thinks we walked off at least half of our sugary supper.
We listened to the Bach’s Goldenberg Variations played on the pianoforte by Beatrice Rana. She played them all without a pause, well, a few seconds between a few of them, all by heart and many at a ferocious speed. I have often listened to the variations on CD without a pause but I expected some pauses in a live concert. She was brilliant but there are 24 variations and the wooden pews were unforgiving. We could have used a seventh inning stretch. That being said, it was little to suffer for such delight.

Added note: I complain, to myself often and to which ever of my friends will listen occasionally, that there are no single men of an appropriate age.  At least, none doing what I do. Single men do not go to the theater or ballet alone or with a buddy. Never see them at concerts or the opera. Yes, that is hyperbole, and yes, there’s an argument to be made for going where they go and not expecting them where I am. Tonight, however, there is a single man, or at least a man alone, of an appropriate age, sitting next to me. I looked around and easily spied a small handful of men alone, many of an appropriate age. Not sayin’ what to do with this information but there it is.

In the morning, we walked the 20 chapels of the sacred mountain dedicated to Saint Francis. First, it is a lovely piece of real estate that is open to the public in a place where the best bits of land seem to be taken, built on and gated. Next, it is the highest point of the isthmus and there are some fantastic views in every direction. And finally, it is fascinating. Small chapels of various styles, each housing a life-sized tableau of wooden and plaster statues and background and ceiling frescos illustrating the life of St. Francis.

This . . . What is it? In modern terms, it is a grand piece of performance art or an outdoor installation, public art, which took a few hundred years to build, starting in the late 1500’s. 36 chapels were planned, 20 were completed between 1600 and 1850. The early chapels were redone or added to when the vision of statues and frescos combining for a theatrical effect crystallized. For the devout who did not read, the chapels were live with the story of a man/Saint who met many obstacles and persevered, a man who sometimes did not have a clear vision of his mission. The chapel of a depressed Francis who felt his life a failure was particularly touching to me. The one of Francis being tempted by Devils thrilled Julia.

During our stay, we saw a woman cleaned one of the chapels, dusting and washing the statues and grill work. Vacuuming the floor. She may clean one or two a day. Some have dozens of statues. Does she finish the twenty and begin again in an endless round of Francises? Or is the cleaning periodic? Twice a year? Would it induce one to be more or less devout?

Between Francis and the variations, there was a nap and reading and writing. And a quiet.

Tuesday morning, we ferry to Pella, a small, fishing village across the lake. It is quiet. The few people walking the street greet us. No one intrudes into our solitude but there is an easy welcome here. This is not a place for tourists; however the restaurant we eat in for lunch is peopled by locals and a number of people who have tied their small to medium board at the dock.

We wander down the walkway from the dock and come upon a garden with a big sign over the entrance,”Ave Maria”. Julia takes a step inside and coming up behind her, I urge her to move past. But by this time an old nun is inviting her inside. We walk in and around the small garden. In every inch of shade, and there is not much shade in late morning, young women, nuns, I think, of various commitments, are sitting, reading from thick black books, writing in long hand or just sitting. We have crashed a retreat. I am sure of it. The old nun who invited us in comes over and tries to talk to me. I can understand much of what she says but cannot answer much in return. She tells me that Julia must be quiet, trying to make me understand what is going on. I don’t even have the word for ‘pray’ but I finally say ‘meditation.’ And we reach understanding. She asks where Julia is from and if she is my daughter. And Oy, I don’t know Italian for adopted. Still, she blesses me and Julia and tells us to stay as long as we wish.

I sit, close my eyes and do a bit of meta, write some. Julia investigates what is growing. Quietly. When we are ready to leave, some of the younger women look up to wish us a good day. When we get to the gate, it is closed. We would never have entered had it been closed. Grace is offered so much of our time but how many times do I feel unsure and prefer to move past it. How much of the time has the gate been left open?

I have the notion that it was wise to choose this week of little to see and do. That, surprising to me, doing little is just beyond my comfort zone but that giving ourselves the time to sink in unravels a bit of the resistance and extends our zone by inches.

We lunch in one of two or three restaurants in Pella. Imbarcadero is a sophisticated place. We star splitting clams and muscles steamed in a lite red sauce. The serving was ample; however, Julia could have probably eaten the whole thing. We had tasted muscles last year and Julia liked them. That like has matured this trip. For her main dish, Julia had a pasta with a red sauce. Again, a success. I had sautéed perch filets on top of a pile of zucchini cooked with ginger and topped with thin slices of orange rin that had been prepared, not quite candied but something like that. The flavors were wonderfully simple and direct. Dessert was peach slices on top of something akin to peach jelly, but a jelly that was not too sweet to eat with a spoon.

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