Orta San Giulia – one last look . . . for now


It is 5 in the morning and Orta is quiet. Amazing. Somewhere someone is waking up and getting ready for the day but the island, over which I continue to obsess, is dark (Is everyone asleep there?) and there are few sounds in Orta except for birds and air conditioners blowing. Too bad about the air conditioning but this is a tourist town. We had ours on for the night. Julia couldn’t sleep with the din from the piazza and the rolling thunder that presaged a late night storm. That thunder went on for most of the day! The lake is long and narrow and surrounded by hills and mountains and the sound bounces and pings around. That storm tonight has been slowly moving towards us since noon.

Now, I would not keep such close eyes and ears on far away rumblings except that Julia hates it. Gone are the days when the slightest rumble would send her screaming inside, but she is always aware, vigilant against rain drops. Being caught in some of the small showers we’ve had here is not so bad. Listening to Julia you would think it was raining acid! Or she is related to the Wicked Witch of the West. So I am aware too.

The sky is predawn blue, just a wee bit brighter than dark. The sky is so blue here. Sometimes I notice it almost more in my pictures than in person. Is that color real, I wonder, and then I look up. The amazing thing about beauty is that I grow used to it so quickly, as soon as I am finished swooning over the first sight, it simply becomes part of my daily round. Sometimes I wish I would gasp at every sight. I wish to take it in, deep inside so that I can experience the awe of it when I am gone from these places. A beauty inside my head like the lingering taste of plum gelato in my lips.

We’ve been traveling a month now. Taking this respite from break neck speed touring–and no, we are not really that, more sight specific touring with a flexible but specific agenda–was a good idea. Orta is lovely but I could have used some way to organize the days here. It is me and not Julia or the place. There are some walks but not enough to fill a week, we had the chance to wander some but this is a small town, a car might have been a good idea to travel around the lake (though not sure about this one). We met a German family-mom,dad and two kids- who cycled around the bottom part of the lake. A great idea although we are not ready for that. There were some mre strenuous walks that I could nt persuade Julia to do but in truth, she was pretty amenable to the walks we did take and did not complain about all of the uphill trekking. Good to think about in the future. We found places where we could have taken a dip in the lake. Rather informal and usually off a small boat dock or den some ancient stone steps. Some kids would have been wild about that. Julia not so much and I wasn’t inspired to coax her. So much of my day is spent in coaxing which is, of course, my choice, but it can be exhausting. The days here would have been easier for me if there was an organized beach or a few more easy, well marked trails to follow. Julia is not unwilling exactly, much less so than last year but not generally enthusiastic about moving and doing. She can be persuaded and then can take up the activity with some gusto but she is never the initiator.

I also hate to just leave her to her own devices. I could and did at times read for an hour or nap; however, this use of time always leaves me feeling slightly guilty for not engaging with Julia. Constantly. She is quite happy drawing or coloring (she persuaded me to buy her an Arte nouveau coloring book in Genoa. It was the last one and was lonely by itself, or so she said. It is something I have not seen before.) or playing on the iPad. None of this bad, some good except for my drive to want to constantly interact and stimulate her. I want her world expanded. Still the nagging fear that she could slip away into her own internal world. I cannot expand her world without her participation, but I feel like i can br ready for when she is willing to expand.

The colors of the island are coming into view. Can I say how much I will miss it! Can I say that the light and color seem to be dissolving from the dark. Like old stage lights-cue dawn to the count of 358. Go.

What intrigues me, inspires me somehow, is that this little, still and quiet, built upon piece of land so solidly sits on this lake that is never still. I cannot be bored staring for long times at the rippling waters and the still land. How would it be stay on the island and be staring back at Orta and Pella on the shores.

5:47 and the town is still quiet. Vacation towns don’t awaken early. At least, not this one. Because of the water. Sound travels like crazy. I just heard a door open. Where? Not where I can see. Perhaps on the piazza.

For all my discomfort at doing little, I am deeply grateful that we took the time to sit on benches and docks and stairs. Julia, head bent in drawing and then looking up– actually looking up! –to capture something on her page. This is hard work for her. I think the very idea that her image comes from outside herself is a challenge. We saw a young man sketching on the piazza a few night ago. He had his finished pictures displayed on the ground and all were recognizable sights around town. We had seen all of the places. Julia glanced but I could not convince her to really look. What could she see if she would only look? That is another step. I am grateful for her ability to enjoy museums with me. I snicker at this. We saw a small modern exhibition yesterday and Julia had no interest at all. “I did that,” she told me when we left. She was at least in part correct. The work was objects attached to a canvas and then spray painted a single color. Katie did that, in a scale much smaller of course than the canvases in this exhibit. Also much, much simpler. But true, she had executed the idea.

We can traisp around museums together. She loves to listen to commentary, she will ask a few questions but I know she is not yet seeing all she could see in the pictures. And she is still more excited about some dinosaur bones than the Last Supper but I fill her with as much of my excitment about the Last Supper as i can muster.

6:00 and I hear sounds of unloading and I am going to lay back down and perhaps nap for an hour. I have ushered the light onto the island this morning, corralled the birds into calling to each other and answering and helped deliver fresh milk for hundreds of cups of cappuccino. I need a nap.

After breakfast, I persuade Julia into one more trip to the Isola. She clearly doesn’t understand my fascination but then I hardly do myself. We go and walk around and come back. Pack up and eat pizza at a table so close to the lake our feet could almost get wet. Then a cab to the train and on to Milano.

These pictures are from the church on the Isola which we had much more access to because there was no service.  Oh, there is so many questions I’d like to ask about this building!  In a few pictures you can see a whole sub layer of fresco beneath the one most visible.  This is an easy mystery.  How many more are there?


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