We do not ask participants of creative hikes in the Dolomites to give feedback on purpose. We have tried once. It didn’t work. They are the first ones to share their new impressions, experience, and changes in their lives with us.
The Venetian mist
The sermons of St. Francis
Dinner in the Alpine mountain hut
Memories of the Italians from Lamon
Running from the frappa
— “The ferry service is interrupted, planes haven’t landed or taken off for weeks, shops aren’t working, the mail isn’t coming. Left, right, top, bottom. The only way you can’t get lost is by being here. The fog is thick, blind, motionless. The latter, however, is advantageous for short trips, say, for cigarettes, for you can find your way back through a tunnel dug by your body in the fog; this tunnel remains open for half an hour,” writes Joseph Brodsky in the “Watermark. An Essay on Venice“, the city from where begins every second trip to the Dolomites.
Our plane circled over the city for a couple of hours, too. And landed in Bologna.
You go to bed — it’s cold, you wake up — it’s cold again. In the evening you jump into bed like in the dark canal water.
In a small room with a disproportionately high ceiling, the cold accumulates downstairs like at the bottom of a well. Under the ceiling windows are stretched up, and all night the cold is let through so that the walls accumulate it and in the morning they exude to the sleepy guest on the way to the ascetic bath with the “caring” open window.
In the bathtub, you drain the water for a long time until it turns from ice to warm to brush your teeth.
But you want Italian ice cream both in the heat and in the cold.
Another author, Peter Ackroyd writes in “Venice: Pure City” that a couple of centuries ago, there were ice floes, too:
“In 1863, ice floes were floating up and down the Grand Canal for a month at high tide. At that time Venice was a completely frozen world, the ice-covered not only the water but also houses and palaces. Venice houses are not designed for the cold, large windows, and stone floors during the blizzards made life in them unbearable.”
I hope that doesn’t happen to me.
The Sermons of St. Francis
I like to imagine while walking in the Alps, that you’re somewhere in the 15th century or so before.
I exchange clothes with a poor man I met
and go barefoot to the north
not caring about the road —
through the forests, through the mountains,
without a map,
in the rain, in the snow.
Flowers and grass smell, birds sing. And how nice it is to sit on a stump or a rock and read stories from the life of St. Francis, who was just from the north of Italy.
A fragment of Chapter 16 of “The Life of Saint Francis” about how he preached to the birds and called swallows to silence:
“And so, walking his way, St. Francis raised his eyes and saw a tree on which a great many birds had settled. Very surprised, he said to his companions: “Wait for me here. I’ll go and preach to my sisters to the birds”.
And when he went out to the field he started preaching to the birds, and they were sitting on the ground. And all the birds that were in the trees sat around him and listened while St. Francis preached to them. And they didn’t leave until he gave them his blessing.
And Brother Masseo later told Brother James of Mass that St. Francis walked between them and even touched the floors of their vestments, and none of them flew away”.
Dinner in the Alpine Mountain Hut
“Foxes have holes, birds have nests and only the son of man has nowhere to bow his head,” said St. Francis eight centuries ago.
And today we have mountain huts in the Dolomites and other shelters. I associate their atmosphere with black and white pictures of skiers in sweaters, woolen wide trousers, and on wooden skis.
For the dinner, we went 600 meters above Lamon. We were immediately warned that the road might not be accessible and then we would turn around and go somewhere else. That’s what happened on the way. But the driver, a brave woman, got out of the car, opened the fence that preceded the road, and we drove on the fog and serpentine.
At the top, there is a village of five houses, one of which is a restaurant. There’s not a single person in the streets — like in Silent Hill. And inside is the smell of an oven, local cuisine, a young chef in an ironed white apron, Pink Floyd playing, and, a dog.
We’ve had so much to eat that it was hard to leave the table. To feed a guest like this is a must-to-do thing for a local in the Dolomites.
We like it all.
Journey With a Spirit of German Romanticism
We’re looking back in time again. It’s not that far this time. Today we have a journey in the spirit of German romanticism of the 19th century: waterfalls, ruins, thoughtful glances far away at the edge of the abyss. We also sunbathe on a stone slab overlooking the valley and the mountains. But we did not work out romantically:
- climbed a wet steep slope from the splash of a big and beautiful waterfall;
- walked down a narrow path along a cliff and not looked down;
- crossed in turn the half-destroyed bridge and, having dug into a spilled mountain river with a powerful current and boulders, after long attempts to find other ways, crossed it barefoot, tying our shoes and hanging them on our backpacks.
We went from Veneto to Sudtirol and back.
As Mila, a bank worker from Moscow and one of the participants of the creative hiking in the Dolomites, said powerlessly, tired of moving her legs past the hotel counter to the greeting of the beard barmen and owner of the hotel that had been pouring us the grappa a couple of days before: “We are alive…”
We’d walk up the stairs and hear him repeating to the others at the bar, “We are alive,” and everyone there would laugh loudly.
A day later, everything was done the opposite: first, we bathed in a mountain lake near the place called Pontet, then we ate and then we went on the road.
When you leave the hiking group or on the contrary run forward, it’s good to turn on the music in headphones. It’s especially good to walk in the woods or on a trail over the mountain valley beneath symphony # 7 “Leningrad” in C major, Op. 60 by Dmitri Shostakovich (I hope I wrote it correctly) to the sound of brooks, waterfalls, and birds.
Memories of the Italians From Lamon
I’m writing this last post in Moscow, at home, on June 3rd, 2018.
A couple of days ago there were the final stages of the Giro d’Italia cycling race. It passed through the village of Lamon, where we lived in early May, during our mountain hikes in the Dolomites.
Every journey is first and foremost about people. I have the warmest memories of the Italians from Lamon.
They always say “ciao” to you, and when you are standing they will come and talk to you (in Italian, of course).
The owner of the only outdoor equipment store in Lamon, a nice and kind lady in her 50s, after talking about Russian literature and her native — and our favorite — Côte d’Azur, too, gave us gifts comparable to our modest purchase.
And so on.
Run From the Grappa
After another dinner in the hotel, passing by the bar, we were offered grappas… of like 50 degrees.
Buonanotte, so buonanotte.
Down here in the bar every day from the very morning local men from 30 to the grayest hair gather. Someone sits alone at the table with a cup of coffee, nose deepened in the morning paper, someone is already at the bar drinking beer or wine.
And so until tonight.
One evening we were playing board games (and had a few drinks) on the second floor of our and the only hotel in the village and it occurred to us to go down to the bar and chat with locals.
When I came to the corner of the full bar, I told them I’d owe them all a grappa. Everybody said no, but the neighbor on the right says, “You buy it and everyone will have a drink”. That’s what they did. And then there were a few more rounds. I can’t remember what they were talking about: my new friends are in Italian, and I’m in broken English, I think it was about Italy and Russia.
We talked to everyone except the visitor in the black leather jacket. Later I noticed that he had a blue tattoo around his neck with a willful saying in Russian. I thought it might be for the best that we didn’t talk to him. (Thank you, Mila, for watching my safety.)
Then we were escorted because the bar was closing and someone offered to go to the bar around the corner. We went outside, and I was already heading into the line, as I was shouted out and invited into a small car.
In Italy, they all have cars the size of a fridge. We could barely fit.
I thought “Why go if the bar was around the corner? Probably another mountain village?” But we drove 40 meters and stopped at a new point, where we continued. Such funny guys.
In this bar, one of the bartenders was a girl from our hotel restaurant. The morning after breakfast I was a little embarrassed in front of her for yesterday, but when she brought cappuccino in the morning to all friends with leaves on the foam, and I calmed down with a heart.
On the following days in the morning, the first visitors to the hotel bar would drag me to the bar and to my gestures, guys, I’m going for a run, they were opening the door to the street, point their finger first in the wet sky and then on their head, saying, “What a fool, it’s raining there, let’s go to the bar!”
And I was so imbued with the beauty of the surrounding nature, the locals, the smells of herbs and forest, the views of mountains buried in the clouds, turquoise rivers, that in the desire for complete unity with the world, I even called for a run of sheep and they gladly ran with me.
Russia, Italy, love.
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Cover photo: Oleg hiking to Mount Avena, 1440 m, by the participant of the creative hiking in the Dolomites in May 2019 in Lamon and Pale di San Martino.