Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Memories of Italy

The sentence I will cherish the most from this trip was Norine's talking about Fontanazzo: "This is a place it hurts to leave". Indeed it is. This tiny village, which does not even show up on many maps, is such a beautiful place, not very different from what is portrayed in the movie The Sound of Music. I spent many summers during my youth there, hiking, looking for mushrooms, picking wild berries, playing Risk when it rained or soccer when it was sunny. I have so many memories. And it is here that Norine and I met. And that makes it an even more special place; both of us are so attached to it and now our children too.
Thinking of Fontanazzo reminds me that I need the capture the best memories of this trip, before they float away. Simple bullet points and a few pictures will do; they will be enough for me to recall the details later. You readers may not understand all of them, but they all mean something special to at least some of us Contolini.

  1. Getting a glimpse of Banff National Park, Isabella and dad alone
  2. The Canadian hare
  3. The excitement of landing in Italy again
  4. Raffaello looking at me from his painting in the Vatican Museum
  5. The painting of the triumph of the cross over pagan gods
  6. Isabella and the Vatican Post
  7. Walking through the Holy Doors in several Cathedrals
  8. Sunday Mass at the Pantheon
  9. The marble statues at Villa Borghese
  10. The expression of the French man I gave two free tickets to. He came back and thanked me: "It's my birthday today. Thank you for this birthday gift".
  11. Waiting the bus to Stazione Termini that never came. And so we walked more...
  12. The sweet old lady (97) in Anne's apartment building, whose tiny apartment we had to enter in order to retrieve Keely's clothes. When will you come back to visit me? She asked.
  13. Macine and Abbracci (biscotti)
  14. The look of the trip: Isabella wearing my baseball hat turned backward
  15. The 20+ points turn in the "no-outlet" alleyway in Rome. Cars parked on both side, people staring, Norine directing from outside, dad sweating. A true Italian moment!
  16. Pietro enjoying gelato
  17. Meeting with Guido and Simonetta again
  18. Dining on the terrace of Pensione Bencistà
  19. Multicolored marble in Florence.
  20. Emma has to buy two scarfs to cover herself and be able to enter the Cathedral.
  21. Norine's idea for remodeling Bencistà
  22. Walking with my precious family through the narrow, cobblestone, streets of Siena.  Even with all the tourists walking around I could imagine glimpses of life centuries ago moving through this medieval city on a hill
  23. Isabella feeling the desire to spend a semester in Italy/Siena during college
  24. The Tuscany cypress trees and Emma wanting to save their seeds
  25. Pietro opening the bathrooms with a pencil at McDonald's in Florence. Great work, buddy!
  26. The tourist tour bus through Verona. A part of me belongs in this city and I am ready again to spend some time here if it is God's will
  27. Driving to Fontanazzo
  28. The sense of familiarity with the houses, the trees, the hiking trails, the water fountains and all that make up Val di Fassa. A part of me belongs here also
  29. The gentle roar of fiume Avisio from the bedroom of the apartment in Fontanazzo
  30. Hiking alone up the steep path in the forest that I knew so well when I was going mushroom hunting
  31. Hiking to Rifugio Principe with Isabella and Pietro. I trusted I could do it and my back did not hurt. 
  32. "Rifugio's hopping". Norine's idea for next time in Val di Fassa.
  33. Eating pizza at Salin, in Pera di Fassa
  34. The European soccer cup: Italy beats Spain 2-0
  35. The morning walk alone around Fontanazzo looking for Wi-Fi.
  36. My dad hiking with us without physical pain
  37. My mom feeling relaxed during the stay in the mountains.
  38. The slightly humid smell of the stairwell in the apartment building in Fontanazzo. It is nothing special, but so unique and familiar to me.
  39. The view from the top of the Col Rodella funivia (gondola)
  40. Norine's squeak of excitement for the funivia of Pordoi appearing through the rocks.
  41. Burying a Euro cent next to the tree of the Fontanazzo apartment building. Will we remember it is here next time? will we be able to dig it out?
  42. Norine's girly joy when we purchased the "cucù clock" in Campitello. Even the store owner noticed it.
  43. Visiting with Arturo on the wheelchair and is sweet caring wife before leaving Fontanazzo.
  44. The Cathedral of Trento. The old frescos on the walls, forgotten for centuries
  45. Francesco and Ileana's generosity at their house in Lonato.
  46. The renovated patio
  47. Le mosche (flies)
  48. Noemi durante la colazione: "Mamma, quando uccidono le galline?"
  49. The day at Grest at the oratory in Lonato
  50. The conversation with Ileana's nonna in the field racking hay in 100F weather.
  51. Ileana's nonno's smile
  52. The day at Lake Garda.
  53. Don Matteo
  54. Fig trees growing from cracks on the streets. I have to figure out how to grow one in my greenhouse....
  55. Airline strike, flight cancelled, 4 hours on the phone to figure out a re-booking for 6 people. Priceless!
(more to come as I/we think about them)






#6 and #11

Pietro enjoying Rome

#10 almost. Abbracci are missing



#19 - Paolo


Norine's favorite piece of art. Florence

It is strange to think that so many things that I am so familiar with are so far away. They exist, grow and change, while I spend my life in another continent. Yet, with a plane flight I can suddenly be there and touch them and experience them in a renewed way.  Modern air travel is amazing and I am grateful for it, but somehow it also contributes to this feeling of "separation" and "imperfection". My life belongs in Colorado now, but I cannot negate that, during this trip, I felt that part of who I am is in Italy and the two places and cultures cannot be fully reconciled in this lifetime. I cannot live, experience and enjoy both places and the people I love that live so far away at the same time. 
Until I few years ago I was worried I would get bored in Heaven. Now I am convinced that part of Heaven will actually consist in being able to experience to the fullness those we love and the places and beauty that give us joy. No that I have not heard that before said to me so many times, but only "feeling divided" between two countries made me finally understand it.

More pictures about the list above in another post, if our readers want to see more (do you?). 

Friday, July 1, 2016

"The mountains are calling and I must go"

John Muir came up with this great quote, but I am going to take the liberty to use it for this blog, because this is exactly how I feel when I visit the mountains in Val di Fassa.

Thank you Lord for these wonderful peaks and for nature that reveals to me your great love for us. You are magnificent!

Pordoi and Sella Massive

Grand Vernel

at least 30% incline... Unfortunately I did not have a way to measure it.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Mountain Miracles

You may have seen in our last post a picture of a tiny little deer fawn. He (Paolo named it Alfredo) is just one of the many beautiful small miracles I have seen these last few days in Val di Fassa. 

Yesterday, we went mushroom hunting. While we found no mushrooms (at least, none we could eat), we did find something much, much better! Alfredo lay in the tall grass just off the trail, in a small, steep, and pristine mountain meadow. None of us had ever seen a young deer, and this one didn't move a muscle, even though we were close enough to touch him. He was so young, he hadn't even learned to be afraid of people yet. We were surprised to find it without its mother, and wondered if maybe it was sick, or hurt, or something had happened to her. But we took pictures and went on our way. An hour and a half later, on our descent, the little guy was still there, in the exact same spot. We started to get a little concerned for him, so after some discussion (we weren't sure what was the right thing to do, and thought maybe we might need to take him to the forest service people or something), I picked him up and we carried him to a little restaurant that was nearby off the trail.

Yep, you read that right. I got to hold a wild, baby fawn. Judging by his size, he was probably about a week old. Maybe a foot long, with tiny, delicate, spindly legs ending in miniscule black hooves as shiny as patent leather. He had huge liquid black eyes framed with long eyelashes and a velvety black nose, that was wet on the tip and twitched whenever he took a breath. His tiny pink tongue darted in and out every now and then, and he had huge, alert ears. He was soft!- this surprised me, as the fur of adult deer is pretty coarse- and his back was mottled with the speckled white markings to act as camouflage as it lays in the grass, though we had spotted him quite easily. I could feel him breathing and his tiny heart beating very fast. In other words, he was absolutely perfect in every way. 

While all this was going on, we got the guy who rain the restaurant, or baita, (he wasn't exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer) to call the local forest service, who, in typical Italian fashion, failed to answer, and then the mayor of the town. (Not sure why the mayor, but I guess he thought he might know what to do.) Anyways, the mayor thought we should just leave him where we found him. So we put him in a box for the trip back (he had been struggling quite a bit earlier) and left him in the grass under a tree, further from the trail this time, but near where we had found him. We were a little worried about him, but Dad decided that we could come back in a couple of hours and if he was still there, then maybe something really was wrong and we should take him to get help. Give nature another chance to do its thing, which it generally does very well. Dad was quite concerned, but I was pretty sure his mother would come back for him eventually.

Well, we went home and told the rest of the family about it. Mom and Emma, who had not been on the hike, were very disappointed to hear that they had missed such an adventure. In the meantime, we called the forest service again, who did answer this time, and replied that this was the period when new fawns were born, and it was quite common for the mothers to leave them for an extended period of time while they went to graze or whatever, since they weren't very strong yet. Trusting their natural camouflage, I guess. After lunch they went back with Dad to see Alfredo. Much to my relief, when they returned, they reported that he was gone- a bit of a disappointment for them, who would have loved to see such a marvel of nature close up, but really the best case scenario in the end, since it meant that his mother must have come back for him. (We were not on a very well-used trail, we had put him in a more out-of-the-way spot, hunting was prohibited in the area, the restaurant had been empty, and the guy who ran it was certainly not the proactive type.)

So while I admit that picking up a baby wild animal may not have been the most LNT-friendly or prudent decision (although it being a deer, the risk was relatively low), and we disturbed the poor little guy unnecessarily (the lesson is: if you find a baby deer in the grass, observe it from afar and take pictures, but leave it alone, because nature and its mother know what they're doing), it was certainly an extraordinarily special experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. 

Some more mountain miracles... including the great-grandpappy of all snails (I do love snails), some gorgeous butterflies, and a mushroom so perfect and round and white it almost sparkles!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Val di Fassa

Just a few more shots of what we have seen... No comments from us this time. We'll let you enjoy the views.


Alfredo... found on a tiny mountain trail

Monday, June 27, 2016

Gardeccia hike

Guess what! We do have (very limited) internet in the mountains!! Surprise!!
So here's a few pictures. Since we have to pay for all the internet we use, I'm going to do this as quick as possible.
Our whole family agrees that coming to the mountains is our favorite part of coming to Italy. The Italian Dolomites are absolutely spectacular. They're so different from what we're used to- intensely steep, dramatic, narrow valleys, wet, green forests, and a unique culture that results from our location, only about 20 miles, as the crow flies, from Austria. Almost everything here is written duplicately in Italian and German, or else Ladin, the local dialect, which is kind of a mix between the two. It's incredibly picturesque and quaint- tiny little villages, all the buildings with white and pastel plaster walls and dark wood roofs and gingerbread trim, windowboxes full of colorful petunias and geraniums, miniscule churches that look as though elves might live in them, fields full of wildflowers, communal fountains flowing with clear, fresh mountain water, so clean you can drink right out of them.
When you get above the valleys, the views are stunning. The trails are plentiful above treeline, connecting numerous rifugios- tiny inns or hostels where trekkers can stay while they explore the Alps.

And then there's the European Cup, going on as we speak, where Italy just beat Spain 2-0, and Iceland is currently beating England as we watch (hooray for the underdogs!) Things haven't been perfectly smooth with the family, but all things considered we're having a great time. :)

Ciao for now,
The Contolinis

Friday, June 24, 2016

When in Rome...

My humblest apologies to all... I have not been able to post for the last week like I'd hoped. Dad forgot his camera cable, so we couldn't upload the pictures to the computer. And his laptop does not have an SD card port, because it's old. And what's the use of a blog post without pictures? However. Now we are at Nonni's house, so that is about to change!

We spent three days exploring Rome and seeing all the sights. While there is a lot of really awesome stuff in Rome, I didn't particularly enjoy the city itself. The streets are tiny and confusing, it's very dirty and covered in graffiti, and it's absolutely packed with tourists. St. Peter's was so crowded that I couldn't enjoy it properly, and I wanted to leave after just a few minutes. The other basilicas that we visited- St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran- I enjoyed a lot more simply because they were less crowded!

Other highlights included the Vatican Museums, Mass in the Pantheon, and my personal favorite, the Roman Forum. I loved being able to walk among all the ruins that had been there since before Jesus was alive. You felt so close to the history, and history so much more ancient than most of the stuff we have in the US. Despite all the people milling about, I could kind of half-close my eyes and imagine the people who lived there thousands of years ago, going about their business. We also got to go inside a Paleo-Christian (early Christian) church in the forum, where all the remaining frescoes and mosaics had been restored. It was absolutely the highlight of my time in Rome!

After leaving Rome, we stopped for lunch in Siena, then for night in a hotel in the hills of Tuscany. We spent a pinch-me-I'm-dreaming-perfect evening eating dinner on the terrace as the sun set over the city of Florence and the surrounding countryside. I swear, the place looked like the set of a movie- it was hard to believe I was actually there, experiencing it in real life! I can see why people go gaga over Tuscany. Most cities completely obliterate the surrounding landscape, or at the very least are a blight on it, but Florence is another story. The red tile roofs against ivory and pale yellow buildings. The tall, dark cypress trees silhouetted against the landscape. Little castles and villas dotting the hillside. The Duomo (cathedral), its handsomely enormous red brick dome rising proudly over the city, a perfect centerpiece. There are flowers and greenery everywhere, and the soft breeze smells faintly of jasmine. Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen... this is as close to paradise as it gets!

One more thing. I have noticed that Italians have a serious issue with space and size. I know I'm a spoiled American who's used to having plenty of room for everything, but it is really starting to get on my nerves. Take, for example, our rental car. It is supposedly a "minivan." I mean, it seats seven people, but that is where the similarity ends. The thing has as much legroom as an airplane (which is to say, hardly any), and close to zero trunk space. Then there's the sizes they sell food in. The biggest container you can buy milk in is one liter. Which is the size of a Nalgene. In a family of six, we go through that much in one meal! You simply cannot buy things in bulk here.

Tomorrow we leave for a week in the Dolomites. No internet there, so unfortunately you'll have to wait another week before hearing anything from us. :( But that's OK; these should be enough pictures to tide you over until then!

Ciao for now,
The Contolinis

Galleria delle Carte Geografiche (Gallery of Maps) in the Vatican Museum. Obviously this was a favorite of yours truly.  

 Another favorite fresco, by Raphael- showing the Church Militant (on earth) and the Church Triumphant (in Heaven). Beautiful symbolism and imagery.
 Taking a break from walking. In the center are Mom's friend, Anne, and her daughter, Keely, who met us in Rome.
 The Swiss Guards! To become one, you must be a) male, b) unmarried, and c) Swiss.
 La familia in front of St. Peter's
 Gelato break
 Billowing azaleas
 Drinking fountains, Italian style

 Trevi Fountain with #flatfrancis
 Fresh Italian produce
 My favorite statue from the Galleria Borghese, by Bernini. I just love David's facial expression. So real!
 Having lots of fun together

 Visiting the Disciple's house in Rome. Felt just like our chapel back home! 
 Lunch in the main piazza in Siena
 View from the terrace of our hotel in Florence... yeah.

 Inside of the dome in the Duomo in Florence. It's like the Grand Canyon- so big you can hardly wrap your mind around what you are seeing.
 Façade, baptistry, and bell tower of Duomo

Repairing cobblestone streets