Thursday, 24 March 2016

Circle of Life

I turned the key in the ignition and the radio blared on. I would have turned it off if it hadn't been Blondie belting out 'Denis Denis', immediately followed by Abba asking to 'Take A Chance on Me'. It was Pick of the Pops from March 18th, 1978. I was hooked.

I drove out of the village in the darkness, my youngest by my side, and by the time we hit the traffic-less main road we were waiting with baited breath for the Number One that week: it was Kate Bush and her ground-breaking, rather extraordinary debut single Wuthering Heights. A new career was launched. I started wailing away in an unnaturally high voice, actually remembering the words for once, to the great amusement of L. I then went off on a riff of nostalgic explanation:-

' In 1978 I was fifteen, I'd broken my leg skateboarding the year before, I was having orthodontic work, I was madly in love with a boy obsessed with Kate Bush, and who would have thought that here I would be, 38 years on, driving around north west England, braces all over my teeth again, with my own 13 year old by my side, wailing along to Wuthering Heights'....and my daughter added, ever wry, ' 3.56 in the morning!'

The circle of life, indeed.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Sunshine and Snow

Now that the weather has turned more spring-like, this day, two weeks ago, seems a little surreal. Did we really have snow? Well, yes, we did, over the Mother's Day weekend, but it seems a lifetime ago given how the landscape has changed again since. 

It was the first proper snow of the winter, which I had feared would remain essentially snow-less. How times have changed over the years we have lived here. We would get snow every winter 10 years or so ago, but still never in the way it used to be in earlier decades when the villages and towns of the High Peak would be cut off and the snow so deep that it rose above the dry stone walls and people would ski over it's pale virgin expanses. 

A great sadness to me is that those days are long gone.  I adore the mountains, skiing, and everything that the white stuff brings - cold, bright light; fresh tingling air; a new stillness; footprints.  The other Monday - while we were hardly knee deep in the stuff -  was nevertheless a small reminder of how transformational such days can be. Going back inside the house, for once, was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I could have stayed out there forever.

Below is what I captured that day...

Monday 7th March

Today was simply exquisite: bright sunshine bursting out of a cloudless blue sky and bouncing back light from streams of melting snow and fields of frozen white. Hardly a breath of wind stirred the sharp cold air and the sound of sheep and birdsong filled my wool-clad ears. Indeed it was a day when all the senses sang and the spirit soared in sheer life-affirming joy. I do not exaggerate. It was truly so. 

Monday, 14 March 2016

And so to Como...

After a morning meeting up with an old Milanese friend and then exploring the Castello Sforzesco in glorious warm sunshine, we had a quick, atmospheric lunch in the thronging business quarter of Milan before hopping in the cars and heading up with The Godfather and Son to Lago di Como.

The Italian lakes have long held lyrical associations and never more so than when the likes of William Wordsworth and other poetic exponents of the Romantic Movement were wafting around their sublime shores:-

AND, Como! thou, a treasure whom the earth
Keeps to herself, confined as in a depth
Of Abyssinian privacy. I spake
Of thee, thy chestnut woods, and garden plots
Of Indian-corn tended by dark-eyed maids;
Thy lofty steeps, and pathways roofed with vines,
Winding from house to house, from town to town,
Sole link that binds them to each other; walks,
League after league, and cloistral avenues,
Where silence dwells if music be not there:

Young Wordsworth's obvious attraction to 'dark-eyed maids' aside, Lake Como is a natural draw for those wishing to escape the rigours of city life. Is is the third largest northern Italian lake after Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore and, lying in the province of Lombardy as it does, it is the lake of choice for the Milanese (oh, and George Clooney).

Of glacial origin, Lake Como has a startling geography - a deep, dark, reflective slash between tall green hillsides ('confined as in a depth of Abyssinian privacy').  It has both drama and delight in abundance and is the perfect contrast to the more worldly pleasures of the City of Fashion, Design and Finance.

I had chosen to stay in the not-so-imaginatively named Hotel du Lac in Varenna. There are more Hotel du Lacs in the world than I've had hot dinners, but this was a little gem, and very aptly named, it has to be said. Perched on the edge of the picturesque village of Varenna, literally hanging over the eastern shore of the lake, it was all that we could have asked for. Hidden away down a minute lane off the main square (hire a small car), the car park was a challenge in itself. Once achieved, you head down some steep steps to what seems like the back door of the hotel - but the front door would require a swim. A warm welcome awaits - even though we were there on their very last night before closing for the winter season, which would have lent a charmless air to many a hotel. After terrible traffic leaving Milan, we arrived in a rush to see the sunset. Abandoning our bags in the entrance hall we threw ourselves out onto the balcony (and an unsuspecting young couple enjoying a quiet romantic drink) to capture the dying colours of the setting sun and the silhouettes of the mountains as they tumbled into the dark waters in front of us.

A glass of Prosecco inevitably followed, served charmingly by an English lady from the East End of London who came out here on a year out several decades ago and never returned, wed as she is now to the Italian she met back then. Beware those 'dark-eyed maids' (...and men, clearly).

Dinner that night was enjoyed in a lovely little restaurant called Al Prato literally two steps from the hotel in a cobbled courtyard oozing quintessential Italian lake charm and hospitality. I enjoyed three types of lake fish, all cooked differently, as it seemed appropriate but all our meals were equally delicious and took in both meat and homemade pasta all washed down with a beautiful Bardolino.

The following day dawned bright and beautiful and it was bliss to open the doors onto our little Juliet balcony and hear the lake water lapping lightly at the walls below.

I waved to The Godfather and Son who were enjoying the same vistas below us. There was nothing to do but get out there and enjoy it - which is exactly what we did.

.....but ye have left

Your beauty with me, a serene accord
Of forms and colours....

William Wordsworth
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