15 July 2012

LIFE: Back to Nature

SARONNO,  Italy - Once, on a very hot day in July, Guilianna called and asked if I wanted to have lunch in Como. “I know a great place,” she said, “a baita up in the hills behind Cernobbio. It should be cooler up there.”
Italian/Swiss Alps
Desperate to escape the heat I jumped on the invitation and it wasn’t long before we were on the road. We drove to Como and continued until we got to Cernobbio where she made a turn up a narrow two lane road that wound upward behind the highway. 

For the next half hour or so we followed that winding road, climbing higher with every turn.  At one point we entered a very large pine forest and under the deep shade of the trees the air was deliciously cool and fresh. But as we continued to climb upward, cool and fresh became too cool and fresh to keep the windows open.
Onward and Upward Through the Dense Pine Forest We Went
The pine forest was immense, thick with trees so tall you could hardly see the tops of them. I remember thinking we had entered another world, one that was far from civilization, not realizing just how far from civilization we had yet to go. We had not seen another car since we left the highway in Cernobbio about an hour before, and I, with my limited (actually no) outdoorsy camping experience was starting to get a little nervous. If something happened to the car, who would find us? We could be stranded in this forest forever trying to survive on twigs and leaves. There are times in a city girl’s life when even a mugger is a welcomed sight, and this was one of those times, especially if the mugger had a car we could hijack.
The Baita Looked Something Like This
The baita turned out to be a large wood and stone chalet set on the edge of the forest. We had driven not to the top of the mountain, but almost, and as we walked up to the door of the baita Guilianna turned to me and said, “that’s Switzerland over there.”  She was pointing to a spot about half a block from where we were standing. We had driven to the uppermost border between Italy and Switzerland and I remember thinking how easy it would be to smuggle something or someone, or a lot of somethings and someones across that border.

The air was was again cool and fresh, a breeze was blowing across the massive stone peaks  and in the middle of one of the hottest days of the year, Guilianna and I sat and ate steaming plates of polenta with sausages for lunch.
An Alpine Dairy Farm
While we were eating lunch a young girl came in. She was a big, strong girl, dressed in a warm jacket and sweater, leather hiking boots and carrying a walking stick. With her long blonde braids, and ruddy cheeks, I figured it had to be Heidi all grown up.  Of course she wasn’t my storybook Heidi, or even Swiss as it turned out, she was actually from Norway or Sweden, I don’t remember which. She said she had a summer job working at one of the local dairy farms. Her job was to milk the cows twice a day, muck out the barn and do other similar farm related duties.Today was her day off so she decided to hike here from the other side of the mountain, Mount Grona, and have lunch.

At the time, I wondered why such a pretty girl would want to spend an entire summer stuck on a farm in the middle of nowhere, but lately I’ve come to realize that more and more young Europeans, especially Italians, are starting to look at life in a different way. Instead of focusing on technology and getting ahead at all costs, many are turning to a more simple life, the life of their great-grandparents. Life as it used to be before the wars, when Europe was still an agricultural based society.
Matteo Moretto
Since that chance encounter with Heidi’s look alike up in the mountains behind Como, I’ve met others who have taken up a more self-reliant style of living. Remember Matteo Moretto the goat farmer and cheesemaker? (If not, check out that blog at: http://thisitalianlife.blogspot.it/2011/06/auntie-pasta-farmers-market-saronno.html) He’s another feet on the ground, head square on his shoulders type of guy who chose to reconnect with the earth and live a more balanced and harmonious lifestyle.

Maybe it’s the global recession that’s driving young people back to their roots, and maybe that’s a good thing. Farming has changed, animal husbandry has changed, just about everything about living a sustainable lifestyle has changed from when their great-grandparents were giving it a go. It’s a lot easier now, there is more information available at the click of a mouse. And the beauty of it is that it really isn’t all that far from the fields to the future these days so you can have the best of both worlds. And maybe that makes a little baita on the mountainside the best place to be after all. 

I thought you might like this very short video called 'Walking in Italy Monte Grona', which I found on YouTube. Mount Grona is the mountain behind Como and in the video you can see both Lake Como, which is in Italy and Lake Lugano in Switzerland, and pretty much the area where Giulliana and I were that day.

As always, your feedback and comments on what's posted on thisitalianlife blog is much appreciated.  

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