12 August 2012

LIFE: Lake Como Blues

SARONNO, Italy – It's hard to imagine a more romantic plac than Lake Como. The lake is ringed with tiny ancient stone towns and exquisite villas set deep in lush park-like settings, built to house the rich, the royal and the famous. The luxuriant beauty that surrounds the lake has inspired lovers, poets and musicians down through the ages. It’s hard to imagine not being captivated by the seductive watercolor landscape, the majestic mountains, the sapphire blue lake, tree lined promenades, and the heady scent of jasmine and honeysuckle that floats in the air?
Lake Como
For 19th century writers and composers, no place on earth could compare to the beauty of Lake Como. Percy Bysshe Shelley was so charmed by the 16th century Villa Pliniana, in the lakeside town of Torno, that he tried to buy it.  " It surpasses in beauty everything I have ever seen hitherto,"  he said. The French writer, Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovery, wanted to live and die in Como and opera maestro Giuseppe Verdi wrote the best parts of La Traviata while staying in Cadenabbia with his live-in-lover, opera singer Giuseppina Strepponi. 

Fast forward to this century and we find Richard Branson, Donatella Versace, Michael Shumacher and George Clooney all owning villas on Lake Como, with rumors flying that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were also looking to buy in the same neighborhood. 
 Lake Como
In other words Lake Como was so drop-dead gorgeous that nary a mortal could pass that way and not be seduced by its beauty. And that included the town of Como as well. At least it used to include the town of Como. A few years ago, the town council decided it was going to address the problem of the lake overflowing onto the street and into the main piazza of the town of Como. The flooding problem was not serious, it only occurred  every few years, and once at the most during the winter season. I saw it happen only once in the 10 years I have been going to Como. When it did happen they would close off  a small part of the lake road for a couple of hours, but by nightfall the lake would have receded and everything would be back to normal again. Things like that happen when towns are built along the edge of lakes and other bodies of water, it’s normal. But the town of Como wanted to do something about it.

The plan was to re-do the lakefront, raise it up, which theoretically would prevent the lake from overflowing on to the road and into the piazza. The first thing they did was build a high wall along the lakefront, which meant that you could no longer see the lake. A small piece was left open near the maritime station, but even that was semi-enclosed off with tall metal fences. That was about four or five years ago.
 Lake Como
A few years ago they completed the project, but it didn’t work. They had to redo the project.   Then they had to redo the project again, with each re-do costing the townspeople mucho money. I was in Como yesterday and it’s still not done. The wall is still up and tourists are still wandering around, looking  at the ugly brown wooden wall that totally blocks just about each and every view of the lake, and scratching their heads. You could almost read their minds – this is where George Clooney bought a villa? Why?  And why didn’t someone tell us it was like this? Why did we spend time and money to come here?  

Who can blame them? Not even the townsfolk are happy. I stopped to buy a bottle of water at one of the mobile trucks set up in the park, and talked for a few minutes with the owner, Nilla. She said the whole project is a disgrace and somebody, no names mentioned, made a lot of money from a totally unnecessary project and the even more unnecessary re-do projects that followed.  She also said that they have a new mayor now and he has solemnly promised that the project will be completed by next year. She didn’t sound convinced, but then again it wasn’t the first time she’s heard that line.
 Lake Como
In spite of all of my grumbling, and the combined grumbling of the townspeople, if truth be known, there is a bright side. Apart from the fact that if you get out of the town of Como the lake is its same beautiful self, but if you are only there for an afternoon or just want to hang out in Como town and enjoy the beauty of the lake, do not despair for I’m going to let you in on a secret, a big secret. I’m going to tell you where to find one of the most beautiful lake walks in the town of Como.

The easiest place to start is in front of the maritime station. Stand facing the lake, and turn to your left and follow the brown fence until it ends. You’ll find yourself in a park. If you walk into the park, toward the lake, one of the things you will see is a large monument to Como born Alexander Volta, the guy who discovered the volt. From the Volta Temple, keep going to your left and you’ll be on a street that runs between the back of the soccer stadium and in front of the Como Yacht Club – stay with me now. Just past the Yacht Club, and to the left, is the Como Aero Club, the only seaplane school in Europe, go past the Aero Club staying to the right for just a few more steps, still following the lake shore and you will come upon the most spectacular lake walk in the world. 
 Lake Como
If you take that path there is no doubt that you too will be seduced by beauty the likes of which you have never seen, you will fall in love with Lake Como, you will fall in rapture, you will go home blathering endlessly about having found heaven on earth. Too bad nobody ever talks about it, or tells anybody about it – but if you have the courage to get off of the beaten path, I guarantee you will be inspired.  

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