The Well in Pollone Chapter Three

On the first Sunday morning of my stay in Pollone, I was sitting on the stairs; basking in the sunshine when a heard a voice.

“Buongiorno,” I looked down to see Olga standing, just inside the great door. She was wearing a light skirt and blouse; her fair Northern Italian hair shining in the morning sunshine. Under her arm, her leather bag, securely wedged. Olga, a middle aged lady with all the vitality and drive of a woman half her age.

“Buongiorno, Olga,” I replied. I had just dressed and was ready for whatever the day had in store.

Mangiare,” she said.

By sign language and one or two words which I understood, she conveyed to me that we were going to have lunch and that we were going there and then.

We left the small courtyard to find, parked outside, and taking up almost the width of the lane, an enormous, pale grey Mercedes Benz motor car.

Pollone

La mia macchina,” she said simply and indicated that I should sit in the passenger seat. Like Anna, she negotiated the narrow lane so expertly and soon we were driving past Burcina, the park outside Pollone. We had been driving for at least ten minutes when I heard a noise from the back seat and turned to see a rather suave gentleman and a very large girl, aged about eighteen.

“Olga turned her head to look into the back of the car, as if seeing the other passengers for the first time; said simply: “Vladimiro…” and then, almost as an afterthought, “Marie”.

The gentleman leant forward and spoke in perfect Queen’s English:

“Good morning. I am Vladimiro”. He shook my hand.

The large girl bellowed something in Italian or French; I wasn’t quite sure which, to which Olga responded; “Marie!” and then turned to me and said, conspiratorially, and in French, “Sauvage!”

Marie bellowed once more, and this time I heard the word, “Mama”. So Marie was Olga’s daughter, I supposed. And the elegant Vladimiro? I later discovered I had assumed correctly: Her husband.

“Mama!” bellowed Marie, again.

Stai! Zitta!” (Stop! Hush!), said Olga. I seldom heard Olga address Marie in any other way. Although she would refer to her as “Scimmia” (Monkey), or “Cattiva” (Naughty girl).

Il Parco della Burcina

As we travelled I realised that we weregoing higher into the foothills of theAlps, towards Mount Mucrone. My ears were popping with the change in altitude.

Olga drove through lush pastureland with low roofed houses, nestled in between cypresses and brightly leaved deciduous tree; and here and there, huge outcrops of granite stone. The road became more uneven and appeared to be cut out of the natural rock for great stretches. Then, rounding a massive outcrop, on the left there appeared a large group of what appeared to be religious buildings. Driving a little further, we pulled up in front of the stone stairs to the most wonderfully elegant ristorante overlooking the valley through which we had driven.

‘Ristorante Croce Bianca - Via Santuario d'Oropa’.


It was such elegance; understated sophistication and I began to feel just a little conspicuous; entering dressed in simple holiday clothes. Yet everywhere, people were dressed in all manner of clothing. The most elegant and beautiful people; diners who looked like supermodels and bankers; a small family group taking an elderly matriarch out for a celebratory meal; her white damask napkin tucked into the neck of her black dress.

A young couple who sat at a small table with spectacular scenery spread beside them; yet they had eyes only for each other.

There, an elegant lady, sitting by herself, severely dressed in mourning white; beautiful as only the Italians can be, yet with the most hauntingly sad face; her chin cupped in her gloved left hand; the fingers of her right toying with the spoon of her coffee cup.

Two American ladies, sumptuously dressed, poking antipasti around on their plates with their forks and gazing at the door every time it opened to admit a new party; hoping for a celebrity, perhaps.

We were shown to our table.

Benvenuto, Signora”.

Grazie!”

“Prego!”

Everywhere: white linen, sparkling crystal glasses competing with crystal chandeliers, silverware, waiters in jet black trousers and ice-white shirts, full length white aprons down to their black shoes; waiters so handsome they looked as if they had been chosen from the catwalks at a Milanese fashion show.

Scusi, Signora”.

“Prego”.

Choreographed, efficient, but not hurried. We ordered. They brought the antipasti. Then gnocchi, a risotto, the like of which I have never tasted before, or since, pesce, vino, and on and on…

A tall slim lady at the next table; exquisitely dressed in a black sheath dress with a Chanel jacket in coral pink and a tiny pill-box hat in precisely the same coral shade with a matching veil. Drinking champagne and lifting the veil from her lips to do so. Laughing so beautifully as her partner, a much older gentleman, attempted to hold her hand from across the table.

And the food came to our table and the empty plates were whisked away and the new plates arrived and different wines.

Marie bellowed and dropped her napkin and then her fork; bellowed again.

“Mama”.

“Stai. Sotto. Sotto voce,” from Olga.

Vladimiro hardly ate anything. A small German gentleman drew his chair up to our table and started an intense conversation with him. Vladimiro seemed to speak German equally as well as he did English.

After lunch we left the restaurant and walked up to the Sanctuary at Oropa. The Santuario di Oropa is a stunning collection of cloisters, twelve chapels and the Cathedral. This Sanctuary is placed in a gloriously dramatic setting. Absolutely and divinely symmetrical in every detail.

Up the broad stone steps; we made out way to the Sanctuary; a long flight of stone steps in the same stone as the buildings themselves. Colonnades; a building, the Cathedral at the end; symmetrical to the last detail. The brass cupola weathered to a rich, dark turquoise; columns on columns, and in what perhaps had been monks’ cells on the left of that dramatic sweep up to the Cathedral: small boutiques selling the usual religious medals of the Virgin and liquors made by the monks; strange ingredients, arcane aromas; some tasting so lovely; so rich, so deliciously pungent; others with tastes that proclaimed: “I must be beneficial for you; why else would I taste so disgusting?”.

The Cathedral nestled comfortably in the lap of the great mountain rising behind it. We entered one of the twelve chapels, and then the church. In the last, we were met by a wave of heat, and the archaic smell of incense and expensive scents and candle wax and heat and noise.


There in the Lady Chapel, on a gilt column, gazing serenely into the space before her, stood the Blessed Virgin Mary, holding the Christ Child in loving arms. The Virgin was black, as was her Child. No pasty faced Northern European Madonna with flaxen hair, but a Black Madonna; her black marble face gazing benignly and calmly; seeming to say:

“Yes, this is the way it is. Behold and take Him as He is”.


The atmosphere in the church was stupefyingly different from any church I had visited in England or anywhere else. In a country where opera and beautiful singing is legendary… strident voices of the congregation at the Eucharist; the cacophony of the responses from the participants of the Mass. The noise of tourists and worshippers intermingling was disconcerting at first, but I seemed to be drawn into the stream of it so quickly. Everywhere was movement and colour; the sound of bells jangling; a crying child; the voice of the elderly priest; more bells.

I saw the old lady who had sat at the nearby table in the restaurant with her little family; she had exchanged the white damask table napkin from her neck and now wore a length of black lace over her white hair. She had settled herself on a bench beside several other elderly ladies, waiting patiently in turn to make her confession, while her family fretted at the end of the pew.

Another diner from the ristorante, the tall lady in the black dress with the coral pink Chanel jacket, stood at the side, with her back against a stone pillar, and bowed her head when the silver bell stridently rang during the Eucharist. Her carmine lips moved almost imperceptibly. Her gentleman friend appeared at the door momentarily, but as he started towards her, an expensively dressed middle-aged lady moved up to his side; laid her hand on his arm.

His former luncheon partner looked up briefly, he turned and then moved hastily towards the great door leading outside the church; taking the other lady’s arm through his.

Beside the Lady Chapel; a heavy cloth hanging from a curtain pole across a doorway; a young priest, as beautiful as any of the waiters in the restaurant, moved the heavy fabric aside, quickly entered, and as quickly returned.

When he had moved on, curiosity took hold of me; I also drew the curtain aside and looked within. A wave of heat, like that of an oven door opening, hit my face; my eyes watered. Behind the curtain was a room completely full of votive candles; on racks, on the floor, on the windowsills; each one fiercely burning and emitting so much heat and light. I dropped the curtain back in place.

We left the Cathedral, Oropa and the Sacred Mountain, returning to Pollone; my ears popping on the return drive.

Oropa - Santuario

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Comments 21 comments

Sunnie Day 5 years ago

Hello Ian,

Another wonderful adventure with great detail and flare.

This must be one visit that will be etched in your mind forever..it is amazing to say the least. Look forward to the fourth chapter.

Night night and sleep well my friend,

Sunnie


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

I's an amalgamation of several visits I paid to Pollone. I love Italy, and I think most of my foreign holidays have been spent there. I have never been south of Rome, but Florence, Venice, Rome, and of course Torino and Biella and Pollone.

Thanks for dropping by, and your support.

Good night,

Ian


A.A. Zavala profile image

A.A. Zavala 5 years ago from Texas

A black Madonna in Italy; I had no clue. Brilliant!


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

Thanks for coming, A.A.. Yes! It was an eye opener. I think it's an old concept. Fabulous area, though. I have been there in Winter and Summer, and I love it.

I hope you're still enjoying the writing.


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 5 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

Hello Twilight your writing really made this visit come to life. Your love of Italy flowed through your pen. You've done an excellent job taking us on this grand day in the hills of Italy.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

it is an amazing place to write about, Mck. It's when to restrain that is difficult. All the people and the countryside seem so much larger than life. Thank you for enjoying it. That;s what makes it right for us, doesn't it?


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 5 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

Italy is a majestic place full of beauty, dreams, history. Nothing I know of compares. I tell people to write, use Italy for the location, if they turn your writing into a film, you get a free trip.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

It is a magical place, and what I like is the attitude of the Italians if you try to speak their language, They never let you feel embarrassed... even if you admit to having eaten a little cat on the train.

I was, as far as I know, only the second person to enter Pollone who spoke English.


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 5 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

Sounds like you could relocate there and be perfectly happy.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

I could never drive in those narrow Italian streets. I am disabled and need to get everywhere by car. Hence I can never go to Venice again either, because there is no chance of getting anywhere except on foot.


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 5 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

I could see Venice being a BIG challenge for someone who lost the freedom of walking. Stairs everywhere, and steep bridges. Luckily you have been there and taken in the beauty.

I do recall the narrow streets, but I also recall the narrow cars. I took an international drivers license with me to Italy but found excuses not to drive.

Driving from Rome Airport I noted many, many cars with all four fenders dented.


Becky 5 years ago

Beautiful descriptions.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

Becky, If you do not belong to HP, how then will you find when something new has been "published"?


Becky 5 years ago

I look to see what is new.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

Great! I am glad you found me.

I'm in the middle of writing a "story" of a day in my life as a young boy... my output is small, but I like to produce the best of which I am capable.


Becky 5 years ago

I check on the people I read so I will find it. I will eventually read all of your work but it takes a while. I read one or two from several different writers a day.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

That's great to hear. It is so nice to know that what we put out gets an airing.


kallini2010 profile image

kallini2010 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

It is an amazing place. Black Madonna?

But mountains? Cathedral? Mountainous roads?

I have not been to Italy, but I have visited Spain, the city of Rondo - driving through the mountains is spectacular and scary at the same time.

And driving on narrow lanes? We did it in Portugal, only we HAD to deal with oncoming traffic - when I say "we" it means, Nikolai was driving and I was sitting beside him being really scared because the oncoming traffic happened to be a truck.

Ian, your style of writing is exquisite - I cannot write like that - for the deficiencies in my English vocabulary, when it comes to description of scenery and objects, I am powerless (speechless). And most of the time, I would not describe them anyway - I would go straight to my stories - as Augustine puts it - "you are crazy. Where do you meet those people?"

I think I have a propensity for creating "conversations", therefore stories.

Olga and Vladimir(o), do they have Russian heritage?


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

Thank you for that lovely complement. I will cherish that... exquisite, I like.

I don't know where Olga's name came from, because she was a northern Italian. In fact, I think she was Piedmontese. Maybe Olga is an Italian name... but I doubt it.

Vladimiro was Polish, and I was told while I was there, that he was a Polish Prince. I didn't ask them, as I am typically British, and "one just does no ask questions like that".

So by marriage, Olga would have been la Principessa Olga.

It worked for me, because, authentic or not, I could write her into the story from which I showed a few lines to you. I don't know if that story will ever be finished either, but is and several others are some of the reasons why I never get around to paying enough attention to hub pages.


kallini2010 profile image

kallini2010 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

You are very welcome, but it is true. I was explaining to MCK my latest predicament - I was told that when you are told the TRUTH, you are not supposed to say "Thank You".

Now, I thought, I have to make a decision every time whether whatever I am told is true or not. "You have beautiful eyes!" If I say "Thank you!" I acknowledge that it is not true, but only an effort to make me feel good (why would I if it is not true?), but keeping my silence I agree to the statement.

Complicated.

But, yes, it is true, your style is exquisite and you know it - you write beauty and I suspect it is the goal and not a side effect. I do write differently.

"Olga" is a Russian form, but the origin of the name is different, Scandinavian perhaps. The other non-Russian from is Helga.

"Vladimir" is a very Slavic name, as Slavic as it gets - it means "the one who owns/rules the world".

"mir" - this word you might actually know - it has double meaning - world & peace.

"svet" - world & light.

It amazes me that both meanings were put in one word in each case, but it shows mentality and perception. We think in words (more often than not) and words affect us - therefore the language we speak affects who we are.

You don't HAVE to pay attention to HP. Only if you want to...


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

Whereas an English a person would always acknowledge a compliment with a "Thank you".

What I love about Italian, is the double "thank you".

Che bel occhi! (What beautiful eyes)

Grazie. (Thank you)

Prego. (Literally: I pray... You're welcome)

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