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The Well in Pollone Chapter Four
Isola Bella on Lago Maggiore
We didn’t dine in expensive restaurants exclusively.
One evening, Olga drove us to a village on the edge of Lago Maggiore. We entered a piazza in the centre of the village. The piazza was surrounded on four sides by four or five-storied houses and apartments. Leaving the car outside the piazza in one of the roads leading to the village, we walked through an archway to climb a set of stairs to the second floor where we found little tables laid out with cloths and simple breads and fruits.
The waiter came to our table and Olga ordered Berlina Birra. When the beer arrived at the table it was in huge glasses that looked like fishbowls on stems. The beer was strawberry flavoured and the prettiest pink, through which the candles on the table shone so charmingly. The lighting so created, as if we were in a bordello. They gave a captivating and intimate effect. We ate carne secca (basically dried meat), and drank the Berlina Birra, which may have looked innocuous, but certainly wasn’t weak.
The entertainment of the evening was stunning, and initially, frightening.
Our table overlooked the piazza several metres below; we, looking down between the pillars of brick arches. Suddenly, Olga pointed upwards towards the arches on the top floors. A tightrope had been stretched from one side of the arched balconies above the piazza to the opposite side; many metres from the brick and paving of the piazza.
A bicyclist started to ride from one end of that stretched rope to the other, to the accompaniment of music from here and there; a little band, which we could not see from our position; an accordion or two and the sounds of singing and clapping and shouting from below and from the galleried cafés and apartments and the upper widows of the houses.
It was such a spectacle, and, I thought, fascinating enough. Then with loud reports that echoed across from side to side of the galleried brick walls and flashes of light, fireworks exploded high above us in the night sky. The cyclist on the high wire, meanwhile, appearing to be alarmed and to lose his balance, commenced to jerk backwards and forwards on the wire, with every appearance of being about to crash to the ground below. All an act, but very convincing. My heart was in my mouth at his exploits.
More shouts of, “Bravo!” and laughter and all the usual “Oohs!” and “Aahs!” The audience applauded; everyone, including the diners at the little tables, the waiters; everybody joined in. It was such a wonderful atmosphere.
La Chiesa (The Church) - Pollone
On another evening, I and Olga had just arrived from la passagiata in the early evening. We had walked up the hill towards the church, a lovely little Romanesque building; flush with the road. We were walking along quietly battling through our lack of a common language, when I put my fingers to my lips; gently to indicate that I needed silence momentarily.
“Scusi!” I said.
I had heard a faint squeaking noise which I had heard several times during that evening. Olga immediately stopped talking and we both listened. She shook her head and stuck out ehr lower lip; indicating that she hadn't heard anything. The noise became more pronounced. It was a clear as a bell, yet I couldn't decide where it was coming from. Then I looked up, and around the electric street light, suspended high above the road along which we were walking, I could make out; sweeping and curving gracefully in the air; so rapidly darting around; scooping up moths and infinitesimally small insects, were several bats.
I pointed at them and Olga said, “Pipistrelli!” acknowledging that she had seen the little bats swooping around the light, but then she said, “Ma, come? (But how?)” pointing to her ears and then to mine.
I would have loved to have told her that I have always been able to hear the cry of a bat, which many believe is a sound that cannot be heard by the human ear. But constructing a sentence to explain all that would have been beyond my capabilities. How I would love to have told her how I had heard a baby bat calling when I was at a sports day when my public school and four other boys’ public schools had their annual Interschool Sports Day. Between fifteen hundred and two thousand boys can make a hell of a lot of noise, but I heard that baby bat over that racket.
At the end of the Interschool Sports Day, I found the little chap, where he had fallen from among the rafters of the roof of the grandstand and took him home… but as with all happy endings, this one ended sadly, and he died the next day.
Should I have left him there for his mother to retrieve him? Do mother bats retrieve their fallen babies? I wonder.
So we arrived home to be met by at least a dozen of our friends who had decided that they wanted to go to have a meal; and the meal was to be in a village on the other side of the valley. We were going to Sordevolo where I was told that the gnocchi and risotto they prepared were possibly the best in all of Italy.
No! It was definitely the best in all Italy; and therefore the best in the whole of the known world.
So we all loaded ourselves into several cars and there were also a few Vespas and we drove for almost an hour until we arrived in a very small village. In the middle of a very ordinary street with the most harsh lighting, there stood an open doorway, leading into one of the most unprepossessing little osteria or excuse for not even a trattoria (which is lower down in the pecking order than a ristorante) that I had seen for a while.
An osteria survives on good food and the attitude that the owner is more the host; rather than the more elegant or grand atmosphere in a ristorante.
Polenta e coniglio - Polenta and rabbit
Had we come to the wrong place? Obviously not, because there were calls of “Ecolo!” and a good deal of laughter and calling for the cook. And then the cook appeared. He spoke with his group of customers for a while and then showed us into the “restaurant”. The tables were old, metal legged, plastic topped. Some had plastic cloths; others were bare; some had real cotton cloths.
A waiter (a brother or uncle, I assumed; or perhaps another customer) brought some wine and we made do with that… and we waited.
Then the gnocchi, the polenta and the risotto appeared, and I can say honestly that I have never tasted anything so remarkably delicious. The risotto that we had eaten at the expensive Ristorante d’Oropa was lovely, but it certainly was no better than this.
After the meal, I walked out into the little road that led from that open door, and was breathing in the wonderful night air. Above me, circling the harsh street light which cast such a bright and ugly light across the road, were moths and little pipistrelli, diving and swooping, scooping up the little moths in their flight. Those pipistrelli having eaten in Sordevolo as had I.
I hope they enjoyed their meal as much as I had.
Please take the time to read the rest of this story... all five chapters are linked below.
- The Well in Pollone Chapter One
In northern Italy there is a province known to the world as Piedmont. It is an area that for centuries has been invaded by Romans, Burgundians and Goths. It has been annexed and reinvaded by Byzantines, Lombards and Franks. Magyars and the Saracens c
- The Well in Pollone: Chapter Two
Eventually we reached Pollone, and I was not disappointed. It was a charming village, and everything nice that Umberto had said about it had fulfilled all my expectations. We drove at speed through the little lanes and along the wider roads and then
- 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
- The Well in Pollone Chapter Four
Not all meals were in expensive restaurants. One evening, Olga drove us to a village on the edge of Lago Maggiore. We entered a piazza in the centre of the village. The piazza was surrounded on four sides by four or five storied houses and apartments
- The Well in Pollone Chapter Five
But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. Days stretched into almost two weeks, and I had to return to London far too soon. I had enjoyed myself enormously. On the day before I was due to leave, I was about to take one of my last breakfa