By Carol Faenzi
Siamo Arrivati (We have arrived)
26 Febbraio – Venerdi
The Autostrada A1 – Milano per Venezia
Grey fog, drizzle and brief interludes of clearing skies surround our silver Micra rental car, every square inch of real estate within filled with body and “bagali”….sleepy and hungry, we miss the first AutoGrill, the excellent fast food nation of Italia, but look for the next big “A”, slowing our speed on to the ramp as a sign, and only one, announces its location.
(Italians give you either one sign or one thousand to direct you to places as we experience many other times this day.)
The foamy cappuccino opens our eyes and senses. The speed at which it is served and the comfort it offers satisfies completely and one has to wonder why Delta aka Alitalia cannot make coffee stronger than bland dishwater. The three panini we order in wax paper is a blend of melted ingredients that says, “si, this is fast food, but is so Italian and so very good” – prosciuitto di parma, rucola, mozzarella di bufala. We again wonder why can’t the USA manage to make anything close to this along the interstate system? Viva l’AutoGrill!
We make our way back on to the autostrada and industry is all around us with a grandissimo “I”. There is no way to number how many factories we pass emblazoned proudly with the Italian giants of industry – great and mostly monstrous monuments to the north’s industrial legacy. “This is the Italy that is hard at work!” it reminds us.
This goes on for many kilometri and we begin to wonder when we will see Bella Italia. Glimpses poke through the landscape, ancient ruins of things long forgotten or looked after but beautiful reminders of life before BMWs and Audis could cruise at 200 kmph and before huge semis from all over Europe charged through the countryside. These shambles stand witness like ancestors to a distant past. We look at them and our hearts go out to them past the glass and steel facades of modern business, blurring them in our vision.
As we drive past Brescia, I see the expansive vineyards of Franciacorta. My plane companion from Atlanta to Milano, Mauro, is the international sales manager for Franciacorta. (He fell in love with and married the owner’s daughter, assuring also his livelihood, a not unusual thing to happen in Italy to keep the business in the family and I briefly fantasized that I will fall in love with the hotel owner’s son and live happily in Italy for the rest of my life.)
Bella Italia begins to emerge and the incredible curvature of the town of Soave is distant against hills yet unmistakeable. The walls of Soave look to me like a slice of honeydew melon turned downwards.
We fly by Verona prompting brief thoughts of Romeo, Juliet and grand opera. I would love to see Aida performed in the grand arena, elephants and all. As they say here, la prossima volta, next time.
We come next to Vicenza and Palladio whispers to us…I answer, yes, Andrea, we will see you at your villa this weekend.
The sighs now come deeply and frequently as we make turns through Bassano del Grappa. It is a stunning place and we find ourselves on roundabouts one after the other, again at the mercy of the Italian signage system. We search in vain for “Asolo”, the next town of any size and where Paderna del Grappa will be found in between.
We fly through the streets, impatient Italians in Fiats bearing down on us, but Carol in sure command of our vessel and her instincts on where to turn give us wonderful encounters with terraced villas. We find the place where someone in charge of signage thought, “oh, we should probably include Asolo in this bunch of signs to help those poor lost people who are trying to drive and read maps at the same time.” Grazie!
It is still grey and drizzling, but we are enamored with what is on land at the moment, not the sky. Every curve in the road is lined with le belle case, grande e piccole (beautiful houses, great and small), i negozi (shops) full of ceramics, pastries and furniture, i ristoranti , menus and tables spilling out on to sidewalks, cafes ready to serve espresso on a moment’s desire, the Italian moda di vita and we are ready to plunge in.
We pass the Aldo Bernardi commune, the red shutters standing out from the mostly brown and green that adorn other places. We arrive at our albergo, San Giacomo suddenly, and on a dime. Paderna del Grappa does not show up on a map, so we are here, now.
We check in and rest for a few hours, che divina to sleep for a while. My room is 110 and fortunately the window opens up looking on to the mountains. The patches of fog that move over and around the snowy top are like veils and as the sky clears, the clouds become puffy and seem to both absorb and reflect light I take a series of photos as the sky changes and sleep in between.
We sit outside the hotel bar as it is mild in the chill of the night. We open our first bottle of prosecco, wine that is part of the local agriculture, as we recall moments of our day’s journey. The chill of the wine and its bubbles match the coldness of the air, and the result is warmth and pleasure.
It is seven, late enough to go to the nearby pizzeria. The sky is now clear and we walk the short distance under an almost full moon. It seems Carol and Aak have enjoyed this place before and it is comforting to see the same people working there as the last time. It seems there are 100 types of pizza on the menu. Carol and I crave ricotta and ask for it to be added to the Compagna – pomodori, bufala di mozzarella e basilico. Aak orders the Quattro Stagione and the four seasons arrive in the form of prosciutto crudo, funghi, artichokes (carciofi) and black olives. We share the large but thin slices of heaven until the plates are clean, enjoyed with a bottle of local cabernet. We started the meal with an insalata di rucola, their tiny sprouts very strong and sweet and we ate a huge bowl of it, agreeing that it has to be the best leaf on earth. Tutto buonissimo.
A second wave of fatigue comes over us in our sated condition and we walk back to San Giacomo. The stars are bright now and we discuss Italian movies. The moon reminds us of Moonstruck.
Guarda la luna!