Diving In

Lake Diaries – Day 2

Ella’s Watercolours

Today we are off to the Eastern shore of lake Como, first stop Lecco where I intend to visit the Stamperia Stampe Antiche in search of old prints with views of the lake. The shop is in the heart of the old city, just behind the piazza. As I enter I warn my cousins that I will be here for at least half an hour, so they decide to join me intrigued by the pleasant look and feel of the place, which is covered by framed prints of all kind.

Signor Donato, a handsome grey-haired, impeccably dressed gentleman, is chuffed when I tell him that I came across his site on the web, of how for a long time I have been looking for particular paintings of the lake and was finally rewarded when on his site I came across the work of Ella Mary Du Cane. (See September 12, 2012 entry). And here they are now the lithographic reproductions of the originals, more numerous that I had thought and not too expensive. After much thinking and shortlisting I choose four which signor Donato lovingly puts in a special folder, each one of them with their own certificate.

In the shop there are other prints by different artists on the same subject, but Ella’s ones are exactly what I was looking for. She has captured the light and the atmosphere perfectly with a skillful and sensitive hand. In her pictures I admire the compositions, the curiosity and wonder of a foreigner eye that immediately recognize simple but arresting beauty. With our precious folders under our arms we say goodbye and return to the car heading north.

Forget the camera!

The roads along the lake are very busy, very narrow and full of bends due to the steep mountains that surround it, however the views are simply breathtaking. There is virtually no parking space on either side of the road we are on, so when my cousin Vanda orders her sister Denise to stop “wherever she can” I wonder what that entails. We are coming on view of the village of Varenna and apparently we must take a picture of it from afar.

Denise parks wherever she can and obediently I get out of the car, risk my life crossing the road, choose the right spot and angle and… the camera doesn’t work! The night before I forgot to charge the battery and now, free for once from having to mediate every experience through the lenses, I can relax and just dive in. I nominate Vanda our official photographer since she has her small Canon with her and onward we go.

Varenna is a small, stunningly beautiful village with the typical blend of villas with gardens, modest romanesque churches and ordinary houses that are built, seemingly on top of each other in an apparent chaotic fashion. We walk through the narrow streets free of traffic and with only a few souvenir shops, down to the lake shore and sit on a bench to admire the vista in silence. There is no need for words. Only later my cousins comment on the fact that, although they have been driving by this place hundreds of times, they never suspected that such a place existed.

Varenna – A side street


The First Crossing

Vanda suggests that we take the ferry over to Bellagio and from there back to Como rather then driving back the same way. We think it’s a great idea since the sky is still blue, the weather warm and it is only early afternoon.

During the crossing I stand at the front of the ferry and take in the view, though I cannot make up my mind where to look. I keep turning round to see lovely Varenna float away in the distance and then forward to greet opulent Bellagio with its numerous grand hotels and promenade planted with oleanders and limes. Left and right on either side of the ferry the lake spreads out crowned by mountains that seem to embrace and protect it. The air is clear, everything is crystalline and pure and the sun is reflected in the lake in a myriad of sparkles.

I may sound corny or excessively romantic in this description but who cares? Looking at others’ people faces who, like me keep turning around I catch the same expression of semi-incredulity : is this place real or am I in the middle of a dream? Both I think.

Bellagio to Torno to Como

Unlike Varenna Bellagio is swamped by cars, tourists and souvenir shops. We try unsuccessfully to find a parking space so we decide to drive on until we reach the village of Torno where we stop to do three things in the following order: to visit the church of San Giovanni, to eat an ice cream and to see the piazza.

We manage to see the beautiful church just before they close it. We spend a good amount of time in the piazza and in the Bar Italia where my cousins meet an old colleague of theirs, but we are unable to find the gelateria that was sign posted at the top of the village. It’s only as we drive away that we see the ice cream shop right there on the side of the road with no space for parking.

Torno – The harbor, in an old postcard

Church of San Giovanni – Torno

Torno – The harbor and the piazza