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A dear friend gave me for Christmas a children book titled Journey by Aaron Becker. It is a wordless story, exquisitely illustrated, of ‘a lonely girl who draws a magic door on her bedroom wall and through it escapes into a world of wonder and adventure’.

Opening new doors or, better still, keeping in Open Mode gets us used to being flexible, ready to take unexpected turns, recognizing opportunities and potentials for new ventures and endless play. (Watch John Cleese on Creativity

It was in the light of it that I reviewed my recent Journey to my old country over the New Year’s break.

I always preach people to pay attention to dreams and see where they take you, so I finally convinced my husband John to spend the break in the Alps because, in a dream I had many years ago, my grandmother Teresa had invited me to visit there, in winter.
As a child I had spent most of my summer holidays in the village high in the mountains with her, but never in winter. The dream told me I had to go, without many expectations other than fulfilling a promise.

On our arrival I was hoping to find a blanket of snow covering everything (as in the dream) but there was just a light dusting of it. To compensate though the frost had created a magical landscape of icicles, frozen pools adorned with complex designs and waterfalls edged by icy stalagmites. It was beautiful but still I wanted snow. My cousins assured me that the forecasts had promised it but in the meanwhile we had to endure days of brilliant sunshine.


We got more snow that we could take when, on a day trip, we took the Bernina Express into Switzerland (a Unesco World heritage site after two hours of gentle but steady climb we stepped out at the little station at 2,253m surrounded by a magnificent glacier. Alas! We had not snow rackets or skis (and none to be got there) and since there was no road that we could see we negotiated the walk up to the restaurant sinking knee high into the snow. We could not walk for any length of time but the fact of just being there, standing in all that whiteness, in that very special silence and pure, pure crystalline air was truly awesome as was the feeling of walking on the snow not knowing if with the next step you’d float or sink. It brought a childlike exhilaration that lasted until we returned home.


Back in the village the only one bar offered no distractions in the evenings, so we spent them all sitting around the kitchen table playing cards, young and not-so-young united in an old pastime that always brings out each person’s competitive streak and cheating skills.
While playing the reminiscence of time past started to flow in with childhood memories of many summer evenings spent in the same fashion, with grand aunties and uncles finally relaxing after a long day spent working outdoors. Children and adults would gather to play together for hours on end in the big warm uncle Stefano’s kitchen that smelled of wood, soup and cheese.With those moving memories many familiar but nearly forgotten faces came to my mind and of a time when life in these mountains was much harder and the stories of commute on the Bernina Express were ones of emigration rather than tourism.

2013 ended with a mega meal where a huge quantity of red meat was consumed – a sight that would have made a vegetarian faint on the spot. This was followed by the sampling of various alcoholic herb-based, hand-made drinks while we waited for 2014 to arrive amidst fireworks that illuminated the entire valley.

The following day we travelled over the Alpine passes, this time under heavy snow (which shows that it always snows when you don’t want it) making the journey slow and nerve-racking.

Many hours later my friend Graziano greeted us in his native Lasino where we arrived under torrential rain, which lasted for our entire stay.

Indoor-bound and with our dreams for cross country skiing shattered, we decided to make a short trip to the city of Trento to see what we could see.
There the unplanned–for visit to an exhibition titled Dragon’s Blood- Serpent’s Scales filled me with such awe that I truly thanked the rain for driving me into Buonconsiglio Castle, where the exhibition was housed.
I wandered for hours, from room to room beholding the most extensive, comprehensive and rich collection of artifacts on the theme of Medieval Bestiaries, of human’s fascination with the animal world, of monsters of many known legends and myths.
The theme of the exhibition was also visible on the castle’ walls in the form of frescoes and sculptures, enhanced by the spooky surroundings of a severe architectural style made of dark corridors, claustrophobic courtyards, narrow passages, creating an atmosphere that the damp, the cold and the rain turned into a perfect setting.
I returned to the mountains semi-frozen but happy.

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Like in my grandmother’s village also Lasino lacked any form of entertainment opportunities and I feared my husband would quickly get restless about it, but fortunately John is a lover of family histories and Graziano a wonderful storyteller. Through endless questioning we were soon brought into the fascinating world of family life in those mountains, of surviving the First World War that was bitterly fought on those very mountain ranges and of later years when as a child, Graziano spent much time in the company of his uncle, a forest ranger working in the region bordering with Austria. The love for nature he inherited motivated Graziano to become a ranger himself. Having retired form his job he has been writing short stories that he regularly sends to me to read. They are beautifully narrated by skilfully mixing the local dialects with Italian and with a subtle, refreshing humour.

The Journey ended in Venice where the task of looking for a place we could not find meant that we spent a pleasant afternoon wandering and getting lost in the narrow streets and along the canals of that magical city.

The Open Mode did serve me well as I found many treasures along the way and the fact that I didn’t even get an afternoon of skiing in the mountains only meant that we have an excuse to go back next winter!

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