October, 2010

Oct 10


The day had started badly. One where you have lots to do, not a lot of time in which to do it and the tools that you depend on to get the job done have turned their backs on you during the rush. For me this meant that my computer, who is beginning to get a few too many italian notions into his circuits, had decided that a strike was in order. By the time Gina opened my office door at 11 with the bags nearly packed and a itch to get into the hills, I was a danger to myself and others. Nothing was good, nothing was helpful, I didn’t want to do anything or see anyone and I certainly didn’t want to go walk around the mountains with a heavy bag on my back. But 20 minutes later there I stood, bag on my back, trekking poles in hand, mood only slightly abated since leaving the vicinity of that bucket of electrons (you backstabber).

But here is where I’ll stop moaning. No human can stand in the magnificence of the high mountains, trees in full autumn colors, with a clear blue sky overhead and feel sorry for themselves or angry for very long. With every passing step and every meter gained I felt better, clearer and happier. By the time we reached the first pass I had completely forgotten about work, computers and the outside world. All that mattered was that Gina had packed lovely panini, that we were exactly where we happened to be at that moment and that I could here the lovely tinkling of bells from around the necks of the goats that dotted the hillsides all around us.

Deep breaths all around…there that’s better isn’t it?

I do this more often than I would like to admit. Building myself into a frenzy over something that, with only the slightest perspective, reveals itself as completely insignificant. Hello, my name is Jeff, and I’m a rage machine.

From this first pass we traversed. And traversed and traversed and traversed. My legs, still wobbly from being laid up in bed with a cold earlier in the week began to tremble beneath each step. But each small ridge we approached, tromping up to peer over the edge at the next valley we’d be dropping into, each basin we traversed across and climbed out of, was childhood exploration at its best. Each view something completely new and unknown to both of us.

And then, all of the sudden, we reached the top of a small rise, uncharacteristically in the middle of a basin, and caught sight of our home for the night, Bivacco Ledù, bright red against the grey stone and brown grass. Like the other bivacco’s scattered around the hills here Ledù is perched high in the mountains, tucked in the crease between two high peaks. Nearly always open year round and nearly always functioning on a donation basis these shelters provide a simple, fun way to stay overnight in the hills without having to carry your tent and the rest of your kit. We’ve been amazed at how many of them exist here and how well cared for they are and Gina and I joke regularly that the extortionately high taxes we’ll be paying here in italy are really to help pay for all these bivaccos not Burlesconi’s lady friends. It makes you feel a little better about, if only for a moment.

Until arriving at the bivacco we hadn’t really placed the strange feeling that both of us had felt the entire day. But as we stood there, sun sinking over the mountains, staring down at a sea of clouds blanketing the bottom of the valley below us we realized what it was, there was no wind. None, not a single breath of wind. Neither of us could remember the last time we’d been in the mountains with absolute calm. It was beautiful. Made all the  more beautiful to be sharing it with my wife and knowing that we were the only humans around to witness this view and this calm.








Oct 10

Open House

A few weeks ago, my little sister was here for a visit and we got talking about the idea of communal living versus that of individuals or couples living “alone”, separate from the extended family/friend network that used to be the norm. For example in Italy, until quite recently really, it was common to have multiple generations of a family living in the one building. This obviously has both pros and cons, but the overall idea was that extended family members lived together supporting one another, if also at times driving each other mental.

Lucia suggested that the current norm of “isolated” living in the West puts a lot of pressure on a couple. That quite simply put: 2 is not enough. That it is, perhaps, not how we are “wired” to live.

I initially dismissed this as exaggerated hippy talk. I thought, in a wise older-sister-voice, “Maybe you’re just not at that stage yet Lucia, but one day you too will want to live alone with your partner in your own place”. And then I took a closer look.

In Blacksburg, USA, where we used to live, Jeff and I had dinner with friends multiple times a week either in our apartment or theirs. Unannounced drop-by visits from friends were the norm. We lived “alone” together, Jeff & I, but were really a part of a close network of people.

Now in Italy we are already busy creating a web of new friends around ourselves. Sharing meals, pilates lessons, and days in the mountains. Also, since June we have had a total of 16 friends/family members to stay with us for anything from one night to a week, coming from America, Ireland and the UK. We obviously like having an ‘open house’. It seems that, in a way, we are trying to create our own type of modern ‘commune’ existence. Apparently we understand the importance of it, even if I’m ready to argue that fact with my little sister.

Every visit has been special. Every guest has left their mark in our home. Sitting alone in the kitchen typing this post I can imagine and almost sense every friend/sibling that has joined us in our lives here so far. Preparing dinner together, making a pot of tea, washing the dishes… The busy readying before heading up hiking in the mountains. It doesn’t just feel like they have visited us, but rather they have lived here for a while, and will be back again soon.

They will be welcomed home 🙂