Sunday, April 26, 2009

Great things are done when men and mountains meet. - William Blake

The EasyJet to Milan is always amusing, but yesterday’s smacked me into the middle of Italianland - the plane was full of tweens and teens clad in tight jeans, pointy shoes and gold belts. Their rapid-fire speech challenged my rudimentary Italian, but I got the gist of things (most were talking about Edinburgh shopping). And landing in Milan felt more familiar than landing anywhere else.

My friends Masa and Tamara picked me up, and as the Alps became visible on the horizon I felt the warming sensation of home. Perhaps that’s because I’ve spent more time in Lugano than anywhere else since I moved abroad eight years ago, and every time I see these glorious mountains I find myself truly relaxed. As we curled up the Collina d’Oro to the TASIS campus and the hilltop village of Montagnola, I had to pinch myself.

I last waved goodbye to Lugano in late July 2007, though a place like this is never far from my heart or my subconscious. I have dreams of Lugano a few times a month, always vivid and colorful (yes, I am certain I dream in color). I have this term I rarely use, sick beautiful, when a view is extraordinarily glorious, majestic, beyond what we mortals should ever see. This region of Italy and Switzerland resonates with me on a level that I don’t understand, but will continue to indulge, because I yearn for this place.

Returning somewhere familiar is both awkward and riveting. Small things - fresh paint on the facade of a house, a new signpost - become reminders that this place existed without me, and didn’t really miss my presence. Seeing old friends and colleagues last night was wonderful, though vetting strange looks from those who took my place tinged the atmosphere bittersweet. I’m sure it’s the first of many deliciously uncomfortable moments that lie ahead this week, as I become an interloper in a place I used to call ‘home’.

It’s raining today, but a soft, clear Ticino rain, so different to the Highland drizzle. Spring rain in Lugano freshens the landscape, enlivens the layers of bright, satiny greens. The magnolia trees are in bloom, fragrant wisteria clings to terraces, and the palm trees sport bright new leaves. The timing of this visit is deliberate; spring is when Lugano sings with renewal and wonder.
Earlier, I trotted across the road to the Pan au Vin, the tiny, extortionately-priced village shop with inconsistent hours and a grumpy manageress, and spent far too long drooling over the sparse but compelling selection. Even this tiny shop stocks the highest quality fresh pesto, jars of olives, sundried tomato paste and truffle risotto. I wasn’t the keenest of chefs when I lived here. Now that I’ve begun to enjoy the creative part of cuisine, I have a feeling much of my week will be spent browsing and salivating in markets and delis. The food of this region is among my favorite in the world.

A week of vacation here is a dream. Working here, I had to force myself to chill out and remember the view between commitments and grading papers and duties. Life becomes life no matter what the backdrop. But now, I’ve got a glorious week to fill with conversation, writing, savouring - falling back in love with this amazing place, on my terms. I’m a lucky lassie.


Erik R. said...

I love your writing style. Your excitement for the place is contagious.

One of the things I like about Spain, having come from the shopping center supermarket-only New World, is the pleasure of exploring the small local shops. Sure, there are local shops in the States with their own treasures, but somehow the Mediterranean lifestyle is more about the small shopkeeper. It saddens me to see the addictive Shopping Mall concept slowly taking hold here.

Sadly, Italy still remains unexperienced on my todo list of travels.

Jesse and James said...

Oooh...thanks for the trip down memory lane. I'm so glad that no matter how difficult the time could be there, that you can still look forward to it and find joy there. It's such a beautiful part of the world. Tell me more!

sarah said...

This is such a beautiful nostalgic piece.. and honestly written. I love 'life becomes life, no matter what the backdrop'. This is so true - I often have friends who say that it must be so exotic to live in foreign places (undoubtedly it is) but people always fall into the routine of work, friends, home = life :-) I've got to visit Italy one day as I am sure I will love it too!