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Posts Tagged ‘Mont Blanc’

L’Ultima Pizza

I chose the title for this post a couple of evenings ago in Levanto when I came to the somewhat melancholy realization that I was about to enjoy my last Italian pizza for some time to come. Thanks to a general strike in France this turned out not to be the case after all, but before I get to that let me back up a bit since I’ve covered a lot of ground since my last post.

Incredibly as I write this it’s only been a week since I bid farewell to my fellow Tour du Mont Blanc hikers in Geneva airport. The tour, which was an extended 10-day version of the same one I hiked last June, was magnificent: on every day but our last we had clear weather to enjoy the spectacular views of the Mont Blanc range, and while I very much enjoyed the largely fogbound June tour, I am pleased that I now actually have a sense of the geography we covered. Although the alpine flowers were mostly finished, the blueberries and raspberries were out in force, so much so that some days I had to discipline myself to take at least 10 steps before stopping to grab another handful.

mmmmm.... berries....

From Geneva I took a flight to Rome, from where I caught a series of trains and buses to Tarquinia, about 100 km to the northwest, to see the Etruscan necropolis and in particular the Tomb of the Leopards painted around 470 BC, which I wrote a paper on nearly two decades ago for an undergrad art history class. Mission accomplished, from Tarquinia I travelled along the coast by train to spend a couple of days in Levanto, a Ligurian beach resort town just north of the Cinque Terre that I visited a few times earlier this year while based in Torino.

From Levanto the easiest way back to Chamonix would have been via Torino, but I decided that I would rather cover some new ground during my last week before returning to Canada (a bit of a recon mission for my next trip here), so I chose a train route via the Cote d’Azur that added about 8 hours to the journey. Thanks to Jean-Marc, our guide on the Tour du Mont Blanc and also an avid reader who lent me a book from his library and gave me plenty more recommendations, I’m enjoying another fiction binge so the time spent on trains goes by quickly between the mostly gorgeous scenery and a stack of contemporary French novels.

Which brings me to The Last Pizza (4 formaggi, incidentally), which turned out not to be the last pizza, because on arriving at Ventimiglia on the Italian-French border I learned that due to a strike in France my connecting trains to Monaco and onward to Nice were canceled until the next morning. Determined to make the best of a warm and sunny afternoon on the Mediterranean I checked into the first hotel I could find, paused long enough for a gelato (yes, I finally seem to have found some new gelato capacity), then changed into my swimsuit and headed for the beach. Next – you guessed it – I went for a pizza dinner (prosciutto e funghi).

Since the first hotel I could find was the kind of place that provides a can of Raid on the night table I didn’t waste any time the next morning and caught the first train to Monaco. By 10 am I was enjoying a beautiful day in Nice, a city I wasn’t sure I’d like, but that I found quite charming, like walking around in a Matisse painting. I spent the better part of today travelling by train to Annecy, a very different city but also charming and a possible future Winter Olympics host, where I’ll spend the night and most of tomorrow before taking the much shorter train ride from here back to Chamonix…. where I’ll spend my last two nights before heading back to Geneva to catch a flight to Bangkok … and from there to Hong Kong … and from there to Vancouver ….

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“Are you fucking kidding me?” said a rather unsympathetic inner voice. “You’re in Italy. I-TA-LY.” Even the most independent of free spirits have been known to develop attachments under the right circumstances, so I hope I’m not destroying my image by confessing now that back in April when I woke up my first morning in Torino, I so missed Bhutan that the first thing I did was burst into tears. “Wine. Food. Art. The Mediterranean. Italian. Italians!” the voice went on as I sniffled my way through a cup of Tsheringma tea, then through unpacking and decorating my apartment with the few random objects I had to work with: a birdman keychain that was a gift from Pato on Rapa Nui, a decade old photo of my friend Bobbi and me sitting on a log somewhere in the British Columbia rain forest, the photo of His Majesty the Fifth Druk Gyalpo that Principal Abbot Thinley had given me at Talo (sniff), the prayer wheel from Sonam (sniff), a wheel of life fridge magnet (sniff sniff sniff)… A text message came in from Marco with an address for yet another pasticerria. I wished I had some yak cheese and that Tshe Tshe was there to talk to. “GO OUTSIDE AND FALL IN LOVE WITH THIS PLACE” the voice commanded.

And, well, that’s pretty much what I did. After all, Torino and Italy are pretty lovable.

That said, Bhutan carries a certain quality of energy for me that I’ve only encountered fleetingly and in much less intensity in Italy, and I’d resigned myself to waiting until my next trip back in August to fully experience it again. Or at least that was the case until last week when I finally got right into the Alps instead of just appreciating them from a distance. There were no curious monklets to keep me company (or to whack me over the head with wooden phalluses), no babies offering me betel nut, no farmers inviting us in for butter tea and arra, no tsechu dances. There were however bonjours and buon giornos, ibex, moobex (a term coined by one of the other trip members, AJ – pronounced “ah zhee” en fran├žais), grassy meadows, snowy passes, alpine flowers, treeless scree slopes that reminded me of Baffin Island, waterfalls, rushing streams, wines, cheeses, terrines, quietness, and somewhere in all of that, a supply of the spirit I had been missing. I didn’t even care that weather and snow conditions forced us to cut one of our afternoons short, or that the spectacular panoramas which are the signature of the Tour du Mont Blanc were hidden behind fog and clouds for most of our six days of hiking. Breathtaking though they are I am sure, in their presence I imagine one might too easily overlook all the other life around: water droplets on petals, birdsongs, iridescent insects, no less magnificent or deserving of admiration because of their smallness.

I literally dragged my feet on the last day of our trip I was so reluctant to come back to town, but was quickly cheered up by the emails from Sonam and Tshe Tshe waiting in my inbox, a reminder of more good things to come. A little wistful boarding the bus back to Aosta but nonetheless refreshed and satiated, I beamed out a bear hug of thanks to the big old white mountain with its spirit that unlike Bhutan’s, did not strike me with the invigorating assault of a thunderous waterfall, but with something more like the caress of a gentle, steady rain. A powerful, but comfortable energy, the kind that could make a place a home….

Que la vie est belle.

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