Twilight In Italy, Lake Garda Tourism of The Future…

One hundred years ago, almost to the date, a man discovered Italy for the first time. At first attempting to walk across the Alps, before getting lost, giving up and ultimately arriving by boat over a lake to a small village, he eventually found himself in a land that was to inspire him for the rest of his days.

‘It was another world, the world of the eagle, the world of fierce abstraction. It was all clear, overwhelming sunshine, a platform hung in the light. Just below were the confused, tiled roofs of the village and beyond them the pale blue water, down below; and opposite, opposite my face and breast, the clear luminous snow of the mountain across the lake level with me apparently, though really much above.’

The man, on reaching Italy, was sick. Suffering from pneumonia, he had been chasing the sun for months, pursuing its life giving rays down from his native England throughout Europe. Following the advice of so many Victorian doctors, he was seeking warmer climes. This man later referred to this, his voluntary exile as his ‘savage pilgrimage’. But he was looking for more than just warmth. It is strangely cyclical that one hundred years prior to today he was fleeing what he saw as the dehumanising effects of modernity and industrialisation.

Gargnano, Lake Garda

A virtually lone voice in expressing anti-industrialisation sentiments, he spoke of and bemoaned factories in which he saw men as tigers chained to their machines, much as we might do of offices and computers today.

‘It is horrible to see machines hauled about by tigers’, he wrote of factories visited in England. ‘We have become inhuman and unable to help ourselves. We are but attributes of the great mechanised society, we have created our own way to perfection. And this great mechanised society being selfless, is pitiless. It works on mechanically and destroys us, it is our master and our God’.

On the shores of Lake Garda this man found more than just sunshine. He found himself transported back in time, surrounded by centuries old lemon groves. The village, Gargnano, the Northern most place in Europe capable of all year round lemon growth, had been doing so since legend had it, St Francis brought lemon trees with him on his travels in the 13th century.

Gargnano Lake Garda, Today

Now, the glory days gone,  literally hundreds of limonaie (lemon groves) stood like ghostly ruins all the way from the lake shores, high up into the steep hills above.

‘All summer long, upon the mountain slopes steep by the lake, stand the rows of naked pillars rising out of the green foliage like ruins of temples, white, square pillows of masonry, standing forlorn in their colonnades and squares, rising up the mountainsides here and there, as if they remained from some great race that had once worshipped there.’

These were the lemon groves of Gargnano, today one of the hidden, virtually unknown treasures with which Italy is so blessed and which I urge you to discover. Andrea, who has set up an appreciation society in honour of this man Il Comitato Per Gargano Storico, who first stepped ashore in his village a century ago, acted as my guide for the day.  He talked of how his ten man committee has plans for commemorating the sites this man visited during his roughly three month stay. Ultimately this authors’ experiences in Gargnano formed the basis for his book ‘Twilight in Italy’, by no means his most read, but a work still honoured and loved by all residents of this little Northern village, with so many references to their village and way of life that impressed its author so. Anyone who has done more than scratched the surface of Italian culture should find this a fascinating book with so many passages that could have been written yesterday.

‘His wife disappeared as if dismissed. We must drink…’ he writes after Signor Paoli comes with his wife to fix a door in the part of the house he has rented. ‘Cedro’ is brought out – limoncello, to you and I.

Hero of History, Andrea Creator of The Comitato Per Gargnano Storica

This week marks a small but significant step in the continued, re-vamped and much hoped for future appreciation of this author in Gargnano. The Comitato, headed be Andrea has organised a series of semniars, walks and exhibitions to commemorate, his arrival on Lake Garda exactly one hundred years on.

Also today only one man continues the tradition which once, before the 1860 unification of Italy flooded the Northern European market with cheap Sicilian lemons, brining about the slow decline described in Twilight in Italy, sustained an entire village. Aged 69, this ‘hero of history’ has painstakingly restored a limonaio where he irrigates lemontrees with the incredible 300 litres of water each tree requires every two or three days in traditional fashion. People come from as far as Austria to taste and buy the best limoncello I have tried anywhere in Italy – home made in his lounge, which now looks more like a distillery than a living space.

Beautiful Setting, Gargnano on Lake Garda

What will become of Gargnano and the legacy of this author, if people like this old man and Andrea stop caring? This, is the new tourism in my mind- small, local, but so very real. When our author died in 1930, comments were made, in reference to his most famous work, that he was little more than a pornographer who had wasted his talent. Thankfully, times have changed and popular opinion has since corrected itself, and it only takes a glimpse into the Italy of the past century to realise the genius of this man.

‘The terraces of the garden are held up to the sun, the sun falls upon them, they are like a vessel slanted up to catch the superb, heavy light. Within the walls we are remote, perfect, moving in heavy spring sunshine under the bony avenue of vines.’

At a distance of several hundred miles, yet still in an Italy where traces of its past continue to capture those, like myself, who take the time to discover them, I raise my glass to old man and Andrea and drink the final sips of the delicious lemon liquor from the bottle they presented me with at the end of my visit. When Andrea had to head back to the real world after our three hour stroll round Gargnano I had twenty minutes or so to wait for my bus, so…

‘I sat and looked at the lake. It was beautiful as paradise at the first creation.’
-D.H Lawrence, Twilight in Italy.

D H Lawrence

~ by 2ndcupoftea on September 18, 2012.

2 Responses to “Twilight In Italy, Lake Garda Tourism of The Future…”

  1. Brings back memories to another glass of limoncello. Hope you are enjoying life in Italy.

    • Thanks for reading Alex… Great to hear from you. Life in Italy is really wonderful. Happy once more and loving everything here. Come back anytime for all the limoncello you want. Hugs…

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