The land beneath the mountains.

That’s the name of my region. The land at the feet of the mountains.
Click on the photo to open the panorama

In my region, topography is binary. Clear cut. It’s either flat, or mountainous. No middle ground, no rolling hills. Round where I’m from, it’s often less than 12 miles from where the rice paddies stand, smooth and levelled with the aid of lasers, and the 9000-footers where steinbocks jump from rock to rock and fight with each other. Rocky façades rise up unexpectedly, as if they’d forgotten something home and had jolted up to go and fetch it.
Clear, cold winter days are my favourite; that’s a bad thing, because they’re so damn rare over here. But today is one such day.
Click on any of the photos to start the slideshow.
At 3 PM in this season the sun is already low, casting lights between, rather than above, the woods and fields. Long shadows play between the trunks and nature, caught in the stasis of winter, glows golden in the dying light. Specks of snow from the storm of a couple of days ago still glint from the shades.

Above us, the vertical walls of the Alps beckon; above them all towers the Monte Rosa massif, its fourteeners looking positively Himalayan, plumes of powder being blown off the ridges by the wind. Must be snowing in Switzerland.

Today is my favourite kind of day and I’m heading back to the airport. My normal route would be leading me far from where I am at the moment, cruising on the motorway to the south, the mountains hiding in the rear-view mirror behind me. Instead, today I’ve taken the smaller provincial roads, the slow route, past villages I haven’t driven through in five, ten years. I’m damn glad I’m doing that, for the mountains are just to my left; the road all but hugs them.

The drive back to the airport used to be rather gloomy, filled with the dreading expectation of a flight, a long wait at immigration and a commute into a dark, damp city, to an empty flat and emptier fridge. I’d drive listening to music and reminiscing of the times I’d driven on that particular road, at those carefree times, or so they seem today. I’d be thinking at what could’ve happened had I not left, had I not chosen the path I did. But today I’m not reminiscing.

I’ve been upbeat all weekend and I’m still upbeat now. I’ve got loads of time before the plane, a car and the freedom to stop wherever I fancy, to get down on the ice and take photos of the mighty Rosa massif. A factory car park might do the trick, and so might the empty lot before a supermarket, or the bit of scrubland before the fence ringing a flooded quarry. In fact, they all do.

My region isn’t a tourist hotspot, but to me she – for yes, she’s a lady – is pretty, I think as I stand knee-deep in the dry, frozen scrubs next to the fence, wind blowing in my ears the sequential quacking of dozens of geese flapping about above the waters. Biella, Pray, Piedicavallo, Massazza, Masserano, Candelo, Quittengo and many more names. I might no longer live there, I might never do and, let’s face it, in some cases I’m damn glad I don’t, but they are, and always will be, “where I’m from”, I think with a smile.
Yes, it’s got to be snowing in Switzerland.

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13 Responses to The land beneath the mountains.

  1. richandalice says:

    I can see that Alice and I are going to have to visit you at your birthplace.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. J.D. Riso says:

    Only in Italy would this not be considered a tourist hotspot. Those mountains are spectacular. It’s always interesting going home. Seeing the changes (or stasis) in people and places. It’s impossible to not wonder what things would be like if you had stayed behind. It gets more surreal as time passes.

    Liked by 2 people

    • awtytravels says:

      Hiya Julie, I’ve to say I chose the spots sort of carefully. You’ve been spared the sight of the endless theory of factories, new concrete boxes being built when old ones are rotting away empty, ungainly 1970s condominiums, gigantic overpasses, disused nuclear power stations and, dulcis in fundo, a refinery. Piemonte isn’t as sexy as I made it look like.
      Agree on how surreal it seems, but I’d also say it’s surprising how little seems to have changed, or how people are actually getting on with their lives pretty much alright, without you. Sounds selfish I know but…


  3. lexklein says:

    I never really thought about the etymology of Piedmont, but now it’s forever in my brain! I passed up a hike around Monte Rosa one year, and I’ve always been sorry I did. My “where I’m from” is similar in many ways – naturally beautiful but victim of a long, slow decline that means many of the people I knew have left for greener pastures. I’ll never stop going back, though; it’s in my blood.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Dave Ply says:

    I’m not sure I could properly answer “where I’m from”. While I didn’t grow up here, I’ve spent 2/3rds of my life in Oregon – it feels like home. But when I do go back to the town in Minnesota where I spent most of my school years it’s nearly unrecognizable – so much new development. In any case, I certainly can’t point at the Alps with a nonchalant air and say, “that’s my old stomping grounds.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      That’s interesting, Dave. I’m assuming your town in Minnesota doesn’t have a clearly recognisable natural reference point, right? But I suppose it’s not important where you were born, but where you “feel” at home.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I turn south much too early to pass by your mountains but have just done the long slow passing from Slovenia back home to Italy (how did calling it that happen?). It lasted almost 12 hours instead of usual 7 to 8, but it only clogged after Firenze. Everybody wanted to be in Rome for Christmas. There were other mountains to observe and say goodbye to. I’m certain that topography shapes our characters. In Slovenia we have all sorts of landscapes and people act according to it. Those surrounded by Alps tend to be frugal, matter-of-fact, without sense of humour and prosaic. Seeing your landscape makes me doubt that. 🙂

    In case you wonder, I’m from the capital in the basin hole. 😀 The only way to get along with a romano. 😉

    And a song since you brought it up. We are indeed from somewhere and to return is to step into all sorts of shoes all over again:

    Liked by 1 person

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