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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Borca di Cadore / Cortina

Why hello there!

OK, I'm lazy.

I was going to give you a recipe or something to go with this, but flicking through my diary thought you might benefit more from my notes about this treasure of the dolomites, including Eni Village, the famous skiing holiday resort that is Cortina (icy and pricey), as well as a short piece of "creative writing" by moi that may well transport you there.  I hope.


Borca di Cadore, Italy (in the World Heritage listed Dolamite Mountains just outside Cortina)

Good morning!  You find me propped up in a groovy sixties bed (with reclining vinyl headboard in yellow mounted on timber with little cupboards each side) in our little holiday chalet in the above locale.

We’re staying in an entire holiday village built by a petrol magnate Enrico Mattei in the late fifties and early sixties.  He ran “Eni petroleum”, and this village was a holiday getaway he built for his employees which fell into disrepair over the decades and is now being brought back.  The little house we’re in is one of the “originals”, built circa nineteen sixty and furnished by its current owner (who lives in Milan) in matching period furniture; what is known as mid-century modern.  The walls are timber, the ceiling too, held in place with little wooden pegs, there’s highlight colours of yellow paneling on the doors, groovy sixties furniture, a deer head on the wall, a fur on the couch, a fire place, and then some concrete walls, including small square windows that close with wooden shutters, that look like something from a battlement. Over the steep wooded valley on which it perches, there is a long and creaky wooden verandah.  It’s all very much a holiday home, relaxed and relaxing, informal, kind of temporary, a galley kitchen.  Sixties, and as such, slightly beginning to show the seven hundred signs of ageing.


On Thursday, as expected, we drove along the valley back toward Cortina, finding the turn off to the old ski jump you could see from the highway; “il tramoplino olympica”.  Who knew trampoline literally meant jump?  It was a neglected site, us the only people up there on the hillside, able to walk under the concrete structure, surrounded by forest.  People had dumped hard rubbish up there.  Standing under the launch, the old Olympic rings on the toe of the ramp with graffiti, the flags at the top of the run in tatters – half flags, and looking down to the old landing site far below, now a soccer pitch being mown by a man on a ride on mower.  The old stands to either side of the slope of the jump were in falling apart timber – very weathered with old signs bleached from age warning no entry as the materials were not safe.
Next, we went into Cortina proper, parking at the top of the hill near the bus station, a vending machine selling various medical goods, including vibrators as its first three items, in various colours and with different spurs.  At a vending machine…

‘Why would you sell vibrators from a vending machine?’
‘It’s a long bus ride…’

Walking down through indoor malls, down winding ways, toward the old cathedral in the town centre, arriving at a piazza and open walkway through the centre of town (restricted traffic access). Cortina is a famous get away for the rich and famous during winter, when it’s population explodes from four to fifty thousand.  It’s known for it’s beauty in the Dolomites, and has been termed “icy and pricey”, but at this time of year, late spring, it’s a virtual ghost town, with many of the luxury stores closed until the summer holidays start (mid-June).  We went to a pasticceria on the piazza looking at the Cathedral and the Cortina Hotel, and had a coffee (me an Americano, and – since the store did not have either of the first two pastries I ordered, I settled on a canola; excellent), a stroll around the town, motorcycle tourists whizzing around the one way system that borders the old town.  It was hot, about thirty degrees, and we had real trouble finding an open “co-op” – their supermarkets there – me having anxiety about where we would get food.  We returned to the chalet to watch the next stage of the Giro.
Anyway, late in the day we drove back to the next town (the supermarket and restaurant near our chalet both closed for holidays) and finally found a small co-op, where we bought eggs, pork chops, pasta, salad, orange juice, bread (end of the day, had to order it over a counter, and it was like the plague of locusts had been through since it was the only game in town) and the essential booze (red wine, grappa and beer for me); so I could relax, and made dinner for the girls.


Jane and I took a walk to the top of the mountain road where we were staying to photograph and do drawings of the permanent holiday camp – a private property with lots of signs saying no entry, and me being paranoid about being busted the whole time, not that there was anyone else much on the entire mountainside.  I hand wrote a piece on that afterwards which should capture it well.

A Disappearing Act

The hill. God, the hill. I stopped to get my breath and wasn’t even out of the driveway yet. Borca di Cadore. The pine trees reached for the sky, concrete retaining walls like Hitler’s bunker fortress holding back the hill.  A cuckoo, small birds, with pine needles under foot, those who’d gone before me stripping the ground, the roots forming more steps, on short cuts of the switch backs, cutting corners to keep my steps down.  Half way up there was a church, built in 1958 – a concrete monster with bells that swung in the breeze when there was no hand to move them, swinging listlessly.
I knew we shouldn’t be going up there.  There were signs along the way in Italian: ‘Restricted access for those with permission.’  The road began to deteriorate, pot holes in the tarmac filled with slender pine cones, under the wash of wind in the branches, the cry of a whistling kite overhead.
‘No person beyond this point’.  The road grew really steep here, and I took another shortcut across a switchback corner under the mottled light of the forest canopy.  We were now running officially on radio silence, listening ahead for a tell-tale cough, or the sound of a hammer or saw.  There hadn’t been a soul on the hike up the mountain side, empty holiday homes staring at us with blank glass eyes, dead pine branches from last Christmas stuffed into planter boxes.  Just the wind in the trees, the rhythmic chirp of small birds and the distant moan of the road far below us in the valley.
At the top of the road there was a gatehouse, abandoned, a boom gate that was raised.  ‘Private Property – No Entry.’  The gate was in security yellow, and there was a stilled yellow siren or flashing light over the sentry box, a derelict daring you to enter, a dead man threat. I stepped over the line, a concrete channel in the road, hoping they didn’t have motion detectors announcing our arrival. Knowing how it was shoulder season, and every store closed, too early for summer hikers.  My rational brain told me we were the only ones on the mountain, but my lizard brain was on high alert. Hide and seek, watch your angles of sight, don’t let movement give you away.  A plane passed overhead, probably a mile up, but I stood still under a pine tree, avoiding detection.
The permanent camp we were headed to was simple, elegant simplicity in itself.  The main building was for general recreation – a two and three storey concrete bunker with a vaulted ceiling and closed up battleship windows.
The cabins dotted up the hill were triangles; concrete pillars holding a square concrete slab off the ground for the base, a triangular front with a door in the middle, a small window over it – pitched with a steel frame, with identically coloured painted panels for each group of ten.  Blue on the first level, then white, red further up the slope and finally yellow cabins backing onto unconstrained forest, from which you expected a deer or antelope to appear at any second.  The cabins had small metal stairways, more like ladders really with rope ladders, going up the few feet to each door.  The rooves were pitched piles of overlaid rough hewn planks, with a steel cap to pin the whole thing together. Each cabin had a number one to ten, and the industrial supports were dressed with ramps of local stone.  There was enough of it about; giant boulders lobbed in their midst, crushed stone pathways that, in the silence, screamed every step I took, despite me pussy footing in my Adidas sneakers for all I was worth.
A yellow helicopter flew overhead and down the valley, breaking the tranquility.  Part of the Giro? An innocent fly by?
Then I heard them. Two motorcycles, accelerating and decelerating, climbing the hill toward us. I took position, watching the road below, feeling the old tension of hide and seek.  If they were coming for us, let them. I signaled to my partner to get behind me.  We could disappear around a triangle, a rock, a tree, make the steps when they were stuck to the road and we’d be gone.
So long as they didn’t hold the security gate.  Then we were busted.