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VOL. 37 | NO. 27 | Friday, July 05, 2013

Italian tour schedule rings a (really loud) bell

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BELLAGIO, ITALY – They don’t want you to nap too long in this town. Church bells ring about every seven and a-half minutes, starting at 7:30. Chiming and chiding, they seem to say, “You’ve slept long enough.” (Good thing I don’t believe in jet lag. Who needs that third hour of sleep anyway?)

Bellagio – “between the lakes,” a place beauty and romance, “the pearl of Lake Como,” home to the Villa Serbelloni, a grand 140-year-old hotel in which Susan and I find ourselves in the 40th year of our marriage.

We find ourselves also in the company of 17 of the world’s friendliest and most charming human beings, but that’s another story. (Organized by someone else, this journey required only that we show up. Now, to figure out how to get to bed further in advance of those bells.)

Out my window: mountains and water, archetypal energies without which life as we know it could not be sustained. Important stuff here in what Flip Wilson may have had in mind in his sketch about “Roman Herman roaming the outskirts of Rome.”

Italy, even the non-Roman part, is rich with history.

You’ve got Leonardo’s “Last Supper” on a wall in a Dominican convent in Milan, to which we travelled on Day 2. Well, it’s not actually on the wall. At 15 x 30 (feet, not inches), it is the wall. And it’s spectacular.

Also in Milan stands Teatro La Scala, the Duomo Cathedral and other noteworthy landmarks. Across Lake Como from Bellagio are other communities.

On Day 3, we hike a couple of miles to reach San Martino, a small church 475 meters above the lake in the village of Griante. Vistas of the pre-Alps are stunning.

Night 3 finds us in cooking school with Chef Luigi Gandola of Ristorante Salice Blu. This personable young man has won more culinary contests than I can shake a spatula at. He leads us in making pasta, gnocci, and tiramisu, on which we later dine.

Day 4 finds some of us at Villa Carlotta, in nearby Tremezzo. A paradisiacal botanical garden, with a museum-quality structure in the center, it’s packed with art, history, and politics. They trumpet that Kafka mentioned it in his diary.

Others on Day 4 are tooling about neighboring Lago Maggiori, where Hemingway wrote, and touring Isola Bella, an ostentatious estate that dwarfs Villa Carlotta with Baroque excesses of … everything.

At Villa Carlotta, the gifted and affable Valentina Ferrarin sells her artwork. Her exhibition is titled “Con-fusione,” a marvelous play on words in several languages, which Google nonetheless butchers in its translation: “With the merger.”

Susan and I liberate several Euros claiming some of her work. I tell her I appreciate the wordplay. We share a laugh.

Among the multi-lingual descriptions on plaques at Villa Carlotta is a note explaining why only the heads of three commissioned statues are on display: “They discovered the gallery was not height [sic] enough to host such a decoration and the project was stopped.”

This column must now be stopped. The bells have just reminded me that my deadline is nigh. And we’re about to leave for Portofino.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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