Monday, July 1, 2013

Con Famiglia

Con famiglia…say it with a thick Italian accent if you can; it sounds infinitely more loving and welcoming.  The words were never said out loud last weekend, “Relax, you’re with family now,” (perhaps because we’re not actually related by blood), but I have felt them.  Liz and I have spent the last two days with Heidi and Fausto and their two children, Nikolai and Rafael, in their beautiful home in Trento, in Northern Italy. 

The story of how our families met is an interesting one, but to read it you’ll have to ask another time, as I want to focus on the present.  Suffice it to say our families are linked because of Heidi’s father and my grandmother and great uncle, and have kept in touch for at least 50 years now. 

Heidi will be quick to tell you that Trento is not much of a place to visit, but she’s selling her city short, as most people tend to do.  (Think a minute: how would you describe the city you’re from to someone from Europe? I bet you undersell it.)  Heidi and Fausto’s house is just outside of town, in an area called Vela, tucked up against the mountains, with vineyards directly below.  Their house is light and airy, with an excellent mix of old and new.  In the attic room that Liz and I share (Rafael’s room, judging by the Eminem backdrop on his computer and the strong scent of cologne lingering in the air), there are two skylights in the sloping ceilings, powered by remote control to open and close the blinds and the windows themselves.  Super cool.

On Saturday, after breakfast, we took the car up the mountains for a panoramic view of Trento and the rest of the valley.  Fausto took his bike.  We passed him on the way to the panorama, but as we stayed there enjoying a view before continuing, he was waiting for us at agritur Malga Brigolina, a small farm with beautiful views of the Alps and, in the distance, the snow-capped Dolomites. 
After savoring the view for a few long moments, we went into the café there and had yogurt with fresh fruit.  The yogurt was fresh made from the cows at the farm, and even without sugar it was perhaps the most delicious I’ve tasted. 

We stopped once more on our way down the mountain, at a bee farm (bee hivery?)  There the older Italian man in charge told us a bit about how they raise the bees (all in Italian, with Heidi translating) and showed us pictures of the life of the bees.  Pretty cool.

We came back to the spot of our panoramic vista and Rafael and Liz and I rode the cable car down the mountain for another perspective.  It was a short trip, yet enchanting.    

Then, after a walk around town with Nikolai and his friend Claudio, we returned to the house where Heidi had prepared pasta with homemade pesto, fresh ricotta, and fried cheese that had also been purchased at Malga Brigolina.  We ate too much.  Heidi’s is one of those homes where at every meal, if your plate is empty, it must mean you want more.  But the truth is, everything was so delicious I always did want more…I just couldn’t fit it all in. 

In the afternoon, we went into Trento and visited the town’s Duomo.  The cathedral is a beautiful medieval church.  Its huge vaulted ceilings, lacking the embellishments and art of St. Peter’s Basilica, are grandiose and in a way more beautiful.  They respect the age they bear, nod tribute to medieval times. 
Perhaps the best part of the church lies under the foundations, though.  There, there are the ruins of a much older Roman church.  And the best part—you are actually allowed to go down and visit it!  It felt like something out of the book Angels and Demons.  Even with everything in Italian and no English translation available, I was in awe of the history surrounding us. 

After some gelato, we thought to go to the castle where the Council of Trent decided the fate of the church so many years ago, but it was closed by that time.    So we returned to the car and headed to “the lake.”  (I was never told the name of it).  We enjoyed a beautiful view there, then went to Susa, the small town where Fausto is from.  Behind the house where he was born, there is a small cherry orchard that his sister still tends.  The cherries are in season now, and we wandered among the trees, trying the different varieties in the early evening sunlight. 
I mean, wow.  This is Italy!  The old house, in need of renovations but still beautiful, the cherry trees brimming with fruit, a perfect temperature…it was heavenly.  And the cherries…I am not sure any store-bought cherry will ever top the ones I ate in Susa.  So sweet, so juicy and firm.  They tasted divine.

After one more stop at the home of Fausto’s sister (where she and her son and daughter-in-law were moving a pile of firewood from the yard to the house to be stored for winter), we dropped Rafael off in town with a friend, and returned home.  Though we weren’t at all hungry, Heidi insisted that “surely, you will eat a little something.  Something light.”  We agreed, and she made us lemon chicken and salad…and though that might have been a light meal in itself, the portions made it quite filling. 

At almost eleven, we slipped off to bed, and immediately fell asleep under our skylight.  My cheeks hurt from the smile that had been in place all day.  With Heidi and Fausto and their family, Liz and I saw beautiful, beautiful sights, ate delicious foods, experienced a piece of true culture, and were wrapped in the love of “family.”  Though we’re only halfway through our great European adventure, I can confidently say that Trento has been my highlight so far. 

As always, pictures will be added when I return home and can take the time to upload them.  

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