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Tuesday, 10 February 2009

of Dante, the weather and rally driving

“Mars brings exhalations from Valdimagra,
Which is encircled with dark clouds;
And with impetuous and bitter storm”
(Dante, Inferno XXIV, 145-148)
I thinks Dante may have been talking about a war there, but this quote gives you a good idea of the weather here recently. One of those impetuous and bitter storms brought down our telephone line yet again at the weekend, delaying this post by a few days. There were a few sunny days, notably the last 4 days of January and yesterday, but other than that I’ve had a lot of time to read, so hence the Dante quote. I am currently reading the Divine Comedy (in English translation, mind), which is supposed to be one of the greatest works of literature from the Middle Ages.

This is another nice description of recent weather conditions:

“I was in the third circle [of hell], where it rains
Eternally, icily and implacably;
Weight and direction are invariable.

Great hailstones, muddy waters, mixed with snow,
Fall through the darkened air without respite”
(Dante – Inferno VI, 7-11)

Apparently ending up in the third circle of hell is the punishment for gluttony. Now I can’t remember being guilty of that. Maybe I had too many Christmas biscuits and I’m now punished for it! I feel like another nice quote:

“In that part of the year when the sun
Tempers her hair under Aquarius
And the nights are already giving way to the noon,

When the frost copies upon the ground
The picture of her pale sister the snow,
But the coldness of her pen does not last long;

The farmer who has nothing left in store,
Gets up and looks, and sees the countryside
White everywhere, and hits himself with rage;

Goes back to the house and grumbles round the place
Like a poor devil who doesn’t know what to do;
Then out again, and suddenly takes hope,

Seeing that the face of the world has changed
In next to no time, and he seizes his stick
And chases his young sheep out to pasture”
(Dante, Inferno XXIV, 1-15)

We are in the sign of Aquarius now, and I would have chased out my sheep yesterday if I had any, but would have gathered them in again today. Yesterday was pleasantly sunny and even quite warm during the day, so we decided to go out to Villa to prune the vines and chop some more firewood. As Susan has her classes in Brugnato on Sunday evenings, I had looked out a nice direct route to get there after working on the land. Villa lies up the Magra valley in the shadow of the almost 1,200 metre Monte Cornoviglio. Brugnato on the other hand lies up along the Vara valley, the Vara entering the Magra some 20 km downstream from Villa. So I thought there must be a shortcut over the mountains rather than driving down one valley and back up the other.

Now I knew from previous expeditions around these mountains that maps are rarely accurate. I also knew part of the route and I knew it to be a rough, narrow, bendy road littered with crater-like potholes. However the part I knew was sort of paved all the way and the road on from there looked on the map a better and straighter road. Little did I know! I hasten to add, we do not drive a 4-wheel drive vehicle, but a quite low-lying Honda Civic, front-wheel drive. As we climbed to near the peak of the above mentioned Monte Cornoviglio the paved road became a rough track through some woods. We carried on through narrower and narrower paths with huge boulders, fallen trees and other debris across it, which I only just managed to manoeuvre through.

Finally we glimpsed a couple of proper blue road signs through the trees: to the right Mulazzo 10km, to the left Rochetta Vara 15km. The latter was exactly on our route. Encouraged by the signs we thought things were bound to improve. However, the ‘road’ (note the use of inverted commas) became worse and worse. At this altitude there was still snow, which was melting into a slithery mud. The track narrowed to something like 4 feet, to the right some thorny shrubs, to the left a sheer drop of several hundred feet. I had to keep some speed up too, to make sure we weren’t going to be stuck in the mud. All that without proper grip underfoot. Just as well as we both are not too worried about heights! Miraculously we did come out the other end at again at the bosom of civilization. The car looked like we’d been through a rally. I shan’t try that route again by car.

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