In Tirano I felt as much at home as anywhere. Gennaro and Carmen, an extremely likable couple from the south, played my host while I taught 6-7 year-olds at their daughter Noemi's English camp. Age 11, Noemi played tour guide/Italian tutor while Giulia, 6, was our entertainment. As in La Spezia, I enjoyed two weeks of amazing meals, a nice bed in the little girls' room, and enjoyable company; perfect hospitality.

Outside of camp, there was plenty time to explore Tirano and surrounds, on foot, by bike and in Gennaro's car. Set in a beautiful forested valley dotted with cliff-hugging churches and ruined castles, Tirano's narrow streets were a bit too charming, humming with the near-constant chime of church bells and the rushing Adda, a white torrent that cut the town in two. On a walk through Old Tirano we wound from Porta Milano to Porto Bormio in just a few minutes, passing beneath its dozens of faded frescoes and stopping at every other cold running fountain. Gennaro pointed out the slit of empty space above each gate where the portcullis used to slide. Some of the old stone homes were sectioned out of medieval courtyards, each linked to a church reflecting the families' wealth. These days, thanks to a little fresh paint, neatly cropped vines and crazy amounts of potted flowers, the drab old outpost comes off as cheery and idyllic as its Swiss neighbors up the road.

We left town often to explore Valtellina. My hosts were always ready to drive or take the bikes. We made the loop to Livigno, northern Italy's duty free version of Park City, then looping through Switzerland and back down the valley to Tirano. Somewhere near Livigno we hit an obstacle course made of ropes and zip lines built way up in the trees. Just up the road a few minutes, Noemi and Gennaro showed me around the Visconti Venosta Castle, built beside 4,000-year old petroglyphs. Heading south, the whole family wound up the mountains to a shared cabin set amid forests and meadows right out of Sound of Music. I spent the afternoon playing soccer with a kid from the camp, hiking through the hills like Heidi and checking out the cabin's old photos from the war as well as from fun times in Somaliland and Ethiopia. To the southwest, we also drove to Lake Como, stopping in Lecco on its southeastern tip. One of George Clooney's mansions shares the same lake, a bright blue sliver between massive Alpine foothills, ringed with lavish estates and mostly unattractive hotels. Gennaro paid my entry to Montecchio Fort, a WWI/WWII era base, equipped with four giant guns. After killing off the Nazis that had shared the space, the partisans blocked Mussolini's attempted escape to Switzerland with 5 off-target shots from launched from here. Giulia was bored to death, until we got back in the car and turned on the Waka Waka for the hundredth time.

When the camp ended and I was on a train south, I still had the song in my head.


Billy Jackson said...

Sounds and look idyllic.

Valerie said...

so beautiful! don't you just love italy. wish I could have seen that region too!

adventure knitter said...

Hey Joe! When you wander back to Africa, you should come visit us! We just arrived in Kenya. Come visit anytime.

-Amy DeWaal