I woke up to a beautiful day in Bolzano even in the face of the horrible weather the day before. The sky was literally cloudless and the air was cold, but fresh. It seemed that, for once in my life, the weather had agreed to comply with my activities of the day. I cannot imagine hiking up a mountain through the snow and cold weather if it were disgusting weather! Joe came to pick me up, made us some sandwiches for lunch and we headed off to drive the half hour or so outside of the city, up beautiful mountains lined with now dead vineyards and and dotted with small mountain villages. Betti, Mirco and another friend were meeting us at the mountain.
Joe and I spent the ride catching up as I had had the opportunity to do with his sisters (Caterina while I was in Florence) and his parents. We talked about his children, about my life plans, about school and living situations. We talked about the family and the beauty of the world around us. He explained to me how wonderful it is to live in Bolzano and how amazing it was to grow up there. Mario was never shy in gushing about the amazing life of a Bolzanian (Bolzanite, whatever a person from Bolzano). Joe told me about the summers where he can go hiking and for long walks in the mountains or drive about an hour and a half to Lake Garda where they go sailing. In the winter, and likely for most of the spring, Bolzano is the perfect place for skiing because it is so close to the mountains that it take nearly no time arrive there. People in Bolzano really do have it well. In the winter it’s cold and snowy (but in the good sense in that the skiing conditions are perfect) and in the summer it is warm and green, prefect for hiking and mountain climbing. Joe had year round sports all based on the nature surrounding him. Man was I jealous.
But again, like the other Paoluccis, the most remarkable quality of Joe is his character. He has inherited his parents sunny disposition about life despite whatever it is that could darken the day. I don’t understand it and I wish that I could learn this quality. The Paoluccis love life, everyday and they radiate that emotion around them. It instantly improves a persons mood to spend time with them, regardless of the bad events that might be occurring. Even in the face of some serious hardships Joe manages to be Joe (which means a bright, friendly, loving and warm person) which demonstrates the strong character of the my Paolucci relatives. It’s an infectious type of disposition which makes me want to spend as much time with them as possible so that maybe I can absorb some of their magnificent attributes.
After a beautiful drive that became progressively snowier with every turn, we arrived at the foot of the mountain which we were to climb. Even at the foot the panorama was beautiful, but I was promised that at the top it would be a million times as spectacular. For the entire car ride I had not entirely understood how I would climb this thing. Joe had lent me a pair of serious snow boots (thank God) so I imagine that I would either walk up or ski up. Mario had lent me a pair of snow poles (bastoncini in Italian) so my mind had some idea of being taught how to ski while we climbed. As the rest of my four companions put on their ski equipment, I finally saw how I would climb the slope; snow shoes. Needless to say I have never show-shoed. I had no idea how they would function or how hard/easy it would be to make my way up the mountain. Joe showed me how to put them on and assured me that it was as easy as walking, and once we started the climb I realized that it was. The rest of the group went in skis which seemed to be a lot harder to do uphill than down. After the first hill I had the hang of snow-shoeing and could easily keep pace with my companions despite frequently stopping to take pictures of the breathtaking views around me which only became more marvelous as we continued up the white slope. At some point my picture taking and hips prevented me from keeping up the guys so Betti hung out with me for the walk up the hill, which was very nice of her because I am positive she could have zoomed away from me. I’ve been told she’s a fabulous skier. I could not believe the nature around me. The skyline was filled with mountain peaks that looked to be reaching the upper limits of the sky. It was as if one were walking through New York and looks up at the Empire State Building on a crystal clear day. From that perspective the building appears to almost hit the top of the sky. As we went up or mountain the mountains around us rose higher and higher threatening, it seemed, to break the ceiling of our blue house and poke into outer space.
The trees around us were evergreens, their branches covered with purely white snow. Everywhere and everything was white or at least touched with white. I could not believe the beauty of it. As we climbed I felt like I was entering an alien world to which humans rarely traveled. What were we doing in this magical place? Were we disturbing its peace by enjoying its beauty? Had this place changed in thousands of years? How many untold numbers of people climbed here in the years past to see exactly that which I was seeing at that moment? It was spiritual. It was gorgeous. The air was clear and crisp and cold, but my body was warm, happy and comfortable.
I unfortunately could not make it to the summit (damn hips) so Betti and I sat ourselves down at one of the rest points (or refuges) to have lunch. We were not far from the summit and I wish I had the physical ability to make it, but the view was still unbelievable. Betti and I sipped on hot tea, which might be the greatest miracle in the world when standing on a frigid mountain, munched on delicious cheese and prosciutto sandwiches and dried apples. I took pictures looking over looking a mountain valley lined with evergreens where I’m sure humans rarely ventured during the winter and maybe even during the summer. Every direction gave me a view of something else entirely magical and memorable. I had been up mountains before and seen the stunning view, but only in summertime. It’s an entirely different world when the mountains are frozen in their wintry wonder, their barren, still, quiet yet somehow lively slopes and peaks giving off an entirely different energy than the busy summers when animals roam their paths. The peace is invigorating.
I left Betti at the refuge and headed down solo because it would take the skiers close to half as long to descend at it would take me on my snow-shoes. I was fine with it. The snowy mountains seemed to call for introspection and I obliged. I stopped often, took pictures and smiled about my oh so lucky life, of humanity’s fortune at inhabiting such a magnificent world. We have been delivered paradise. It’s not in some clouds, whether or not I felt I could reach up and grab those very clouds at that moment, but in the simple chance that our world is inhabitable. There’s a reason that we have yet to find another planet suitable for human life and it’s because the probability of the millions of particulars, distance from the sun, our type of atmosphere, the location of the moon, coming together to support life is a mathematical improbability beyond my comprehension. And not only does this world sustain us and let us flourish in its bounty but it is flat out gorgeous. The nature that enables us also inspires us with its breathtaking beauty. How was it possible that I was surrounded by such beauty and not entirely ok with where I was in life? It wasn’t.
We stopped for a warm drink on the way down the mountain (after the skiers had of course beat me down the slope and I watched a person try to jump something and end up having his ski catch on it so that he literally did a summersault in the air. He was fine. It was hilarious). I drank hot chocolate (what?!?), well it was hot white chocolate so I guess that doesn’t count. Sorry everybody! I was exhausted and struggled to bring much to the table in terms of conversation, but I have to say that Betti and Joe’s friends are great and pleasant people. They have fun with life and always have interesting things to discuss. Is everyone in Bolzano this way? It certainly seems so. We left after a while and I fell asleep on the car ride home.
After a warm shower and some relaxing it was time for dinner. We had more of the lovely minestra soup from the day before followed by pork, sauerkraut, polenta and artichokes. It was so good! I have no idea what we talked about dinner but it didn’t have to be anything particular for me to remember the happiness I felt sitting with them at the table. We laughed and discussed politics. We talked about Americans and how my family could not understand opposition to Healthcare and how they hoped Obama would be able to succeed after the midterm elections (I’ve found that Europeans pay an incredible amount of attention to European politics). Who knows precisely what was discussed but I was transported to home and dinners with my family in Hamden or New York or North Carolina or Texas. It felt the same. It had that level of comfort that I had been missing for a while. It was wonderful and only reinforced the importance and strength of family in my life.
After dinner we went into the living room where Mario lit the first candle for Advent (I think, sorry Aunt Phil at my lack of Catholic knowledge) and played Christmas music. Generally I’m not the biggest fan of the overplayed, repetitive crap broadcast during the Christmas season, but Mario, of course, had met somebody in a brass band who gave him a CD of his Christmas music which was simply delightful. I really enjoyed it and was once again transported to Hamden with Rich putting on some Christmas music about which no body else knows, but about which everybody should. After our music I took pictures of the family and showed them my blogs. I promised to write about them soon (Mi dispiace che ci sia metto tanto tempo per scrivere questo!). Then, though, it was time for bed because I had a train at 9:30 in the morning. It began to snow as I went to bed. I said sad goodbyes to Joe and Betti, who I really hope to see sooner than the three and a half years it took me to get back to Bolzano before climbing into bed and passing out.
In the morning there was a nice amount of snow and the sky promised more, but none of that concerned me. Mario and Silvana drove me to the train station and we dropped Silvana off near her church where she was selling homemade goods to benefit some African or South American peoples (I’m not joking when I say this family is a bunch of angels) and I gave her a big hug. She told me to write and told me to tell the family to send news, so hey family, send them letters! Then Mario dropped me at the station and after a goodbye, which would have been said except that Mario is too cheerful for that, I watched as he drove off. I walked into the station both amazed and happy with my weekend and distraught that I was leaving Bolzano. This was the reason I had come abroad; to see my family and connect with my Italian roots. I came to feel the comfort of home in a place thousands of miles away. I came for the joy that comes with realizing you will always be welcomed in a place. Bolzano gave me everything that I had felt was missing for the past couple of weeks. Why was I leaving?