Monday, October 25, 2010

Catching up in Lanslebourg

WE'VE BEEN ON THE ROAD almost a week, but the first couple of days don't really count, of course; you're in the air, your mind is out of sync with everything else; then you land, rent your car, drive to an unfamiliar hotel in an unfamiliar city. That same night, last Wednesday, after 24 hours or so traveling, we went out to dinner with friends — I've written about that on Eating Every Day, of course.

Then we spent three days in the Salone del Gusto. Some reports from that leaked into the eatingblog too, but others will provide food for thought — heh heh — for comments on this site, later on, perhaps. Let's see:
Quality of Life
Disappearing apples
Sardegna, not Toscana

Today we drove from our Chivasso hotel, where we've slept the last four nights, over the Montcenisio pass and down into Lanslebourg. I wanted to bring Lindsey here to see this valley along the river Arc, from Bonneval south to Modane. I walked it two years ago, with Mac and Henry, when we took the Long Walk from Geneva to NIce. At that time I didn't really like it, but the more I thought about it afterward the more I realized I'd missed something.

I'd hoped Lindsey and I would be walking here, but the year's first snowfall coincided with our arrival. Driving the pass was a little hairy: the road was often covered in snow and sometimes icy, and toward the top we drove into cloudy air that tended toward snowblindness. It's a special road: we've taken it two or three times before, but never in this kind of weather. I remember the first time, when, at the top, we drove past the lake and saw a couple of girls, twelve years old or so, sitting in the grass, ostensbily watching their herd of cows, weaving daisies into a chain, right out of Heidi. They weren't out today.

We arrived at our hotel in Lanslebourg, the one Henry and Mac and I stayed in in the summer of '08, about three o'clock. We were cold. There was snow on the street. A fire burned in the hearth. The same birdlike woman met us, and was cheerful, and showed us to a room, and brought us tea back at the hearth in the lobby.

After a bit we drove up through Lanslevillard — yes, there were apparently two settlements named "Lans," one the bourg, one the villard — to Bessans, where I'd hoped to show Lindsey the amazing frescos. These are in a 15th-century chapel; Henry and I saw them on that walk: they depict the Life of Christ, and are amazingly concentrated paintings. But the chapel is off limits; we're not going to be able to see these frescos, not on this trip in any case.

Too bad. But we stopped in at the library, excuse me, "Media Center," here in Lanslebourg, and looked at photographs of the frescos in a couple of books. They were painted by an anonymous itinerant at the beginning of the 16th century, we read. Migration, again. Local saints are very important in these chapels, often protecting domestic animals as they were herded up and down the Alps. Another saint, St. Landry, was sent to Bonneval a thousand years ago or so, and drowned in the Arc river on his journey; his body washed downstream to Lanslevillard, where all the bells began tolling on their own initiative. A miracle: so he's preserved in the church there, and became the saint in charge of droughts.

Makes sense: a drowned man would know something about irrigation. I think the cult of saints replaced the local cults of local deities, lesser deities of course, dryads and such, spirits of springs and torrents, forests and bogs; protectors of virgins, widows, drunks, and domestic animals.

Yesterday at Terra Madre I heard a woman from an immigrants' rights organization say that "immigrants are the bearers of competence." I believe that; but I also believe that other migrants bear foreign authorities. Perhaps it only depends on from which end you view the spectrum.

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