A recurring feature of our stay in Monte Rosa has been my Morning Worries.
As we sip our coffee in bed, overlooking the snowy peaks, my night fears bubble to the surface. When I am forced to blurt them out, Mark addresses each one individually, with characteristic tenderness and empathy.
“What if the dogs are carried away by an eagle when we go to Mongolia? Or what about the legendary Monte Rosa Vulture and the wolves, whose very existence we have just discovered?”
He laughed out loud at that one, but was sufficiently concerned to check out and relay the Alaska Fish and Wildlife’s assertion that Eagles Don’t Eat Children or Pets and that wolves and wild dogs tend to respect a pack.
The unwarranted response to my Morning Worry about genuine winter hazards was, “Yes. I’ll be careful not to be speared by a falling icicle, because it will melt. Then only lateral thinkers will be able to work out what happened.”
A recurring theme amid my Morning Worries was the weight of snow on Caravan Kismet’s roof and the potential peril posed by polar temperatures to the longevity of her leisure battery.
“Bailey’s ads show a bloke AND a car perched on the roof!” was the response to the weight issue.
“But the weight of the car was not resting on the solar panel, aerial and roof lights!” I pleaded.
I have read the horror stories about owners approaching their recreational vehicles in the Spring to discover their electrics all dead and batteries smothered in a corrosive, acidic crust. Denied life-giving energy from snowed-up solar panels and with a trickle charge out of the question, Mark irascibly agreed to disconnect Kismet’s battery as dual protection against months of sub-zero temperatures and wifely harassment.
Two days before we planned to leave Italy on our tour of Poland and The Baltics, we were placed in Coronavirus lockdown. However, with temperatures at 1800m achieving a snow-softening 18°C and Kismet’s roof and solar array clear of snow, we decided to re-connect her battery. Well I decided, and relayed my wishes to Mark, who agreed in the interests of an untroubled morning coffee. Who knew what a Pandora’s box this would become!
Kismet has been parked in the centre of the village all winter. Well almost all. As agreed last year with The Hotel Manager, she was originally parked in the hotel car park next door to our apartment. Then, one lunchtime, The Manager issued an eviction notice. He told us that, although Kismet had one wheel off for security and was half way up to her window frames in snow, she had to be gone that afternoon.
“Lui è arrabiata!” was our apartment block’s housekeeper, Luisa’s, appraisal of Mark’s mood as, with face and neck beginning to assume the subtle, beetroot hue of the liquor in a newly-started cauldron of borscht, he railed against the stupidity.
“Perché oggi? Why today?” The hotel was not even open. “Perché non domani o il giorno dopo? Why not tomorrow or the next day?” Luisa called The Manager and put to him the point.
The French have the word ‘Non’ and the Gallic Shrug with which to convey firm, Frankish mulishness. “Imposs-eee-bile” is the classic intonement of Italian intransigence and that is exactly what came back. Tomorrow or the next day was simply not an option. Oggi was obligatory.
The Manager had suffered a sudden bout of amnesia about his agreement to host Kismet in a quiet corner for the winter. His memory didn’t improve even when we offered to bung him €100.
Where to park a 7m caravan that we had brought with us on the basis of his prior assent was not his problem. Luisa came to our rescue and told us we could park it in the village, “Oltre la fontana – Past the fountain.”
A month or so into our fourth season in the tiny village of Staffal and I was adamant that the gods had never revealed to me a fountain. Luisa walked me down to the end of the road and showed me the fountain – an animal trough in a roughtly-hewn structure that I had always assumed was a rustic bus shelter. I guess it was just lost in translation.
The mere thought of moving Kismet whipped up a maelstrom of Morning Worries. Digging her out had taken up the entire afternoon and we were not about to move her in the dark, so Mr Manager had to put up with his unwanted guest for an extra night. I imagined finding her the following morning beaten to a pulp with a sledgehammer, wielded by The Hotel Manger. In my mind, The Manager had now taken on the wild-eyed persona of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, a film that Mark forced me to watch for the first time in my life while we were alone and snowed in our spookily deserted apartment block last November.
I am not a fan of the genre ‘Horror’. I had to be escorted on nocturnal comfort breaks for six months after seeing The Sixth Sense.
But that was as nothing to the thought of towing our pride and joy down an icy slope. My dire prognostications encompassed scenes of untold carnage. I foresaw Kismet jack knifed and skidding forwards to overtake Big Blue; overturning on the corner and landing, along with my beloved and our dreams, in the inescapable, watery clutches of the ice-bound river Lys…
Mark said it would all be fine.
It turned out that my worries were unfounded. Largely. The icy slope was negotiated without incident. Then, another arabbiata moment developed while reversing Kismet up a slight incline into her final resting place beyond the ‘fountain’. I maintained a diplomatic silence to Mark’s predictable outburst on the subject of snow chains,
“I’m not putting the freakin’ snow chains on to get over that one, small patch of black ice!”
With repeated attempts at reversing, Big Blue’s drive wheels had skidded and polished the unavoidable, foot square patch of black ice to a gem-like smoothness. This made it impossible to gain traction. I kept my counsel but knew it was inevitable – we would be forced to perform our signature manoeuvre.
With snow chains on to complete the last 18 inches of a journey (this happens a lot!), Mark reversed Kismet snug against the wall. There, she became an institution along with The Audi and The Heineken lorry, of which more later.
Still, with the village now deserted and the car park empty, who knew that a reneging Hotel Manger had failed to conduct us to the zenith of idiocy?
It was a joy to re-enter Kismet after the winter to find her bone dry and her re-connected battery fully charged and devoid of caustic ooze. Nevertheless, a surprise visit from the Carabinieri soon dampened our spirits.
“You can’t leave that there, mate. It’s on private land,” was the effective translation of the tirade of “Imposs-eee-bilis” fired at Mark in Italian.
This was perplexing, not least since to our knowledge, Kismet’s neighbours, The Audi and The Heineken Lorry, have never moved for at least the last four years. A fellow seasonal vagabond, Rob, had commented,
“I took time lapse photos of that Audi as it was gradually buried in the snow. I used to post them on Facebook!”
And we have hardly been incognito. Our hitch cover has a picture of The Fab Four and my website address emblazoned upon it. (Click here if you are interested in scoring your own personalised tow hitch cover!)
Since they are the ones entrusted with enforcement, the Carabinieri are best placed to know that there is a travel ban in place across the whole of Italy. That only essential journeys are permitted. That we have to fill in a form and prove that our journey is indeed essential, even if we want to go and buy food in the next village. They know that only one of us is allowed in the car at a time and, in order to be allowed back, we have to carry our rental agreement for the apartment in our wallets.
But most of all – THERE IS NO-ONE HERE!!!! The car park is empty – and what, pray, are we going to do with a 7m caravan?
Even though the hotel is now closed, The Manger still refused our mercy request to place Kismet back in his car park. “But I love your wife and your four dogs,” he told Mark by way of compensation.
The Carabinieri made a phone call, possibly for effect, and gave us special dispensation to leave Kismet where she is until April 3rd. They were adamant that the travel ban would not continue beyond that, although if we have to move Kismet, there is a whole, deserted village to choose from. If we must, we will park her on the road and they can lump it. At the moment, we have no idea whether we will be able to leave the village, or if we can, that we will have anywhere to go. Social media is full of terrible stories of motor homers turfed off campsites that are closing all over the Continent, yet unable to go anywhere because of travel bans and ferry cancellations.
Clearly, the Carabinieri are bored. Usually, they are kept very busy posing in their black uniforms and mirrored sunglasses. Here in Staffal, they often have the added complication of having to do all of that on skis. A lot of effort goes into looking cool as they smoke their cigarettes and catch a few rays, so it is no wonder that they are restless, now that all this frenetic
inactivity is denied to them.
However, in Italy, the land of suntanned, skiing policemen, the most disappointing thing is to encounter the sort of pathetic, petty-mindedness that you would expect in the UK.
Pensavo fossi strafigo – I thought you were super cool.
But Blighty can still learn a few lessons from Italy. The main one at the moment is that a supermarket visit still takes a while, because there is stuff on the shelves and you have to decide which brand of toilet roll to buy.
Even under lock down.
If you are stuck in isolation or lamenting the loss of a much anticipated ski holiday, I have made my latest book, Pups on Piste – A Ski Season in Italy free of charge on Amazon for as long as Amazon will allow in order to cheer you up! Click on the links below: