Beneath The Mountain

Day 11. 31 July 2006

Saturday. Slept well until about eight-thirty although I was disturbed sometime in the middle of the night. Woken suddenly by what I imagine at first were several intruders in my room, rifling trough my bags and muttering to one another, I sat bolt upright, and found the light. The one nocturnal visitor was John, disorientated and sleep walking. He muttered something that I did not catch, and left. I went back to sleep, and did not even, I think, hear the seven o’clock bells.

After a leisurely breakfast, we take the cobbled path down to Lamasano main square and meet the Italian girls, and Janet and Desirée; and Loris even turns up, a little worse for wear after last night, but sporting a Scotland T-shirt. We take to a variety of vehicles; Kate, Sarah-Jane and myself in Desirée’s car.

We drive up the hill behind Lamasano nursery school, and through the tiny village of Funés, perched right on the edge of a huge scar in the landscape with Pédol similarily placed on the other side. Taking increasingly tiny, twisting roads and close to the mountain hut at C. va Crosetta we park up, a collection of four cars, by a set of double, steel doors in the mountain wedged closed with a plank of wood and moderately sized rock. The tunnel into the mountain.

The tunnel through which we walk for several kilometres is hewn roughtly from the limestone mountain at 1000 m (3000 ft) from sea level. We walk in, following Lorris and Alberto in their Peugeot 106 – shining their headlights ahead of us as two massive torches – with Desirée walking alongside me, she is on hand to tell me all about this tunnel; occasionally seeking answers and clarification from one of the men in charge of the project.

There have been landslides in the area going back to the sixties but there was a big one in 1972 and throughout the eighties before the last, big landslide in 1994. Since then they have built this tunnel to try and take the water out of the mountain and dry it out.

On average there are 12 litres per second of water running through the galvanised channel down the side of the tunnel. Last winter there was much rain and the whole tunnel was a wash with a torrent of water at some 600 litres per second. Eventually the road takes Lorris’ car no further, and we have to walk on with torches, taking care to clamber over piles of gravel and not to fall into pools of icy cold water. After a few minutes we reach a place of total darkness, whater the water is dripping from the ceiling like thick, refreshing rain and the tunnel becomes a lake, stretching out endlessly into the darkness.

There are plans to concrete the floor of the tunnel and to give it a slight gradiant in order to capture all of the water seeeps out of the rock.

Leaving the tunnel eventually, and emerging back out into the refreshingly warm, bright sunlight, we are taken on, first up onto the hillside to where the landslide happened. Even now, twelve years on the site is one of utter devastation; uprooted trees, and spils of almost concrete coloured and textured sol. And it’s still moving – occasionally they repair on of the roads to find a few days later that a section has slipped away several metres down the mountain.

The commune are getting three benefits from the tunnel; it will hopefully prvent further landslides; they are also getting the water supply for whole community; and from this year they have been generation hydro-electric power of up to 1.6 million kilowatts per year which they sell back to the national grid.

Back to the nursery school for a grazing lunch of pasta salad and sandwiches followed by a siesta coffee before heading down to the cobbled path to the village to try and finish cutting back, weeding, and clearing it. In the end, although we expose all the cobbles down to the bottom – including a destroyed section of path where drains have cut through it – and Janet is happy with it, we are too critical, and not entirely sure about its completeness.

We finish work a little early though, in time to shower, before the boys (John and myself) go shopping with Janet’s daughter Sarah in Belluno, whilst the girls go to watch the football (there’s some middle-ranked team – England or something – playing) at the bar in Chies.

Belluno is an old, small, medieval town, not very touristy and distinctive for its defensive position on top of the hilltop. To reach it from Alpago, we must first drive under it by way of a tunnel that clearly shows just how small the town is. We then park at the foot of the hill, and gain access to one of the cobbled squares by way of an escalator in a poly-tunnel, that, in its length, puts the long stair to Marylebone tube station to shame.

Sarah is making this trip in search of English language teaching materials for her work – she is born English but is completely bilingual in Italian and English although she speaks with a slight Australian accent.

We are soon heading back to Chies, me with my new sunglasses, and John with an Italian newspaper – and to aperitifs a distinctively orange drink, Aperol, and fresh, white mulberries in the garden of Janet’s hhouses in the gorgeous light of the settng sun over the mountains. Aperol is used to make a spritz; sparkling water, white wine and Aperol; it is slightly odd at first taste, but nice.

As the sun finally sinks below the mountain we leave Janet’s house behind the church and cross the square and down the hill a little to Desirée’s house where she has cooked a meal for us, and laid a table al fresco in the yard.

We have squares of apple and gorgonzola pizza followed by a cheese pasta dish and roasted vegetables. And then comes Desirée’s favourite – the pudding course. She has a sweet tooth and enjoys baking cakes and has made us fruit tart – that consists of a pastry base and a fruit topping. There is also fruit salad and ice cream from Puos d’Alpago (courtesy of Janet’s Sarah and her boyfriend).

Around 11 o’clock Sarah-Jane leaves us to go to a party that Lorris and Alberto have invited us to down in Bastia. The rest of us are too tired and make our way on foot down the road, across a field and back by the light of fireflies to the nursery school and to bed.

Day 12. Dolomites, alpine meadows, and pizza…