The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music

Day 5. 26 June 2006

Sunday. Church bells and rucksack related aches and pains wake me improbably early. And I drift in and out of sleep to the chorus of birdsong. Following the manic bells of seven o’clock, the clouds sink lower and we get a thunderstorm over breakfast – and some more sedate church-calling bells. As we leave around eight-thirty for C. ra Cate where we leave the rust bucket of a van and walk the sometimes paved, sometimes gravel, seemingless endless track into the mountains.

As we reach the level of the scree the path levels out through an alpine meadow, and we arrive at the old sheep fold that is to be our first worksite. But we contine on a little further to C. ra Pian de la Stete, the site of a small mountain hut and the venue for the local amateur band’s – Chies d’Alpago Municiple Band – first outdoor concert with their new conductor, Deborah; recently returned from music college to lead the band in the town of her birth.

Part of me wishes that I had brought my piccolo, and eye up the large numbers of horns jealousy. The band is as diverse, if younger, as Abingdon Concert Band, and they play a similar repertoire. I think what such a very special location this is, and how you could never get my band to do something similar, not even if we did have a handy 1500 m (4000 ft) mountain to play on. With the sun shining, and walkers, out on the ridge beyond, we are treated to wind band classics and classical arrangements for band, including a very nice arrangement of Glen Miller’s Moonlight Serenade, and an energetic rendition of Mambo Number Five.

The concert concludes with a rousing encore and is folled by a barbeque lunch and party when the old men try to ply us with wine, and we have to decline with choruses of ‘non-permeso’; we will be working later and drinking on a workday invalidates BTCV insurance. That is, we are led to understand that work on the sheep fold will begin after lunch…

…it is actually not as we thought. The men who we will be working with have drunk too much – it is a day for a party and the coming together of the Italian and English nations – and not for work. The situation clarified, we go off in search of the old men and their offer of wine and beer, and for much of the afternoon we speak the international language of frisbee, drawing in other random villagers as we go of all ages including Greta, and one of the younger band clarinettists in the band, Laura.

Towards the end of the afternoon the band are packing up and the villagers are making their way down the mountain. We leave, bidding farewell to our new friends. On the way down, near to the mountain hut, Andy spots that gets Janet excited. Twenty years in Italy and she has never seen the Lady’s Slipper Orchid, or as it’s sometimes referred to, the Madonna’s flower. Further on, and we walk faster than a mini-tractor, a good way down the mountain before it finally overtakes us as we stop for a water break and a scan of the site for allusive golden eagles.

Back at the bottom of the hill, we refill our water bottles from a spring and quench our thirst from the heat, before boarding the rickety old van and heading down the valley into Chies d’Alpago and to a visit to the Natural History Museum. Housed in an old primary school, the collection of stuffed animals and geological specimens giving a history of the area, it is the product of a lifetime’s work of one man, and, after an initial grant to get it established, now exists on a shoestring.

Attempting to leave Chies d’Alpago, in order to eat before Janet brings some of the Italians who will be working with us, to visit, we are invited in to the local bar by ‘our new friend’ Dino who insists on buying us glasses of Prosecco. Escaping finally, we return to our lodgings above the Lamosana nursery school, still under armed police guard.

We crack open more wine, and enjoy a dinner of pasta an insalata, followed by cake – and after the arrival of Janet’s three students, Vanessa, Vera and Giarda (the oldest of at 17 and a ‘return victim’ for conservation work) – more cake. With a crazy idea to camp out in the mountain hut by the worksite tomorrow night, we retire early to our rooms to pack overnight bags.

Day Six: Grappa, frisbee, and deportment…