Monday, April 9, 2018

We find bellezza and bruttezza in our weekend explorations among the hills of Emilia-Romagna with friends

Castell De' Britti, viewed from our trail.
I belong to a Facebook group called “Traveling to Italy,” and every so often someone asks the group about great places to go “off the beaten path.” The answers come quickly and with passion and include glowing descriptions of places all over the country. I stopped paying much attention, because the answers all reinforce the same theme—there is beauty everywhere in Italy.

Last weekend, we decided to meet up with our friends Stefano and Nancy, who live in Padova, and we picked a place
Lucy and me overlooking the Calanchi.
about halfway between Padova and Montecarlo. It shows on the map as the Parco dei Gessi Bolognesi e Calanchi dell’Abbadessa. None of us had never heard of it, nor had any of our friends—but no matter. It’s a park in the hills of Emilia-Romagna, so it must be worthwhile. And, of course, it was.

Located on the gentle hills south of Bologna, the park

includes a band of chalky outcrops called calanchi, bare clay hills eroded by wind and rain and then hardened by the sun. My Italian dictionary translates calanco to “badlands” and gesso means “chalk.” So think of the badlands of South Dakota, but made of chalky clay that erodes easily instead of the harder multi-layered sedimentary rock that takes longer to wear down.

We met Stefano and Nancy Saturday morning at Castel De’
Nancy, me, Stefano.
Britti and hiked about three miles up into the park, ate a snack lunch at an abandoned church and then returned on the same path. Though we saw only a tiny wrinkle of this vast 7,700-acre (3123 hectares) park, it gave us enough of a taste of the wilderness to satisfy.

We saw bare rocky cliffs and
harsh gully slopes protruding out of big basins, reminding of us natural amphitheaters. We strolled along a wooded trail, and although we saw little wildlife except birds and bugs, we did have the closest encounter I’ve ever had with an Italian deer. We often see road signs warning of deer, but we’ve never actually seen one here. In Gig Harbor, we see them frequently, and they’ve become a nuisance to gardeners in some neighborhoods.

So how close was our sighting? Well, I actually touched this
Primroses lined many of paths we took.
deer on the leg bone, though unfortunately that was the extent of the encounter. Nancy had brought her pet Labrador, Oby, on the hike, and at one point, he disappeared over a hillside. He returned a few minutes later, sporting a happy doggy grin and clutching a long bone that still had some decaying hide and fur on it. After posing proudly for some photos, Oby finally relaxed his grip just enough for Nancy and me to pry it from his clenched jaws and dispose of it in a trash bin. At least we now have some visual evidence to justify the road signs.

We were joined near the beginning of the trail by a most
Return of the proud hunter Oby.
unusual guide, a small dog named, according to a tag on her collar, Holly. She and Oby met and gave the usual dog meet and greet rituals. Then Holly took off in the lead and walked the entire trail with us, often leading the way at intersections, as if to say, “This is the right way.” Holly and Oby scouted around separately, having a great time gleefully sniffing everything possible.

We noted that Holly was not looking for affection or
Our guide dog, Holly, far right.
attention, just traveling companions. She lay down once to let me pet her briefly, but then she jumped back up and plunged back on the trail with numerous exploratory detours into the bush. After a while, we had no doubt that this was a daily routine for Holly. She would meet the first travelers at the beginning of the trail and join them. She never hesitated or looked doubtful. We offered her part of our snacks, but she wasn’t interested. After lunch, we started back down the trail, and we immediately met another group that was bypassing the church and heading further into the hills. Holly joined them without even looking back at us.

We spent the night at an agriturismo near Marzabotto and
A family of victims: A mother and her
seven children were all put to death.
then took another hike in the hills nearby to visit a camp that Stefano and Nancy fondly remembered because they had taken their scouting troops there numerous times when their children were young. After lunching at a trattoria, we drove into the hills again to visit the Parco Storico di Monte Sole. I could (and possibly will someday) write an entire entry on this park and what happened there in 1944, but we didn’t stay long. The park and its story deserve more attention than I have the time and energy to give currently. Suffice it for now to say its location and presentation is beautiful, while its history is among the ugliest of modern times. The retreating German army slaughtered at least 770 Italian citizens there and in nearby communities, most of them women, children and elderly people—including five Catholic priests. They were hunted and executed for their supposed support of partigiani, resistance fighters, and it was the largest massacre of citizens committed by the Waffen SS in Western Europe during the World War 2.

We parted ways with Stefano and Nancy at the park in the
Waterfall near Poretta Terme.
late afternoon, and this may seem like a sobering way to end our weekend. That’s undeniably true, but I have no regrets about our visit. It’s vitally important to recall the atrocities of this war and remember the victims with sympathy and compassion. The beauty of the park contrasted with the brutality of the acts committed there are vivid reminders of the unavoidable vicissitudes that make up life.

1 comment:

  1. Smiles to tears. A beautiful and sobering adventure.


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