The hills are alive with the sound of thunder, lightning, not very frightening – but a few of the “Freddy” moustaches are. (They are Swiss or German – sure aren’t Italian this year).
San Pellegrino makes a sparkling debut after the smaller towns of the Brembana valley. The local bus from Bergamo costs about £1.20 and after 35 minutes climbing and falling through winding roads and towns of no obvious glory drops off passengers (me) betwixt a three hundred metre long Grand Hotel (closed: dangerous), a casino (closed, now a conference centre) and a Thermal Spa Hotel (closed: renovation). The two complexes: the hotel and casino-thermal are divided by a gushing river which plunges off to the Pellegrino factory down the road. Not everything is branded with the drink’s red star here, but it feels like the drinks corporation owns quite a lot. Say: Lombardy.
If the Hollywood product placers were looking for sponsors to finance its high-tech remake of Last Year in Marienbad (perhaps with Nick Cage and Keira Knightly) then here with the art nouveau mittel-europa fin de etc. vibe would be a greta place to start the pitch. “We see this movie as being about bringing the sparkle, and bubble, back to life…”
You can’t miss the factory – refinery, distillery, whatever – and other SP buildings fleck the town, but this isn’t a Woolfsburg (Volkswagen home) because it feels like the setting for a De Maupassant novel. Even a tiny touch of Proust.
After the “old city” high on a hill in Bergamo and the “learning the robes” somewhat confused cultural tourism of Brescia, San Pellegrino is both a step forward and back. It has long been known for its spa water, but only in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century did it become an upmarket destination. So, whilst there are no Renaissance masterpieces, or Venetian tropes, it somehow feels easier to imagine than some of the more famous Italian towns. Even if its brief emminence was Belle Epoque this doesn’t diminish the faded ravishing-ness, and makes the vauguely grouchy mood understandable. The setting is amazing.
They have afternoon tea dances for the old ladies, in the evening cha cha cha lessons for the young (women) led by a Dirty Dancer in tight red trounsers with tassels. Music via a Korg synth is riffed out by Belmondo’s long lost cheeky younger brother, whilst Swayse 2 shouts “uno due trei quattorse” and limbs flail around.
I should be higher now but the weather wiped the ATMs for a while this morning, so I am thinking about a belle epoque day of baths and lunches, aperitifs and assignations and chest complaints. Faro and whist and chess for the older men and younger boys learning the arts of war and whatever. This may not be “Como” but it wouldn’t take so many Clooneys to re-invent San Pellegrino (should it wish so to change). Oh yes, there’s is a red double decker 159 Bus that wanders around the town, amazing vistas from the bridges, clouds, hills, blue remembered or not, impossibly high villas in the distance (there was a funicular here once), and from time to time a HGV with that water passes down, as if chased away by the falling clouds, to take a tiny part of the valley to Rio or Reading, Naples or New York.
I lost this post first time around because of the storms. Outside the library linen-sodden for the first time since Padua all thoughts of mountain passes go awol and I settle down to write a screenplay. And the echo in the valley, a growling bark of displeasure for all that summer sun on Como late last week, perhaps, is enough to persuade even a two-time believer in Dawkins and his Delusion that somewhere above the clouds the God’s are waiting. Maybe it is the Swiss.
Across Italy The Venice Film festival is previewing Atonement. The novel by Ian McEwan that isn’t quite as bad as Saturday, but it is a close run thing…Here the only book in English in the stationary store (closed) is a hard back copy of a book called “Blog”…Really: life is strange. Even without the divine apple. My writing bump grows: soon it will be a conker.