My husband and I arrived in Milan yesterday after the (for me) sleepless overnight flight that is penance for the luxury of European travel, meaning no taxi fare seemed too high if it meant we might settle in at our hotel sooner. And Tremezzo, the small village on the west shore of Lake Como, midlake, where I had booked our room, couldn’t have made it more worth it. What overwhelmed me more than the lake itself, is the geography of the basin it’s in. Carved out by a glacier, the foothills surround the lake are covered in lush foliage with darker vertical veins, which in the haze of humidity appear velvetine, like the iris petals in the flower paintings of Georgia O’Keefe.
On the lake shore, the Hotel Villa Marie, complete with its own cupola (on left, below), is the most picturesque in a row of tile-roofed and pastel-painted Italian villas.
This is not where Albert and Mileva stayed, though it’s one km from the Villa Carlotta where they disembarked from their ferry to tour the house and gardens. The ferry boats are still the most efficient means of transportation to various villages on the lake, so today Beloved and I boarded the slow boat, (Centro Lago in Italian), and took a gestalt tour of the mid-lake villages, including Bellagio, home to luxury shops, and Varenna, a charmingly-preserved fishing village with an 11th century stone chapel and unrestored 14th century frescoes. Tomorrow we will tour the Villa Carlotta. Today it was focused on what it feels like to be here. This morning, in addition to the lapping of water against the stone walls that separate the land from the lake, I heard the church bells ring two strokes with a non-melodious clong. I heard the rigging of the sailboats clinking against aluminun masts in the tiny harbor in front of the hotel, but masts were wood in 1901, so perhaps chattering would be a better word. Regrettably, the traffic noise is loud now on the road that wends around the lake. Albert, unlike Beloved, would not have needed to jerk Mileva from the path of drivers speeding around blind curves.
At our sidewalk cafe dinner last night we sat at a small table among many other couples at small tables, all speaking in whispers, until, as invariable happens with my friendly husband, we all began talking to one another. Beside us was a couple of honeymooners, obvious and perfect for imagining Albert and Mileva, though they were not yet married on their May, 1901 trip, but their heads likely inclined toward one another in the same way, though Albert didn’t drink so they wouldn’t have shared the same bottle of expensive wine, (red, of course.) Still, they might have lingered long, ordering each course and eating it before deciding on the next, sharing each as if unable yet to acknowledge different preferences, she serving out his helping first while he sat by helpless and helplessly in love.
Around these two sat three couples of oldlyweds, none of us jaded, I hope, but clearly in a different place as we lounged back in the wicker chairs, drinking from different liters of winehis red, hers white, ordering not multiple courseswho can eat like that after 35?–but trying not to lick the plate of our measley one course apiece. One man called the rising, almost-full moon, the sun and told the groom to enjoy the next six months as if life would never be like that again. Perhaps not, but I didn’t sense regret from any table. The most senior were a couple from Wales and England, clearly enjoying their holiday together, though they were supposed to come six months earlier for a wedding and had to postpone for his illness. I was thinking how Mileva would have envied us allthe young lovers and the mature ones with our children grown and ably fending for themselves–she who was abandoned and left to care for a schizophrenic son.
Now my patient Beloved waits, out on the balcony of our room, overlooking the lake. The rocky tops of the Alps to the northin fact in Switzerlandturn pink at sunset. His wife writes on, but it is dinner time and he is getting hungry. I suspect we will return to our same cafe, The Helvetia, because our Welsh and British friendslast night the end of their holiday here–confirm it has the freshest food in Tremezzo. The veal in mushrooms and wine the newlyweds were eating looked stupendous.