Our group descending from our hostel in Claviere, Italy, about an hour west of Torino
Last weekend I finally made it to those mountains I keep looking at from a distance on clear Torino days. I went with a group of friends, other volunteers from the afternoon program I work with at Sant’Antonio da Padova. And I decided to go only at the last minute.
Claviere is a ski resort, so that was the ostensible purpose of our trip. I thought about skiing, but when I saw how steep the slopes were, I had visions of being stranded on some black trail and thought it might be better to first make sure that I could find a way down. And unlike the small mountain where I learned to ski in Pennsylvania, there were clearly other things to do, with hiking trails intersecting (and sometimes coinciding with) the ski slopes. In fact, among our group of about 15, only three people skied. So I went hiking.
We stayed in a traditional hostel-type house that was halfway up the first slope, accessible only by walking or (for baggage) by snowmobile. Lunch, at a communal table with a red-checked tablecloth where everyone talked loudly at once, was of the typical leisurely Italian type with a pasta, a meat and vegetable, fruit, and red wine throughout. Then we’d go across the path to the other building for coffee and grappa (for those who take a caffè corretto for digestion). After all this lunch, you were either going to burn off energy or sleep. Some threatened sleep, but usually we walked to France instead.
Montegenèvre, France is the next resort over, about 30 minutes’ walk from Claviere–no border patrol to be seen. People in our group went to buy things from the pharmacy, because they said the same brands cost half as much there as they did in Italy. One fellow, whose part in our group’s play includes trying to hide his wedding announcement by swiping and balling up every copy of Le Figaro he sees, said he was going to stockpile French newspapers. What we all ended up doing was buying pastries.
While in Montegenèvre, we discovered that we were walking along the traditional pilgrimage road to Sant’Iago di Compostela in Spain (named for St. James the Lesser). The estimated remaining distance of 2000 km brought nods of appreciation.
Tiny sugar animals at a French patîsserie and a roadside chapel along the route to Sant’Iago de Compostela, Spain.
On Sunday morning, about seven of us decided to hike about an hour up the mountain to a coffee bar. Two people wore snowshoes, but the rest of us just wore snow boots and ski pants. The weather was warm and the day fine. We had to slow down a bit when the trail became narrow and slippery, and a couple of people had trouble keeping up, but I’m so used to hiking with people who are faster than me that it was delightful to finally have time to take photos, admire whipped-cream snowdrifts, and find a lovely, almost fluorescent-green lichen.
Hiking up to the coffee bar, a pretty lichen, and the lawn chairs we commandeered upon arrival
When we got to the coffee bar, we took several commemorative group pictures, and then most of us ordered apple cider and sat outside to drink it. After cider, with some jokes about how Italians know how to enjoy life better than anyone else, we commandeered the row of deck chairs in front of the bar and soaked up the sun for about 30 minutes while the Germans, English and French exerted themselves on the slopes. We were back to the hostel in time for lunch.
I’m sure this doesn’t sound like a particularly Lenten trip, but for me, it was a reprieve from the usual routine, and a chance to appreciate other people for who they were. As we women went to sleep in one room on Saturday night, we could hear two of the men in the other room laughing so hard that they couldn’t take full breaths. At four a.m., I was awakened by more stifled laughter from the other room. But in many ways, it was quiet, and far from my usual concerns. Very early, I got up, read my Bible, and took a walk outside where I watched the rising sun shine golden on top of the facing mountain and listened to tiny flocks of birds feeding in the firs above. In the walks, in the meals, in nature, in the generous hospitality of the group, in the perspective that comes from being away, there I found a gift from the Lord.