I swear this blog entry is the hardest that I have ever written.
It is hard because in the 5 days I was with Marta (and family and friends), there was not a day when I wasn’t overwhelmed with the delightful landscape I see with my eyes and the magnanimity of love I feel with my heart. We have actually visited more places than just Belluno, but also Feltre and Treviso. As I read my diary again (in order to write this post), I was stunned by how complex my inner reflective feelings developed over the visit.
The visit was very spontaneous and definitely unexpected for Marta. When I sent the text to ask if I could visit her in summer, I guess it was a joyful surprise for her but also a little inconvenient because she would be competing in a volleyball tournament.
I was picked up by Marta’s father, Roberto and I still remember when they went to Sheffield to visit Marta. It was in the living room of her flat and I was wearing a black tribal cape. On the ride to Belluno, I was surprised that Roberto remembers my Instagram user name. Roberto is unlike any father. He has hiked all of Belluno’s mountains at least three times (if I remember correctly) and sometimes he hikes up and skies down. Now how amazing is that.
Then I was very warmly welcomed by Marta’s mother, Marisa, and Grandma. Grandma’s house was one of my favourite homes. There was a lot of wood (not like logs, but wood furniture) inside the house and there were photos of her grandchildren everywhere. It is very warm and cozy, air filled with scents of nature.
Marisa drove me to the volleyball tournament venue. We spoke in French, which was interesting and still funny now that I think of it. Marta was so worried because I don’t speak Italian except “bollitore” (kettle) and Marisa doesn’t speak a lot of English. Who would knew we could speak in French, even just about simple things ? As we arrive, so did the moment of reunion. Marta literally ran towards me like a little girl and gave me a tight hug. It was a nice feeling but now that I look back it’s actually funny but in a good way. She then introduced her teammates, her friends, her extended family and her boyfriend, Roby. It was again a very funny encounter.
That was a lot of Italians, in fact, it was memorable because in the venue there wasn’t even that much foreigners. No blacks, no Latinos, one Asian. As a traveller, this means a unique and fantastic experience because I would never had been in such an occasion if not Marta. The volleyball tournament was very dynamic and lively. I even learnt a new phrase that I am sure will be useful later when I want to attract boys’ attention in an Italian restaurant.
The tournament also comes with food stalls, an evening outdoor concert and some camping nearby – it’s just a fiesta where everyone gets to have fun. Talking about food, I learnt a lot of new vocab because cibo (food) ! Cibo is important. Other than lots of Gelato, what I had was a very traditional Belluno dish called Pastin e Polenta. Pastin is the minced meat grilled in the Belluno way and Polenta is the yellow loaf of also grilled corn porridge. Pastin is surely a tasty meat sausage but I had more fun with Polenta because it has the texture I’ve never had before. It tastes like what we call in Chinese 糕 which could be roughly translated to English as cake. 糕 is more like a pudding and Polenta is a fried/ grilled pudding made of corn porridge. It’s a great match with Pastin and I could totally eat Polenta on its own as a carbo staple.
I will never have enough of cibo but let’s move on to Belluno, the Beautiful One Province herself. When Marta walked me around the town of Belluno, I was brought back to the very classical Medieval times. I haven’t been to a lot of Alpine towns to tell whether Belluno is the most beautiful one, but I think it is a charming mountain town for the peaceful colours that complement each other. Yes, colours. From the window of my room in Hong Kong, I see green trees too. But the mustard yellow bricks of housing blocks and blue glass panels of commercial buildings never complement the hills. In Belluno, however, the pastel colored structures are kept tiny, scattering on the emerald backdrop of spruce, pine and fir. The sky is of clear blue as if we were tiny creatures trapped inside a sapphire stone, that when looking up we feel being radiated with warm refraction.
We hiked up (not technically all the way because Marta drove a bit) to Vista dalla chiesa di S. Liberale and enjoyed a slightly different view from above. It was a great spot for sunbathing, and stretching from one end to another definitely relax the eyeballs.
On the back left of the photo there is a river and Marta told me a story. The river is called Piave. Go all the way up the Piave River leads to a much smaller commune called Longarone. In between the two communes there is Monte Toc, “nicknamed the walking mountain because of its tendency to landslide” (Wikipedia). One day in the 1960s, rocks slid down from Monte Toc, falling into the reservoir of the Vajont Dam, causing a tsunami and flooded the villages of Longarone. Almost 2 thousand people died. Marta is an engineer and she wrote a thesis on this topic, so she was able to explain to me this part of history in Northern Italy, which later when I Googled, I realise it’s certainly an important part.
Belluno is also the home to world’s biggest eyewear company Luxottica. Marta told me this is a good company as it takes care of its employees and she hoped she would work there. Of course, she does today because she is good at what she does. 🙂 As a nerdy girl who always have a pair of glasses on her nose bridge, I could consider working in Luxottica too ! (So I could go on business trips to Italy often 😉 )
I’ve had enough fun and sunlight in Belluno and we went to a nearby town Feltre. To be honest I have already forgotten what Marta told me about Feltre but on the way we stopped at a company/ shop called Lattebusche. There sells nice Gelato and other dairy products. Some photos from Feltre:
On my last day in Italy we went to Treviso because there I would (sadly) hop on the blablacar to Ljubljana. Treviso is a bigger and also charming town, again home of a big company in the world (Benetton). Besides the good weather, nothing makes me happier than drinks, mozzarella, and PIZZA. I should broadcast here that Marisa makes very nice pizzas. Best I have ever had. My mum tried, but she is better at Chinese food. Marta’s are also nice, but well, that’s because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Here I attempt to explain why Italian cuisine is so great. It is not because “the ingredients are simple, the chef insist to use fresh materials” etc. Those are obvious. Instead, Italians put their strong emotions into cooking food. If you have ever been on an Italian dinner table, you could feel it. The first time I was a bit frightened as I felt some debate of the century was going on. But it was not true and they were just very passionate about the topic they are discussing. On a French dinner table, one may respond “Bah oui … mais” (Well yes … but) but on an Italian dinner table, one must respond “Si ! Ma …” (Yes ! But …) when expressing an opposite point of view. And on a Chinese dinner table ? We don’t speak. Haha. Not always but at least not until the older person has finished speaking even if he is terribly wrong. By no means I am a cultural expert and all those are just what I experienced and felt. Also I don’t necessarily have a preference which culture is “better”. Even within Italy, people from the North are a bit different from those down there near the Med Sea. But when certain kinds of food involves a lot of passion in the making, it’s when Italians are so great at presenting them on the plate.
A short summary for this visit, it was lovely, cozy and savory. I have written already 1.5k words on this entry but I could write as much as Proust writing about his insomnia because there are so many little details floating above my head as I write on. I definitely felt closer with Marta and I am so lucky to have known her. And her friends too. Maybe because Belluno is a smaller town it is easier for children to grow up together and so the friendship will last very long. Also Marta’s family. I have read some articles about American wives married to an Italian man and how the long talking dinner traditions shocked them. It made me feel familiar though, because in my home and my C3 flatmates it’s the same.
I should probably end before it hits 2k words ! It was such a visit packed with (food) love, (food) fun, (food) laughter and (food) nature. I hope to go back soon and play with the dogs again. 🙂