The Winter and the Summer

I am in the Dolomites. I have spent more time here in the last 25 years than anywhere other than home, yet for a variety of reasons, this is my first tme back since 2006.

I wasn’t expecting much to have changed. One probable outcome of the photo project I will be starting here in a few weeks will be to show how little has altered in 100 years. So I wasn’t expecting much in just under six.

Yet, in a way, I was wrong. Even GPS Jane was foxed by two brand new tunnels, for example. Both are in places that were desperate traffic bottlenecks previously. I’d heard talk of the one, bypassing Moena in Val di Fassa, but locals dismissed it even in 2005 as a pipedream. There was clearly no way they’d have bulldozed a dual carriageway anywhere here, even under Berlusconi, and I think the tunnel entrances have been landscaped rather well. I do fear, however, that they have been built simply to manage today’s traffic volumes, and not those of tomorrow.

For Brits involved in walking, climbing and other outdoor activities, the Dolomites were long a source of mystery or disdain. Many of us were brought up on tales of alpine derring-do from the 1950s, when “the Dollies” was somewhere climbers went when the weather broke in the real mountains, in places like Chamonix. Given the distance and nature of the roads between the two, I doubt that was ever really true. Nevertheless, it gave rise to a myth of “sunshine and second best”.

I finally gave in to the badgerings of an old, and now sadly departed, friend in 1985, who wanted an accomplice for several mad schemes. We struck lucky (tales for another time), I was captivated. Within two years, by luck, coincidence and hard graft, I found myself spending more than two months every year, often in winter, always in summer, leading groups in the mountains or on the cross country ski trails. I absorbed the geography, culture and a lot of the language of the area like a sponge, and came to know what it was like to have a “spiritual home”. You’ll find some of the many thousands of photos I took over those years on my web site.

Thus, in my own small way, enthusing, writing magazine articles and having photos published, I was actually part of the process that created some of the bottlenecks. It was very much a case of feeling that the area sort of deserved to be better known, even if that brought with it drawbacks. What I have enjoyed seeing today, though, is evidence of civic interest in the area. Not just the tunnels, but derelict rustic buildings from rural heydays being brought back to commercial or community uses. Stuff like that. Time was, I’ll admit, when the crumbliness had a charm, but it was at the cost of unemployment, no homes for the children of locally employed people, and so on.

I’m not such a fool as to think what little I’ve seen today represents a complete turnaround for the area, though. I am just passing through right now. In a couple of weeks I hope to be back for a longer stay, and more blogging, no doubt.

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