This is a real time blog. The engines of the 208 steamer service from Stresa to Locarno, at the top of Lake Maggiore in Switzerland, are throbbing beneath my red plastic chair on the low back deck where I can capture a few rays. Time 5.30pm. This is the return leg. Came up this morning having captured a position on the top deck for a great view of the lakeside and the backdrop of rising Alpine peaks and cloud formations that take the imagination on a journey of dreams through a suggestion of gorges and hazy ravines, overwhelmed by cotton wool ghosts & ghouls.
Looking over to the starboard bank (I think), the green-wooded bubbles of foliage and forest cover the hills and soft peaks that lead away to distant mountains. Dwellings, individually or in clusters large & small, salt & pepper both banks, faithfully following the contours around the hillsides or running in zig-zags diagonally through the green-leaved fluff of the growing slopes or winding in scars like huge helter-skelters.
Close up, little remains of the original lakeside settlements. A nucleus of cobbled streets around a proud spire of church or chapel is all that remains of past fishing communities. Firstly wealthy folk built their holiday villas at the water’s edge, then hotels & apartments went up from the centre and now modern shapes and lines dominate the hills around every hamlet & village, aiding the spread of mass tourism. In the Italian way, a grand hotel dominates a village beach with furled umbrellas & folded sunbeds for hire, thus preventing any hoipoloi, Tom, Dick or Marco from enjoying the sand.
Cannobio is an exception to all of the above. Almost the last stop before Switzerland, first impressions are not good. It’s market day and a line of white vans line the quayside, hiding magnificent buildings with tarpaulins, rails of hanging cardigans & sweaters (wool & cashmere), crates of winter socks and piles of sheets & bedding. Disembarking from the boat into this hubbub and scrum of calling traders, heated tourists, angst waiters, crying children is a real shock.
Narrow cobbled gulleys and stepped paths lead away from the water and up into the old village.
As the market finishes around two, it is a race out of town – to pack away stock, curl away the rain cover, and get onto the lakeside road – White Van Man Convoy. Like robots, two town cleaning vans move their way along the quay and the full glory that is the waterfront of Commodore is revealed. What do you think?