By Arthi Nandakumar
I walked from my apartment to the piazza with my roommate. The sun was beating down hard that day so I made sure to cover myself completely in sunscreen, wear a large hat, and bring my new fan (I may have looked a little ridiculous). The plan for the evening was to meet at the piazza and then take a twenty-minute bus ride to a town called Pennabilli.
We had talked about the excursion a bit in our Italian class that morning with Illaria, our wonderful instructor. She had explained the gist of the itinerary, and it seemed that we would be going to what appeared to be similar to an open-air museum. As an admirer of art I was already excited for the trip, though that feeling was damped slightly by the prospect of having to hike quite a bit (we were informed that the area is quite mountainous). Nonetheless, that afternoon we were gathered on the bus and headed down the very windy road to Pennabilli regardless of my lack of physical fitness.
Having just finished Italian class, a coaching, and a rehearsal all back to back, I was quite fatigued and ended up knocking out pretty immediately following our departure (seems to be a trend with me). Twenty-minutes seemed to go by much too quickly, and the slowing of the bus alerted me awake. We got off the bus, and as I shielded my eyes from the sun, I took my first good look around.
I thought the view in Novafeltria was amazing.
I was not ready for this.
I wish I could accurately depict the grandeur of this place, but no words could ever truly do it justice, which is why I will attempt, with my meager ability, to paint an image that creates at least a shadow of what we saw that day.
So much green. All shades. Evergreen, lime green, emerald, etc. covering every inch of the landscape. We were surrounded by mountains, but if Novafeltria’s mountain reminded me of a hug, Pennabilli’s mountains were a force of nature enveloping and knocking the breath out of us with their majesty. They seemed to go forever. When one mountain dipped down, another sprung up from behind it. It was overwhelming. Crushing awe stopped us in our tracks multiple times as we attempted to get anywhere in town, and I tried to sear the image that seemed to be mother nature’s greatest masterpiece into my mind.
We distractedly made our way up the street (literally stopping every couple of minutes to take pictures), and finally arrived at our first destination, the house of the late Tonino Guerra. I honestly had no clue who this man was or what he did when I first entered his house, but I think we all left with so much appreciation for Mr. Guerra, and I, at least, was completely enamored. Upon entering his place, his wife welcomed us with the warmest smile I’ve seen in a while. They had converted their house into a mini museum filled with Mr. Guerra’s artwork, poems, and films. The furniture itself was art. All around us were nature motifs. Cabinets made to look like trees, butterfly paintings covering the ceiling, a large leaf sculpture occupying a quarter of the room carved with such intricate detail. Every piece in that house appeared to be a piece of art and there was some fantastical element to it. Many people commented that the whole atmosphere reminded them of something out of a fairy tale and I’m inclined to wholeheartedly agree.
But the fantasy did not end there.
If you have ever seen a Studio Ghibli movie, think of something in that vein.
If not, once again, here is my poor attempt at describing his garden.
Plants caught on our clothes as we made our way up the narrow, windy path. We were surrounded by plants of all kinds. Lavender, rosemary, and pine filled our noses. The fresh air and cool shade provided by the trees around us made the trek more bearable. I looked up from my feet (I was trying really hard not to trip), and started noticing sculptures popping up. The beautifully carved, round, white stool with Italian inscriptions on them. A little pond. Cats appearing left and right. A meditation garden secluded from the rest of the world. A mystical sense filled the atmosphere.
Once we were out of the garden, we continued to walk up a hill ignoring the burning in our calves and thighs. My excitement kept the energy in my body going, but upon reaching the top, new life seemed to surge through me. The mountains that we had seen on our walk to the museum and garden were now in full view surrounding us. A clear view looking down on the town made it seem so insignificant in comparison to the nature around it. Aeolian harps sounded as the cool, fresh breeze hummed through them. I felt dizzy. This was the scenery that was painted in the background of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. I slowly tried to take everything in walking around multiple times and seeing something new each time. Bells chimed every so often. A bird glided through the air. A mountain shaped like a corkscrew stood in the distance. Small towns looking like a couple of dots on a painting spotted the horizon.
We had to be dragged away.
Reluctantly, we arrived back in town. We saw more gardens. Raspberry bushes, pear trees, figs. An antique chamber where women used to wash their clothes, a sun dial, a sculpture of a large snail, a beautifully painted arch. There never seemed to be an end to the fantasy. But like all fairy tales, this one also had to come to an end.
Before we knew it, we were back on the bus headed to Novafeltria. My exhaustion caught up and I conked out (what was that I said about a trend). I had to be woken up upon arrival, and I swear, Pennabilli really did feel like a dream.