Thursday, July 28, 2011

The river road

And it seems like it goes on this way forever...
James Taylor
It is not all like this, by any means, so don't get too romantic about it. 
The Lambro Valley Trail starts out perfectly, with optimism and clear signeage, in a dreamy tunnel of leaf and light. It's all so simple, with a hopeful vanishing point to look forward to, if we just keep carrying on the same way.
But life is never quite like that.
This is the Lambro, from which you get Lambrusco, and Lambrettas. It is one of the threads that powered  Milan's industrial heritage. The river is shallow and fast, suspected of a lot of dirty secrets; some would say, much like the locals. Here's one, who did not appreciate us walking by, and went to sit in a pine tree.
Like just about everything in Italy, the state of the river is the subject of much head shaking. 
'Things' should be ... more this, less that. It's the classic talk of those who make against those who take, the shared reasoning of thsoe who who look at the valley and see a resource that could be better managed in a dozen different ways.  The conversation's too deep for me. Once in a while, 'il nostro amico qui' gets a mention, and then you remember that Arcore is just around the corner.

The river gets a 'limpidissima' mention in Petrarch, back in the thriteenhundreds, and there's a saying in Milan, ciar com'el Làmber, it's as clear as the Lambro. Somehow though - and despite the fishermen along the banks - there's bad feeling about the quality of the water. A general sensation that scary things are trickling into it from what's left of the manufacturing trade along its banks, in the hands of Italians most enduring Urban myth, the Evil Entrepreneur. 
Here is a mill chimney, lost in thr trees. once,. dozens of people came down here to work - and soil - the river. but surely that's all been washed away, long since. The water looks fine to me, I'd happily take a swim, but under the surface -well, who knows.
Before long, we are at the Grottoes of Realdino, ready to stop for a drink.
Now here's a pretty contradiction. Everyone turns their nose up at the river water, and points at the mills for the reason why, but the water spouting from the rocks under the factories, that instead is speciale...
There are fish in the flooded miniature caves, shy carp, and busy tiddlers. At night, when it's all lit up, it must be quite a sight....
 But we have much road in front of us, no time to tarry. And ducks ahead, too...
And elderberries, and blackberries, and hawthorn, lilac, maples and plane trees. And lasagne in a working men's restaurant. And a lot of stinging nettles. I learn about Robinia. It is supposed to rain at eleven, but it has not. We have no idea of the time, and anyway, the sky has enough blue in it to make a pair of cat's pyjamas, so we will be okay. 
Rocks and ferns and rising ground. And bends in the river, whenever the path allows us to come back to it.
Eventually, after some meadows, roads, and a steep hill, we come down to an abandoned factory. Inside is like the set of a zombie film, the end of a world.
More river and woods, and then we are at a point where the path, so solid and real on the map, peters out in the face of reality.
A helpful vigile comes to our aid, once he gets over the shock of meeting walkers on his patch. There is some concrete consulting. At least, I think so. It is time to think about the road of return.
Make that the railroad of return.

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