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A sabbatical summer on the shores of Lake Como


If Paris is a moveable feast, the tiny village of Gallio, Italy–anchored high above Lake Como’s ancient glacial waters–is a simple, unassuming, yet delectably savory meal. On this late August afternoon, gazing out from the balcony of our apartment at a sun-drenched, glistening swath of northern Lake Como below, I recall the cold February evening my wife Emily and I inched closer to our boldest dream to date of uprooting our comfortable Verona, New Jersey lives and moving to Europe with our twin toddlers. I had just gained approval for a six-month teaching sabbatical, phoned my wife with the news, and was returning home to our mutually-adored Franklin Street home in these suburbs west of NYC.
Lake Como, Italy

Before the front door shut, there was an impossible to contain giddiness in her welcome: “Congrats hun!” “So I guess we’re doing this,” I said, smiling, while shaking off the final vestiges of that February chill.

A frenzied spring ensued as we secured a 6-month tenant for our Verona house and tended to all the other dizzying logistics of relocating overseas while working full-time and raising twin, two-year old boys.

Those same twin boys–Colin and Kyle–now nap downstairs in our Gallio apartment as my wife reads in a chair adjacent to mine on our balcony. I peer out at a midday bluish, green Lake Como canvas dotted with dozens of synchronously white sailboats. A mountain creek next to our apartment trickles past–sharing its soothing melodies before silencing its gentle serenade as it spills into Lake Como.

Unlike the pomp and grandeur of a Rome, Florence, or Venice, Gallio basks in its humble, quiet anonymity. Like a docile sibling, It prefers to cast a reticent eye outward at the bigger, more raucous local tourist prizes of Mennagio, Bellagio, and Lenno that hug Como’s vast lakeshore.

In Gallio, life advances at a delightfully mellow crawl. It’s narrow main road is less than one mile long and there is absolutely no commercial activity. No street lights, pubs, post offices or markets here. A chirping cricket, buzzing bee, or the pleasant cackle of some locals is all that breaks the remarkable quiet of this hillside gem.

Most of Gallio’s modest homes are accessed by ascending four pedestrian-only lanes that snake up from this main road perched 3 kilometers or so up a steep, winding road from Rezzonico, a charming village on Lake Como’s shoreline. The steep Via Del Palma—one of these four arteries–led us daily up to and from our two-floor flat. It’s narrow stone path, barely able to hold two people side by side, seemed to harbor countless, centuries-old secrets. One afternoon, a slender, Italian man in his 30s tending a small garden and sensing our American origins, approached his fence, smiling:

“Would you like some strawberries,” he said in admirable English. “Sure…that’s very nice,” I offered, surveying his modest, sloping garden plot.

He sheepishly emerged a few moments later from around a patch, telling us that our bounty on this day would unfortunately be just one small, ripe strawberry. We thanked him, and my wife and I shared our small Gallio home-grown snack in two bites as we continued our walk homeward.

Graziella, who owns the apartment with her husband Roberto, speaks to me in her halting, limited English as we check out after our all too brief, one week-stay. A slender, woman in her 60s with closely cropped black hair, she tells me that, like that solitary strawberry, she too has her roots in Gallio:

“I was born here,” she says slowly, her face exuding a cherubic warmth that we saw emanate from the faces of other locals in our multiple daily treks up and down Via Del Palma. “No hospital…in house,” she confides, smiling.

Now a resident of nearby Lenno, she cannot mask her pride in her Gallio beginnings. I thank her heartily for her beautiful apartment as I turn for the door. “ciao e buona giornata”, she says.

But our meal is not finished. For like the moveable feast of 1920s Paris that Hemingway so warmly extolled and that stayed with him wherever he travelled thereafter, Gallio’s modest, unassuming buffet of quiet treasures–for these Verona, New Jersey residents at least–will forever linger in our palate.
Twins on cobbled path, Lake Como

 

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