Thoughts on traveling to Ticino (2015)

It is hard to believe that the leadership of the USA – with the world’s biggest collection of weapons of mass destruction – is about to be taken over by a dangerous, uncontrollable and unpleasant fool, surrounded by the worst of the crassly rich that free enterprise can dish up. The average age of the core ministerial team in the new “administration” is 68, they are mostly white and/or military, millionaire males! How Mr. Trumpet managed to appeal to voters from the rust belts, to those who are victims of his variety of crooked, crony capitalism is beyond me. I can scarcely find suitable words to express my disgust and disappointment. The world is in urgent need of visionary, intelligent, inclusive leadership, willing and able to resolve conflicts, not to exacerbate them…

I close my eyes and dream backwards to journeys I have had before the world seemed to be collapsing around us. My trip to Ticino, the Italian region of Switzerland, was one I particularly enjoyed in 2015. These are my thoughts from those 36 hours…

Everything is a question of scale and layers, from the nano cosmic particles buzzing in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN outside Geneva to the museum of the Swiss in the world. Our lives are overlapping instants, with information overload tempered by endless filters. Sometimes it seems impossible to determine the right scale and it seems better to retreat, like a tortoise, shelled. I am tempted by voyages of discovery, the dreams of new places. But I seem to have become more wary of journeys. I sleep uneasily, feel on the threshold of stress and am endlessly planning the next connection. Maybe I have simply reached a limit…

On the other hand, as the sun rises in a splash of red across the Alps, I’m happy to be en route again; destination Locarno in Ticino. After the Simplon tunnel which is long, long and dark, dark into Italy and a crazy crowded train with lots of confusion about seat reservations, I try to figure out what changes when the scenery around me is called Italia. But the transit to Ticino is too short and I can only guess at differences from the vineyards and villages flashing past the window. My inter-cultural studies are superficial.

I soon forget to care anyway, as the landscapes become more and more beautiful. The Monte Rosa massif towers above Domodossola to the west. Eastwards – the direction of travel – the hills are gentler and there are numerous gorges and rushing rivers. But it is the season that really counts on this trip: there are subtle shades of red, gold, brown and orange everywhere.

What happened to green? I guess it will be back, and there are still the pines on the higher slopes to confirm that our world hasn’t lost the hues of biological diversity. I peer anxiously as the train emerges from the tunnels. I don’t want to miss the views and keep an obsessive track on where the train is going with the help of an old map I have bought in my bag.

Then there is the thing about memories, an old theme but often relevant. The coffee I sip in the morning in the stylish hotel reminds me of… The layout of Locarno with an old quarter full of narrow passageways and tiny gardens, balconies and sculpted faces and figures, abruptly separated from a modern grid of apartment blocks, reminds me of Nice (or Nizza for Italians). Scratch below the surface and there are other stories, other associations, other people. As depicted in the film “The life of others” (Das leben der anderen), there are small games which fit into the bigger picture in strange ways and then the universe zooms out and there are just tiny dots, molecules against the giant backdrop of the infinite milky-way. So, it is possible to feel big and small at the same time.

Even after all these years I still enjoy the many dimensions of being that are mapped by Alice in her wonderland. The Negromante restaurant where I ate in Locarno was straight out of the book. Behind a charming, ancient vine-roofed courtyard lurked TV screens with Eurosport and a bar with loud American rock music. It was a perfect example of layers mixed together. I ate an aperitif of olives and drank Leffe blonde (Belgian beer) together with a burger served al Mediterraneo (with mozzarella, not bad…). The streets were quiet after 9 pm. I watched two English speaking kids playing with balloons and tried to imagine the town in midsummer, bursting with holidaymakers. But I was happy to be ”out of season” in my own world.

Lago Maggiore on an October afternoon

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Autumn colours on the quay in Locarno

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Mosaic on a wall with the Swiss mantra: gold and work!

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From the train winding through the mountains

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Motos and houses on the piazza centrale in Domodossola

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Window of a bookshop in Domodossola – a big surprise!

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