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Lake Garda seen by Sir D. H. Lawrence’s gaze

“Everything seemed so lush, almost tropical – and everything seemed woven from the sun. Leaves, the earth, the stems of the plants […] So Riva: and there the lake sparkled in the sun. […] For him, Riva was beautiful. First of all, the ancient tower with its large blue facade with the clock rose up at the quay of the lake […] There was the lake, alive and marbled, with its blue-black transparent water, rather dark, so alive. And there were boats with bright yellow sails and red and orange sails, and boats with two white sails […] And there was cordiality, a sparkle, a delightful ease beyond belief, southern in its ease, and Nordic in its charm alert.”

This description belongs to D. H. Lawrence, one of the most beloved English writers in the twentieth century. He describes his first encounter with Lake Garda and precisely in Riva del Garda, which in 1912 was still Austrian. David and Frieda, the woman he will later marry, a German baroness escaped from her husband, had done a long journey on foot crossing Germany and the Alps. They stopped in Trento, which they did not appreciate and then went on up to the enchanting town of Riva del Garda. I imagine them arriving with the small train that descent from Nago, I image the amazement in their eyes for the landscape of Sarca plain and the lake that stretches in front of them. That railway line no longer exists: it was suppressed in 1936.

In Riva they found a beautiful furnished room with a painted ceiling at Villa Leonardi in Viale Giovanni Prati n. 8, but it was too expensive for them. After a short time, they decided to move to Villa di Gargnano by Mr. Pietro De Paoli to whom they had been directed, who owned Villa Igea, not far from the delightful port of the village, where they will stay for almost seven months.

Eventually they will move to San Gaudenzio before Muslone, a tiny hamlet of Gargnano, a real enchantment, with an extraordinary view of the lake, before returning to England.

We find writer’s impressions in the essay Twilight in Italy, published in 1916, a travel book almost totally rewritten compared to the first publication in 1913 in a magazine. Even the numerous letters he wrote to his friends in that period are a precious source that combines his observations on places, his writings and the story of daily life lived with Frieda.

Through stories and letters, Lawrence reveals the landscape and humanity of the village, describes the places that have fascinated and intrigued him. Gargnano is described as “a rather decadent village on the lake. You can only get there by boat because of the high rocky hills behind the village […] there are vineyards and olive groves and lemon gardens on the hill behind.” And again “The village smells a little wine. They press it on the street and in the farmyard.”

In Villa Igea, in Via Colletta 8, next to the headquarter of Comunità Montana (a local Authority), which was the owner’s villa, they live in “a beautiful apartment” […] “the villa is separated from the lake only by the road and overlooks the water. There, in the light of the sun – there is always the sun here…”

And so, with his eyes, we review images of villages of the past and the places he frequented. We review the owner, Mr. Pietro who “sends baskets of figs and grapes and strange fruits and a strange grape juice that seethes, wine at the first stage”.

We review the square in Villa di Gargnano “a pretty square where Italians chat and fishermen moor their boats, right nearby…” which is perhaps one of the few places that still today has kept its charm almost intact.

And we know that he goes to drink in the local tavern. Inns for Lawrence “are like the family living room – dogs, children, boiling pots, rascals and large open hearths where you can sit” […] “and you can go to the cellar – and there is the family for dinner by the fire and you drink at another table.”

Just in Gargnano Lawrence ends his third book Sons and lovers, as well as composes numerous poems, plays and articles and writes his first travel book. He writes letters and with Frieda they try to learn Italian (“like humble children”) thanks to the help of a certain Miss Feltrelline from whom he is often reprimanded, who he describes as “It is all laughing. She wears black gloves and keeps Frieda and me in line.”

With Frieda they go to the theatre. Mr. De Paoli offered them his key to the stage n. 8, in Gargnano, in the deconsecrated church, where he has the opportunity to meet the whole village and observe the rigid hierarchies of rank and sex of the community. The church “was built with great intelligence for a perfect dramatization of religious ceremonies”. Even today it is possible to visit the theatre which has undergone changes and transformations but it has maintained its function.

And he comments with friends: “The Italians sing here. They are very poor, they buy two bucks of butter and one of cheese. But they are fine and walk like royalty in the small square where boats arrive and nets are mended. And they pass by the window with pride, and are in no hurry. And women walk straight and look calm.”

And then they make excursions in the surroundings: to Maderno, to Campione, to Gardola di Tignale. But they do not integrate with the inhabitants who do not speak their language, but only sometimes a funny French and normally speak an almost incomprehensible dialect.

Lawrence discovers the olive harvest, which he mistakenly thinks is a late harvest, he describes a moment that nowadays you can still see and come across in mid-November: “Today I have seen a man who was picking olives. They are perched like strange birds on a scale like this … They look bizarre – but Italians have such beautiful figures and beautiful movements.”

Go to the second part of this article!

Cristina De Rossi
Italy4golf Italian Ambassador

Campione, Figli e Amanti, Frieda von Richthofen, Gardola di Tignale, Lake Garda, Maderno, Muslone, Nago, olive harvest, Pietro De Paoli, Riva del Garda, San Gaudenzio, Sarca, Sir D. H. Lawrence, Sons and lovers, Twilight in Italy, Villa di Bogliaco, Villa di Gargnano, Villa Igea, Villa Leonardi


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