Orta

 As I’m writing this we are streaming through the green rice fields and farmlands of northwestern Italy, the country’s breadbasket. This would all look familiar to you, except for the centuries-old stone farmhouses, white egrets, and brown buzzards perched along the highway like red-tailed hawks.  We’re crossing the Po River, headed south to the Italian Riviera. I’ve been trying to find words to describe a spot we visited this morning, but it’s difficult to explain a kind of personal enchantment. All I can say is this -- I think you would love it.

 A boat carried us to a tiny island, Isola San Giulio on Lake Orta and the Path of Silence.  Imagine yourself walking through a tunnel of moss and shadow, flowers and stucco.  The air is filled with chattering swallows. Windows offer tantalizing glimpses of the lake. Every hundred feet or so, you read a sign that offers you thought for meditation, such as “Silence is the language of love,” and “Silence is music and harmony.”  

 “If you can be yourself, you are everything.”  

 (I confess that as we were overtaken by a garrulous group of Brits, another saying popped into my head -- Jean-Paul Sartre’s words -- “Hell is other people.” You would be proud to know we are the quiet Americans, and a few of us have even been mistaken for Italians or Germans.)

 The Path of Silence rings a convent on the Island of Saint Giulio.

 The legend is that St. Giulio, in about 390 A.D. fled to Italy from Greek persecutors, reaching the edge of Lake Orta. The townspeople told him an island in the middle of the lake was infested with demons and snakes. He spread his cloak, floated to the island on sheer faith, drove off the evil forces, and vowed never to leave.  True to his word, here’s still here; his bones lie in the crypt.

 We walked the Path of Silence that rings a convent on Isola San and then took a small boat back to the town of Orta San Giulio.  Once there, some members of the WXXI Travel Club climbed the Holy Mountain.  More on that later . . .