Day 37 Saturday 7 July
Varese, Lugano, Italy 60km. Total 2180km.
In the morning we go to say goodbye to our hosts. The children tell us they’ve been having a water fight. Later the mother says they got up especially early so the could say goodbye to us. The boy takes a photograph. We are given another cup of coffee. Cycling away, I look back at the quiet place, with its maize and rows of young straight trunked trees. We pass through may small villages and settlements like this in the area.
Gradually throughout the day we enter more heavily populated country- the suburbs of Milan. We are stared at wherever we go. Many people talk to us. I start to wonder if I should not be wearing shorts. And whether we look like tramps. It is hard to get any bread because the shops are so full, and we feel as if we are vacillating and don’t know where we are going because we don’t have the next map.
Having bought food for two days in Varese, we trend towards Lake Lugano. Passing a farm, we see an umbrella in front with a group of old people sitting. We approach to ask if we can camp. No problems. We are led past a desperate alsation, to a field of short grass and thyme with green hills enclosing us all around. There is the farm house, with a cherry tree full of fruit shining in the evening sun, and glimpses of people working in their grey or blue clothes which become so inconspicuous amongst the shadows and crops.
Giant stag beetles fly like absurd bats towards the big tree, standing up with their great antlers bent forwards at the top and the sun shining bloody red through rattling wings. I speculate. Maybe it is their one night of the year when they take wing like this, like the elids. There are females beetles motionless on upright posts, trees and telegraph poles, who must be emitting a smell or a sound. The giant males come clumsily, orienting towards them, unable at first to locate what they want. After a while we see one homing right towards a stationary female and find her. Climb on top. We feel privileged to see this event.
Later, the patrone and her daughter come to tell us that there is a village fete in the nearby field and if we like we can move the tent to a plateau where it is quieter. We pick up the entire tent and contents by the four corners and carry it up the slope. The farmer comes to speak with us. He learnt French in the army, has eyes that remind me of Dad – looking directly, and big hands with black nails. He says to ask there is anything we want. He tells us more about the fete and we walk over there at dusk, to see couples dancing latin dances and cha cha chas, sambas. On the way back, fireflies are dotting the dark spaces along the hedge.