Friday, 28 November 2014

From Codissago to Belluno

My diary from that summer of 1998 shows that I made several trips to places such as Cortina, Feltre (Feltre appears later in this blog) and also spent time in Belluno library reading and collecting material as part of the research for writing of The Door of Perarolo.  I had by that time based myself in a hotel in  Belluno which allowed me to cycle the Piave in a series of excursions, returning each day to Belluno on the train.  It wasn't until Thursday the 3rd September that I returned to Codissago to cycle along the Piave from Codissago to Belluno.

Zattieri loading a zattera in the nineteenth century
Codissago nowadays has a rafting museum but little else remains, other than the buildings of the village itself, as a record of the rafting industry whose master raftsmen lived here. 

The quay where the rafts were re-cargoed after their arrival from Perarolo has gone, though the quarry behind the quay remains.  The quarry is used nowadays as a test course for learner drivers and looks rather strange - festooned as it is with road signs!  

Napoleone Cozzi's charming painting above shows a zattera being loaded with a cargo of wood at Perarolo - and the scene at Codissago would have been similar.  Some of the wood would have been off-loaded as part payment to the zattieri for their work before the loading of much extra cargo - quarried stone, hand tools, etc. - as described in Chapter One of The Door of Perarolo.

With Barbara and Umberto before leaving Codissago
 for the last time in 1998.  [© Peter Alexander Gray 1998]

They don't make shorts like that for cyclists nowadays...

Umberto had advised me to cycle along the left bank of the Piave, as the right bank is dominated by an industrial area and the road is much used by lorries and so forth; the road is also the main route south for motorists heading towards Belluno.

No self-respecting Italian would would be seen cycling in gear like mine - I have 'English tourist' stamped all over me!  My experience on my travels was that Italian lorry drivers enjoyed thundering past close to the bike giving me the wobbles with a good blast of air - together with a good blast on the horn for emphasis!

Timber still plays a major part in the life of the people 
 of the Piave valley. 
[© Peter Alexander Gray 1998]
One of the first things I saw as I cycled south from Codissago was a wood yard full of stacks of timber. As well as being used for the local manufacture of chipboard, timber is a readily-available fuel, and wood stoves are still a major source of domestic heating in Cadore.

The Spiz Gallina silhouetted against the southern light. 
[© Peter Alexander Gray 1998]

Looking down the valley  I could see the characteristic shape of the Spiz Gallina (Hen's Beak).  Shooting into the sunlight created the picture on the left.

The Spiz Gallina is circled in red on the third of the maps below.

Heading down the left bank to Dogna [Carte e Piante Turistiche Tobacco sheet 21]
A bridge takes the road over the Vajont (a little water still flows down the valley).  Then the road rises up towards Dogna.  

Across the valley, where the bulk of the buildings of Longarone were destroyed in the disaster of 1963, a thriving industrial complex is rejuvenating the community.

A section of Longarone sited on higher ground, not directly opposite the Vajont valley, still survives.  The restored part includes the Town Hall, il Municipio.  

The photograph below was taken on the steps of the building in 2008, when my daughter and I visited the region again to take part in the annual walk from Codissago to Perarolo.

I stayed with Michele Berton's family in Castelfranco on the last part of my journey down the Piave valley in 1998.  

Michele was a visiting student (from Padua University) at Aberdeen University during my time as as an academic at Aberdeen.

At Longarone, left to right: Michele, Umberto, Jenny Gray, PAG. [ ©Peter Alexander Gray 2008]

That day in 1998 my bicycle, Una, and I made our way up the hill to the village of Dogna. The houses of the village are very much today just as they would have appeared in the nineteenth century.  
Dogna church [ ©Peter Alexander Gray 1998]

The surfaced road, the lampposts, the cars together with the modern clothes worn by the boy kicking a football are the only strong signs of a century of change.  

Beautiful old houses in Dogna [ ©Peter Alexander Gray 1998]

I recall, looking back on my own youth, playing football by kicking the ball against a wall just like the lad in the photo - probably for the same reason - because there wasn't enough of us to get up much of a team in our small country village.

Church and houses in Provagna [ ©Peter Alexander Gray 1998]

Time was short.  I took the picture to the right of Provagna and a few more before heading on down the valley again.  

You can find some very professional photos taken in both these lovely villages here.  

The road down the valley between Dogna and Provagna was steep in places so I was glad to be able  freewheel downhill to the bridge that crosses the Piave below Provagna, shown on the map below (lower LH corner).

Dogna to Provagna[Carte e Piante Turistiche Tobacco sheet 21] 

My diary tells me that I didn't cross the river but instead continued to follow the road that flanked the left bank of the Piave.

There are many small streams and rivers running down the flanks of Monte Toc (Top RH corner of the map below) and the Spiz Gallena (circled red).  

South of Provagna [Carte e Piante Turistiche Tobacco sheet 24] 

As I headed south the road came close by the Piave - too close.  The river at some time had been in flood and it had washed away a section of the track.  There was a barrier to stop motorists going further, and beyond that the road - according to my diary notes - 'just disappeared into thin air'.   However, other cyclists had been there before me, so I followed their tracks up through woodland and then down back towards the Piave, where the road continued.

A dried-up river or a flow of rocks? [ ©Peter Alexander Gray 1998]

Now and then I would come across what looked like a dried-up river bed full of white dolomite rocks. These may indeed have been river beds (for there had been little rain and the weather was still hot and dry that year, even in early September) or they may have been examples of a boa di ghiaia – which means 'a landslide of stones' in the Cadorino language.  These landslides are common throughout the Dolomites as the mountains (once a huge coral reef) are made of soft rock which cracks under the action of ice formation in the winter months.  

The palestra di roccia in the Gallina valley [Carte e Piante Turistiche Tobacco sheet 24] 

In the Gallina valley there is the palestra di roccia, literally the 'rock climber's gymnasium'.

This is the sort of training ground for would-be alpine mountaineers that can be found in the Cadore region.

Along the left bank to Sovèrzene  [Carte e Piante Turistiche Tobacco sheet 24] 

The dam in the Gallina valley, like the one in the Vajont valley, feeds the HEP (hydro-electric power) station at Sovèrzene (marked Cetrale di Sovèrzene ) on the map above.  The dotted blue lines show the network of tunnels that extend over a vast area of Cadore.

Cycling up the hill out of the Gallina valley was the toughest test for Una and myself that hot day.  It was a steep ascent!  I was glad to coast down the hill through Sovèrzene to the bridge over the Piave, and so cross to the right bank, so as to take the road south to Ponte nelle Alpi.  

When the bridge was built a special ramp was constructed to allow the safe passage of zattere.  You can see it if you look carefully!

Ponte nelle Alpi (Capo di Ponte)  [Carte e Piante Turistiche Tobacco sheet 24] 

Ponte nelle Alpi was originally called Capo di Ponte (the name used in The Door of Perarolo).

Before arriving at Belluno I wanted to take photos inside the little church there, the chiesa di Santa Caterinabut the three old ladies acting as custodians there told me that photography wasn't allowed inside the church.  There are many fine photos of the church to be found on the Internet, such as this one.  

One of old ladies put the lights on inside the church for me.  My notes tell me that there was a very old display 'like an ancient Welsh dresser' stocked with religious artifacts. The altar was lit by electric candles.  I left a donation towards the upkeep and was told that Santa Caterina was the oldest church in Veneto.  I recorded in by diary that it was a very beautiful bijou church.

Leaving Ponte nelle Alpi I had to head back north a short distance and take a left fork onto the main road that runs along the right bank.  Then it was a straight run along the main road to Belluno and a hot shower back at the hotel.

If you have seen the photographs of the zattere in the post Zattere you may have wondered what happened to these amazing rafts after their historic journey downriver to Venice.

One of them was bought by the owner of a restaurant near Belluno and put on display outside under the cover of some trees.

One last surviving zattera [ ©Peter Alexander Gray 1998]
Littered with leaves and with one oar post missing it was still a great thrill, that evening, to walk the length of this amazing river craft.  But if you're standing outside one of the best restaurants in the Belluno district, the obvious thing to do is to go inside and try the menu...

They're happy because... [ ©Peter Alexander Gray 1998]
Are they happy because they eat lard?  No, I think it was the red wine...  Except in Barbara's case - she is only a moderate consumer of wine.  Umberto and myself though, the owner of the restaurant (wearing his kitchen apron) and the random Italian who decided to join us have all had too much of the vino rosso.

OK, here's a test for Italian language students.  Can you explain this T shirt in Italian?  [ ©Peter Alexander Gray 1998]

In next month's post Una and I head south towards one of the best preserved of all Italian towns - Feltre.

Note: This blog supports readers of The Door of Perarolo, a historical novel set in Cadore, Italy in the early nineteenth century.  You can examine feedback from readers in the UK here and in the US here.  The Door of Perarolo is a Kindle ebook comprising 140 chapters.  It can be downloaded from Amazon sites worldwide.  The launch post of this blog gives further details.  The second post provides links to maps, etc.

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