Monday, 8 June 2015

A last look at the Piave

A view of Castelfranco in 1920 [Courtesy Luigi Boatto]
It was time for me to say goodbye to the Piave.  The river had been my constant companion  from the source on Monte Peralba to Covolo.  That was where Una and I left  to make our way to Castelfranco.

Once again I must express my gratitude to Luigi Boatto, in this case for this fine image of Castelfranco in 1920.

I stayed overnight in Castelfranco at the family home of my friend Michele, a mature student of mine at Aberdeen University during the previous academic year.  That year we had enough Italian students to challenge our local team, Methlick, at football.  - I'm sorry to

say that, as the captain of the losing side, the final score was Methlick 8 Italy 1 - but I still have a trophy from the Italians on my desktop  to prove I was there!

The next day Michele drove us north past Montebelluna and Cornuda to where Una and I had crossed the Piave the previous day.  We passed fields of maize - in Italian mais -from which they make polenta.  

Then it started to rain in that unpredictable way that it does in Northern Italy - in torrents.
North of Castelfranco [Venezia, Carta della Provincia, Litografia Artistica Cartografica]
I had been very lucky - the only other time it rained on that trip was on the very first evening I spent in Cima Sappada.

We drove over the bridge and through Vidor - where a banner declared a Vidorfest was being held, albeit in the rain - to seek refuge in a bar in Falzè di Piave, a little town further downriver on the left bank.

The Piave between Vidor and Nervesa  [Venezia, Carta della Provincia, Litografia Artistica Cartogarfica]

Here we enjoyed a glass of Prosecco, the effervescent white wine of the region.  I had passed by the vineyards around Valdobbiadene  the previous day, while heading down the hill towards the Piave at Bigolino.

It was still raining hard outside, so we had an early lunch.  Michele introduced me to Italian sandwiches.  

We sampled a focaccia and a tramezzino, which is simply the Italian alternative to the ubiquitous English loan word 'sandwich'. 

Michele explained the names of all the spirits and liqueurs that populated a shelf over the bar.  We ordered coffee and grappa al mugo  - well... it was my last day on the Piave!

Michele told me that tiny pine cones (from a tree that lives higher up the mountains than other pines) are sealed in a jar full of distilled white wine for a year to make the grappa.  All I could say at the time (into my audio diary) was that it was 'lovely'. 

The rain wasn't so bad by then, so we drove along the left bank through a little hamlet called Sant'Anna, where the road was flanked by an avenue of  trees with leaves like a plane tree.  Michele told me it was the platano, a tree that originates in the Balkans, which can live for upwards of 500 years.

As we drove down the south bank we passed over a tributary brown  with floodwater from the recent downpour.  The Piave itself was rising slowly.  We reached a point were the old road from Conegliano crossed the Piave.  The Piave basin is populated  with literally hundreds of acacia in this region.  Michele told me that the flowers are collected by folk in these parts and cooked with flour in a pan.

The Door of Perarolo opens with a description of an Austrian soldier patrolling a wooden bridge that once existed at this spot.  The bridge was of great strategic importance to the Austrian troops following the French forces retreating from the east.

 Nowadays the road is blocked off at the point where it reaches the Piave.  At some point in the nineteenth or twentieth century the wooden bridge was replaced by a stone arch bridge with iron railings along the parapets.

We looked across the river at the hills of the Montello, then took the modern road  bridge (further downriver) that carries the main road across the Piave (marked Ponte della Priula on the map above).  

At the other side Michele stopped the car, and I managed to get a picture of sorts of the old bridge through the gloom. 
The old bridge at Nervesa in the gloom  [© P.A.G. 1998] 

We were looking at this view on a warm if wet day in September - so pity, if you will, those Austrian soldiers of two hundred years ago, patrolling here on the winter solstice in the freezing cold that envelopes Veneto in the winter months.

A glimpse of the Piave after the rain  [© P.A.G. 1998] 

After a while the rain stopped and the sun came out.  I managed to get a glimpse of the Piave downriver over the top of a hedgerow on the Montello.  

Then we drove up to the ossario, the building that containing the remains of the soldiers lost in the battles hereabouts, especially in the Great War.

Field gun on the Montello  [© P.A.G. 1998] 
Inside the walls are several yards wide because they contain the tombs of thousands of soldiers.  We signed the book of remembrance, looked at the museum of memorabilia and read a poem about the Battle of the Piave when the banks of the river 'were red with blood'.   

The Piave has special significance as regards the First World War, as I was to see later.  

Pumping station on the Canale della Vittoria  [© P.A.G. 1998] 

We headed down the Montello towards Nervesa.  We took a diversion to look at the Canale della Vittoria. which runs along close to the right bank of the Piave towards Nervesa.  I use a mini tripod for my camera and usually stand the camera on some object - a car roof, a dustbin - but there was nothing handy. So I asked Michele to touch his toes so I could set up the tripod on his back.  Hence the strange angle at which the photo was captured!

An old house at Nervesa  [© P.A.G. 1998] 

We viewed some lovely old houses as we drove by.  Some were occupied, though others were boarded up as though awaiting renovation.  This house (above) with a fine wrought iron balcony caught my attention - I took a photo, although the light had deteriorated again.

It was time to leave Nervesa - nowadays called Nervesa della Battaglia

During the Battle of the Solstice in June 1918, Nervesa was almost completely destroyed in the fighting between Italian and Austrian forces. 

We headed back over the the Ponte della Priula to Susegana - where we heard the sound of wedding bells!  It seemed a pity not to take at least one photo...

The Piave between Nervesa and Maserada
[Venezia, Carta della Provincia, Litografia Artistica Cartografica]

We took the road  towards Santa Maria di Piave, through Tezze di Piave, passing more maize fields and vineyards. 

Then we turned right towards the Piave.  

At San Michele di Piave we came across a beautiful duomo.  Well... it seems that's what I called it on the tape in my audio diaries -  it's either a large chiesa or a small duomo. Take your pick!

The duomo at San Michele di Piave  [© P.A.G. 1998] 

As we left the village so as to cross the Piave to Maserada, I asked Michele if the duomo was named after himself, but he said 'no'!  The road from Cimadolmo to Maserada crosses the Piave via the Grave di Papadopoli, an island formed in the river in 1882 during a flood.  

Here, after the Battle of the Solstice, in October 1918, Italian troops supported by British infantry finally defeated the Austrian army, effectively putting an end to the Austrian Empire.  The British dead from that battle are buried in a cemetery at Tezze di Piave.
Another student of mine, Luca (from a previous academic year at Aberdeen University), from this region, had told me of a geological fault in the bed of the Piave at this point on the river.  The river, he said, simply disappears into the gravel bed, to reappear reborn downstream somewhere before San Donà .

As we drove over the bridge on the left bank onto the Grave we noticed that the riverbed was indeed dry.   We followed a road up the middle of the island, which turned into a rough track.  When we reached the end of the track we could look upstream and see signs of the river before it disappeared underground.  But it was time, now, for us to go back to Castelfranco.  On the way out of the Grave we spotted these wild flowers (in the picture above), and took a sample with us for Michele's mother Laura to identify.

The Piave between Maserada and San Donà [Venezia, Carta della Provincia, Litografia Artistica Cartografica]

San Donà di Piave [Courtesy Luigi Boatto]
It would have been nice to have gone further downriver as far as San Donà , but we had run out of time.  

However Luigi Boatto has sent me (grazie ancora, Luigi!) some images  of postcards from his collection to fill in the gaps!

San Donà's name is a shortened (hence the grave accent) form of the name of the city's patron saint, San Donato.

However, the church that bears his name nowadays is over on the other side of the river at Musile!  

According to tradition, in order for the city to keep the name San Donà, the Sindaco de Sancto Donato must pay a tribute of two capons on August 7th of each year to the Musilense Sindaco. 

So, if you're short of inspiration as to where to go for a summer break, why not try San Donà or Musile in early August?

Giovan Battista Pellegrini in his article Dal Peralba alla laguna.  Postille dialettali e toponomastiche (In La via del Fiume, Cierre Edizioni 1993) says of the name Musile:

...we can define with certainty that it dealt with a particular market namely, in the first place, closed pasture for equids, that is to say for horses and asses... the numerous Friulane variants for Musile from the dialect musso ‘ass’...

When writing  The Door of Perarolo I needed a place to stable Fortin's horse, Éclair, while he was in Venice, and Musile was therefore an obvious choice.  

Musile  di Piave [Courtesy Luigi Boatto]

At this point on the river, the Piave divides into two rivers, the main branch which flows into the Adriatic just north of Venice, and the old river course which meanders lazily, via a series of locks, down to the lagoon.

The Via Postumia, the Roman road between Maserada and Castelfranco
Venezia, Carta della Provincia, Litografia Artistica Cartografica]

We passed through Maserada sul Piave and took the long straight Roman road, the Via Postumia, that leads to
Castelfranco in the '50s  [Courtesy Luigi Boatto]
to Castelfranco.  
Maserada was an important town in Roman times.

Just before Castelfranco we turned off to San Floriano di Campagna. Michele told me that he wanted me to meet some friends, three brothers who run a farm there - Paulo, Severino and Daniele.  Paulo had visited Michele in Aberdeen during the Christmas vacation.

The farm produces pears, peaches, kiwi fruit and apples.  They also grow the pinot grape to produce a fine white wine, some bottles of
Homemade wine - bubbling demijohns
which we took with us to Castelfranco that evening. 
Years ago, in the UK, there was a fashion for homemade wine.  It seemed that every kitchen in the land had a demijohn fitted with a fermentation trap containing an evil-looking brew bubbling away.  Great emphasis was placed on keeping a tiny little fly - the vinegar fly - away from the precious brew.  Imagine my surprise to see the wine being brewed commercially in big open vats!

The liquid in each vat was covered in about an inch of froth, which Daniele blew aside in order to scoop a glass of wine, which he handed to me.  It was as delicious a young, sweet sparking white wine as I have ever tasted, before or since.

Journeying into Castelfranco we stopped so I could take the picture above of the evening sun on the walls of
the old castle, then carried on to Michele's home to join his family and friends for dinner.

That evening Laura, Michele's mum, told us about the flora of the Piave valley - but much more about that in a later blog post!

In Italy, a meal is a social event for family and for friends.  There are many familiar faces in this photo (right) - hi Anna, Stefano!

The next day Michele and I, together with another ex-student, Dario, went to Venice on the train to view the Regatta, and many other wonderful sights. We took Una along too, as Una and I were journeying on to Verona that evening, for an overnight stay before catching the plane at Milan airport... and returning home. 

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.

If you'd like to track these blog posts, you can follow me, Peter Alexander Gray, on Facebook.

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