Most of the well-maintained public spaces in and around Como are dependent on the goodwill of volunteers. In some cases they owe their very existence, let alone their upkeep, to public-spirited private citizens – as in the case of Cernobbio’s Giardino della Valle (Valley Garden). This singularly beautiful oasis of calm, straddling the banks of a mountain stream as it descends to the lake alongside the Hotel Villa D’Este, exists thanks entirely to the vision and tenacity of Ida Lonati Frati, better known to all as Nonna Pupa. Nonna Pupa died on Wednesday November 20th.
She was born in August 1924 in Varese and moved to Como with her husband after the last war. When she became widowed in 1972, she moved to Cernobbio to live in a cottage at the end of Via Plinio, part of the Antica Strada Regina which runs up the west side of the lake. Every time she walked into town she would pass the unofficial rubbish tip which filled the course of the valley running down towards the lake. This eyesore was an affront to her sensibilities and of course a source of unregulated pollution flowing directly into the lake. She saw how this abandoned piece of waste ground could instead become a green corner of peace and beauty, and so set her mind to achieving just that.
Taking on Italian officialdom is a daunting task since its attempts to balance the views of the various self-interested parties tend to favour retaining the status quo. To overcome this inertia and achieve a personal vision like Nonna Pupa’s requires determination, tenacity, and patience. Those individuals who, without the advantages of considerable wealth or political connections, manage to navigate through the murky waters of state bureaucracy need more than mere conviction to sustain their campaign. Nonna Pupa had those necessary qualities and by the 1980s, the Cernobbio municipality had granted Nonna Pupa rights to transform the waste ground into ‘Il Giardino della Valle’.
Through her hard work developing the site and setting up an association of volunteers to extend and maintain her vision, Nonna Pupa created a garden that became more than just a pleasant park. It also became a favoured spot for cultural and educational events, a location for informing the young about plants and the environment, an ideal spot for a summer concert or poetry recital or just a calm corner to enjoy moments of tranquillity. It’s fame spread beyond the boundaries of Cernobbio as much because it seemed also to symbolise what personal initiative can achieve despite the discouragements of disinterested officialdom. She created a park that did provide peace and encourage reflection, welcoming all visitors with her openness and generosity of spirit.
In 2009 the municipality of Cernobbio presented Nonna Pupa with a civic award for ‘having transformed an open rubbish tip into a green oasis, for her love of the environment and for having known how to add another marvellous attraction to the beauty of our territory.’ In a statement following the news of her death, Cernobbio’s Deputy Mayor, Maria Angela Ferradini said ‘In the name of the whole of Cernobbio we can only say thank you to Nonna Pupa for all she has done. She created something unique. She was a special woman who will remain in all of our hearts.’ As the Garden’s website states, she achieved all this through ‘passionate, persistent and dedicated determination’. La Provincia’s tribute cites how she was ‘always smiling, friendly to all, cultured and with an enormous spirit of ‘volonta’’.
Nonna Pupa herself expressed her own hopes for the future in this statement made in December 2018 when being presented with the book ‘The Garden of Nonna Pupa’ by Manuela Moretti. She stated:
‘I truly wish that this garden can continue to live and to provide its visitors with moments of contentment and inner peace. From this point on, my obligation is to ensure the garden does not end when my life ends but that it goes on, so as to make sense of all the work done on it over so many years. I wish more than anything else that my efforts do not pass in vain.’
Nonna Pupa’s funeral was held on Saturday November 23rd in Cernobbio’s Chiesa del Redentore. She leaves a son, a daughter and seven grandchildren. The service was well attended in spite of the heavy rainfall which had in turn fuelled the torrent flowing through Nonna Pupa’s garden and caused a landslide above Nonna Pupa’s house during the very night of her death.