The path leading up from Como past the San Donato Sanctuary and on to Brunate has now been named the Sentiero Alda Merini in honour of the Milanese poet who had a close family connection with the hilltop village. The Sentiero Alda Merini in turn forms part of a much longer walk that connects various points of local literary interest and is fittingly called Lake Como Poetry Way. It starts off from Maslianico close to the Swiss border, passes through Cernobbio to Como and ends at San Maurizio, above Brunate.
We reported back in December last year how the Sentiero Alda Merini, now part of the Poetry Way, has a series of wooden signs along its path with quotes from Alda and other writers prompting walkers to pause and reflect. The plan is to extend these signs along the entire length of the route reinforcing the different literary associations to be found locally. In these times of Covid, confronted by the challenges of isolation and heavy background anxiety, we are constantly reminded of the remedial advantages of exercise and country walks. The beauty of the Poetry Way and the addition of the literary quotes posted along its path add a further reflective dimension to these mental benefits.
The Poetry Way is a project initiated by Pietro Berra, a Brunate-based poet and journalist, and driven by Sentiero dei Sogni, a voluntary association committed to building cultural bridges and promoting sustainable cultural tourism. Their motto is ‘Discover, Connect, Create’. Lake Como is rich in literary associations dating from the early Latin poet, Caecilius Statius, the Roman authors Pliny the Elder and Younger, and on to Paolo Giovio who in the Middle Ages established Europe’s first museum on the Como lakefront where the Villa Gallia now stands. Foreign literary figures became constant visitors from the start of the 18th century with arguably the most renowned being the English Romantics – Wordsworth, Byron and the two Shelleys. As a result the walk incorporates references to both Italian and foreign literary figures with quotes signposted in both Italian and English. As the Sentiero dei Sogni’s website states ‘Lake Como’s Poetry Way will lead you to discover a city rich in personalities, culture and delightful unusual panoramas.’
The Sentiero Alda Merini has over the last few months been enriched by posting a number of new literary quotes along it way. The start of her section of the walk in Como has one of her sayings ‘We are born not only to live but to walk for long with feet that do not know their home and travel beyond every mountain’. The end of her section of the walk in Brunate includes one of her self-deprecating quotes – ‘I am not a domesticated woman – I am a small enraged bee.’ Between these two panels, you will also come across quotes from Thoreau, Wordsworth, Walt Whitman, Alessandro Volta (who both painted and wrote poetry as well as inventing batteries), Gianni Rodari and Samuel Rogers.
Thanks to the recent celebration of the centenary of Gianni Rodari’s birth, I have recently been made aware of his work as a children’s author and illustrator but Samuel Rogers was totally unknown to me, and, I expect, to most others! He turns out to have been a contemporary Romantic poet of William Wordsworth who achieved considerable popularity during his lifetime only to be later eclipsed by the other Romantic poets. Lake Como featured prominently in his poetry and his collection entitled ‘Italy’, illustrated with prints of Lake Como landscapes by J.M.W. Turner , proved massively popular. Rogers’ verse and Turner’s prints proved to be a profound influence on John Ruskin, the art critic most responsible for influencing Victorian neo-gothic aesthetic taste.
The entry in the Tate Gallery’s catalogue of Turner’s painting above states: ‘ In producing this tranquil and picturesque scene, Turner may well have referred to the many sketches he made of Como during his 1819 visit to Italy. The villas, skiffs, and majestic mountain scenery of these drawings reappear in idealised form in Turner’s delicate vignette.’
The Poetry Way is work in progress still awaiting completion of the signage along the entire route and the online publication of its map which can be requested in hard copy from the Sentiero dei Sogni’s web site. However it is a great concept and the authors know exactly which literary figures they intend to reference and where.
Ugo Foscali for instance is clearly associated with the Villa del Grumello, the summer villa of his father-in-law, GianBattista Giovio, a descendent of Paolo Giovio and a friend and travel companion of Alessandro Volta. There is a quote from William Wordsworth posted along the Sentiero Alda Merini taken from his journal of a walking tour undertaken in 1790 in the company of his friend from university, Robert Jones. There is no record that he actually visited Como but his verse was inspired by the view higher up the lake possibly nearer to Dongo. The other literary figures referred to along the Poetry Way, in addition to those already mentioned, include Vincenzo Monti, Giacomo Leopardi, Pencho Slaveikov, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Hermann Hesse.
Marvellous as the Poetry Way is, the one feature that potentially transforms it is the inclusion of a chain of ‘Little Free Libraries’ along its path. Little Free Libraries are nothing more than small wooden containers housing books for exchange under the slogan ‘Take a book, leave a book (Prendi un libro o lascia un libro)’.
The simple concept of providing these small weather-proof housings for anonymous book exchange was born in the United States but has now spread across the world. However, here thanks to the Poetry Way of Sentiero dei Sogni and the contributions of other volunteers and associations, Como now has a chain of 12 of these containers stretching over the 12 kilometers of the Poetry Way starting in Maslianico and ending in San Maurizio, above Brunate. Books in all languages are welcome. I found the little library in Cernobbio’s Giardino della Valle a particularly good source of books in English as well as others.
For more information about the Lake Como Poetry Way, visit the Sentiero dei Sogni website. Also visit the site of Passeggiate Creative for information about the cultural walks they organise. Sentiero dei Sogni have launched another major project to translate from English to Italian Mary Shelley’s autobiographical account of her journey to Lake Como accompanied by her son. Refer to Holidaying on Lake Como: In the Footsteps of Mary Shelley for details of this journey and her stay in Tremezzina.