Valle d’Aosta24 February, 2016
THE ROADS AROUND US REACH UPWARD, AND UPWARD STILL, THOUGH THE PEAKS OF THE ALPS IN THE DISTANCE BOAST HEIGHTS THEY COULD NEVER HOPE TO REACH.
We leave the Canavese region and head north. Flat, quiet farmland gives way to the mountains, and Valle d’Aosta ushers us between them. The roads around us reach upward, and upward still, though the peaks of the Alps in the distance boast heights they could never hope to reach. There’s a way to look at our route and think we’re getting closer. To Chamonix, France, maybe. To Geneva, Switzerland. And while in a way true, it appears obvious to us that we aren’t getting closer to anything, but rather farther away, from everything.
We board a gondola that takes us to Chamois, the only town in Italy that isn’t negotiable by car. Passengers join us, clutching grocery bags, books and clothes, odds and ends from the world they’re again hoping to ignore for a while. Atop the mountain the town stirs gently. Kids follow their parents, skiis resting on shoulders. Dogs lie proudly on their porches, observing birds hovering above them, watching newcomers like us admire the serenity. A man tests out his prop plane. It rolls down a grass decline until the earth runs out and it takes off over the valley. It whirs efficiently—seemingly the only sound that exists. It circles once, twice, and comes back to where it started. He hops out inspects it. All is running smoothly.
It’s a new day and we arrive at Courmayer, a bustling mountain town cozying up to Italian Alps. We’re reintroduced to the idea that we’re not alone in our escape. Crowds of people enjoying espresso or beer on a mild winter day, excitedly talking about the silence they’ve been visiting. Mont Blanc looms above us, impossible in its splendor. The tallest point in Europe, it’s our next stop.
It takes two gondolas to get to the top this time. After the first, we’re both higher up than we’ve ever been, and only halfway there. We have an espresso and acclimate to the elevation. They say that’s important, and when we get to the top there are a few people sitting on the ground, learning why. They wear embarrassed smiles. Look at where we are, and here I am on the floor.
But there are also brightly dressed folks holding skiis and snowshoes. There are groups of people trying to get the perfect photo, and people doing nothing but staring. We walk outside, and it almost feels strange we’re allowed to. The snow up here feels it should be rare and protected, but somehow we’ve been given permission. There’s a man struggling with his paraglider and he asks us for help. Just kind of, throw it around, fluff it up, he says. We do, and it grows. It grows more, until it’s perched in the sky and ready to take him with it. He floats up into the air, everything is beneath him. We stay there on the ground. And there’s that silence again.
- Words & Photos: Matthew Johnson