What else?

Stefano Girardi
What else?
I open the window and let a biting breeze into the room. It’s only then that I notice the smell of our bodies.

Beyond the balcony I can make out the farm that presides over the valley: the men there are already at work, and I can see them, frenetic, as the cows, already milked, swarm into the pasture. They are soon on the hunt for the edible grass they can tear up.

“Come on, up with you. We have to go.”

In answer she turns over onto her other side, exposing her bare buttocks. Every time she does that I wonder if it’s a deliberate provocation or pure laziness on her part. But it’s clear now that I have no intention of changing my mind, and this is a game she plays, pretending to need coaxing.

I take the opportunity to put away the sweaters we left to dry yesterday. I pass by the bed and land a slap on her right buttock. She jumps and curls up in the fetal position.

“Don’t make me do it again. You need to get up!”

“Noo, let me sleep. It’s barely light!”

“I’ll let you have it on the other one.”

The threat is sufficient to get her moving, and she wriggles out of the sheet like a tortoise emerging from its shell.

Whilst I finish putting on my shoes I hear the rush of water in the bathroom and, before long, she emerges, nearly ready, though obviously only with breakfast in mind. Within the hour we’re able to leave.

I do up my shoes, tying them in a double bow.

“Ah you’ve learned,” she says suddenly. Then she starts to laugh.

“You laugh every time. You ingrate. I could have killed myself the other day.”

“And yet you escaped with just a few scratches. There was a hell of a bump though. Remember those two Germans? They nearly jumped out of their skin.”

They had called out something, but we hadn’t understood them. We were already laughing. They had made me jump more than the fall had. I had only tied my laces in a single bow, and the ones on my left shoe had caught on the hooks of the right, sending me crashing head over heels to the ground. The commotion had interrupted two Germans out on their walk who, after their initial shock, had immediately offered their assistance. But apart from a couple of scratches on my hands, all I had was an excuse for us to laugh our heads off.

We walk and it’s a few hundred metres before we reach the 504 Trail. I haven’t yet told her that our destination is the Cesare Battisti mountain refuge, situated at a height of 2380 metres, I haven’t plucked up the courage.

If she had known, she might have dug her heels in like the proverbial donkey and forced me to take an easier route. It’s just as well as it’s a nice day and not too hot.

After scarcely half an hour, the path leads us past a lodge where some signs inform us that it’s open. Although the wafting smell of goulash made that clear some time ago.

A girl in an apron is bustling between the tables with kaiserschmarren and tankards of beer and every so often she stops and opens the pouch she wears slung about her hips to settle the bill with customers. I always wonder how they all manage to look the same these girls. There’s never an ugly one.

“I reckon they make them take an exam before they hire them,” I say to Sarah who is lagging a couple of metres behind me.

“Who do they make take an exam?”

“The waitresses, who else? Haven’t you noticed they all look the same?”

“Nothing escapes your notice does it?”

“Oh come on don’t be like that. I couldn’t help it. Do you need to stop for a bit?”

“No better not. I’ve still got some charge left, let’s keep going.”

We turn off past the lodge with a nod of greeting, and then over a gate that blocks the path, before we’re on the 504 Trail again. Beyond a grove of firs the path climbs steeply up the side of the mountain, which draws nearer with every step we take.

A dozen cows shuffle from one side of the pasture to the other; two are casually reclined right across the path. Behind me Sarah comes to a halt.

“Now what do we do? They’re huge those ones, and they would have to plonk themselves right in our way!”

“It’s their place really. It’s us who’ve wandered straight into their living room. There’s nothing to worry about. Just don’t make any sudden movements.”
We proceed cautiously. The animals watching us keep chewing with an air of superiority. To our right, a cow with red patches is flanked by lively calf.

“That one’s a Simmental,” I explain to Sarah.

“Why did they name it after a tin?”

“No. It’s the other way round. The meat in the tin was named after the breed. Simmental is a breed of cattle, also known as the Red Spotted Cow.”

Further along we come across a family. The father carries a vivacious little blonde girl about three or four years old on his shoulders. They are followed by a boy of about twelve who seems to be dawdling a bit: perhaps this excursion wasn’t quite what he had in mind today. The mother brings up the rear clutching some flowers in her hand.

“Hello,” we say. “Enjoy your walk,” they reply.

Another few steps and they’ll just be another group of anonymous tourists again.

“Have you ever wondered why everyone greets each other in the mountains?” I ask Sarah.

“Maybe because we’re tired and we’re meeting people who are also tired.”

“No I don’t think that’s it. Maybe we greet each other because we’re relaxed. Because even though we’re tired, our minds are relaxed and we become human again.”

As we continue our discussion of the matter, the path leads us to another gate. To one side there’s a passage only accessible to humans. The cows can’t get to it. They go through the gate when it’s open.

Just beyond this things get more difficult. An undulating path winds down through boulders and shrubs and then continues via a series log steps. We encounter more tourists and it feels like being at a wedding: only without the kissing.

After walking like this for twenty minutes we realise that we must have come down at least a hundred metres and that the gate with the passage is now high above us.

“At least it’s downhill,” says Sarah. “Imagine if we were climbing this.”

“There you are, we’re lucky then. Look at these two!”

I have barely finished speaking when two cyclists on mountain bikes reach us. They’re wearing those classic two-colour suits and carries a small backpack.

“I think they must have come the wrong way,” I whisper. “This definitely isn’t a cycle path.”

“I don’t envy them,” Sarah replies. “How will they manage up there! How long till the refuge now?”

“Now now don’t despair. So far you’ve been brilliant, better than an ibex! Just this crag now and we’ll be on the final stretch.”

These words of encouragement are instantly dampened by drops of rain. The clouds have gathered and the sky has darkened. It’s just a light shower and fortunately only lasts 10 minutes or so.

The path now continues alongside the rock face and is little over a metre wide, forcing us to walk in single file. We have been holding hands a lot of the time before. At the summit, nestled between crags and screes, we can make out the refuge. It looks close, but it takes us another hour to reach it. The last metres are really tough.

Beer, eggs, bacon and potatoes. What else? I watch her eat with a feeling of satisfaction and I can’t help myself.

“Can I tell you something?”

“What is it?” she answers with her mouth full.

“Nothing, I love you that’s all!”

Translation by Rosanna Forte
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