Last night, having successfully navigated a longer and more technical day than expected, I arrived at my first Italian hut. From outside, it's oddly tranquil: no one sitting on the porch at sunset, no last minute trekkers wandering in... just me, and a dog welcoming me from the second floor porch. Open the front door, though, and the noise erupts: everyone is inside! Everyone, as it turns out, means the manager and her two employees, a friend up for the day from the valley, and the two other guests... the six of them have been drinking wine since nine this morning, and they're on such familiar terms that it feels as though they've been here all summer together. This is what hut life is supposed to be! The first question is, do I want a glass of wine? I decline, saying that if I have a glass of wine after a long day on the trail, I'll fall asleep at the table. There's a cheer, a glass appears, and I am toasted with a freshly opened bottle of champagne.
This sort of behaviour continues through the evening, with wines of every variety and apertifs and a three course dinner from local ingredients, and all with at least four people talking over one another - shouting and slapping and pushing... at some point I realize, not that the heavy wooden trestle table that we're seated at has moved, but that it is in motion: jostled, bumped, kicked, nudged, shoved aside so someone can go out and have a smoke, corrected by someone who has a corner in the gut... the girl - who is trying out new names for herself and I've given up tracking them, finds the table just the right height to rest her breasts, which apparently distracts no one. The friend from town having departed, she transfers her attentions to one of the guests, and he is treated to the physicality of her affection, fielding an array of slaps, pushes, leans, and high-fives.
a properly filled boot room
The conversation moves into English to accommodate me, but it hardly matters when it shifts back into Italian. Someone interrupts to ask if I'm following along, and I say No, but that it is a nice break from German. Another cheer, and they're off again, this time about the superiority of the Italian language, with caricatures of various German accents. Another bottle of wine is ceremoniously opened.
Sitting in the sun, cold mountain air moving over me. At a picnic table on the rifugio Marinelli porch, which faces east. Finally warm enough to be rid of the puffy jacket this morning, but the breeze keeps the temp right on the edge. Like all mountain sun, it only warms what it hits, and so my right side remains chilled, no chance for the wall on my right to have absorbed warmth yet to give back.
Last night the party here continued long after I went to bed... and complicated the alpine start Alex and Fabian had planned; at 930am they've each rolled their second cigarette, and are similarly sitting on a bench, facing the sun.
Girl and Gianluca are in the kitchen, on task, Caterina gone to town with garbage and recycling, to return with supplies. Dog is quiet, and Alex and Fabian just got a phone call from friends at a nearby hut, saying they are coming over for lunch, driving the final nail on their departure... this will be their second day of refuge here, lounging, eating, drinking, flirting.... The reward of these alpine hut days seems out of proportion, but after a long day of trekking with thousands of feet gained and lost, one of sitting quietly in the same environment feels like part of the pattern, hot drink in hand, a warm fire in the evening. This is not excessive here. This is closer to how people lived in Europe for centuries, and it is reassuring to have long hard days of travel followed by a day of respite and restoration.
The boys are sitting just out of sight, on a bench, yet there's no sense of distance, nor proximity. They are present, as I am present, without feeling obligation or a need to withdraw. We simply are each present at the moment, where we are. It is hard to be more simply present than this, sitting on a bench in the sun after long days on trail. The trail purges you of the compulsion to do, and has planted within you a deep habit of being aware and tuned to this moment, this step, this reach, this root, rock, imbalance, stability.
That's one of the appeals of the mountains: elemental choices, with immediate and tangible feedback. Abstractions exist in your head and manifest here as distractions. A few days on the trail forces you back into the animal you are, or forces you out of the mountains in fear for your life. Yesterday was one of those days: after seven hours walking, I find myself faced, not with the steep uphill trail the maps suggested, but with one thousand vertical feet of rock that must be scaled - with fixed aid - before I make it to my hut. And I do so, and without hesitation, because that is what is demanded, what is required as an animal in the mountains. The animal does what it must when it can, and so I did... perhaps this is what Buddhists are striving for.
A high thin cloud crosses the sun; I pause to put on a shirt. On the trail, with a destination and 25 pounds on my back, it's impossible for me to get cold. I've been hiking in shorts and t-shirt, everyone encountered in pants and jacket.