up in the bad lands
I’m very lucky to have lived for most of this century in the region of Malcantone, right at the southern tip of the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, in Switzerland. Malcantone is mainly pre-alpine, apart from the Vedeggio and Magliasina flood plains, and sits between the Lugano (Ceresio) and Maggiore lakes. It borders on a similar region in Italy, and is actually a pretty beautiful area. It does have a certain level of tourism, but I’m always surprised at how little. With quiet, wooded hills leading up to mountain ridges, shaded valleys, rustic villages full of memories of faded glories, and plenty of history, along with good food and wine, it has a lot going for it.
Malcantone pretty much means “bad lands”, and was a place to be avoided in medieval times. Unfortunately, that was tricky, as it was either that, or the plague-ridden marshes, if you wanted to travel north from Milan. A couple of years ago I discovered the ruins of the Miglieglia Castle, perched on a high outcrop over the Magliasina river. Although it was clearly pretty big, it seems to have been wiped from memory. Nobody appears to know anything about it. You can walk to it, if you follow the “Sentiero delle Meraviglie”. And then there are the silver and gold mines. And the remains of houses and villages deep in the woods. And the painfully photogenic villages of Sessa, Astano, Breno, and more.
I guess it’s just a little too far off the beaten track, although considering in has a small, but international, airport (just) with its territory, and is easily accessible from the city of Lugano, it’s hardly remote. Probably Swiss pricing has a lot to do with it as well. But also the weird Swiss, and especially Ticinese, approach to tourism. Bars and restaurants close on Sundays and holidays, facilities like the Lema cable car which takes you up to a stunning viewpoint over Lake Maggiore stop running at 5pm, even in summer when it’s light until 10. Totally crazy.
Oh well, if it were different I’d be ranting about bloody tourists all over the place sticking their tripods in front of me and clogging up the roads and mountain bike tracks.
all my own work
I’m pleased to announce that I have just had an article published in the excellent online magazine, On Landscape, about one of my favourite places, both photographically and generally. I’ve been building up to this for quite a while, and finally got around to actually writing it.
I’m not sure I’ve really done justice to the subject, either in words or pictures, but maybe it will attract some better photographers than me to work some magic.
plumbing the depths
Been a bit quiet around here recently. I have done a few tweaks to the website, and I’m slowly working towards a gallery refresh, but I haven’t felt much like writing long ranting posts that nobody will read anyway. Also, having moved on to using Adobe Lightroom, I’m back to the nightmare scenario that is the dark side of these “non-destructive, all-in-one” applications. Basically, if you switch, or are constrained to do so thanks to a bunch of brainless iTrash peddling fuckwits in Cupertino, you’ve got to start from scratch (oops, I’m ranting).
The only upside to that is you might stumble across some hidden gems in your back catalogue. Like this one, for example, taken near the Motterascio hut in Ticino, in 2011.
The ironic thing is that the one article I am sort of working on is a sort of statement about how I’m not much interested in landscape photos devoid of any human content. Well, I guess you could say these alpine pastures are heavily shaped by man. Or cow. And it will be a cold day in Hell when I’m anything approaching consistent.
Like a moth to a flame, I can’t keep away. Over the past few weeks I’ve spent several evenings in various locations in Valle Verzasca, searching for that perfect photo which encapsulates it all. Needless to say, I haven’t found it yet, but here are some of my latest attempts.
Some of these were processed in CaptureOne, the rest in Lightroom. Can you tell the difference? I can’t.
Off for a short break in Southern Italy now. Normal service will be resumed in due course.
the sargasso of the soul
Ferragosto is an Italian and public holiday celebrated on 15 August, coinciding with the major Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary. These days it commonly marks the end of a standard two week work close down and summer vacation period, during which Italian cities are deserted, and nobody, but nobody, answers the phone. Even the carabinieri have gone to the beach. Unlike Northern Europeans, in general Italians seek out crowds, and actually seem to enjoy being packed in like sardines on the beaches of Rimini and Viareggio, and saying that you’re not going anywhere at “Ferragosto” is to be marked out as a weirdo.
Since the Canton Ticino is at least culturally an extension of Northern Italy, and since over 50,000 Italians cross the border every day to work here (Ticino has a population of about 330,000), Ferragosto strikes Ticino as well.
Apart from the tourists, and the few people like me still working, the trains are empty, and the streets emptier still. The wind-down starts as the the schools and universities close at the beginning of July, accelerates towards August, and then peaks during the Ferragosto. The heat and the lack of activity lead to strange, subdued atmosphere, like an urban Sargasso Sea.
I wrote a little about this last year, with a short set of photos. Here’s a few more.
After the 15th of August, people start drifting back. You might, just might, be able to reach a plumber or an electrician, but it’s still unlikely. Then it all accelerates. In a few short days the 50,000 people are once again crossing the border to jam up an infrastructure which was never designed to support them, the trains are full, the streets are busy. Ferragosto and the dog days of August are a receding dream.