Traveler's Test

Orta San Giulio – See you in the Piazza

Orta San Giulio – See you in the Piazza

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The bride’s father rowed her from the Orta San Giulio landing to the Municipio dock where the wedding would take place. Wearing fairy-tale white, she stood in the middle of the wooden boat, looking as though she would break into an aria and swan dive into the lapis-blue water. A short distance away lay the island San Giulio with its castle and blur of trees forming an ethereal backdrop. The boat rocked slightly when it came abreast of the landing. The bride held out her bouquet for balance and stepped forward into the outstretched hands of the groom. We applauded. I’d never before seen a boat rowed by someone in top hat, cutaway morning coat, and tails.

Lago d’Orta put a big, glorious kiss on a memorable day. That night at dinner, the bride and her father danced. He had choreographed the complicated movements for weeks, and there had been a minor tiff over the amount of practice. No matter how – the dipped and twirled and she maintained her grace, even in high heels. We guests sat at appearing to be about to rotate him on the grill while-wide-eyed and hands in prayer – Lorenzo approaches medium-well done.

Elsewhere on the wall of the basilica, Giulio sails from Greece to the island on his outspread cloak, steering with his staff. Yes! With one wave of his hand, he frees the island from besieging serpent-like dragon. We are at an intersection of faith and fairy tale. Two stairways lead down to a crypt where San Giulio lies in a silver mask and robes.

Intent on the paintings, I almost missed the ambo. A new word for me, It’s the raised pulpit many old churches have for speaking or reading the gospels to upturned faces. San Giulio’s serpentine ambo, of dark green serpentine marble, is carved with mythological beasts struggling with animals. One of the birds resembles a monster pigeon. A griffin fights a crocodile, a deer is attacked by a ferocious centaur. A good versus evil lesson, no doubt. There are the Evangelists’ symbols: Luke’s winged ox, John’s eagle. Mark’s lion (looks more like a pussycat), and Matthew’s angel. Amid them stands Guglielmo da Volpiano, revered holy person of the island in the tenth century.

A small ferry runs about the lake, stopping at villages. On Thursday, many locals take the trip to Omegna for market day. We drive the eight kilometers and stroll around the lively town. The lake ends here and close mountains cast reflections in the water. A spate of six and seven-stroty apartment buildings follows the curve of the shore. Not pretty but they must offer fabulous views. A stream runs through the old town, with more picturesque houses built along the banks.

Ravenous, we stop at busy Pomodoro, a simple local cafe that specialized in sfilatini, pizzas rolled in the shape of baguettes. The fillings are endless: Gorgonzola and apple, pesto and lardo, fontina and potato, truffle and porcini, squid and shrimp. William orders the grilled vegetable one and it arrives, long as a celery stalk. Ed tries the fried perch from the lake. I should have chosen the sfilatini, but ordered crespelle with fresh tomatoes instead; they were bland. William share.

Excerpt from See You in the Piazza: New Places to Discover in Italy by Frances Mayers