La Sciagura

As part of my job here Au-Pairing, I take the eldest child to school each morning and pick him up in the evening. Because of this I have a car that is mine to use as I like during the day. Which is great because around here the only public transport is the school bus which comes once in the morning and once in the evening and only goes – to school.

It took me a little bit to get used to the driving here. The roads are tiny and any time you pass anyone you subconsciously suck in your breath to help you fit. And we live in the foothills of the dolomites so the roads are windy and steep, its like a rabbit warren of routes in these hills. But I got used to them and last week felt it was time for me to explore somewhere different. The mountains.
From the base of the mountains you can see winding roads zigzagging their way to the top and they just looked so exciting that I had to go. I waited for the snows to melt from the top of the peaks and then one day I just felt inspired, and straight after doing the drop off at school I headed up the mountain. This was 8am and I had googled the route beforehand and knew it should only take me an hour to do a round trip.
The drive was spectacular I started in thick forest, still in the final throws of autumn and so was speckled with red and orange and golden light through the leaves. Sometimes this changed to pine trees standing tall and dark and giving the place a very fairytale aura. If I thought I had done steep before. This was steeper. If I thought I had done windy, this was windier.




Suddenly I broke through the tree line and everything became very open and I was smacked by the view all around me. I had chosen a clear day and the mountain dropped sharply below me and then plateaued suddenly at the towns at its base. From here the foothills were in sharp relief and each seemed to stand alone, unlike when you are in them and they all seem to blend together.

I drove with my mouth open, laughing out loud and the amazing view I was getting. But I wasn’t even at the peak yet.

I pulled over at what I had just thought was a good viewing spot. When I stepped out of the car I found something even better. Just a few steps off the road were the remains of old trenches dug and used in WW1 in Italy’s fight against Austrian forces. I learnt this off a noticeboard nearby. The trenches were almost as deep as I am tall and their walls were reinforced with the white stones that are plentiful on the mountains. There were still steps and benches made from this stone in various places and the trenches twisted, divided and joined up again all along this little ridge. I thought this was so cool, but it got better. As I went back to my car I realised that on the other side of the road, the trenches continued. I followed them up the mountain, there were so many that when they were used it must have been like an ants nest of activity. I found this old picture of what just one part of the mountain was like and as you can see it is like a little town of streets. As I followed them, sometimes the trenches went in to the side of the mountain and out the other through a cave which must have taken much work to create. In some parts the caves were not a tunnel and must have simply been used as a store house or somewhere to shelter. In more open spots there were the remains of small houses or buildings which could have been used for the same purposes. This whole mountain was alive with history. When I finally reached the summit of this part I was struck once again, this time with a new view. I had rounded the top of the mountain and now could see to the north and the rest of the Dolomites. They were a sight again to take my breath away. The further north I looked, the higher and steeper and meaner looking the mountains became, they dipped in-between to low valleys filled with houses and green fields but quickly rose again to the next peak. Although on the south plains the mists of the morning were clearing quickly, in some of the valleys of the north the cloud was so thick that I wondered if it was still dark beneath it. Even from this height I could hear the faint sounds of a highway in the south but overwhelmingly it was still and fresh and bright. I reveled in the beauty of it before I headed back down to my car.

Not much further on I came across a little museum near some more trenches. The museum was closed but I still took the time to look at these trenches as well, they were a bit better cared for with reconstruction of the original peep holes in the walls and bridges crossing over the tops of the trenches.
As I left this point I came to the height of the mountain and it was breathtaking. I was driving on the edge of this steep steep drop with what seemed like the whole of Italy spread out on my left. I was on a high and when I came to the turn off to go back down the mountain and found it blocked of by a roadwork’s fence I just shrugged my shoulders and thought I would go down at the next turn off. This is when things started going awry.

It was only a KM away that I came to the top of the mountain and the road crossed from the south side to the north side. This was my problem. All of a sudden there was snow, and lots of it, that I had not seen or anticipated. See the snow on the south side had all melted earlier in the week due to it being the side that got the most sun. As soon as I was on the shady side it was apparent that this snow still had a while to stay. It was crazy, there was almost a line on the road where the snow just suddenly started. I was shocked but I thought, oh surely it will stop just as suddenly, and so I continued on to that road. The very first hill that I went down scared the life out of me. I am Australian, I can count the amount of times I have seen snow on my two hands, I don’t know why all of a sudden I thought I could drive on it. Going down this hill I slipped and skidded and did all I could to stay in control. When I was on the flat again was when I really got scared because I realised there was no way I was getting back up that hill and so the only way was onwards. I went carefully but when I came to the next hill down I stopped. This one was even steeper and with more snow and I just knew that I couldn’t make it down it without losing control. So I burst into tears. Then I found my phone, and found that I had no reception. More tears. I got out and walked back for 10 mins until I found some reception, and who did I call? Dad, in Australia. Panic mode sets in and you just really need a parent. He talked to me and calmed me down, although he was quite worried for me too. I told him there were no houses around and I hadn’t seen anyone up here in ages. He suggested that I try reversing slowly back up to where I had come from, I looked at it later and I was only 1km from where the snow had started, not that far right? I found a stick and a stone and for the next 2 hours I cleared paths in the snow and ice for my tires. I eventually made it back to the first hill I had come down, and I even made it halfway up that hill, until something snapped in the car. I had lost all traction in my gears and could not go forward or back. Now I was properly stuck. I had covered about 500mt in those 2 hours. And I once again had no signal, not even emergency services. I collected everything out of the car and started walking back towards the snow-less side of the mountain thinking that I would eventually, come into reception, pass a house or pass another person. Luckily I found another person very quickly. I only walked about a km before I found a cyclist heading up towards the snow. I called him over and in our mix of Italian and English I told him my problem, he asked me to walk with him back down to his friends. As we walked I came in to reception and I quickly called the father of the family I am staying with, telling him the bad news. The cyclist took the phone from me to explain were I was and I was told that I would be picked up in an hour. The cyclist’s friends were down at the fork that led down the mountain, and my heart sunk to see that the road block was now open. The cyclists left and I mulled on all that had happened, with only the worst outcomes racing though my head.


When I was picked up, S had a big grin on his face, which confused me because I was feeling so terrible. He drove down to my car despite my warnings of ‘its pretty bad’ his car is evidently better than mine because although it did still slip and slide a bit, he managed to get out without any trouble.

Then I found why he was so happy. He had brought snow chains for me! He was going to put them on and I would drive out no problem, until I explained to him about the whole, no gear traction thing. Then all of a sudden we had a problem. It got difficult. We pushed the car off the road it was blocking and drove back down the mountain. Me wanting to disappear into my seat the whole time, if I had just called him in the first place instead of being convinced I could solve it myself, I would have had a snow chains hours ago and it would have been fine. We drove down to a transport company owned by a friend who called around until he rustled up a tow truck which had snow chains, this took and hour and it was 3pm. I was dropped at school to wait for the child whilst S went up the mountain again to show the tow truck driver where the car was. He was back down at about 5, there had been troubles with the truck in the snow as expected but they had got there and the car was now at the mechanics. I was still in the depths of regret and embarrassment but S kept saying that I was young, and he did silly things when he was young too, that this was an adventure. It didn’t feel like an adventure to me, it felt like a disaster.

The car is back now, at considerable expense, and I haven’t even been told ‘don’t go up the mountain again’ although I have learnt enough of a lesson that I don’t really need to be told.
Then last night we were talking around the dinner table about this word that doesn’t really exist in English (there are lots of them). Sciagura, it means a personal disaster, something that happens just to you and is the worst thing that could possibly happen, a disaster sent by god. And I thought, I know exactly what you are talking about.  








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