We had always longed to go to Monte Verita and the day had come for our wishes to be fultilled. We packed up our belongings, and made tracks for the station, feeling for all the world like emigrants leaving their happy home for a strange, unexplored land. Monte Verita, I must explain, is a little place, just above Ascona on Lago Maggiore, where the people live a very simple life (i.e., like monkeys).
We got to Locarno all right, and there, being prudent, we laid in a supply of chocolate and butter. We wandered round the town waiting for the boat that was to take us to Ascona. There was nothing of particular interest to see, except the famous old monastery of Madonna del Sasso, but as we had all seen it before, and the entrance fee is a franc, we came to the conclusion that it would be better to stop down on the quay. Finally, the boat turned up some twenty minutes late, (but that is the usual thing on the Italian Lakes) so we did not mind. There was a nice cool breeze when the boat started and we were getting quite cheerful; but Minnie, who had once before paid a fleeting visit to the place, had painful recollections of having to walk for twenty minutes up-hill, a daunting prospect in the sultry summer heat. Unfortunately her memory wasn’t playing her tricks either, for when we arrived at Ascona, we had to do exactly the same thing. It was a broiling hot day and we nearly died of heat apoplexy before we reached the top. How inconsiderate to have built the wretched place on a mountain, groaned Dolly. Soon be dead, I remarked consolingly. When we did arrive, Minnie settled things up with the Lady Directress. We were given the sweetest little wood cabin with three rooms and a verandah all round. Isn’t this the limit? I wish we were going to stop for a month, I cried enthusiastically.
We had a look round the place. It really was lovely perched up on a hill; the view of Lago Maggiore was splendid. Let’s go and change, said Minnie, so we retired into our hut and proceeded to array ourselves like the true Asconians. Being very patriotic (we had not perhaps realized the striking effect), our flowing garments were red, white and blue. We asked if we could have a bath. Naturally, said the Directress, would you like a sun, air, mud or water one? I looked up to see if she was joking, but not a smile appeared on her sunburnt countenance. Somehow the mud didn’t appeal to us, so we fixed upon water.
Twenty minutes later we re-appeared, feeling very nice and cool, but distinctly hungry. Let’s go and have tea, 1 suggested. We made a bee-line for the big eating-house, and there we came face to face with the first male specimen that we had seen on the settlements. A weird person he was, too, dressed all in brown, his long curly hair hung half down his back tastefully tied with red ribbon bows. They are all like that.
Minnie explained in her best French that we were hungry and wanted our tea. He demanded the numbers of our beds. Didn’t even know that they were numbered, I remarked. Do go and see like a dear, chorused Dolly and Minnie. So I departed on my errand of mercy. It was quite clear without numbers we were to get no tea. 19, 20 and 21, I puffed out, when I returned and regained the pewer of speech. He then showed us two long rows of drawers, each numbered, so you searched till yon had found the number that corresponded with your bed, pulled it open, extracted your tray and then you could please yourself when or where you would partake of your simple meal. Minnie pulled hers out first. The excitement was intense. On her tray there were 15 little aluminium bowls, with something different in each. Dolly and I collected ours and marched triumphantly into the garden.
At Monte Verita they give you nothing that grows under the earth, (no meat of course), and salt is an unknown thing, for according to their ideas it is most unhealthy to drink, and salt makes you thirsty. We were provided with two different kinds of bread, one of which is boiled for 52 hours in water. Needless to say, a little goes a very long way. You were supposed to eat it with cocanut butter, but we didn’t feel strong enough to tackle both at the same time, so we turned our attention strictly to the fruit supply. I made a careful inspection of my tray, and discovered a bowl of stewed cherries. Might be worse, I reflected. I think I scored there, for Dolly only had rhubarb while Minnie looked long and sorrowfully at her supply of stewed bilberries. The uthers were luckier later on, for when we came to the nut stage, they had Brazils, while I only had the kind yon give parrots.
When we had finisbed, our trays were returned with many thanks to the gentleman in brown, who apparently was in charge of the food supply. We then made a personally conducted tour over the whole property of the Asconians, selected a dear little spot, far from the madding crowd, so to apeak, and there settled down to spend a real restful afternoon.
But in this weary world there is no peace for the wicked. We hadn’t been there more than half an hour, before an awful apparition bore down upon us, dressed in a species of Japanese kimona. After carefully selecting a fairly flat rock to sit on, she addressed herself to Minnie, apparently with a view to improving her English, which certainly was of the poorest. Notwithstanding the broadest of hints the good lady gave us clearly to understand, that she had no intention of moving and that this was a golden opportunity for getting an English lesson free of charge.
Time we went in, isn’t it? I asked Minnie. Carried nem con., so in we went, meeting en route several of the shining lights of Ascona, all dressed alike in brown with long hair and ribbon. It was nearly seven and Dolly was getting anxious about dinner. Dolly has a noble, reliable appetite, and after all, five Brazil nuts and a bowl of rhubarb is hardly satisfying when taken in place of tea. So we made a raid on our shelves, pulled them out, speculating as to what a Monte Verita dinner world be like. Imagine our horror on discovering, that all three were as bare as the proverbial cupboard. We sought out the Directress, clamouring for food. Supper? Dinner? But you had your supper at 3 o’clock!
We retired crushed and broken into our hut, but Minnie produced with what is always called in plays shout and flourish, the last slab of chocolate. When it, was finished we sallied forth feeling at peace with the whole world (including even the Directress) to the eating house, where Minnie had discovered an old piano, and suggested dancing. Several kimona-clad females rose to the occasion, while one bashfully announced the fact that when she was young she had learnt a valse, which she thought she could play. Dancing was impossible in sandals so we shed them, and things went quite cheerily for about an hour, but by that time our feet stuck to the floor, so we had to give it up.
It was the heavenliest moonlight-night, and the reflection on the lake was perfect. It seemed a shame to go to bed, so we sat out and talked till getting on for midnight. We slept the sleep of the just, and rose with the lark (Does the lark arise at 8.30?) next morning. This time there was no mistake about breckker. lt was much the same as tea, only all the thiugs [sic!] had changed places. It must have been the bilberry season, for we had them for every meal of the day, onr time fresh, one time stewed and vice versa. Nothing exceptionally thrilling occurred that morning, but in the afternoon we played tennis on a grass court with Nature’s best quality rubber-soled tennis shoes, and I hear remark that it took three hours to get them anything like white again. And after two sets they were a sweet shade of canary yellow. In the evening it struck us that probably our families were anxiously waiting to hear how we were getting on, so we spent a peaceful time in writing to let them know that we were still alive and would perhaps be back the week after. I wonder what they are doing at home, said Dolly next morning. I believe you want to back, I said scornfully. Um, was the answer I got. We had our baths and then went in for breakfast. Biberries again, said the disgusted Dolly. We strolled round aimlessly till 11.
At Monte Verita there are only two things to be done, eat and bathe. We had only just finished eating, and we couldn’t possibly be any cleaner, so time hung heavy on our hands. I wonder when the boat leaves, said Minnie. There was a wild rush for a time-table which had been seen once before in the reading-room – 2.48 – Dolly read out when the place bad been found. Oh there’s heaps of time; come along, I cried.
I reckon we won’t stay our week out, remarked Minnie as we caught the 2.45 boat back and waved not wholly regretful adieux to Ascona and the simple life. — Lorna, in Bombay Gazette.
The Straits Times (Singapur), 11. Januar 1908, Nr. S. 10. Online.