Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Three Kinds of Martyrdom in the Trentino

Of Martin Luther, the Council of Trent, 19th century Irredentiste heroes, and a saintly death by slipper in the Trentino Alto-Adige region of Italy

The year was 1545. It was late in November, and the German preacher, frozen to the bone, had barely made it over the last mountain pass on his journey south. He stopped at a crossroads, and before him he saw a pretty Tyrolean city called Trent nestled in the valley at his feet.

He stood there for a few moments, contemplating what the coming ecclesiastical conference might hold. He wondered if church officials from Rome might finally be willing to hear him out, perhaps even to revoke the label of heresy hovering over the radical ideas he had nailed to that church door. For seemingly the thousandth time on this journey, he started going over the words he planned to use in order to orate the members of the Papal envoy around to his point of view.

As Martin stood there, lost in his deep thoughts, a figure appeared toiling up the hill from the town. It was a farmer's wife, returning from a moderately successful day at the market. She still had some fruit in her basket, so the reformer asked politely if he might buy some, adding a casual comment about how Trent must be in a tizzy with preparations for the Great Council as she handed him an apple and he slipped her a silver coin.

"You got that right, sir." Said the woman in that odd, thick, medieval dialect of German the locals spoke, her eyes sparkling at the sight of the silver.

"All the church dignitaries already arrived I suppose." Martin asked offhandedly, biting into the apple.

"Oh, I don't know about all that." She replied, slipping the coin into a fold in her layers of clothes. "I'll tell you one thing though: that Martin Luther fellow isn't there yet, and he better not show up, neither. I poked my head into the church of Santa Maria this morning and saw that they were getting ready for him. They were building a big bonfire in the center of the aisle, and had a pot of oil boiling off to one side." She cackled with glee. "Oh, yes, if that German blasphemer is stupid enough to come down here, he'll get what's coming to him!"

Though Luther may have been deft with a quill and handy with a hammer—and dead certain he was the one to reform the Catholic Church—he didn't trust his personal rapport with God enough to assume he'd miraculously been made fireproof as well. He thanked the woman, who trundled off down the side trail to hide the silver under the big rock in her back yard.

Martin took one more look at the pretty little city spread in its valley below him, tossed the apple core into the bushes, and turned around. He clambered back up toward the mountain pass, hoping he'd make it back to the Austrian side of the Tyrol before the first big snow shut down the Alps for the winter.

Friday, August 25, 2000

The Heights of Monte Bianco, the Girth of Entrèves

A meal as enormous as Mont Blanc in the shadow of Europe's highest peak

An older British couple shared my four-seater gondola for the long, dangling ride back from Mont Blanc's Aiguille du Midi to Punta Helbrunner. This is the world's longest cable car without any supporting pilons. Instead, an impressive set of cables stretches horizontally between two rocky peaks about halfway along intersect the main cables and help keep us from plummeting to our deaths.

At one point, when we were hanging roughly three kilometers over the canyon-sized cracks in the Mer de Glace glacier, they nervously asked me whether there were any U.S. military bases in the area, a clear reference to the Aviano catastrophe a few years ago when a hot-dogging pilot clipped the line of a cable car over in northeastern Italy, killing all 29 people inside.

On the way back down, I spent half an hour relaxing and sunning in the scrabbly (but beautiful up close) botanical gardens half-way down the Italian side.

A never-ending dinner in Entrèves

Back down in Entrèves, I finished washing out my laundry in the sink and hung it on my wrap-around Alpine balcony to dry some during dinner. I strolled to the other end of the village and to the Maison de Fillipo and one of the most remarkable dinners I have ever had.