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Weekend, July 2nd and 3rd 2011


It takes an expert to immediately identify a strong link between the English writer D. H. Lawrence and the Tyrol – or Lake Garda, for that matter. The Austro-British Society is fortunate in having just such an expert in the person of Andrew Milne-Skinner.
When D. H. Lawrence eloped with Frieda Weekley
(née von Richthofen) in the spring of 1912, they eventually went to a small hamlet to the south of Munich. From there, they went to Italy – first taking the train to Jenbach, and then travelling up the Zillertal to Mayrhofen on the light railway. They crossed the Pfitscher Joch on their way to Sterzing. This part of their journey was explored by members of the Austro-British Society in June 2009.

From Sterzing, their plan was to walk over the Jaufenpass and down to Meran. Unfortunately, however, they got lost and only just made it to a Schutzhaus below the pass. The next day, they continued the journey. To their dismay, however, they found that they had walked down to Sterzing again.

Not surprisingly, they had enough of walking and took the train to Trento. But once they had arrived there, Frieda broke down – she sat at the foot of Dante’s memorial and wept. The state of the public conveniences, it seems, was the straw that broke the camel’s backIAnd that’s where the AustroBrits picked up the thread on their trip on the weekend of 2 and 3 July 2011 (at the monument in Trento, that is, not so much in the public conveniences). On the way down, Andrew had given us an excellent introduction, and so we did feel indeed as if we were actually travelling in Lawrence’s footsteps.

From Trento, our coach took us to Lake Garda via Arco and Riva. Way back in 1912, in the absence of a road, Frieda and D. H. took the boat from Riva down to Gargnano on the western shore – as a matter of fact, they had to cross the border between the Habsburg Empire as it was then and Italy. In Gargnano, they stayed at the Hotel Al Cervo right on the little harbour and then took lodgings in the Villa Igea for the winter months, just a short distance down the road.

The AustroBrits followed a slightly different route. We went to Gargnano by bus and then took a leisurely walk around the village. We had a look at the church of San Francesco which had impressed D. H. Lawrence when he stumbled upon it.
Then Andrew took us to the Villa Igea, which we found with the help of Sandra’s map reading as well as local knowledge tapped by Andrew’s command of Italian.
Next stop was the church of San Tomaso above the village, which features prominently in Lawrence’s book of essays, Twilight in Italy. Andrew read out the relevant passage – quite an experience, sitting on a stone wall under an olive tree and looking down on the reddish-brown rooftops of the village and the blue lake beyond.

We concluded our walk by taking a well-deserved drink outside the Hotel Al Cervo. Andrew, to his enormous pleasure, found a newspaper clipping in the guest book of the hotel – well, not exactly about D. H. Lawrence, it has to be said, but about the shooting of a film about Lawrence.

We spent the night at a pleasant hotel in Salo, further down the coast. An evening sauntering along the shore and taking dinner al fresco – it felt like the Mediterranean, and very much like a holiday!

Next morning, it was the Vittoriale in Gardone Riviera – no connection with D. H. Lawrence or Frieda there, rather the villa which Italian writer and war hero Gabriele d’Annunzio (1863–1938) had built for himself, and as an artistic-cum-political statement at the same time.

Thence – to paradise. Or rather, to the restaurant Paradiso high above the lake.
In this case, there was another Lawrence connection, as the pair decided in the spring of 1913 to move to the little farmhouse of San Gaudenzio half-way up on the rocky slope to escape the heat down below. One can only marvel at their luck in being offered such a location. When we were there, it was a perfect day – clear skies, hot sunshine, the lake twinkling in the midday light, populated only by a few sailing boats and surfers. In a way, it did feel as if the scene were not quite of this world. This did not stop us, of course, from enjoying our meal.

The next leg of our trip was quite literally on the lake. From Gargnano, we took the fast boat to Malcesine and another one from there, via Limone to Riva, thus partly re-tracing the route D. H. Lawrence and Frieda took, but in the opposite direction. A short stop in Riva, just time to have a last drink at the harbour, and then back to the cloud-covered, fresh and non too inviting Alps in the north.

It was an excellent weekend – perfectly organized (thanks to Isabella and Herbert!), intellectually stimulating and rewarding (thanks to Andrew!), and very pleasant company indeed (thanks to everybody else). Looking forward to the next one!
Heinz Payr

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