by Charlene Burgi
(This is the final installment of our garden expert Charlene’s trip to Italy. Read the previous installment here.)
The morning of our departure, we deliberated about taking this trip since another storm railed about us. We hoped for the best and traversed the flooded, narrow roads leading us away from Lezzeno on Lake Como. The rains finally subsided as we headed north through the breathtaking Alps. Switzerland is so clean and seems, in contrast to Italy, very modern. We arrived at Flüelen at the southern tip of Lake Lucerne where another boat trip would take us to our destination. To my delight, the color of the lake reminded me of the turquoise waters found in the Canadian Rockies. The water was clear and sparkled as the sun appeared to throw glitter at the wave caps. The mountains were covered by emerald green carpets of grass exposed to the year-round rains. The countryside was beautiful as the boat took us from one town to the next.
Upon our arrival at Gersau, we walked the charming streets. I was impressed with the practice of water management that focused on drainage and erosion control that blended in with the surroundings. A rather large watercourse cut through the town, originating somewhere in the mountains above. The watercourse had rock-lined steps within that created mini waterfalls enhancing the landscapes. Small gardens along the watercourse were tended by families who each added their own design and special touches to their given area. I could imagine Jack’s father, a renowned landscape engineer in his day, rollicking as a child through the town park where specimen trees flourished. Trees were Jack O. Burgi’s passion, and he was noted for moving full-grown trees at such places as Hearst Castle in San Simeon, the World’s Fair on Treasure Island, and the private residence of the Hearst family in McCloud. His passion for the beauty of nature is understandable after experiencing where his roots originated.
Family capped our final days in Italy. The day before we left, we met with my mother’s side of the family in Oleggio in the region of Piedmont. Both of my grandmothers were born in this lovely town. Walking the streets knowing they were here at one time and left never to return brought such respect for their courage and strength of character. Lynette and Randy kept wondering why they would want to leave such a wonderful place.
I am without words trying to describe the welcome my cousins gave us. My cousin Giuseppe met us in town and gave us a grand tour of the plazas, shops, and beautiful churches where I imagined my grandmothers attended. After the tour we went to the family home where Giuseppe’s wife, Maria Grazie, prepared a meal reminiscent of meals served by my grandmothers on holidays. Her homemade cannelloni stuffed with a type of cream cheese and prosciutto will forever be remembered by my lips and hips! Their daughter Elisabetta prepared the dessert, a tiramisu that had to be six inches tall. Everything was homemade and fresh, and the food just kept coming. We were also pleasantly surprised by a visit from another distant family member on my father’s side of the family who dropped in to say hello and provided translations for two families struggling to communicate! Serena attempted to see how my grandfather was related to her side. It was that afternoon that we found the link between the families!
We all took a break after the seven-course meal and sat out in the garden where fruit trees were laden with figs, peaches, cherries, pears, and so much more. Maria Grazie and Giuseppe soon disappeared into the kitchen to make pizza dough for twelve pizzas for an evening dinner—a family specialty with two wood-burning pizza ovens located in the house as well as in the garden. Needless to say, we left that night with full hearts and stomachs.
This family time was my highlight. My children and I saw ancient history and witnessed wonders, but family is all about the heart. I will always remember the warmth, hospitality, and love of this Italian family as they shared so openly with us.
Thank you for indulging me while I shared this trip with you. It was a dream come true. I found, as with Jack’s father and his roots, I too could bask in the memories of where my roots came from and the wealth of knowledge I inherited as a result.