We are in Paluzza now.
We are in the northern part of the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, as far north as you can go without setting foot in Austria, and it’s another world entirely. Paluzza is a small village right in the middle of the mountains — hidden here really, tucked deep into the crevices and folds of the Carnian Alps. Just driving here, we watched the temperature drop, road after road, until — when we got out of the car, we were met with the most welcome mountain breeze. August doesn’t get much better than this.
We drove from Ferrara on Wednesday morning, leaving Emilia Romagna behind, and each stop we took — in the Veneto town of Conegliano and in the tiny Friuli village of Valvasone — brought the mountains closer into view — out there on the horizon, waiting. It is easy, if you’re like us, to be rather hypnotized by those distant mountains that loom larger the further north you go, and you have the tendency to forget about the rest of Italy and just drive. We left it all behind to follow these roads toward the grey giants of the Alps and the Carnia river — Il Tagliamento — which meanders in different ribbons of water, shimmering and bright, through white sand banks in the shallow river bed like threads of lace stretched out through the landscape, shifting and changing and tracing out the path ahead.
I love it here in the mountains. I love Friuli especially, perhaps: the way the towns are rustic and lived in. The way the trees seem taller here, the air fresher. I love how every babbling brook makes me want to wade right in, feel the pebbles underneath my feet, feel the brisk river slip right through my toes. And I love how Antonello loves it — the very first time he took me to Friuli years ago, to show me around the star shaped town of Palmanova, where he’d done a full year of military service. I loved seeing his favorite places — Trieste and its broad piazza, Cividale and its bridges and towers. Aqueleia and the mosaics that fill its church floor, like a long Roman carpet of tesserae. But mostly I love being here, in the mountains — in Paluzza, on the summit of Zermula, hiking through fields studded with purple flowers. Here in Friuli my nostalgia has filtered through Antonello’s, and now Friuli is a mix of memories — both of ours somehow intertwined.
And so we got to Paluzza in the evening, and the sun went down so quickly that I don’t even remember it. That day we had gone searching for art in Conegliano, walked through the pastel streets, dined at the tiniest restaurant (I even had mint chocolate ice cream) visited the castle and looked out, longingly at the distant mountains. And in Valvasone, we had marvelled at the oldest organ in all of Europe, with magnificent organ panels painted, in part, by the Renaisaance artist Il Pordenone. The stone roads and quiet piazzas there were meant to be lingered in, and we strolled our way through town, taking in every bit. All of Friuli, places we’ve been and places we’ve never seen, feel familiar, and we keep coming back here, every time. As we walked out of Valvasone, I spotted a road we hadn’t taken, behind the church. I pointed to it and looked toward Antonello. “Should we take a look?” I asked.
“La prossima volta,” he told me, smiling. Next time.
And now we were here in Paluzza. We still had much to explore here — we had hikes to take, we had towns to visit, we had plenty of apple strudel to tuck into, but I could feel it already on that Wednesday evening, like our vacation was slipping away. Like we needed more time. Like six days wasn’t nearly enough. That evening we sat in the darkness, looking out, Antonello snacking on peanuts and prosciutto, me sipping my drink. This was a long day, yes, but it had led us back here. Back to Friuli, and the mountain nights, summery and cool. In the distance the mighty stars sparkled, and the pearly fingernail moon that sunk behind the mountains dropped as low as it could, until at last it disappeared.
Today I’m listening to: Mine Forever by Lord Huron.