It’s ten days since we left behind half of all our clothes in the wash-o-mat in Augsburg and no-one seems to have noticed, well at least amongst the family. We adapted worryingly easily to wearing the same outfit day after day, washing it where we can, drying it in the sun and thanking our lucky stars that we were mostly left with black. But I sense things changing now we are firmly in Italy.
We’re in Italy??
It took a while to realise we were in Italy for while the border was obvious this time nothing much changed when we crossed it. Despite 90 years as part of Italy (having been ‘given’ to the Italians after the 1st World War) the Italian South Tyrol remains very Austrian in character; most people speak German, serve wurst and strudel and live in Tyrolean style villages.
Cultures are not easily changed from the outside; you don’t become Italian just because someone tells you you are, changes your name, rechristens your village or makes you learn the language. But this part of Italy’s fascist history is a diversion from the fashionistas who are troubling me more. You see after only a few days here I am feeling pressure from elegant Italians to clean up our shabbily dressed family.
A certain pressure to be fashionable & cool
The first thing you notice as you accelerate down the Val Venosta towards Merano, Bolsano and Trento is the apples. In fact it’s almost the only thing to notice. I’ve never seen so many fresh red, green and yellow apples, hanging by the dozen from thousands of rows of trees. Millions of fruits ripening in the sun in orchards that stretch for 100km or more, down and across the entire valley. A giant apple factory serviced by little blue, green and red orchard tractors, trundling up and down the rows, lifting and moving enormous green plastic crates to carry the fruit down the valley to giant fruit processing plants.
There must be something about the soil here that is particularly good for apples. And the water, fed by pipe and pump to a network of spray heads stretching right across the valley, many of which cast an inviting spray across the cycle path.
The sprays look a perfect way to keep cool
It was the spray that first brought my attention to the fashionista. In the sweltering heat the irrigation sprays are so enticing, chattering around and around, casting fine mist into the air and pummelling water jets across our path. It’s a refreshing game cycling along, adjusting your speed to try and ride through the mist but avoid the full force of the jets. Although we seemed to be the only ones playing it. While we merrily rode in and out of the sprinklers the Italian riders seemed more cautious.
At first I thought it was vanity for compared to Holland and Germany where cycle fashion was eclectic, the Italian riders all look so neat and tidy. There’s more of a cyclists uniform here, less tourers, more sports riders, mountain bikers and racers and all spotlessly clean in pristeen lycra bibs and tight shorts, little white socks, shiny helmets, clip in shoes and mirror shades. Just looking at them makes me feel dirty as they shoot past in packs of two, three, four or five, looking so cool, feeling so cool they obviously don’t need cooling down. Staying so cool means avoiding the sprays, timing your run so the spray can’t touch you because nothing can touch you when you look like that.
But these sprays are definitely not cool
We arrive at a camping café after a particularly good dousing and stop for coffee. We’re happy and high, soaked from head to toe, our gear dripping and notice the washing we’d hung out on the bikes to dry (for we’ll never trust a launderette again) is not just wet but spotted too. Sitting down over coffee I read up about the valley and the irrigation systems, about how committed they are to water conservation and recycling and of how it is common to recycle grey water from septic systems for irrigation.
Slowly the truth dawns on us. There are perhaps reasons other than fashion for avoiding the sprinklers. At least we kept our mouths closed. No wonder people stare, not only do we look rather unfashionable and unkempt cycling along on our loaded bikes in our single set of dirty black, un-ironed clothes, we also choose to bathe in shit water. We have a thing or two to learn from the Italians yet. We are going to need to clean up our act.