Sense Satiated. I Lake Very Much The Towns of Como and Bellagio


…the spicy and sugary scent, filled with lives and steeped in ideas yet unknown, reached around the world to pull me instantly into a Stendhal syndrome, as I sat bathed in the blue glow of my Mac, midday, middle of Manhattan. Filling slowly my nose and reaching deep into me, it soothed and surprised me as it returned again and again for weeks, rising and melting within me like an immersion into a warm bath. As there was never a literal perceivable physical source for the scent, I eventually realized it always came as I deeply relaxed or felt a truth resonate.

“Pittaspora!” claimed Alberto, the preternaturally handsome Direttore of Fragrance Resources, identifying the heady scent coming from the bushes lining Lake Como, Italy. We stepped into a heavenly cloud of the scent as we disembarked from our 1968-vintage, restored, zero-emissions Riva speedboat after a Prosecco-infused thrill ride around the lake unto the boat dock at the new CastaDiva Resort, via the expert arrangements by the dashing Giancarlo Porcu, Tango dancer and GM of the newest 5-star resort in Lake Como in 100 years.

Driven to sensorial overload by the sexy curves of the Riva, the cool lake spray and the dashing speedboat driver Erio Matteri, (who, of course, is De Niro and Brangelina’s private captain) my boat mates were the CastaDiva interior designer, Erasmo Figini, the CEO of CastaDiva, Gabriele Zerbi, all three in the front waving to their “I Heart The Lake” friends at their Villas as they passed and Alberto Rimoldi and Daniela Fedi, Il Giornale’s fashion editor and her daschund, who all sat enthralled next to me. The scent that visited me in Manhattan was here lushly covering the hillsides, a most powerful and seductive top note to the ecstasy that is Lake Como. (And Villas, Villas, Villas are definitely the Real Thrillas)

The next day, I abandoned myself further on a leather lounger in the pink Himalayan sea salt room senses soothed to Opera music at the spa in CastaDiva, where Stendhal himself stayed and clearly invented his syndrome. The Resort is is built around a legendary gem, the restored Villa of Giuditta Pasta, Soprano muse to Bellini, which she modeled after La Scala where she found her fame and she employed many of the same famed artisans for the stone, wood and Florentine floral sgraffito designs. As the Pittaspora scent came through the salt walls carried on the moisture from the lake, as it is designed specifically to do…Time and Place became Pure Beauty.

Welcome to Lake Como, welcome to the “beyond” magic that is Italy. Where a flower perhaps designs its scent to pull you towards it like a hungry lover and a spa is designed to converse with the moisture of a Lake.

A steeping in the senses of the earth and the passions of those that have walked it for centuries inspire Italian living. It can’t help itself to breathe “design” intertwined with every moment when such beauty permeates.

From that first synchronized moment of bright afternoon in literal and logical New York City while the sun at dusk shimmered and stirred Lake Como’s James Bond-like adventures and stirred the Pittaspora to release its Secret Life of Plants-style persuasion pulling me to Italy…to my Sommelier seatmate on the return trip back to the States, Francesco Baravalle, of the family-owned Cascina Bruciata vineyards, who told me of his passion weaving of sky, rain, dirt and fruit into wines…Italy really got me good this time!

Speeding around the Lake and the lake towns of Como and Bellagio with my photojournalist, author and supreme architectural observer friend, Paul Clemence, we could not stop our heavy breathing over the sense saturations. We revered it all, from medieval bricks and stones to the neat bones Fascist architecture as in the Casa de Fascio di Giuseppe Terragni in Como, a landmark for architecture students from around the world. The arts, streets and wares of Lake Como and Bellagio, a resort since the 1st century, speak to this sacred marriage of beyond time and space biology, ancient history and modern imposition which in concert satiate the senses. Here is just one breath of what we saw, gasped and almost fainted over.

In Italy, green botany welcomingly winds into human habitation and buildings everywhere you look from the terraced gardens of the city buildings to the recent fruit orchard installed at Milan’s Garibaldi station built during the Salon by the artists with amazelab and to the upcoming 2015 Milan fair, entitled, “Universal Exposition: Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.”

Even a Fascist landmark will frame the hills begrudgingly and even delicately.

The lake towns of Como and Bellagio satiate the senses as they are nestled like precious eggs by what most people would call mountains and locals call “hills,” the lushest green forests holding the Lake, which all agree, changes colors and moods like a live painting.

…A look through a fence can reveal a surprise kitsch kitchen garden in Bellagio to…

…a palm tree at the end of an alley…

…to a hillside that looks back at you like an animal, unquestioning in it’s natural yet artful and perfect state…

In the towns smooth round stones are laid patterned for the leather soles of humans to tred and absorb the multiple of objects fashioned from the flora and fauna surrounding. Walls might be made of millions of tiny moss trees, replicating the hills and flowers or follies, Medieval graffiti or trompe l’oeil and every turn of a corner unveils surprise Italian style from a wall’s lichen colony to a “I’m liken that silk/cashmere/diamond thingy-thing on me.”

In Como’s heart, Piazza San Fedele was, until the 19th century, the grain market and the same echo of voices in the square pulse through the tiny rooms of these sweet saintly relics made of herringbone patterned stone and timbered framing, now housing Ubik, the slick art bookshop tucked between more modern era buildings. In the center, where once sheaves of grain mountains lay stacked, a proud student display of architecture or designs for Como silk scarves underscores the timeless lineage of design.

As bikes and mopeds doggedly curve around the corners of quirky examples of the 12th to 21st century architecture of the square, graffiti talks across the ages on the walls of the splendid church of S. Fedele with its elegant 12th century apse, and then unfolds Musee Civico and Museo Garibaldi, while one heads on via Vittoria on the way back towards the Duomo.

…a passageway can lead to a garden, an art exhibit or a high tech warehouse and cafe devoted to Como’s famous silk manufacture.

…Mulberry tree ripening berries actually look like the silk worm cocoons, growing on the Lake’s “hillsides” for centuries.

The soft arts are spun from Lake Como’s silk worm cocoons and while the inhabitants of the cocoons never make it into actual butterflies, for the inhabitants of Como it is a serious business and for wearers of silk worldwide, butterfly status is assured as they flit about in the color and lightness loved by couture designers, the likes of Pucci and Viktor & Rolf. The most intriguing manufacturer is Mantero with their concept store and cafe, La Tessitura. Housed in a restored 1887 textile mill, with original glass ceilings, wooden beams and cast iron columns, the building highlights the re-purposed materials and sustainable designs.

Today the raw silk is mostly imported from China, but the finishing dying, weaving, designing and printing is still done in Como.

Another Como-only find is Moresi cashmere, on Via Vittorio Emanuelle, very chic, simple but intriguingly shaped dresses and tops…a sure sign of exclusivity when their website doesn’t even let you see the styles.  If the visible is giving one Stendhal-like palpitations, surely it is the “Exclusive Stories” those happenings inside the Villas, the custom-made, the bespoke lives, the layered history and goings on that stir imaginings to make the head spin.

Back in the boat to Bellagio…

Bellagio’s surprises are more of the postcard variety, the town is swarming with tourists, but the real pleasures are underground or up in the hills where the olive groves and century old churches can be found.

in Bellagio, just under a grove of olive trees…we found “Gepetto” and his wife tending the shoppe selling the famed Bellagio carvings of the olive wood, as the Tacchi family has been doing here since 1855.

Back in Como, the amusements a walk will surf you to range from graffiti talking across the ages on the walls of splendid churches, commemorations of saints popped unto walls in forgotten benedictions to civic pride shout-outs to trade guilds or the pairing of a huge graphic trompe l’oeil next to Rubens.

Un-purchasable color is Como’s politely ordained 5 color range of hot salmon pink, saffron yellow, tan, palest ice blue or bone white for buildings while its red and yellow speedboats and bold signage at the dock speak to the graphic harshness that pulses behind Villa doors, windows and curtains. The unseen Stendhal of that for me is an Opera of Helmut Newton’s women adjusting their garters in Villa d’este gardens, Clooney’s smirking Martini commercials, operatic bel canto singing mixed with Madonna’s Fever, tousled and rustling crispy Renaissance silk garments to the mysterious Versace villa built upon his silken Dolce Vita.

Displayed with equal passion of careful lovers, shop windows in Bellagio are shaded by heavy curtains in symphony with the sun’s changes during the day…

behind which we found chocolate diamonds laid out like candy at Bellagio’s The Corner Shop

or rainbow colored and striped pasta of every shape to remind us of Italy’s most revered sensual pleasures of food and wine.

Even a pre-dinner and calories steam of eucalyptus and lavender in CastaDiva’s red, white, pink, blue and maroon tiny Missoni-like mosaic steam room cocoon temple to design will remind you that while design is fine, it’s the Nature in Italy that whispers the loudest to soothe…

Beyond the Italian philosophy of Slow Food which has spread globally now, the 5-star visually supreme and garden-orgy of food designed by Paolo Casagrande, the chef at Castadiva declares a new genre, “Sexy Soft Food” for the satiated experience. One standout was absolute supreme aria of softness, the sweetness and saltiness – Drowned egg, raw ham, pine nuts in a green pea soup –a little world on your plate.

On my return trip back to the States, a seat mix-up put me next to Francesco Baravalle, of Cascina Bruciata vineyards, in the US to market his wines. His best friend, Guido Martinetti, whose Slow Food, organic Grom gelato can be found in the lake town of Lecco as well as Paris, New York and Tokyo, is invested in the farm itself supplying his own fruits from the company owned farm called mura mura.

Over time the temporary worldly decrees of Church or State patronage may frame the desires and devotions of the Interpreter of The Senses and determine the language we fashion from rocks from the mountains, shapes or silk from seed pods and transformational cocoons or other dances…

…and the town walls may watch and record the human parade of dances, dreams, bodies and dramas.  As we open to and determine the design of our thoughts and actions first to connect and soothe, in places such as this underground grotto with glass floor floating over the fishes at the CastaDiva Spa, we invite the conversation with that which is ancient and at the same time a brand new frontier.

In the lake towns of Como, the forces of Beauty and Nature have teased and weaved with the folly of humans, expanding what is possible for over 10 centuries. Pliny, Bellini and Stendhal to Versace, Madonna and Cooney, poets and farmers, waiters, cooks and artisans have breathed, played and loved here, inviting the deep breath and saturation into the deep silence at early night and morning…when flowers begin to talk to Dreamers and Lovers.



(most images by Paul Clemence, flower photo by Carlos Rueda, Museo di Garibaldi by Gary Kinsman, written by Jade Dressler)

2 Responses to “Sense Satiated. I Lake Very Much The Towns of Como and Bellagio”

  1. 1 Lucy

    So beautifully written, I felt I was there with you, you most fortunate one…

  2. Dear Lucy, it is the sweetest imagining to think of sharing a place like that with you. I’ve been reading about networked cultures and after what you said last night about the differences of lavender in Spain, France…etc. I think travel and sharing your indie scent knowledge is in the cards. On our wish list;-)

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