Sunday, August 9, 2009

If only there were no more... what a wonderful world this would be.

Yesterday we went for dinner with a difference at the La Mandria, a huge one-time royal hunting reserve now turned into a park, most of it private with 37 km of wall round the place. After being picked up at the entrance to the estate by horse and carriage, two horses and a metal wheeled carriage for 14 actually, we were trundled on a tour of the park along the gravel roads and across fields at a pace that was just perfect. Apart from the people that live in the park cars aren’t allowed in and it was just us and the quiet countryside an hour before closing. In the carriage there was a lovely convivial atmosphere. We are all friends and everyone was chatting away as we clip clopped down the avenues of the park amongst the huge centenary oaks and fields with some interesting humerous exchanges as the driver explained a bit about the environment and biology and agricultural characteristics of the park to a carriage-load of biologists, environmentalists and agronomers, which was us.

After a good while and with somewhat of a flat bum we arrived at a lake in the middle of the woods and across it we could see tables and chairs for 14 and a white table ready laid with grub for the hungry road weary travelers and bottles of wine on ice. A dramatic entrance into the hunting lodge archway, round the ornamental lawn recently dug up by the numerous wild boar in the park and we came to a pleasant halt next to the lake. Just us, the drivers, two caterers and nobody else. So we had a leisurely dinner, partly buffet partly served, under the huge oak trees on the grass by the lake. Lovely. No electricity, no lights, no noise just the faint smell of lake, grass and horse, the occasional slap of a fish and the relaxing calls of the great crested grebes out on the water. It was definitely, as it grew darker and darker, a tranquil experience, an evening from another epoch. No fuss, no bother, no chaos, just slow, food, slow chat and a couple of bottles of wine between us. Only in Italy can you have unlimited wine and grappa and brandy available with nobody bothering to drink it. It’s something I will never cease to appreciate. The place was so quiet there were not even any airplanes to mar the atmosphere and the only movement apart from the grebes was the howler running back and forth trying to fill the lake with twigs.

After eating (hare amongst other things), and sipping a couple of brandies and coffee we ambled over to the horses and climbed aboard for the night-time trip back. I wasn’t quite prepared for the extreme pleasantness of it. The only light came from the carriage lights (unfortunately battery powered) and the clear but dark sky above us.

What struck me most was not the actual trip in the carriage but the sounds and smells and sensations of it all.

These were sounds that I suppose were once commonplace but that we are no longer used to. The rolling of metal wheels over stony ground, with the rhythmic clip clop of the horses hooves, the jangling of harnesses and the urging calls of the driver. But also other things we have forgotten like the sight of a holstered carriage whip, the pervasive smell of horse and leather, being jolted and actually feeling the land beneath you, moving across it without a roof over your head, feeling the breeze on your face and the dampness in the air. It was quite charming.

As we ambled along we saw fallow deer grazing in the fields and then two red deer one with a huge set of antlers and a numerous herd of wild boar sploshing about in the water meadows. It was too dark to take photos but you could make them out well enough in the light from the carriage-lights. And of course when the horses stopped for us to get a good view there was not a sound to be heard and until we started standing up to get a better look the animals seemed not to notice we were there. Trundling along in the dark it was hard not to imagine how much better a world without the car would be; cleaner, slower, quieter, greener. A special woozle curse on the name of he that invented the damn things in the first place.

If only we had reached peak oil 50 years ago.


Athena said...

It sounds very charming indeed. You certainly have a way of describing such things beautifully.

Woozle said...

Indeed it was. I sometimes wish though I had a decent camera as that would save a lot of words :-))