Paul Johnson

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore

To someone of my age, who has seen the world and now wants only repose and beauty, Lake Como is the perfect place. I do not know how many times I have visited it in the last two decades, but over 100 watercolours (not counting the ones I have given away or sold) testify to its hold on my affections. Twice a day I walk up from the castle to my painting-tower, whence the whole stupendous panorama of the lake can be seen, pointing to St Moritz mountain in the north, and to the south to Como itself, city of silk. It is quiet up there. You hear, of course, the tinkling of bells round the necks of the semi-tame mountain goats. But they have a cunning way of creeping about when near me, so that their bells do not sound, and silently purloining one of my brushes, spread about on the grass. The first I know of their depredation is the crunching of Winsor & Newton wooden handles, evidently a delicacy to them, in their bearded and powerful jaws. There is a red squirrel who likes the purlieus of the tower, small, wiry, hyperactive, not at all afraid of me, knowing that I keep a few pistachio nuts in my pocket for his delectation. And once I saw a fox, but he is very furtive, creeping low on the ground, hunting the rabbits which abound in these hills.

There is plenty to eat for the wildlife, and for humans too. My friend Carla, who was brought up in the region, was taught by her peasant nurse that one need never go hungry hereabouts, provided you know where to look. In the meadow below the tower there is delicious wild asparagus, and a huge variety of ‘salad stuff’ (to use Jane Austen’s expression) at any season of the year.

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