After a month of nonstop tours, I am at home again. I have one week and one precious weekend to love up my family and try to get the house in order. Loving up my family is at the top of that list as my house is passable. Mauro does a good job of getting the everyday cleaning done while I am gone and the deep cleaning I tend to do can wait until the kids are in school during the week. If we go off and do something fun away from home…out of sight, out of mind…or at least out of reach! The Big Bench Community Project is something I read about a few months ago and it intrigued me. It’s time to go on a quest..
The weather today is iffy, with low clouds, almost foggy. Will it lift? Maybe… it’s not supposed to rain until later and it’s not too cold…let’s take a chance on having a picnic. Mauro has already gone on a bakery run, one of his favorite Sunday morning pastimes. Today he took a trip to Rocca de’ Baldi on a Rubata run. Rubata are bread sticks. Some are crunchy but these are chewy, typical of this area. Unable to live without real bread he picked up some rolls too. That will do for sandwiches. What have we got in the fridge? Salami, fresh tomatoes, and a can of tuna. Apples and pears from our garden. The kids are on board…andiamo!
We have decided to start with the Big Bench in Carrù. It is the first town on our way into the Langhe and Mauro thinks he knows where it is. There are no specific directions for the Big Benches, but there are colored dots on the Google map. You will only find signs pointing you in the right direction when you are nearby. Finding a bench is an act of discovery. The benches are all funded privately and have to be put in a space with public access even if it’s private property. They must have a view that is panoramic and contemplative but not too distracting. Built in the periphery of a space it not to be the centerpiece but made to facilitate the enjoyment of what surrounds you.
Placed with a view of the valley looking towards the Langhe, the Big Gold Bench in Carrù is at the edge of town and surrounded by multicolored mini benches. We are sorry to see it is covered in graffiti but not surprised. As humans, we have a desire to leave our mark and this is hardly a new phenomenon.
There is always a step up to the Big Benches but my son Filippo with his springy legs just runs, jumps, and twists in midair. He loves Parkour and is agile and he lands perfectly with his butt planted firmly on the bench. I climb up the step and still need to jump a bit, but backwards, and Emanuele pulls himself up like he’s climbing out a swimming pool. Mauro is challenged by Filippo to jump and twist as he did and Mauro is game. The first jump wasn’t high enough but not one to give up, he tries again. No problem!
We sit on the bench awhile and watch the world go by. Then it’s time to explore Carrù with a short walk…Emanuele wants to return to the bench before our mission to find more continues…The kids are hooked so off we go to Clavesana.
Clavesana is a place we visit a few times a year. If nothing else the Cantina di Clavesana is where we come the day after Easter on our annual house wine run to fill a demijohn with Dolcetto or Barbera to be bottled at home. For my husband Mauro, this is a place of memories. His father was born here and this is where he would come as a child to visit his great aunt Dominica and other family members on rare days out with his parents. Clavesana is also where he came with his father to hunt the white truffles the area is known for. He has happy memories of hiking through the woods with his dad and their dog. Pino died 13 years ago on October 7th so he has been on Mauro’s mind. Spending a day with our family in this place is a perfect way to honor Pino’s memory.
The second bench on our list is in Borgata Gorrea. It is the original Big Bench built in 2010 by artist, Chris Bangle, on his property. To get there we decide to park our car just off the highway in the piazza by the restaurant Lo Sbaranzo. We ate here when Filippo (almost 15) was still a baby in a high chair…another happy day. The walk to the property leads us down a steep road through vineyards where the grapes have recently been harvested. It takes around 15 minutes and we find the most interesting apple along the way.
This shell of an apple was just sitting on the road and looking around we realized it had been devoured by hornets. There was another apple nearby that they were busy eating. Pretty cool but we don’t hang around…an angry hornet can ruin your day!
When we arrive at the artist’s property we see a sign for the Big Red Bench but first, we have to stop and look at the Triumphal Arch that still seems to be a work in progress. Emanuele thinks it looks like a pair of pants taking a walk…what do you think?
To get to the bench we have to walk past/through an outside passage at the artist’s house and studio, some of which is still being renovated. The road takes us down and around into another vineyard. The view is stunning and it’s another walk down memory lane for Mauro. The ravine below us is exactly where he and his dad hunted truffles, up to the farm on the opposite side owned by his parent’s friends, The Gallo’s. My in-laws, Maria and Pino would come here every fall to pick grapes for them and this is where they would get their annual demijohn of wine.
The plaque written in Piemontese translates to:
When you are tired and need to stop and breathe…Sit here and you will become a child again.
This is the basic philosophy behind these benches. Sitting on an item we know so well is comforting and its size makes us feels small again. Our perspective changes and it allows us to see the landscape through new eyes.
Just after midday, our boys are getting hungry so we decide to go find the next bench and eat our picnic. We hike up the hill and back to the car where our lunch is waiting. Had we been paying more attention on our earlier drive up the hill we would have known where to find the next bench. Instead, we head the wrong way down a dirt road into a vineyard. We know we are close but not on the right path so we plunk ourselves down among the vines. Hunger will not help in our discovery, the clouds have lifted and the sun is shining, it is the perfect spot for a picnic.
Recharged and ready to find the next bench we climb back up the hill to our car. We don’t have far to go as we see a blue fence a few minutes down the road next to Azienda Agricola Gallo Ivan Aldo. Their sign says they have been producing wine here since 1795. This is not the same Gallo family Maria and Pino knew although they are probably related in some way. They host the Big Blue Bench and a five-minute walk through their vines gets us to our third bench of the day. We find a group of Italians trying to take a picture of themselves with their camera perched on a fence rail and I ask them if they would like us to snap a shot for them. Si, per favore!
In exchange, they take a picture of us, a precious thing for me since I rarely get family pictures. My husband generally hates having his picture taken but today he doesn’t seem to mind
The kids are getting restless and remind us they still have homework to do. They both have tests tomorrow…but it’s such a lovely day so we decide to find one more bench before making our way home. Our destintion, Borgata Pallazetto. Once home to Mauro’s great aunt Dominica who passed away a few years ago well into her 90’s, he showed us another one of his dad’s favorite truffle hunting spots along the way. On arriving at the Borgata, we find a sign pointing us in the right direction…700 meters down the road. One last walk before calling it a day, down a country lane, with fruit left unpicked on trees and littering the ground. Pomegranates, apples, pears, and quince, we wish it were ours to pick and hope that whoever it belongs to doesn’t let it go to waste.
At the last Big Yellow Bench, we sit once again to contemplate our world. A field of hazelnut trees in front of us and the mountains we know are in the distance are obscured by clouds. There is rain on the way but our world on this day, Sunday, October 9, 2016, looks pretty darn good from up here. We hope you enjoy the view!
For more information on the Big Bench Community Project, please check out their website and if you can, come and discover them on your own.