It is time for Carnevale and in Aosta Valley and we are celebrating at the base of the Matterhorn, called Cervino, in Italy’s towering Alps. The story is unique in the world and yet universal. It is the story of a giant and a beautiful lady robed in white. The message is timeless and yet something we can all benefit from remembering when daily challenges cloud our ability to dream.
The story of Gargantua and Dama Bianca goes something like this…
Once upon a time Gargantua (the giant) came down from Zermatt and saw the most beautiful lady, Dama Bianca. He fell in love and took the beautiful lady with him to hide in the mountains.
When the villagers realized the beautiful lady had vanished they organized and worked together to find her. The Count and Countess came with their entourage to get to the bottom of the mystery. Some say that all things pure, good, and white stopped gracing the village; the snow ceased to blanket the valley and the cows creamy milk dried up.
Gargantua was moved by the villagers’ effort to bring their beautiful lady home and he made the difficult decision to return her to where she belonged.
It is, in one breath, both a reminder that if you love someone, set them free and to appreciate those in your experience as they may not always be there…
Legends swirl around the Matterhorn in every season but Carnevale with skiing giants, Medieval courts, and castle balls felt like a dream. The first time our daughter saw the Dama Bianca for 2018 sweeping down the slope on a sleigh, her white hood concealing her identity, she whispered, “I want to be the Dama Bianca someday.”
Just days after our daughter made her wish, our friend Irene said, “Your name is Bianca so you must be in the parade.”
On the day of the festivities we still had no idea what to expect. Words seem to fall short of capturing the magic so here are some photos that hopefully communicate the power of this community and its traditions.
Getting hundreds of people organized on a snowy Saturday afternoon takes time but the excitement and atmosphere were a feeling we will never forget.
The “landzettes” wore completely handmade costumes with mirrors and bells to ward off evil spirits. Their role is to bring light, through pranks and dances and jovial thievery, to villagers during the darker days of winter. They are a reminder to all that winter is coming to a close.
Caterina di Challant, and her Husband the Count were known as “friends of the people.” The day the Countess danced with villagers in the main square in 1450 is reenacted every year during Carnevale with cries of “Vive Introd et Madame de Challant”.
The community celebrates after the parade where little girls with big dreams dance with gentle giants.
What a gift to have experienced this fairy tale as a bit of the mystery of this mountain is now a part of us. Hopefully, when it is time to leave this village, we will take with us some of the strength and grace of the villagers that have become a part of our family this winter. They have divided their joy with us by not just telling us their stories but including us in the very act of re-telling this tale as old as time. Voltaire said, “Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is wonderful in others, belong to us as well.”
After the celebrations ended, just as Bianca drifted off to sleep she said, “I am so happy today was real.” There is no greater gift.