“Melancholy is the happiness of being sad.” -Victor Hugo
We love the fabled peaks we currently call home in the Italian Alps. The Aosta Valley is known as the valley of 100 castles. Snaking up the alpine passes, past bucolic fields full of cows ringing their symphonic bells, it is hard to deny the magic of this little corner of the world. When we are lucky enough to hear villagers’ stories about beautiful ladies, giants, devils, and fairies, we listen. As we walked through the last of the falling leaves toward Lago Blu a few weeks ago with our friend Lino, he shared with us the legend of this beautiful lake.
Because it is Thanksgiving in the USA this week and we are far away from our family, we wanted to share this legend as a way of saying thank you to those we love that we are not with this season.
The Legend of Lago Blu (As we understand it in our limited Italian. Please let us know if you are local and we need to correct something).
There is a small mountain lake with a big beating heart tucked between the fir trees and heathered fields near Breuil-Cervinia. It is called Lago Bleu as it seems to drink its color from the very sky above. Il Cervino (otherwise known as The Matterhorn) casts a perfect mirror image in the turquoise lake causing all passersby to pause for reflection. On a very still day, if you stare into the depths of the lake, knarled tree trunks look like boards from a once-prominent roof of a beautiful home. This is where the legend begins …
Once upon a time, where this very lake sits, there was a distinguished home of a well-known shepherd family. On a cold and blustery night, a wanderer knocked and asked them for shelter. The son of the shepherd noticed the man’s face was pale from exhaustion and his clothes torn enough to let the autumn chill settle over his slight frame. He asked for some porridge and milk and to sit by the fire which wasn’t asking for much.
Instead of welcoming him in, as is the tradition in this valley, the shepherdess shooed him away sternly telling him she had nothing to give him. The son was so distraught that his mother sent the lonely wanderer back into the cold night, that he ran out looking for him. Dejected and unsuccessful in finding the wanderer, he returned home some hours later to find his family crying on the banks of what was now a lake. The house had been swallowed by the lake and an underground spring was now feeding Lago Bleu which came to be known as the blooming lake.
This ancient tale reminds everyone in Aosta Valley that hospitality and a warm welcome are pillars of the people of this valley, now, then, and forevermore.
To our families and friends that we will not be with this Thanksgiving, thank you for always having an open door. Thank you for always preparing meals to share with love. Thank you for always putting another log on the fire to keep us warm. Thank you for extending your invitations to those that may be alone during the holidays. Thank you for always setting one more place at the table in case there was someone passing by. Thank you for knowing that the invitation to come in is everything.
We all have the power to open the door or to close it. The last few years have been unique during the pandemic, and we have had to do things very differently. While it is still important to protect our community’s health, it is also important to begin again. Begin with the invitation, extend ourselves beyond what is comfortable, plan and prepare the food with all the love we can give, and finally, open the door and see what happens.
As Victor Hugo’s quote reminds us, we are happy for the memories and sad that we are not together. Mostly we are thankful for the legends, mystery, and fairytales of our childhoods and of cultures the world over. These stories comfort us today and remind us we are all part of one big story and the ‘happily ever after’ part is up to each one of us.