National Geographic : 1968 Jul
B ORN OF ICE, shaped by the ages, and mellowed in the warm Italian sun, the Lakes of Lombardy for two thousand years have delighted the eye, inspired the poet, and quietly invited the soul. This is not, I hasten to admit, an entirely original observation. It has been shared, over those two millen niums, by such Roman poets as Virgil and Catullus, by Goethe and Dante, by Tennyson and Longfellow, and by the more than three-quarters of a million visitors who sojourned in the area last year. To say simply that the lakes are magnificently beauti ful, or to quote poetry which says the same thing in more elegant language, may not make much of an impression. But when you know that the area is so spectacular that it inspired the invention of photography, perhaps you will understand just how remarkable it really is. In October, 1833, the great English scientist William Henry Fox Talbot sat "on the lovely shores of the Lake of Como," reflecting on the "inimitable beauty" before him. "It was during these thoughts that the idea occurred to me," he wrote later, "how charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably, and remain fixed upon the paper!" Honor Shared by Two Men and a Lake In January of 1834, Talbot returned to England and went to work in his laboratory. The reinembrance of Como's beauty drove him on, as did the knowledge that the Frenchman, Louis Daguerre, was-working in the same direction. The two men today share the honor of inventing photography, but Como shares with no other spot the honor of having inspired it. With my wife and her 12-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, whom I am adopting, I spent last summer on Como and two of its sister lakes, Garda and Maggiore (map, following pages). Italy was a happy choice, for Donna lived there for years and speaks the language perfectly, and Donnali and Brian had gone to an Italian public school through kindergarten and the first grade, and had once been fluent in the language. Now six years of French and American schools had erased their early facility. It would be nice, we thought, if they could regain it. So we flew to Milan, rented a car, and drove north for forty minutes to the city of Como. Our first view of its magnificent waterfront assured us we had made a wise choice (pages 68-9). Within a few days we realized that the twins would gain much more than language and an experience of beauty. For the history of Como, and indeed of the whole lake area, is a perfect example of the Laughter keynotes lakeside zest for life. The beauty that surrounds northern Italy's people seems to infuse them with a rollicking spirit. In Varenna, a mother pauses to joke with fish ermen untangling nets after a day on Lake Como. Covering on the narrow passageway's cobbles protects the mesh. The men catch trout and pike for sale to hotels and restaurants. KODACHROME BY NATIONALGEOGRAPHICPHOTOGRAPHER JOSEPHJ. SCHERSCHEL© N.G .S.