Nestled into the green hillside by beautiful Lake Maggiore in northern Italy, there is a dilapidated villa. Even in its current state of disrepair, those who find it know that there is something magnetic about the place. They imagine the villa in its prime surrounded by sculpted topiaries, white peacocks frolicking among sprawling cypress trees, and stone figures standing guard-a more prosperous and mysterious past.
Diana Marshall, an American designer traveling in Italy in the hopes of finding inspiration after the death of her husband, is captivated by the structure. In the lines and shadows and secret places of the abandoned relic, she sees a chance to capture her passion again-for life, for art, for beauty. She throws all caution and sense to the wind and commits to breathing life into the grand old home. With the help of a cunning financier with an agenda of his own, she makes plans to give the abandoned structure a complete renovation. As the project progresses, tantalizing hints of the villa's past begin to emerge. Layer by layer, the residue of another lifetime dares Diana to dig deeper for the truth.
Visitors to the villa bring morsels of information that, when pieced together, begin to tell a story of its involvement in the darkest part of twentieth-century history. As she learns more about the building's nefarious past and the reality of those former inhabitants, Diana begins to fear the worst.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.58(d)|
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THE HOUSE ON LAKE MAGGIORE
By K. S. HANSEN
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2013 K. S. Hansen
All rights reserved.
I am a testament to the fact that there are variant types of love affairs. I've had my share of the usual, been approached and invited to the not so usual, but it is a much more extraordinary love affair I am thinking about tonight. The love affair of a place—a place so profound, so inconceivably beautiful that your eyes and heart become prey to defenseless enraptures. My encounter and involvement devoured me and affected me so deeply that I was left feeling as though I had just been through the turmoil one might experience being part of an all-encompassing, heart rendering and at times, tumultuous affair with the love of your life—one that was stimulating and breath taking at the onset, but if unhappily ending, leaves you devastated and wallowing in a debilitating sadness. I put myself through an emotional wringer and I was physically and mentally exhausted. What was to be a wonderful experience eventually became convoluted and swallowed into a dark sorrow.
My experience with Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy sent me onto a very long journey. The voyage there was not all that long, but my experience there and journey back was an arduous effort. I fell in love with this beautiful place that is the closest I believe one can get to paradise on earth. After my first visit, the memory stayed so indisputably in my mind that I could think of little else. The beauty of this place could not leave my mind and I had too many pensive moments thinking about Lake Maggiore and before I knew it, those pensive moments began to control my life to the point of impeding my normal work functions. When I began to work, or picked up a book to read, or sipped a glass of wine, my mind wandered back to not only that beautiful place, but one lonely, neglected, shamble of a house that sits on the shore. I felt as though I had left a part of me there and I was no longer complete. Just thinking about it and knowing it existed made me feel a need to be there, and to perhaps rescue it, and maybe make it love me back. I had to return and satisfy the magnetism that drew me to that beautiful place; the paradise I found seemed to have a hold on my heart.
When I sit and think about it, I can pinpoint the beginning of this journey, the very moment when my mind told me it was to begin. I was no longer going to ponder a decision to return, or rationalize over the logic. It was a certainty that I would return. Somehow I was going to go back and experience what it would be like to live there, to be within the walls of that pathetic villa and to cry with it. There was clearly one particular moment when the continual niggling in my mind finally pushed at me so endlessly that I knew I had to do something and I was about to make a decision that would change the course of my life. When that reality finally hit me, I accepted it with open arms, because it was a time in my life when I had reached a cross road. My direction became blurred and I was at my most vulnerable. I needed something the help me set new goals and create a clear direction.
I awoke one morning and realized my life was too programmed, predictable and lonely. My husband passed away three years prior and it was a long recovery for me to get beyond that. We had been married twenty-three years. My daily efforts were a routine mechanization of processes: working, going home to a lonely house, dinner alone, another glass of wine, mindlessly watching late night TV with my thoughts elsewhere, and then the next day begin it all over again. I may have wanted my distance from people for a while and preferred to be alone, but when I felt like it was time to reach out to someone, it was almost too late and too much time had passed. Time had created a schism in my friendships, left me with a life of solitude and it was difficult to figure out how to change it. Finally coming to terms with John's death and perhaps being over the mourning, I realized loneliness was my nemesis. My daughter lives on the east coast and we talk often by phone, but only see one another about twice a year. She alone would fill that void if only she were near, but she has her own life to pursue and we are as much a part of one another's lives as possible, but she is there and I am here.
I realized that my life was no more than a footnote to those others that were supposed to love me and to care about me. I had been pushing the thought away and in my mind made excuses for everyone because they were busy. They all seemed to be entrenched in their own lives and problems and for one reason or another, all were wallowing in their own pathos. The pathos then became mine and I noticed that no one ever called to see if I was fine, or inquired about my wellbeing, but called instead to tell me about what was going on in their life. If I initiated the calls, I became their audience and their support system and if my calls became a little overdue no one was beyond scolding me about it. All my conversations with family and friends were always about them, never about me. I had my own struggles, trying to keep my business afloat, earning a living and striving to make ends meet somewhere in a comfortable and reasonable place and keep my head above water. No one cared and I felt downhearted and disappointed. I realized that with John's passing, I was truly alone and my struggles were my own. I had no one in the wings giving me encouragement or showing they cared about me or giving me reinforcement. It was always just John that did that, and that was one of the many things I noticed the most after his passing because we were so connected to one another's life. I felt a tremendous void with his absence.
I was always strong and independent and maybe that was the reason; everyone knew I could take care of myself and there was nothing to worry about so they chose not to be concerned, but in doing so, they showed me they also did not care. Perhaps that was my fault because I gave the impression that I was a rock and would never falter. However, at that time in my life, I was feeling much more uncertain about my place in life and needed someone to understand, and moreover, needed someone to talk to—to listen to me.
This feeling of being abandoned left me feeling sullen and too reflective. I had to stop thinking about my situation and do something about it. I believed that perhaps an adventure was what I needed to get me out of my funk. And so, I booked a trip to Northern Italy to give me the divergence I needed and to hopefully lift my spirits.
That first trip to Lake Maggiore served the purpose, but gave me so much more. I truly fell in love with Northern Italy and all the disappointments in my personal life seemed to just fade away. I was far enough removed from my dismal existence at home. My discoveries took precedence and I became absorbed in all the beauty and culture that is the essence of Italy. I spent several days in Milan and then went on to the little town of Stresa on Lake Maggiore and there, I found paradise.
My thoughts of Lake Maggiore and how much I loved my visit there that summer never left my mind. After returning home my old problems were still there and when they began to make me feel a bit down, I thought of that beautiful place and those thoughts made everything bright and cheerful again. I became overwhelmed with the thoughts of being there and found myself staring into space daydreaming about it. Soon it began to cause me many sleepless nights and pushed everything else aside.
I took many weekend getaways to my cabin in the San Jacinto Mountains near Palm Springs, two hours from Los Angeles. One particular weekend I recall sitting in my cabin at the top of the mountain, waiting for the snow to begin, stoking the fire in the fireplace to rid the cabin of the chill it acquired in its idleness since I was last there. I kept walking to the window to see if the snow had begun to fall, as was predicted. I was relieved that it hadn't begun while I was making my drive up the serpentine road carved into the mountain. I thought about what I should have been doing because of the approaching holiday season, and yet, I reminded myself that I came there that weekend to escape that thought—to rid myself of the guilt I felt by not doing the tedious tasks of shopping, addressing Christmas cards, decorating a Christmas tree, and baking cookies. I was ignoring it all and none of that was going to happen for me. Since my daughter was unable to get away long enough to come home for the holiday and I couldn't take enough time from my work to go visit her, we both decided Christmas that year was lost.
A melancholy had come over me and I was overcome with vexing thoughts of the day in June of that year and my trip to Stresa when I sat on the terrace of my hotel room looking out at the placid Lake Maggiore. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of the situation that made me remember. In reality that night I was after all, sitting alone waiting for a pending snow storm, dark winter skies hanging low, and dampness all around, about to be snowed in for days looking at nothing but the inner walls of that cabin.
I studied the painting over my fireplace, which I believed to be a scene from somewhere in the Alps—tall snow covered mountain tops reaching into a flaming chatoyant sky, green velvet canyons flowing into a frothy creek cascading rapidly over large boulders, and a small cabin nestled into the side of a murky cliff, with a veil of water falling next to it gently, mingling with the rushing creek below. A stream of smoke climbs from the chimney of the cabin, windows luminous with a glow from inside, and all mingling in the amber and mauve dusk settling over the scene. The imagined life inside that cabin wasn't much unlike mine at that moment, I was certain, with candles and the fire in the fireplace lighting the interior. I was mentally taken away and I recalled visions of that other, most beautiful day in Italy. My thoughts of Lake Maggiore brought sunlight into my mind's eye, reflecting the Alps onto the mirrored surface of the beautiful lake, with the heady fragrance of camellias and wisteria in the gardens all around me. Perhaps it all existed just beyond the mountains in my painting, on the other side of the Alps.
My biggest conflict in life was always dreaming of another place, always finding comfort and satisfaction waning all too quickly from a current situation, and then planning my next house, and even when I was young it was the next love affair, another trip or adventure to feed my impatient nature. My restlessness brought too much confusion into my life. I could not be complacent, idle or bored—I just would not allow it. But after marrying John, I felt more grounded and somehow he was reinforcement that the restlessness I felt was energy that could be redirected and be a positive thing. With his death I lost my ever constant reinforcement and the direction in my life became skewed. In order to deal with the void I was feeling, I had to have a list of things in front of me, waiting to tackle, things to learn, things to pass along and be archived in my past and stepped over to get to my future. Being busy kept me from thinking too much, but I was running in too many directions and not accomplishing anything. So I would go to the mountain cabin and try to unwind and rethink my life, to dissolve all that restless nature and sit still for a while, and enjoy the present. It became my sanctuary where I would be compelled to just relax, listen to the silence and let my thoughts run wild in my mind until they were exhausted and my head finally cleared.
As it was, weekends were all I could take. Come the third day, I found myself bored and feeling shut in and then I closed the house and headed back down the mountain and onward to my condo in Los Angeles and again engaged in my hectic life there as an interior designer. There I would once again be intermingling with the thousands of other people on the freeways, rushing from one place to the next, juggling my time only to fall into my bed at night exhausted, but somehow I felt natural living that way, as unhealthy as I knew it probably was, and also as life shortening.
Perhaps it was my big mistake of the year: going to Stresa on Lake Maggiore. My soul found a new home and my life made a drastic change. My soul and my heart stayed in Italy and I sat there one weekend in that mountain cabin in Southern California and felt as if I was an empty vessel—just a body—no heart, no soul, no more me. I missed those parts of me and my sought after solitude became overwhelming and I felt too cut off, and much too alone. I found peace and quiet especially difficult to adjust to and I realized I wished for the company of another human being, another voice, someone to spend time with and to cook dinner for and share time, but that night it was me I was missing. And yet, I asked myself: did I really want to reel it all in again and be that person I was before experiencing the emotions that stirred within me when I sat on that terrace of my hotel room in Stresa, looking at that magnificent body of water and the Alps? It changed my life and it was that night remembering all that while in my mountain cabin in California that I realized I was truly a different person, void of my heart, the engine that made the channels of my arteries pulsate that kept this body seeking another breath to keep me alive yet one more day.
I felt I must rejoin myself and in order to do that I must go back to Italy and Lago Maggiore. Only then could I hope to understand what it was that pulled me back to that place, that confused my mind and would not allow me to forget its beauty and why it seemed to call me. I was not able to return to my usual and predictable life, as it was before I set eyes on its magnificence, and I needed to know what power that place had over me. I knew I would have to go back to Lake Maggiore again. I wrestled endlessly with the idea, but there was more to the decision.
There was a business opportunity that presented itself, but as time passed it seemed more unrealistic and I wasn't certain how to pursue it. I was so driven and my imagination got the best of me trying to figure out how to make it happen. The more time that passed, the less likely it was that this could happen and the opportunity would have to belong to someone else. The challenge in my mind was the magnitude of the adventure and I had a reasonable fear of the unknown. I was fearful and anxious as to what this venture would entail, if I could indeed make it happen.
As wonderful as it is to live on the peak and view the world from that mountain and sleep among the treetops, I wondered if that cabin in the woods was what I still wanted. That cabin on the mountain was my ultimate dream a year prior and I was not in want of anything else. And then I visited Lake Maggiore and my inner self set higher standards of what I must see to witness the glory of God's most incredible accomplishments. My vision of the tall cedars and pines of the San Jacinto Mountains became clouded and altered with the vision of the Alps and the Savoy Mountains on the other side of that Italian lake, dotted with the enchanting Borromeo islands with their beautiful Italian gardens. It was all wonderful and beautiful, but it was much more than trees and beautiful gardens. It had an aura about it, just hovering over the lake, mingling in the sweet smelling blossoms of the gardens, an aureole that wraps itself around you and you not only see the beauty, but you feel it almost in a spiritual way.
My love affair with Italy had gone on for several years. Our first trip to Italy only made me want more. After John died, I took a short trip alone to Italy, but it was a rather sad trip because I was overcome with thoughts of how much we enjoyed seeing Italy together. I visited the northern lake area and saw Lake Garda, Lake Orta, Lake Como and Lake Maggiore, Italy's second biggest lake. The area lies within the two regions of Lombardy and Piedmont. The northern tip of Lake Maggiore is in Switzerland and the Alps reflect so beautifully on the lake's surface. Centuries ago the dynasty of the Borromeo family of Milan, brought their wealth to that area and built palaces and gardens and it eventually came to be known as Lake Maggiore. Ernest Hemingway used it for the background of his story "Farewell to Arms." Napoleon visited, Byron wrote poems about it, artists painted it, and through the centuries it became a favorite stopping off place for royalty. It has the reputation of being an unforgotten paradise because when you first see it, you can never forget it.
Excerpted from THE HOUSE ON LAKE MAGGIORE by K. S. HANSEN. Copyright © 2013 K. S. Hansen. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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