Cima Gallina: Gone But Not Forgotten: Part 3

My time in Italy could have been so much more than it was.  I have mentioned time and time again how I had missed so many golden opportunities.  Northern Italy is in such a centrally-located spot I could have gone to France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Austria, Germany, Croatia, and so many other places!  I did have adventures though.

The great Pisa adventure, aka "The time I went to Pisa but forgot to see the leaning tower" was my greatest folly.  A couple of months into my tour there a management change took place.  Joe Woolfolk left, and Tommy Lawson replaced him.  Tommy was a good ol' boy "from the hills of north Georgia" as he liked to say.  He had enough stature within the Air Force to be able to have his own car shipped over from the states, and after he had been there for a month or so was notified that it was ready for pickup down south in the port city of Pisa.  At that time there was a middle-aged single guy named Andy working with us, there on loan from Aviano Air Base because we were low on personnel.  He offered to let us drive his brand new Triumph TR7 down to Pisa to get Tommy's car.  We switched back and forth a few times during the several-hour trip, and both of us were amazed at how much power it had and how crazy-quick the steering was.  When we stopped for gas we even had to pop the hood to satisfy our curiosity as to how many cylinders the engine had.  When we got to Pisa and went to get his car I was surprised to see what it was:  A red Plymouth Scamp.  Although it was a plain-jane, ordinary car, it was apparently just sleeping.  When he got behind the wheel he became Tommy Lawson: moonshine runner.  The race was on.  It was a cat & mouse chase right off the bat.  He was feeling so pumped to be behind the wheel of his car he was really pushing it.  It was all I could do to stay within range of him, and that's considering I'm also a pretty good driver and I was driving a sports car!  I remember at one point as I went flying into the middle of a small town the townspeople on the sidewalks were all craning their necks in the direction Tommy had gone.  The instant they heard me their heads all snapped my direction.  When we finally stopped for gas halfway home it occurred to us what we had--or hadn't--done.  We were having so much fun we forgot about one of the biggest tourist attractions in Italy.  We forgot to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

The people in our area were very, very friendly.  One time, Tommy, myself, and Elaine were all sitting in the bar at The Maier and talking with one of the locals.  (I'm going to spell his name like it was pronounced because I have no idea what it actually was.)  Ottie was a rotund little fellow that always wore a traditional green cap with a feather in it that you see at Oktoberfest events.  He was the epitome of the stereotypical Bavarian, from the belly to the rosy cheeks and mustache and  the way he always dressed.  His English was about 10% and our German was about the same.  We all conversed by pantomime, pictures, and anything else we could think of to get points across.  I don't know how it all transpired this one particular day, but somehow we all ended up being invited to Ottie's home partway up one of the surrounding mountains.  It was very, cozy and small.  The center of the place was where the hearth stood, and the beds, kitchen, and everything else were all built centered around it.  I'm sure his wife had no idea he was going to bring someone "home for dinner", but if she was annoyed she certainly didn't show it.  We sat there laughing and having a great time, drinking wine and eating homemade bread, homemade butter, and homemade cheese.  It was one of the best times I had during my year there.  They opened their home to us and shared their bounty.  The food, as simple as it was, remains one of my most cherished memories of Italy.

Near the end of my time there I learned of a special tourist event that was coming up.  I believe it was December.  I just know there was plenty of snow by that time, and snow played a very important part in this story.  When I first heard about it, I wasn't able to learn much about it other than the fact that it was a sledding adventure.  It was the kind of thing where they sold tickets beforehand, so there were limited spaces available.  Why not?  It was being pretty highly endorsed by those that knew anything about it.  It was apparently a pretty big thing with the tourist crowd.  For the life of me, I can't be 100% sure about who was with me, but I believe it was Tommy, the site commander.  He and I were together on many experiences.  This particular adventure was a two-person thing so we needed to sign two of us up.  Here's what went down.  A big, luxury charter bus picked us up and transported us to a gasthof somewhere.  I say somewhere because it was dark and we had no idea really where we were.  The bus was full though, so we had plenty of people, and when we stopped we all tumbled out and descended on the poor staff of the gasthof like a swarm of thirsty bees.  We all drank for a while--I'm thinking at least a couple of beers worth if not more--when they announced "back to the bus" and herded us back outside.  It was pitch dark out, and the bus drove us for a good half hour or so up a curvy mountain road that led up from the place we had stopped at.  At the end of our drive, what should be there but another gasthof!  Laughing and having a good time, everyone got off the bus and went into that establishment and we repeated what we had done down at the bottom of the mountain road at the previous
place.  After a while the call was given just like before.  The cry, "Okay, everyone out" was issued in multiple languages.  By this time most everyone was pretty well lit and feeling no pain.  We all put our winter gear on and went over to the bus.  The staff issued one sled for every two people.  I use the term sled loosely.  The Bavarian version of a sled we were going to be using was unlike anything I had ever seen.  It was tall in height, it was short in length, and it had no steering.  There are probably several varieties of sleds in that area of the world, but our adventure used the drunk tourist model.  After sleds were doled out, the bus left and went back to the bottom.  Now the fun began.  First of all, we had to learn how to fit ourselves onto the teeny sled.  Not that difficult... just hook your feet onto the runners.  Little by little people were launching down the dark mountain road amid whoops, hollering, cursing, and laughter--in multiple languages.  We got going down the road with no problem.  The sled worked pretty well!  That is, until we came to the first curve.  We went straight into the snow bank, as did most people.  Little by little, after multiple run-ins with snow banks, we learned that all we had to do was dip a toe here and there so it drug in the snow without even removing our foot from the runner.  It was very, very dark out there.  I know that because usually when you're outdoors at night you get used to it and start to be able to see by starlight or whatever.  There was no starlight.  You know how sometimes you can see better when you turn your head slightly and look out of the corner of your eye?  It was that dark.  We never saw the snow banks or turns until it was almost too late.  Luckily there was a bank of snow on both sides of the road, and the road was closed to vehicles for the event.  It was crazy.  I remember at one point hearing someone laughing and swearing in English.  I hollered at them and found out they were from Canada.  The road had to have been several miles long, so it took quite a while.  We did eventually make it to the bottom.  Lucky for us, there was our friendly gasthof with our tourist bus parked outside.  More drinks and the blazing fire in their giant fireplace was the perfect end to our adventure.

What prompted me to lapse into this blog trilogy?  I was surfing the web one morning and ran across the end of Cima Gallina. (There are a few pictures there to go with the story.) Yes, sadly, it is no more. In this day of internet and satellite communications shooting from dish antenna to dish antenna across the miles just wasn't feasible any longer.  If you'd like to see a nice assortment of pictures of various people's shots of Cima Gallina, click here for a Google image search.

It was, without fail, the most amazing place I was stationed during my short, 6-year career in the Air Force.  It was a place that people only dream of visiting, let alone actually being able to live there for a solid year.  It was a place with a lot of great memories, only a few of which I have shared.  It was while I was stationed there that my son Mark was conceived.  It was a special part of my past.

R.I.P. Cima Gallina.