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Painting by house numbers: a Jubilee getaway

As a Jubilee getaway, we switched street parties and bunting for tiramisu and dinner for two under the stars. Destination: Lake Orta in Italy. Relaxation and more relaxation were top priority with our only decisions being what to eat, drink and read next… and whether to go back in the lake for another dip.

The Painted Houses of Legro

Miasino, a sleepy village, was perfect for our unwind/reading catch-up/unplug holiday. It was high on the hill and so each day we walked off the previous evening’s Italian feast al fresco with a one-hour walk down to the lake. We started to notice that house murals were a marked feature of the area. The mural’s hero below reminded of me of Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. Although I think I got my films mixed up, I was on to something with the cinematic theme.

Gone with the Wind mural

The murals make up an open air cinema, with the inspiration coming from Italian film and television, especially those set in the Lake Orta area.  Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Story in 1950, Miso Amaro (De Santis, 1949) is an Italian neorealist film, produced by Lux, the well-known film production house.

Amaro Film Poster

The film centres on a low-level criminal couple who try to hide out by disguising the woman, Francesca, as a peasant worker in the rice fields in Northern Italy. The title – Bitter Rice or Bitter Laugh – is a pun on the subsequent plot of murder, love and robbery.

Even if you don’t understand Italian, here is a groovy dancing scene from Miso Amaro, which illustrates the tensions between characters.

There were many other murals in the town but their big screen influence was not as easy to identify as with Miso Amaro. The stories of the famed Italian children’s book writer Gianni Rodari, born on Lake Orta, are also supposed to feature but I didn’t see any that correspond to what little I know about him. An allegory of class struggle, his most famous story is Cipollino (or Little Onion), where the onion fights the injustice in the garden.

Singer mural in Legro

Two murals in Legro

As we dragged ourselves up the hill to our apartment from the lake, desperately looking for an excuse to pause for breathe casually, this mural keep us distracted. What exactly is going on in that boat?

Legro Mural - Man and woman in boat The modern cinematic murals complemented the more traditional Christian frescos on the apartment walls of the narrow, shaded streets, which were as commonplace as door numbers.

Painting at house number 5

alter

And it was not only on the walls of Miasino and Legro which were adorned. Just behind the village lies Sacre Monte, an UNESCO site, with 21 chapels and a staggering, 900 frescos and 366 monuments dedicated to St Francis of Assisi. Work on the site began in the late 16th century and it encompasses many architectural styles from late Renaissance to baroque and rococo.

Sacre Monte fresco of St Francis

St Francis painting with graffiti

St Francis Tableau

Summer frock

And no holiday snap album would be complete without an appropriate dress. Here’s the dress of the summer – a stripy vintage 80s (trying to do 50s) dress bought in Brighton in the winter months in anticipation of long sunny days. Released at last in this Italian village…

Summer dress

Have any of you visited Lake Orta or seen any quirky mural towns? Let me know…

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