I don’t think the green issue has ever been big here in Italy in the past. They had a lot of discussions about cleaning up the Po River and the lagoon around Venice, both of which have been quite successful but the Environment (capital E) has never been a big priority in the past. I’m curious to see if that’s changed since the last time I was in Italy, giving a talk at the Euro-chocolate conference.
The drive down from the Mont Blanc tunnel towards Milan goes past several hydroelectric schemes which all look like they were built in the 70s and are probably a symptom of the cost of sending electricity up the valley towards the upper villages.
To take advantage of natural sources of energy requires a bridge or connection between different naturally occurring forces, and mountains are a great bridge with massive differences in gravitational potential energy, temperatures and wind speeds at the top compared with the bottom.
I’ve just spent the week on a paragliding course around Annecy on a rather optimistically entitled “stage de perfection”. My launches and landings are still far from perfection, but I am now living and breathing a heightened sense of awareness of what the air is doing around the mountains, and the clues that the clouds give.
I’d never thermalled before. Thermalling is the comparable to a sailing boat being able to sail into the wind. Far from being a solid mass, on a sunny day the air around us moves in clumps a little like a lava lamp, with the same arbitrary sudden release of upwards moving clumps. As the sun shines of darker ground it creates heat which warms the air above it until it suddenly releases a thermal column, which you can’t see except for clues like the cloud formations above it, birds circling in it, or by reading the ground for possible thermal sources.
On my second day I spent an hour flying my paraglider and circling in thermals where I could feel the lift (my senses are still fledgling), and I only stopped because the sun was starting to get low. Using words like elation and liberating only begins to describe the feelings that flying so freely gives over an area so intricately beautiful as Lake Annecy. Then compound that with the fact that the flight is entirely powered by natural forces harnessed by my paraglider wing, the bridge between gravity and the wind. When I look up at my wing in flight it’s so perfectly shaped, with a fan of support lines neatly focussing in on me, that hanging from it feels like the most natural gentle place to be in the world.
My landing in Chamonix on Thursday in the rain and gusting 25kmh winds after an hour long flight over a glacier was far from natural or gentle but a sobering lesson that am still a learner pilot.
Yesterday I got to Milan and am staying with my dad, my first passenger. On Tuesday we are invited to my uncles place. He’s invited friends from his campervan club so I need to fix a few things before then so I can show the bus off and not be perpetually appologising for things that don't work. The leaking solar collector seems to be fixed (after yet more silicone applied in Zurich) and the composting toilet liquid waste pipe work seems not to leak. Tomorrow morning the lovely seafood spaghetti I just ate may well be its christening.