Menaggio 

We’re off to the Hotel Merloni today, just to say hello, because of the great memories the motel has for us. 
The year after our disastrous, for me, holiday in Tuscany we decided to go back to Lake Como as it so beautiful. The Internet was in its infancy but I managed to find this place a couple of miles from the lake at a reasonable price that would accommodate us and our three children in one big room. Actually, now I come to think of it, Kasia did not come with us that first time. 

The place had a swimming pool, a big dining room, a tiny bar and an outdoors seating area. No lounge. Which was fine when it it was warm. Which it was that first year. We sat around the pool in the day, visited Menaggio and Porlezza and Lugano when it suited us and played cards in the evenings. The rest of the clientele were mainly very old though there were one or two young families too. 

It was friendly but not intrusive. The owner family was extremely nice and Columbina, the daughter, was the only one who could speak English. Very adequately indeed, except that she consistently mispronounced the word pudding which still makes me laugh when I see her in my mind’s eye, hovering over our table: “and for padding there is… ”
Anyway that first year was very pleasant so we decided to go back the following year. It was 1999, the year of the eclipse. We went for a fortnight and invited my mother and Kasia to come and stay for a week in the middle. They came on the day of the eclipse. August 11th. Jacek and I decided to go and collect them at the airport but what to do with Andrzej and Marysia, who was only six? Columbina very kindly said we could leave them behind and they would be looked after. So they watched the eclipse with the hotel staff. Marysia looked very sweet in her dark glasses. Jacek and I stopped the car just outside Milan as the sky turned a beautiful and awe inspiring dark blue and the birds all suddenly stopped singing. Night fell abruptly in a very localised way and all of nature slept. It was incredible. The air felt very heavy and rapidly got much colder. An experience indeed. 

At the airport we met Kasia and my mother where it transpired that Kasia had been invited into the cockpit of the plane ( you could do that then) to watch the eclipse from the air! Envy all round. Mama apparently had also been invited but preferred her seat and her whisky. 

We returned to the hotel and proceeded to have a lovely time for a week. The staff at Merloni catered to all our needs. Endless Twixes for the girls I seem to remember. One small fly in the ointment was when we visited Milan and wanted to go in the cathedral , Kasia was not allowed in, ostensibly because of her bare shoulders but more likely because of her crimson hair! When my mother and Kasia left we began to seriously plan my mother’s seventieth birthday party – that took some effort as it had to be a surprise. But that’s another story. 

Still. Menaggio and Merloni worked their charm again and again and we have been back many times since. 

Over the years the other guests in Merloni began to recognise us, as we them, and we would anticipate each other yearly. There was one old lady who was there every year with her helper/ possibly daughter. She was a wily specimen, pretending to be totally reliant on her daughter, but one day the moment the younger woman was out of sight she got up, slipped slightly and managed to attract the attention of two youngish men who immediately jumped to her aid. She thanked them profusely, assured them she was fine and waited for her daughter. Then all hell was let loose. Not that we could understand it. Next thing old lady is strapped to the thigh, and really unable to walk. Over the next few days she had nothing but charming smiles for any men that might be around, but only surly remarks for her daughter. She, on the other hand would follow her mother around, never actually speaking to her, just carrying an enormous book covered in brown paper. To protect it or to hide the contents? We used to fantasise that it was a murder manual or at the very least an unsuitable love story for her maiden eyes. That’s as may be.

That year they both said goodbye to our family very warmly as we left. When we came back a couple of years later the old lady had died. From natural causes. I believe. 
            ***

So today Jacek and I went on a little tour down memory lane to Porlezza and back via hotel Merloni. We popped in to say hallo but unfortunately Columbina was not there -still on holiday. Her brother recognised us but as he speaks not a word of English and my Italian is fairly limited, we did not stay long. Just enough to notice that little had changed. The same two seater sofa at the entrance. The same tables outside, bot no longer covered with green cloths. Maybe no one plays cards any more?  

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