The people here are finally speaking Italian. Only I'm in Switzerland.
I first noticed the change while walking past Livigno, Italy, a couple of days ago. Skin was darker, clothes more colorful, and the language distinctly Italian. So I'd left the South Tyrol at last and reached a whole new culture and people – they looked distinctly, well, Italian. But that was on the other side of the border, where I'd expected the change.
Yesterday when I dropped out of the clouds and into the Val Mera, I stopped for a coffee and cake at a mountain "bike hotel" and restaurant. I heard a mixture of Italian and German, but the hosts seemed to speak to each other in Italian, which surprised me.
Then, as I was walking past a gorgeous little summer house with map in hand looking for where the trail split from the road, a man called out, "John Harlin?" His name was Luigi, and he's just read an article about me in the newspaper Coop, titled "An American in Switzerland." It had struck a particular bell with him because he remembered having read a book about my father's Eiger climb when Luigi was a kid.
He offered me a beer as we conversed in French and he explained that this region is one of four in Switzerland where the native tongue is Italian. He apologized for not speaking English, but his French was perfect, Italian was his real language, and the newspaper was in German.
Of course it was I who had to do the apologizing, as I will along the entire southern border. Luigi it seems has lived here in Val Mera each summer for the last 40 years. He called it "paradise," and I had to agree, especially as the sun had come out and we could see all the way to the heavily glaciated peaks just south of Bernina.
The big one, Bernina itself, was still buried in clouds. Those peaks will be my first real climbing challenge during this stage of the journey and are coming up next week.