One of the many joys of living in central Europe is the accessibility to so many great countries and destinations. As an ex-pat from Miami, it would require an 8 hour drive just to cross the border from Florida into Georgia. Now, an 8 hour drive from Frankfurt allows us to cross over into more than 6 countries... Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and let us not forget about the microstate and principality of Liechtenstein. Borders often seem like an artificial construct but in Europe they are real.
It is an open secret that I'm a complete Italophile. When time allows and borders are open (thanks coronavirus), there is nowhere that Kathrin and I would rather be than Solda/ Sulden, Italy. Sulden (not to be confused with Sölden, Austria, which often happens due to my poor pronunciation), despite being a province within Italy, is much more Germanic than Italian, like so many places in Italy that border Austria or Switzerland. Road signs, menus, and advertisements are principally written in German first, and then Italian. There is a storied history about the regions of Northern Italy, the shifting borders over the ages and its nuanced languages, but I'll resist the temptation of getting sidetracked here. Suffice to say, as an American I find all of this stuff utterly fascinating. My wife, on the other hand, finds the subject boorish and an obvious fact of life. The struggle of being an Ugly American in Europe is real folks!
Sulden, with a scant population of 400 people, rests at over 1,900 meters elevation, at the foot of the Ortler in the Venosta/Vinsghau region and is a high mountain valley. It resides in the shadow of the second highest "paved" (that is you can drive your car over it) mountain pass in Europe, Stilfserjoch/Passo dello Stelvio. It is eclipsed by a mere 7 meters by the French Alps pass, the Col de L'Iseran at 2,764. Sulden was once described by an Austrian journalist as "the place where farmers dine with bears and the kids ride on wolves." It also happens to be the preferred holiday spot by the most powerful woman in the world, Angela Merkel. The city’s most famous resident is the legendary mountaineer (now restaurateur), Reinhold Messner. Herr Messner maintains a dozen or more Tibetan Yaks that he imported as part of his climbing adventures around Nepal. His restaurant is “Yak and Yeti,” managed by the cheerful Daniel. Without a hint of hyperbole, it is the best dining experience I've enjoyed and probably a fifth of the cost of Nobu in Malibu.
The Südtirol online journal (www.stol.it) is rich with stories about mischievous bears, rapacious wolves gutting the local farmers sheep and wild boars having their way with a nudist’s laptop. I could not make this up, a recent headline stated: “Curious Chase: Wild Boar Steals Belongings from a Naked Man.” The story included a photo of the corpulent German nudist giving chase to the boar with her piglet offspring in tow and the gentlemen’s day bag in her mouth that included his clothes and a laptop.
With that throat clearing, let us return to the subject of our dogs. In the Autumn of 2019, Kathrin and I drove to Sulden (our fifth trip to the region) with Rumi and Sugu. We stayed at the very dog friendly Hotel Nives, designed by a renowned local architect, Herrn Gapp, who owns the hotel as well. It is well worth a visit for anyone traveling into this area (and cheap by American standards). The rooms are very basic but spacious and constructed of 100% wood. The restaurant is famously designed with all glass and great views, food is basic but lovely and it is managed by the son of the owner. While in Sulden, our intentions were to do a bit of cycling and long hikes with the dogs. Things went according to plan for a few days. On our third day, I rode down to Prato dello Stelvio/Prad with the intent to climb up to the crest of the mythic Stelvio. In Prato I received a call, which so rarely happens these days. It was Kathrin, out of breath, and exalting in panic that “Sugu is gone." My worrying mind calculated this to mean that Sugu was dead, kaputt, finito. The reality is that here are many ways to simply fall off the mountain in this region. But Kathrin then described that he succumbed to his instincts and chased a prey down the mountain. That is, a precipitous rocky mountain that few could brave on foot. Something all Shikokus are prone to do, given the chance. It's incredible that this dog who can be so pacific and generous with snuggles throughout the day can also be at once so wild. Nature over nurture, I suppose.
The denouement to this episode is the following. Kathrin delicately footed her way down the 40% gradient with Rumi on leash, to locate Sugu. Mr. Sugu was fixed on a bunch of marmots which fooled him by their iconic whistles and lead him off the trail like little sirens. The rescue mission took over an hour and had the local Bergwacht witnessed the harrowing effort they would have offered my wife a job on the spot.
Living with two Shikoku Ken is always a delicate negotiation. To see them bursting around the forest off leash is to witness a majestic creature in flight. Often it is the best part of my day. The challenge, and it is a challenge, is to find the right moment to let them run. The Taunus Forest where we live is a mecca for deer and wild boar… the species for which the Shikoku was bred to track like a heat sinking missile. And let me tell you, they are accomplished in this way. Since this episode we have erred on the side of caution with the dogs, while still giving them ample time and space to run around. I last promised that this would be about breeding…, but I’m still figuring this out. Thanks for visiting.