Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Places to call home .......Varese

Now, Varese is a small Italian town north of Milan and hard up against the Swiss border.

Il Broletto, 2008
As a place to live it doesn’t have that edgy excitement which is Naples nor the grandeur of Rome but I like it.

Our Italian family are from Naples, but settled in Varese in the early 1970s after a spell in Britain.

It has some fine old villas, a posh few streets and an abundance of modern buildings some better than others and a few which no one would miss.

But what makes it so pleasant is that it is manageable by which I mean that you can traverse the city centre quickly, bump into people you know and in a relatively short time be out in the countryside.

And it does have a series of spectacular lakes, including Lake Varese.

So as they say, what isn’t there to like?

Walking the Corso Giacomo Matteotti, 2013
In particular there is the Corso Giacomo Matteotti which was once part of a sprawling monastic complex but is now one of those fashionable Italian streets with expensive shops which people parade past with no intention of visiting.

But in the same street nestling beside the patisserie and clothes shops, there are the mundane places selling fruit, and veg along with a pharmacy and a couple of butchers.

And that is just as it should be.

It certainly doesn’t bother the elegant who sit outside the equally elegant cafe, listening to the buskers and no doubt discussing everything from the weather to the group of retired men who one day in July strolled up and down the street before finally taking their leave of each other.

I followed the group who had no purpose other than enjoying each other’s company on a fine summers afternoon, and who when it came to part, didn’t quite get to say their final goodbye.

In the Piazza Monte Grappa, 2013
Instead one, and then another would remember something, retrace their steps, rejoin the conversation and then by degree all of them would set off again down the Corso Giacomo Matteotti.

Close by is the Piazza Monte Grappa which would not be my first choice of a place to sit and watch the world go by.

It is a rather drab place surrounded by unremarkable tall buildings and dominated by a fountain with concrete seats.

One of its two main cafes has had a makeover and with a nod to the young, has jettisoned its old stylish decor for something more simple, losing the well worn furniture for plain tables and chairs and bright walls.

At the market, 2014
And that does point up how Varese has no trouble embracing change, which includes, Le Corti, a small shopping mall which does pretty much have all you need, from sports and baby clothes, to camera, computers and TVs.

At the same time like any prosperous European town, the developers have moved in and the old army barracks opposite Le Corti is undergoing renovation but surprisingly, will not become a residential complex but so I am told will be a centre for agricultural research.

But there is still much that is old.  The market by the railway station continues to provide a variety of stalls offering up everything from cheap underwear, fake Italian football shirts to a bewildering array of watches and domestic cleaning products.

In the last thirty years the only noticeable difference is that many of the stall holders are first generation Italians, and still have relatives far away in North Africa, the Sub Continent or the Far East, but the business of piling the merchandise high and selling cheap is as it always was.

With the family 2015
There is even a MacDonald’s which vies with a Burger King and appears as popular as the nearby Chinese restaurant.

But given that when we are there, we eat at home, all three are places to pass, leaving us the occasional ice cream from the shop on the corner of the Corso Giacomo Matteotti.

Location; Varese

Pictures; Varese, 2000-2018, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

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