I implore you to listen to the wonderful ‘Cross The Green Mountain from the album Telltale Signs Vol 8 of The Bootleg Series. It's not terribly well-known, for it was attached to a little-seen epic film about the American Civil War. Though the song is too long, it captures the sweep of a landscape and the moved and moving human eye and brain, expressed in the intimate voice at its centre. It seems sublimely relevant to my theme.
The sound of the song is cinematic or panoramic, extended rising and falling, hovering over the hills, tethered by something that sounds like a heartbeat. Listen to how cleverly it marries time and space, swirling you back and forth in contemplation of the past, the present, the near and the far. The vision sweeps from the ravaged lands and the dim Atlantic line to the blood-stained woods and the eyes of the merciful friend, ready to relieve you of your misery. Heaven moves in and out of focus. It's an ambitious song, and a real achievement, conjuring last moments, the fullness and the beauty, the sadness and the horror of life and war.
Could a garden ever reach that level of intensity? I think of gardens that have moved me, some nearly to tears, but few, apart from those designed as memorial gardens, have made me sorry for pain and distress. Maybe it's simply not within gardening's grasp, maybe I've just not looked for it.
What I have felt however, as a gardening experience, is the looking through and beyond, to a view that looks like paradise, a new world, a place of peace and beauty given that extra significance by the framing, or the management of the foreground. You need a degree of detail in the distance, where fields and trees bask in the light; you need to feel you want to go there, but that the vision of it is also a wonder and a delight.
In this photograph taken from above, from the very top of the hill, you can see how the house is set, half way down one side of a longish valley The valley is much steeper and deeper than it looks here, because of the flattening effects of height and photography.
I am unusually oppressed by interesting views from the house on this piece of land. To the West, we're forced to face the ancient hilltop town of Mondovi', or the section of it called Piazza, a place of palaces and monasteries, gazing back at us with a thousand eyes across that steep dark valley.
To the South, we can see right to the mountains on a good day, across to the old battlefield, at the far end of these graceful layered slopes.
And here is the view to the North, modern life in the distance but the lowest gentlest slopes and the most land which is actually under my control.
A rather important Napoleonic battle happened here in 1796, just half a mile up the valley from us. Here's a picture of it. The painter, Bagetti, recorded all the battles on that particular campaign. The historical references I have found all focus on the military details, nothing on the social history, so you have to imagine what it was really like, for the real people involved.
So that's where the battle took place. The French were in the defeated town by early evening of April 21st 1796, plundering and wreaking havoc, at least until the municipal stores of food were released to them. Hard to know how the townspeople felt about it, or how much havoc was wreaked. The ripples from the French Revolution had stirred the ambitions of ordinary people, all over Europe, whilst encouraging greater oppression and intransigence from the governing Savoy dynasty. Civilians were used to being pawns in the game; their feelings may have been very mixed.