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Lupi New Year

The Italian village of Torri is divided into three areas, corresponding roughly to the interconnected blocks of dwellings that lie each side of the bridge. Our apartment is in one of these, known as Lupi.

The unprepossessing concrete bridge, a replacement for an ancient stone one that the retreating German army destroyed at the end of the last war, is in some ways the centrepiece of the village, a focal point when we look out of the window. The bridge spans the river Bevera that rises miles away in the French Maritime Alps and dives down the steep valley past the villages of Olivetta and Collabassa. Here it passes under an ancient stone bridge, wide enough only for a handcart, but for most of its course, the river is contained at the bottom of a steep sided valley where it has cut its way down to the bare white limestone rock. The valley is so steep that the only way to cultivate the land is to build terraces and stone retaining walls, these being scattered all about the hillsides. For most of the year the river drifts lazily through a dry landscape, pausing in clear rock pools then wandering its way downstream. But there is evidence here of a different sort of river which also passes this way because each side of the river there is an exposed band of white rock, swept clean of vegetation, loose rock and soil. Nothing stops here long enough to put down roots because this is the river’s own expansion zone; this is the flood line.

Throughout the time we have been staying in Torri the river has languished in the bottom of its bed showing not the slightest inclination to rise up and show us what it can do. Then, just a few days before Christmas all this changed. The same cold breath being felt in the UK was expanding right across Europe and in a somewhat milder form, even down here close to the Mediterranean. Our temperatures dropped below freezing for several days, snow fell on the mountain tops and in Torri the usual group of river-watchers gave up leaning on the wall and retreated to their homes.

Then there was a sudden change. In the space of 12 hours the northerly wind first dropped calm then re-started from the south. This wind, originating in Morocco on the African continent. brought a warm rain to the Ligurian Alps, melting the ground and any snow lying on it. When the river started to rise, the rain still fell and in Torri’s narrow valley the water had nowhere to go, nowhere to expand to. Suddenly the trickle became a flood and the flood became a torrent.

On Christmas Eve the afternoon dragged on as the rain continued to fall. Every building dripped water, every tributary stream boiled and hissed. The River Bevera changed to a pale brown as the level rose. In the space of less than half an hour mid way through the evening the level rose 12 inches to cover a lower bridge support and it then begin to lap across the car parking area which normally lies more than 6 feet above the river. Anxious car owners had already moved their cars up and away from danger and they watched from above as the flood inched its way over the gravel surface until the whole area was covered.

It pounded and roared all through the evening but some time in the early hours the rain stopped falling so by morning the river level was already falling. Down it went, just as fast as it rose, and finally three days later the water under our bridge has become clear so we can see the fish swimming about again. How they survived the torrent is a mystery they keep to themselves.

All that remains now is for us to organise a trip to the beach at Ventimiglia where the wood swept downstream in the floods has washed up, so we can stock up our log stack in the cellar.
Happy New Year everyone!

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