Friday, 31 March 2017

Touching the sky, written in three forms by Philippa Hawley

Tocca il cielo

 Just beyond Courmayeur and close to the entrance of the Mont Blanc tunnel, Italy meets France. An open, steel arch spreads like the giant’s hand, drawing us to in to explore the Skyway. There are older, longer, higher cable cars in the world but the beauty of this is inspiring. We climb up space-age, steel stairs, clang cross a mesh platform, then step into a globe of strengthened glass, a goldfish bowl for twenty or so people. The conductor arrives, a buzzer sounds and the doors slide shut. Excited, exhilarated, elevated, we start to rise, pulled by silent, heroic cables.
            In our enclosure we quietly smile in anticipation of this so-called ‘eighth wonder of the world’. Stomachs lurch and we gasp as the pod tips over the first of the majestic pylons and sing a communal sigh. This is repeated, accompanied by nervous laughter at each tower, until we reach level 1. We transfer cabins and creep ever upwards towards level 2. The goldfish bowl gently rotates, so slowly it seems it’s our imagination, now showing each and every sky traveller a panoramic view of the mountains.
            Level 2, Punta Helbronner (surely the name of a Bond villain) is the highest point of the cable car at 3.466 metres. Here is the crystal room, where we view the jewels of the mountains, found by ‘cristalliers’, within the Mont Blanc massif.  We step outside – the sun shines and the wind blows hard. The air is thin and cold in early March and we sway a little. Is it the wind or the altitude that stirs us? Feeling mildly nauseous we stand to collect our senses and breathe deep, transfixed by the view. Holding the handrails for stability we mount the final steel spiral to an observation platform on a cantilevered terrace. It’s like a scene from a sci-fi film and we’re a bunch of unpaid extras. Hats and hoods and gloves and sunglasses challenge us all, especially those taking photographs. Smart phone cameras can hardly cope with the silvery glare. Hand held SLRs with filters and long lenses struggle without a tripod. The results can’t help but be dramatic.
            ‘Les Dames Anglaises’, three spikey peaks named in French, watch over us from the left, while ‘Dente del Gigante’, the Italian Giant’s Tooth, stands guard to the right. Centre stage is Monte Bianco, or is it Mont Blanc, wearing a papal cap of cloud and smooth white robes of snow? Over the railings of the platform we peer at the roof of Europe and see the Western Alps spread before us, with eternal blue-white glaciers and dark granite peaks peering 
through the snow as far as the Monte Rosa, the Matterhorn and Gran Paradiso. Below Monte Bianco is the cable down to France, the VallĂ©e Blanche and ‘Mer de Glace’.
            We watch a handful of expert skiers set off from the top towards Chamonix. They sweep through the untouched snow leaving ribbon-like tracks, their skilful, turning elegance belying the effort and courage involved. They must have different and fearless brains to be able to ski this vast and unique off-piste area, where mere mortals have trouble standing still. A group of rugged walkers, equipped with ice axes and ropes, is led off by a mountain guide on their own great adventure – a trail of ants working together as they descend.We look on in awe and smile with tears in our windswept eyes. We get the cable car down, for we have mere mortal brains, but we have touched the sky.

'Tocca il cielo' is a something I recently wrote about Skyway, an amazing cable car in the Alps, for a travel writing competition on the Fred's Diary1981 blog. It can be seen in full, at, accompanied by a beautiful picture taken by Clinton Hale. 

After I had completed the 589 word story I decided to see if the same subject worked as a piece of flash fiction in fewer than 100 words:- 

Tocca il cielo (Flash fiction in 98 words)
The glass pod turns within a metal frame.  Excitement mounts as heroic cables haul – elevating us. Stomachs lurch with communal sighs, the cabin tipping over majestic pylons. We reach the peak,meet bright light and harsh wind with a vertiginous sway. We scrabble for hoods and gloves to brave the final, spiral stair to the roof of Europe. Amid distant glaciers and peaks we view Monta Rosa, Matterhorn, and more. Monte Bianco now stands centre stage, wearing a white cap of cloud and snowy papal robes. Tears spring in our windswept eyes, for we have touched the sky.

This led me to turn it into a poem:-

Tocca il cielo  (poem)

Steel arch, mesh stairs
Glass bowl, steel cage
Heroic metal, cables haul
Enclosed, excited –  

Level 1, change cabins
Turn slow, rotate bowl
The roof of –

Level 2, reach the top
Bright sun, harsh wind,
Thin air, vertiginous sway.
Spiral climb, touch the –

Spiked ladies, ‘Dames Anglaises’,
‘Dente del Gigante’
‘Monte Bianco’, white cloud cap
‘Monta Rosa’, ‘Matterhorn’, and –

Blink tears, windswept eyes
See the sign,
Tocca il cielo
Yes, we touched –
The sky.

So here you have the same story written in three different ways - I wonder which do you prefer?