Globe & Mail

Stepping back in time with the Wyrd sisters


From Saturday’s Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Apr. 30, 2010 11:33AM EDT
Last updated Monday, Mar. 14, 2011 10:24AM EDT

Imagine a cold autumn day in the highlands of Italy – the cloud cover sits low on the hills around Lake Como and a chilly wind blows down from the mountains to the north. The towns here are all but deserted now. The tourists have left and most of Varenna is closed for the day.

Two strangers are wandering the quayside. They have just missed their boat and have 40 minutes to wait for the next one. There is a hotel by the dock, which looks inviting, given the biting wind and cold, so they wander in.

They are met by a tall, thin woman of indeterminate age – whose stockings hang limp around her ankles. She is the maître d’. “Mangaro?” she asks hopefully.

We answer that we just want a drink. “In there,” she points dismissively.

We wander into the bar, which has not seen a decorator’s touch since the sixties, when the hotel was modernized in expectation of crowds that never came. In the bar, the second Wyrd sister waits, cleaning glasses with a grimy old tablecloth. She is the older of the two sisters: shorter, plump as a barrel, grey-haired and sullen. She frowns as we walk through the door – we the unwelcome, we the deranged travellers of distant lands she will never see. She does not speak, but shuffles around behind the bar and stares me down defiantly.

Uno vino bianco e uno vino rosso per favore.” She pulls the bottles from beneath the counter. Two litres of the foulest-tasting vintage she can find for i touristi, and fills two glasses, balancing them on the counter without a word. I hand her a €10 note, which she takes, places carefully on a napkin on the counter, and then slips out of a door at the back of the bar, presumably for change.

We wait. A little dog shuffles around in her wake, interested enough to throw us the odd glance, but not friendly enough to give in to our offers of friendship. He is shabby and mangy and walks as if he has an arthritic hip – the perfect animal for this bar.

Tired-looking waiters in threadbare costumes come and go – for gelati or esspressi – the first Wyrd sister makes an appearance, her hair a little frazzled and flint in her stare. She shouts something incomprehensible. In the corner, an ancient TV crackles and blinks its way through another bizarre Italian game show. Everything seems a little off here. We wait. The elder sister comes and goes, but never long enough to be asked for our change. We begin to wonder how many tourists arrive here never to be seen again. Is there an axe in the back room, or an ice pick? Or is she simply slipping out for a sly cigarette?

We wait. In silence, she returns and resumes her polishing. Finally I ask: “Quanto e?”

Per due?” she says.


Cinque euro.” She looks to me for payment. The €10 note has gone.

“I gave you €10,” I tell her.

Ahh, now she remembers. She slams the change down. I single out a €.5 piece and offer it up to her: “Per lei. E molto freddo oggi (it’s cold today).”

She looks up to the distant hills. “It’s the winter coming in from the north.”

To walk back out of the doors is to walk forward 40 years into the present. We are grateful to leave the past behind us.

Special to The Globe and Mail


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