Illustrator Peter Allen with his son Elis questioned what occupies the thoughts of young teenagers.
day 1 – Arrival
Elis – it changed so much from home to Switzerland, that normally 6 hours for me is like so long and it was so beautiful to look at, the landscape, that the journey passed so quickly. we went through a 20 kilometres long tunnel that when you look at the light at the end your eyes can’t bear it.
Peter – today we’ve come over and under some big mountains and have found a very impressive lake. Mario welcomed us to Variano and we then went to buy a swiss plug, and to look some more at the lake. tomorrow we will introduce ourselves and try to explain what we have come here to do. good night! buona notte! guten nacht!
day 2 – Waking Up
Hi, my name is Elis, i’m 12 years old and i’m here with my dad to work on art about Switzerland.
I just knew that there were some mountains and i thought everyone was speaking german like i’m learning at school.
In the residency where we are we’ve got an unbelievable view of lake Maggiore and we are now surprised that everybody’s speaking italian but it’s OK!
day 3 – Discovering
Peter _ I’m an illustrator and make mostly pictures for children’s books; for children the age of my son Elis.
Coming here to Switzerland together is a lot like going somewhere new with my 11 year old self.
What will we think of it all?
What will we find exciting, boring, good, rubbish..?
How much will we share of our view of things..?
Can we make a picture book together about our travels..?
Our first plans are to find out where we are – by a big lake with big hills and mountains everywhere, where Switzerland meets Italy, somewhere we’ve both never been before.
We’ll blog about our discoveries, day by day, and make lots of visual notes; photos and drawings to document our findings.
We’ve also started a TumblR to post the extra pictures that we can’t fit on the Sasso blog.
day 4 – Walking
Elis _ i’ve come here to discover new things about drawing and to be really good at it. My reflex is when I get up I go directly to the window to look at the view which is more than wonderful. This morning I saw loads of boats on the lake. This afternoon my dad had the good idea to go for a walk in the forest. My favourite part was when I was throwing rocks at the little cairns of stones. Apres l’effort le reconfort!
So we ran back down the path of the forest and went swimming in the lake.
day 5 – Swimming
Around the lake here the light really brings out the colour in things, it’s like we’re walking around in a picture postcard.
It’s very exotic here, palm trees, cicadas, the atmosphere more Mediterranean than Alpine and it’s a bit of a culture shock.
Another day of finding our feet, looking around our village Variano, and the lake from far off and close up. The good weather has brought out all the weekend boaters, the speed boats, motor cruisers, yachts, day cruisers and the ferry doing the rounds of the lake.
We have learnt some italian; Spiaggia Pubblica. The Casa Iguana at San Nazzaro is now our beach headquarters where we go for a swim to round up the day.
day 6 – Valle Verzasca
From the house we look across the lake to see an endless horizon of mountain peaks and some wild sunsets.
What i guess we thought we were coming to see, full-on, in Switzerland.
Ticino like almost every other Swiss canton can vaunt its Alpine scenery and we chose to check out the Verzascatal, a dammed alpine valley that we could see leading off into the distance east of Locarno. Straightaway is the dam which is 220m high and has starred in a James Bond film. 20km or so further on the road comes to an end at the village of Sonogno, then there’s just mountains. Everything in the village is built from or carved out of rock. Lower down the steep-sided valley we stopped and walked up the river bed, climbing over giant boulders and plunging in and out the cold river. We played Ducks and Drakes in pools with the rounded pebbles. At Lavertezzo there was an incredible stone bridge and we waited until a boy finally jumped the 20 meters into the water.
day 7 – Taking Breath
After a week here we’re looking again at what we’ve discovered so far and thinking of how we could start to make something out of this.
We are here to share the experience of finding out about something we previously didn’t know anything about, or not very much in any case.
To swop our thoughts and ideas so that we both get a better picture of how we each look at things.
All this material will then have to be shaped and cut-up and moved around to make something that we’re thinking could tell what it’s like to be a (nearly) 12 year old going to Switzerland.
As an illustrator i have the experience to put our story into pictures but want Elis to tell the story.
The sketches he makes as we go along reveal both a childish enthusiasm for everything that’s different; bigger, higher, brighter, tastier, steeper, faster combined with a schoolboy’s desire to understand how things work.
So he is equally impressed by lakes, Wow! mountains, Wow! …tunnels, stars, sports cars, lizards, a long list is forming of Wows! that he is trying to identify and name.
In a similar way i’m doing the same thing even if the things that do also bowl me over (as Switzerland is an impressive place) are not at first the same.
But Elis’s enthusiasm is catchy and my list starts to include entries like orange Maserati and San Gotthard tunnel; 16.9 kilometers…
day 8 – Lago Maggiore, Ticino, Switzerland
Elis _ today it was quite cloudy and the mountains almost disappeared. The lake looked very dark. It was very hot so we went swimming in the lake.
Peter – Lake Maggiore is a world of its own and wonderful and full of things to say about itself. Even still, we both want to see something of what we continue to think of as the real Switzerland, a clumsy way of saying that we want to see the Alps, the Berner Oberland where alpinists climb up snow covered mountains and where they make the yoghurt we’ve been eating non-stop since our arrival.
To have a different viewpoint, to see how our region Ticino fits as an edge-piece into the jigsaw-puzzle of cantons that make up Switzerland.
day 9 – Mountain Climbing
From the Locarno we left the lake, driving into Italy by the Valle Vigezzo to Domodossola and then up and up over the Simplon Pass.
We had a good look around here at the snow and the green grass and enjoyed that being on one of the tops of the world feeling, with the wind and distant chains of rocky summits and cow bells and motorbikes, mostly Harley Davidsons and BMWs Elis says, coming up the pass and going on down the other side.
Our eyes were a long time popping and the descent was like a silent ride down a long, smooth winding road with motorbikes gliding pass us between each hairpin bend.
Wallis, waterfalls, ice, lorries, pine martins, a parking place reserved for helicopters, Aletsch glacier, luftseilbahn, some mountain macaroni for tea at the Hotel Glacier, Fiesch.
more photos on TumblR here
day 10 – The Alps
Elis – Today we saw lots more brilliant things!
Cars, Motorbikes, mountains, passes (the same ones that they had on TopGear on tv), ice, snow, waterfalls, paragliders.
(At the Grimselpass) there was an iceberg in the lake.
Peter – In Grindelwald we stopped for ice creams that were named after the mountains that surrounded us; Coupes Eiger, Monch, Jungfraujoch…
The girl who served us was from Portugal and wished she could come with us to lake Maggiore.
She said “All we got is this, mountains, I like the beaches!”
It was very hot there 33.5•c and 21•c at the top of the San Gotthard pass.
Elis – When we got back to Vairano there was a storm with lots of lightning in the mountains.
day 11 – Back At The Lake
Peter – This week i have some sketching out of roughs to do for a book project about Food.
The spread i’m working on today is fittingly all about milk, and so i’m getting to draw Swiss cows in their lush, alpine pastures.
At the same time we’re thinking more about our project.
We want to show as many of the things we like here as possible.
Elis – On the way to the shops we stopped to take photos of boats and cars in the shops (showrooms) by the side of the road.
there is Astin Martin, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Jaguar, Porsche…
day 12 – Monte Gambarogno
Elis – Patrick was with us at lunchtime, he likes pasta and pizza too and vegetables with vinegar.
Dad and I decided to go for a walk at Alpe di Néggia because it’s the mountain at the back of the house.
We walked to the top of Monte Gamborogno, the last one up there at the top isn’t allowed to go in the lake, I won twice!
We were taking panoramas of the view.
more photos here
day 13 – Gardening
Elis – i woke up and was looking for Patrick and was hearing some noise down by the road and I found him weeding the path.
I said to him do you need help.
We started to work and there was a sort of strawberry but it wasn’t in fact and I tasted it and it was strange.
Then we finished and did in front of the door and when I took the weeds out there was an enormous ant nest.
Strangely the biggest weed was easiest to take out and had dry roots and the small ones were harder!
Weeds, clouds, mountains…
day 14 – Bellinzona Castle
Elis – I did like the outside part of it but inside it was too new.
When we came down from the castle we went in the Plaza and when i had a Slush Puppies there was a house with so many busts in little windows about famous people like Galileo, a guy called Ferrari and others.
I didn’t really like Bellinzona because there’s not much to do there for children but I did find an extremely big beetle dead in the road where I was doing some scootering.
Mario told me about the YOLO (You Only Live Once) flip with snowboarding and about a skiing game app that he likes called Alto’s Adventures.
day 15 – Magic Wood, Graubünden
Elis – Instead of taking the motorway we were taking the cow-way and we got lost in the village a lot.
At Magic Wood there’s climbing for all the levels and everybody can have fun!
Even me which i’m not a great climber managed to do so much climbing, pulsations and work on different levels.
It isn’t a normal wood, it’s magic because there’s so much boulders and moss, caves, river and normally in woods you just go walking and there you can do so much things.
more photos here
day 16 – Wolves
Mario was walking to Lugano on the other side of the mountain.
We’d all been talking the previous evening about bears and wolves in the Alps.
He sent me a message early in the morning, it said “I really saw wolfes this morning. no joke. it creep me out for a bit”.
day 17 – Second Breath
It feels like we’ve seen an awful lot of things already and i’m tempted to say that we’ve gathered enough there now for us to make something from.
I’d love to carry on with exploring until we’ve seen all of Switzerland but it’s not a country where you get around that easily!
Patrick says that the San Gotthard pass has a mythical status for the Swiss and it seems to me this holds true as much as ever; whether you come over it or through, it’s just as impressive.
Here in Variano it’s obviously quite different from the image of Switzerland we’d had in our minds and has taken a bit of getting used too but we’re very happy with what we’ve found and want to describe this as much as anything else we might have been thinking about before.
We’re somewhere very special, that’s for sure, and seems the best place for us to start showing what we’ve found.
We know we can’t talk about everything, a whole country, so we’re going to focus on talking about the little bits that we’ve seen, these smaller pieces of the larger picture.
In the next two weeks we’ll concentrate on looking and learning more about the Gambarogno area around the house.
skatepark di Lugano
day 18 – Vairano
elis – we went for a walk in the woods on the hill up, above the house to a place called Monti di Vairano.
there were lots of chestnut tress and a waterfall.
we then walked back from Piazzogna through lots of villages called nucleos to Vairano.
There was an old, stone bridge just next to the road called Ponte di Vecchio.
day 19 – Madonna del Sasso
Elis – We went to the Sasso monastery because it has the same name as the residency.
It was not a place that where I ask to go and visit but I did quite like it because in the church there was drawings about car crashes and the people thought that it was God’s power who saved them.
They did a painting to say thanks. That’s where comes the expression of “Thank God!”
day 20 – Thinking Out Loud
Peter – The book that we’re going to make will have a slightly less action-packed narrative than could be expected with the scenery that surrounds us.
But then again, i really quite like the story about Elis that’s been unfolding during our few weeks here.
For someone who understands the intricate, technical workings of high-technology he is just as readily blown away by the something like a the sight of a lake or the view from the top of a pass.
Wow! is currently his most frequent interjection when face to face with the sublime.
On top of these massive encounters with Nature, (with a very big N) he still finds the energy to get all excited about a group of bikers riding past or the Ferrari that overtakes us on the hairpin bend.
And the need for the sensational doesn’t stop him from seeing the banal, or the overlooked, the weeds in the garden or the (pretty impressive) beetle he picked up out of the gutter.
He’s become an expert at seeing lizards, whereas before I would criticise his seeming indifference to the little things that catch my attention, now i’m the clumsy oaf, tripping up over everything!
His capacity to grasp notions like God saving Swiss autobilists, or Galileo’s astronomical theories doesn’t stop him from spending hours watching stuff on YouTube.
I love this level of inconsistency!
It’s time now to see what we can come up with together, with all that…
day 21- Casa Iguana
Elis – we interviewed André the owner of Casa Iguana where we go swimming at the lake.
iguanas stick their heads outside when they see it’s sunny.
he sold Señor Frogs in Mexico and came to Switzerland where his mum and dad lived.
there is a big, red, inflatable sausage in the water that he calls a chorizo.
i can do backflips and lincolns from off it.
day 22 – A Short Walk
we went to start a walk at Caviano, a village close to the Italian border.
It has very narrow, cobbled streets, and steps that lead up the mountain to the alpine pastures above.
we were going to visit a place up there called Cento Campi where people used to graze their cows in the summer, make cheese and cut lots of hay for the winter.
but we gave up after 5 minutes because it was too hot to walk.
we went back to Vairano to read and sketch in the shade of the Osteria terrace.
day 23 – A Long Walk
the heat was still turned up but this time we were prepared.
the way up to Cento Campi followed a stone track that must have taken years to build.
it went through chestnut woods that were cut to build with, things like roofs, fences and gates.
the chestnuts were picked and stored in barns to eat in the winter in soups and to make bread from.
in the village the small houses were all joined together to protect the villagers from the sun and the snow.
now almost everybody goes there to enjoy the view and listen to the birds sing.
more pictures here
day 24 – Return to Magic Wood
Elis – I wanted to go back to Magic Wood because the first time we went I found it was super and liked it because it made me look at the climbing another way.
I liked all of it, like everybody else that found lots of good things to climb up and the driving was curvy but didn’t make me sick.
We hid ourself under a big rock when it rained.
The Rock was held up by a little rock that was 1,000 times smaller than the big rock.
day 25 – Return to Valle Verzasca
Peter – during some reading about Ticino i found a description of a journey up the Valle Verzasca in the 1960’s.
Max Rieple wrote in the book Tessin of the ‘Tal der Steine und Stufen’ – the valley of stones and steps.
we went back to walk, like Max, the many steps that climb up to Corippo, a village perched like an eagle’s nest, and round its maze of narrow, stone passageways.
once back down in the valley bottom we followed the stone-filled river bed up and downstream to Brione to end a hot day swimming in its freezing water.
day 26 – Wrapping Up
With all that we have seen and done, drawn and photographed, visited and explored, imagined and read about, we’ve now got so much stuff written down, sketched out, saved.
it feels good to think that we can leave here happy in the knowledge that our stay has given us so much for us to talk about.
the idea for a book is still very much in an imaginary state at the moment.
it’s going round and round in our minds and with that continuing to do its work it’s time now to take a break.
after the summer, when we come back to work on the book layout, only the good bits will still be there in mind to develop and given a visual form.
for the moment i have this wish to work on as large a page size as possible – big enough to fit in all those mountains!
day 27 – Departure
Elis and Peter – well thanks for giving us the chance of coming in that wonderful place.
thanks to all of the Sasso people for making our stay in Switzerland so rewarding.
it was not really like we’d imagined it would be but that’s what’s so great about Ticino, it’s a world of its own.
arrivederci Ticino and bis bald Tessin!