Photography FABIO CROVI

The soul of Val Senales reveals itself through the words of Paul Grüner, guardian of a tradition passed down through generations in his family’s hospitality. Among the secrets of the Certosa and Ólafur Elíasson’s observatory-machine, the larch trees around the farmhouse at Infanglhof mingle with the scent of milk and hay.

Val Senales, January 9th, 2024





I am traversing Val Senales in reverse. On the way back to the city, random images strike the retina. A massive white surface, as if it were a dazzling work by Superstudio (in our crazy heads). A beautiful warm pavilion with wooden seating on all eight sides. The sound – in the dead of night — of an unknown bird within a narrow, dark valley, filled with silent snow (even the sound is visual). The iridescent image – dividing the entire spectrum of light — inside Ólafur Elíasson’s observatory-machine, up there. The long walks on the glacier ridges, with legs sinking up to the knee, intersecting with the long stone walks of the Certosa, holders of a thousand secrets (and whispers, and profound dissolution of the self into the Whole). And they, in turn, overlap in absolution with their breathtaking physical twin (non-digital): an incredibly long and narrow awning, almost unreal, leading to the sauna and pavilion area, precisely the hospitality gem called Goldene Rose, also in Certosa. The perfect red/white checkered duvets at the refuge above the glacier. Fragments of details of snow-wear now elevated to extraordinary aesthetic levels. The plates, steaming. Afterwards, descending, the larch trees around the farmhouse on Infanglhof mix with milk-hay and herbs dancing above their cheeses. The soul of all this — and the one who, like Virgil, accompanies us in all this — is Paul Grüner. We talk in the evening, calmly, in the woody lap of the hotel that has practically belonged to his family forever.

CA      Close your eyes. We are on the glacier. You see white, more than snow.

PG      Yes, even though it’s not just snow. It’s a different situation, both in summer and winter. And all of this gives you tranquility and satisfaction. You see mountains all around in 360 degrees, and this looking far and wide opens your mind.

CA      (Note: real idiot) How old are these glaciers?

PG      The last strong glacial period dates back to 10,000 years ago.

CA      So, can we say that since the late 1800s, the glaciers have been…

PG      Decreasing. And now that they are smaller, our impact is even more evident. In any case, glaciers have grown and retreated for millennia, and so on. But never like this, that’s for sure.

CA      How do you see this glacier? Like a very old organism, or rather archaic, timeless?

PG      Well, the glacier is not an organism. The atmospheric situation is always in motion. 5000 years ago, there must have been a special situation for the glaciers. Otherwise, a body like Ötzi’s wouldn’t have survived for this enormous amount of time.

CA      But in your view, are there others like him, under there?

PG      I really can’t say. Even around the world, occasionally a body or some part of a person emerges. The glacier is always moving and transporting everything beneath it.

CA      Have there been people missing in these parts over the years?

PG      Some — very few — have died in avalanches in recent years. Avalanches happen. But missing persons are almost always found. Only if they fall into deep crevasses does it become more difficult. But nowadays, they can be found, unlike before.

CA      The last panic situation you witnessed?

PG      It was far from our refuge. It was a big avalanche that ended up on the ski slope, and three people died there. The mountain always has a certain risk. Some situations are more dangerous than others. But the fact remains, you’re at high altitude.

CA      And this is something you know, so in a way, it’s like dealing with a sleeping animal, pleasant but that can suddenly turn against you. Within this peace, however, we’ve always known (you know well because you’re from here) that there’s hidden danger.

PG      Certainly, this caution must be there, but it shouldn’t prevent you from going out, except in particularly negative conditions…

CA      Where were you born?

PG      I was born here in Val Senales, in Certosa, and I have always lived here.

CA      When was the first time you went up to the refuge?

PG      We started going up there when we were in elementary school, for skiing. After 1975, they inaugurated this cable car. But even before that, we had hiked up and used skins. The refuge has been there since 1896.

CA      What was the idea behind creating a proper ski area in the seventies?

PG      Forty, fifty years ago, it was fashionable to practice summer skiing. Nowadays, it’s not done anymore; there’s no interest in doing it. Glaciers have retreated, so…

CA      It was a valley where in winter, there was simply and totally snow, that’s it.

PG      Tourism in Val Senales was almost nonexistent. Especially winter tourism. That’s when the big era of summer skiing began because the glacier was much, much larger.

CA      There, you saw a huge number of people arriving. And you started frequenting the Bellavista refuge up there.

PG      Yes, you reached it by walking a good distance, and from 1991, also by skiing.

CA      Just like walking on the ridge to reach Ólafur Elíasson’s work.

PG      Well, yes, there’s a ridge that’s about 400 meters long, and you get to the work there.

CA      Who commissioned it?

PG      There’s an organisation that formed, called the Talking Waters Society. And there were also contributions from the province and the cable cars.

CA      Did Elíasson discover the place, or did you bring him an idea?

PG      He had in mind to do this, and he visited various places, then sent an assistant here, who saw the situation and decided to do it on this glacier ridge.

CA      What sensation does the work give you? What, in your opinion, does it want to convey?

PG      Astonishment at nature. But consider that Elíasson is an artist who also deals with climate change. If you think about Little Sun, which are small light bulbs with solar panels on top, that he made a few years ago. He had thousands produced and distributed them in Africa and other countries where there is still no electricity.



Read the full interview on Muse February Issue 63.



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