The moral of the story: When someone invites you to visit their Alpine castle, you accept. Especially when that someone is a charming hostess and daughter of a famous modernist poet, and that castle doubles as a living agricultural museum and center for literature.
SOUTH TYROL, Italy – One spring, I traveled to the Italian Alps to visit Mary de Rachewilz, Ezra Pound's daughter. She lives in a spectacular castle she refurbished at the end of World War II with her husband, a prince. Raised by the area's shepherds while her mother, Pound's mistress, played the violin in Venice, she's now a lively octogenarian who befriended us years ago when my husband and I worked on a PBS documentary, Voices & Visions: Ezra Pound.
Parapets, crenellations, turrets — the castle's Escher-like design mirrors the mind of Pound, who wrote his last six Cantos there. We stayed on after the shoot to walk its famous Alpine trails, sleeping in haylofts over butter churns powered by the icy rivers, nibbling on fraises des bois, the tiny but flavorful Alpine strawberries, and drinking schnapps where the German overtook the Italian. I was pregnant, having lost my firstborn the year before in an accident. On our return to the castle, I was very grateful to Mary when she assigned me the job of thinning her vegetable garden. As I pulled up the tiny carrot seedlings I cried, and felt oddly comforted.
Built in the 1200s, Mary's castle is the twin of another across the valley, the eponymous Castle Tirol run by Ezra's grandson, an expert in everything local. Three-hundred and fifty years ago, a landslide carried away thirty-six rooms — or sixteen, depending on the source. A tunnel used to connect the two castles, and legend has it that booty is buried somewhere at the base of Brunnenberg. Mary tells a charming story about how, despite being terribly short of funds for the renovation, she had to save the castle by preventing her prince from pulling down the foundation in search of it. In 1900, the previous owner, in similar circumstances, saved the castle by collecting insurance money when his wife (fortuitously) fell off the parapet.
This summer, my son Frank went to work in the castle's vineyards and chestnut grove with Pound's great-grandson. Besides The Ezra Pound Centre for Literature, the castle houses an agricultural and bread museum. In the past, bread was made only once a year. A number of endangered domestic animals also live beside the castle, including Mangalitza pigs, Zackel sheep, Villnoess spectacled sheep, Pfauen goats, Tyrolean "blobe Goas" goats, and rare chickens, ducks, and geese. A less rare fox raided the chickens under Frank's care.
Like me, Frank spent several days weeding their vegetable garden, and even showed off his calluses on Skype. I could tell that having all that time to meditate was important to him, but I didn't know how much until he returned. He announced then that he was changing his major from physics to chocolatiering. Mary's larder had been far too close to Switzerland!
Agricultural Museum and Ezra Pound Centre for Literature
39019 Dorf Tirol, Italy