“Two minutes and that’s it”, says the man, jumping down from the tractor.
“So little time for Hemingway?”, I sigh inwardly.
We get in the car: three adults and three children. Who’s going to stop us out on these roads? We take the gravel path and turning the corner we see Baron Franchetti’s hunting lodge. There’s a canal and two ‘casoni’, the typical fisherman’s huts on the Caorle lagoon. There are also three red buildings side by side. One, the main building, is simple on the outside but grand inside. It contains a stuffed bear with sharp claws and teeth, tables with marquetry, eighteenth-century paintings, an arsenal of daggers, black and white photographs, yellowing with age … Many show Hemingway, smiling, gun in hand, in a group, on a boat, together with his distinguished friend, on his own surrounded by ducks…
Are two minutes enough? Many more have gone by. The children growl on a leopard skin rug, we stand absorbed before a print of an explorer in Africa. “He was a great friend of the Ethiopian emperor Hailé Salassié”, a voice says.
“Ernest Hemingway?”, I ask innocently.
“No, Raimondo Franchetti”, comes the answer.
End of the visit. Because it has been more than two minutes and the owner’s son is in a hurry. He says that his father bought the lodge in the seventies. I am amazed at the kindness with which he shows us the property, which is private, and also how well the place is cared for.
The first time I came to Caorle I wanted to run in the opposite direction: thousands of sunbeds lined up in rows and … four million tourists a year. Now I love the place. Just like ‘la secca’, that strange game between the sea and the land: at dawn and dusk the Adriatic tides go out shaping ever-changing random islands of sand enabling you to run across the very waters. There are two Caorles: that of the sea (the Adriatic and tourists) and that of the islands (as drawn by ‘la secca’ and the adjoining pieces of land that tempt you towards escape). Equidistant between Venice, Trieste and Padua, in a radius of only a few kilometres lie the virgin beaches of Brussa, the best collection of Roman cameos and San Gaetano, where Hemingway spent time writing among the rivers and trees … and duck hunting.
San Gaetano hasn’t always existed. Before it was part of the bottom of the lagoon. Until the Raimondos put it on the map: Raimondo senior, the Explorer and Raimondo junior, whose bodies now lie beneath this land, as we are reminded by the gravestones placed here. The first was Raimondo Franchetti, married to an Austrian baroness, Sara Louise Rothschild. In the nineteenth century he ordered up to sixty kilometres of canals to be dug to dredge the waters of the lagoon and obtain thousands of hectares for agriculture. Who would have thought the land also would be used for tourism? The dry land obtained enabled a road to be built which is now used by millions of cars.
His grandson was the second of the Raimondo Franchettis, a famous explorer who made Ethiopia his second homeland. His is the lodge of San Gaetano, where he took up duck hunting when he could no longer hunt lions in Africa. His son was the third Raimondo: Raimondo Nanuk Franchetti, who inherited his father’s hobby which he shared with his friend Hemingway. The writer left an account of the beauty of the place in his novel ‘Across the river and into the trees’. Much of the beauty still remains; just like “la secca” you have to know where to look for it.