Those who have followed us all these years know the story. That first of April lives within me. It lives in the thoughts and the hearts of the entire Costa family. Some things can just never be forgotten. Time heals all wounds, so they say, but the larger ones make a nest in a person’s head, and shape us into who we are today.
I should have gone to school that day, like any other day, like any other morning, but the night of the first of April changed everything: our parents rousing us from our beds, my father who pushes a small safe into my hands: “Hold onto this, it’ll be all we’ll have left.” Then the jumping from the balcony into the deep soft snow on the other side. All around us panic: the flames trawling from the rooms, licking their way onto the roof, devouring everything in their way while the firemen scramble for the hydrants buried under coats of white. Half-naked guests roaming around, others who eventually give in and jump from the highest floors. Ambulances, screams, and sirens.
The two girls, Doris and Fini, don’t have the courage to jump; they take the stairs. A pile of ashes is all that is left of them. The next day Dad takes my hand; our hotel, our home, reduced to nothing. Our home where we would play, where us brothers spend our days with our parents, the guests, where we live. I still have that acrid smell in my nostrils, still see the rampant destruction. This will never leave me. One Madonna survives, incinerated, but there she is, statuesque, on her feet, as if to comfort us, as if to say: I’m right here!
The next few years were difficult: dozens of trials, the insurance that would not give us a cent in reparations, the cold months without hot water, the saving and rationing that became our way of life. Then our parents, and their reconstruction efforts, with debts and whopping inflation rates. Nothing remains of that Casa, that home. Nothing except the little safe my father pressed into my hands in those early hours of tragedy; inside were my mother’s jewels.
From that year on, we dedicated the first of April to us, to our family. We go on pilgrimage to Pietralba, to visit one of the most beautiful sanctuaries in all of Südtirol Alto Adige, then to lunch, all together, and that horrific day, now so far away, yet still ever so present, becomes a moment of remembrance, and a way of being together. And so it remains to this day. It’s as if those wounds have opened us to a better part of ourselves, have shown us a more beautiful side to our lives. O wonderful, damned first of April.
The first of April is also the perfect moment to remember all that has happened at our Casa in the last few months. The park in Val d’Orcia has blossomed and prospered greatly, and the spa now hosts a spectacular salt cave, with the salons having been adorned and wonderfully decorated. The mountains have seen very little snow in the last few months of winter, but the pistes have remained perfect; we have worked very hard and well at keeping it so. Of course, the big news is that the three-Michelin-star St. Hubertus closed its doors a few days ago. Our colleagues at Rosa Alpina are renovating the whole hotel – it will emerge more beautiful than before, but we mourn the gap they will leave behind as we lose them as a central playing figure of hospitality in our valley for a year and a half. Competition is as healthy as it is important – it keeps us on our toes, keeps us working towards a higher standard. They will return, naturally – stronger and more beautiful than ever. This was promised to be by a beaming Ursula Pizzinini Mahlknecht, quoting the Pink Panther: “Heute ist nicht alle Tage, ich komm wieder, keine Frage”. “The end today may be at hand, but I’ll return, and it’ll be grand.” The new hotel will bring a new restaurant, but will the three Michelin stars come back? In the short-term, I’d say probably not – and this is a problem. It’s a problem for our community. We are in need of excellence that guides us, of the tension that keeps us alert and on our toes, of the rope that holds us in line and keeps us moving forward in healthy rivalry. I’ve said it once and I will say it again: our valley, the municipalities, our tourist groups, have never officially thanked the Pizzinini family and the chef Niederkofler for everything they’ve done. And why haven’t they? you might ask. The official answer: “To maintain the balance, to keep the others happy, to give appropriate thanks to the countless other available accommodations and pizzerias.” The usual trivial discourse. But I will speak freely and guarantee you this: we will sorely miss the esteemed three-star restaurant. But I also promise you that we will strive even harder, as a family, as collaborators, as people who have made hospitality their lives, to give everything, everything, to accommodate those who come to stay with us. We will give everything to go beyond due excellence, and even further. Because our Casa, our home, even if my brothers and I no longer live here, is and will always be your Casa, your home.
Now, though, I must bid you farewell. I see Mathias speaking to the construction workers – in a few months we will begin renovating the whole last floor; it will become a stunning suite, with a vast, breath-taking view.
And now, let us focus on this lovely Easter that is fast approaching. It will be an Easter as we have imagined it: steeped in colors, joy, and celebration. What a wonderful world. It is wonderful and a privilege to be able to live where people come to celebrate one of the most important times of the year. We await you at Bagno Vignoni starting now, and in Corvara from mid-June on.
I send you kind greetings,