I visited Switzerland in 1998, and, while walking in the Alps, stumbled across the eerie ruins of the Hotel Monte Generoso. I later wrote a (partially fictitious) poem about it:
A piercing bitter wind is clawing, chafing at the Alpine ridge,
The knife-edge summit, roof of Europe,
The sun’s rays give no succor here,
But tear and burn and sear the skin.
Cascading slopes, drab sepia grass, dry bones that tumble from the dust,
And gaunt white skeletons of birch, that cling for life
Atop the jagged precipice, where far below
Lugano’s dappled azure, gold and carmine glows.
Amid the forest’s whispering stems, in isolated genteel pride
Looms Monte Generoso’s hostel, graceful palace, vast redoubt;
The carefree haunt of Europe’s wealthy,
Where air streams pure and rarefied,
Smooth plastered walls, sgraffito frescoes, portraits of forgotten men
Gaze down upon Chiasso, Como; from mountain rills to sapphire lakes.
Behind lace curtains, from bay windows, cultured wail of violins,
Out on the terrace, cries of children, borne upon the cleansing wind.
Behind the hotel’s sheer façade, the curtains flapping in the breeze,
The rotting carcass stands revealed. Bleached, overgrown, and roofless walls,
Rich sumptuous hangings torn and stained.
The floors collapsed, stark splintered timber,
Where then slept Europe’s proud elite, a social stratum once secure,
Where now, weeds sprout from fissured stone and crumbling bricks,
A string quartet of owlets raucous, huddling up there in the rafters,
The grating screech of rusted shutters mimics children’s merry laughter.
What is that shadow flickering there, up in that rooftop window’s gape?
Was that the barrel of a rifle, glinting in the blinding sun?
For death stalks in this mountain lair
Are partisans behind each tree?
One footstep further, snapping twigs, and then the agonizing blast,
Now life bleeds out, pours down, painting rooftops in the town:
Too late, this hillside’s danger clear. The borderline of Switzerland;
The overspill from foreign battles never planned.
And down there, in the snaking, warm riparian valley,
Along the shores of calm Lake Como, rolls the covert entourage,
Il Duce, halted by the partisans,
Scarce moments from the sanctuary,
Beneath the dominating mountain, below the foliage-decorated slopes:
Staccato rattle from the valley; woodpecker’s rat-tat on dry wood,
Or was that distant chatter gunfire; the verdict from a Schmeisser’s maw?
The piercing wind, the bleaching sun, erode the clutching ghosts of war.