forget all the furs, jewels and tiny-well-dressed-dogs of cortina: it’s soul could lie elsewhere. not least in the workshop (come bar, come shop, come owl cave) of mauro ‘lampo’ olivetto and his friend (whose name i forget).

let’s set the scene: phil and i had just had a long day of skiing (well, actually, it was mostly spent in a delicious piste-side restaurant drinking wine and eating amazing pasta – but let’s pretend we did hardcore skiing….). we’d been back to the hotel for a bath & a rest, and now, at 17h, we were trolling through the streets of cortina in search for a nice bar where we could perch up and play some chess. (we have a travel-friendly chessboard we bought from krakow in 2007 which we bring with us on holiday.) exiting our hotel ambria, situated on via 29 maggio, we took a left, a quasi-pedestrian street which goes down to join the main high street. as we were walking, we heard a voice shout out, ‘hey! ciao! where you from?!’

as we were about to find out, it was mauro’s friend, standing outside mauro’s workshop which looked like a little independent wooden hut, full of handmade wooden bric-a-brac furniture, puppets, and all sorts, and with a balcony the size of the shop (it was quite a small shop) in the front. this gives mauro a great view of the pedestrian life.

he presented us to mauro, and when they heard we were from london, they insisted we open a bottle of local prosecco. obviously, i now considered them my new best friends. phil, in his british way, could not have been simultaneously more polite and more uncomfortable.

after sharing a glass with the two of them, mauro asks us: ‘do you like howl?’

i thought ‘shit, he’s gonna ask us to howl’.

turns out, he went ‘owl’. and turns out, he had one – in his store. ‘icaro’ was his name.

‘did we want to see him,’ he asked?

hell yes.

we went into their little shop, dark, full of more wooden puppets, tables, chairs, drawers, baskets, everything. one strong light was in the right-hand corner. in the left-hand corner, there was icaro. although he was on a leash, they let him out at night so he can hunt. we found out all sorts of interesting things about icaro: when he ‘bites’ you, he’s really smelling you. and he sometimes takes the little cortinian dogs for foxes and… well… you know…. oops.

by this point, phil was edging to the door. ‘we’re going to look for a bar to play some chess’ he said. ‘bar?!’ said mauro’s friend: ‘the best bar is here!!’

he pulled up two tiny stools, a tree stump-come-table, served us two more huge new glasses of prosecco, and closed the door as he rejoined mauro on the balcony to talk to some more strangers.

it was just phil, me, and the giant owl.

introducing icaro:

Mauro 2

introducing phil, shitting himself, and losing at chess:

Mauro 1

yep, true story guys. i’ve never won a game of chess so quickly. after the game we downed the drinks and, whilst i gave mauro and his friend a big hug, and as mauro sounded the ‘victory horn’ in my honour as the winner, phil politely, britishly, thanked them and said goodbye.

for the rest of our stay, we avoided that street in fear we’d be invited back and, this time, eaten by icaro.

all in all, one of the best moments ever.

pdf of an article in italian here:



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