It is true when they say, history repeats itself. Certain locations retain higher form of energy engulfing one in a journey of personal transformation. Such was the case with our beloved writer Hermann Hesse and Montagnola and such was the case with myself and Montagnola. Hermann Hesse, the most widely read and vastly appreciated author of the 20th century moved to Montagnola, a village in the Collina D’oro, literally the Golden Hill of the Ticino canton, Switzerland. Disturbing events in his private life such as WWI, the breakdown of Hesse’s marriage and the death of his father impelled him to move there. And you know what some say: change location to change your luck!
This was definitely the case for Hermann Hesse, who described his first year spent in Montagnola as “the fullest, most prolific, most industrious and most passionate”. It is in Montagnola, where the writer began exploring his artistic talents, developing an interest for drawing and watercolors that in turn completed his creative and philosophical mind. Furthermore, it is in Montagnola, where Hesse wrote his most influential works “Siddartha” and “Steppenwolf”, not to mention the river of poems he composed in his spare time. Hesse travelled to India and Indochina in 1911 but wrote Siddartha 11 years later, after he had moved to Southern Switzerland.
So what is it about Motagnola that makes it so special? If I was to provide one word that describes the place, it has to be: untouched. I first visited Montagnola 11 years ago and every time I return it feels as if it has been locked in space and time; people come and go, cars and bicycles pass, the sun is replaced by the moon and the snow melts for the lilies to grow but the air always stays the same. It might be that this air of stillness, oneness or sense of being inspired Hesse to write Siddartha. Himself, a difficult personality leading a chaotic life at times finally experienced the happiness a still mind brings, as Siddartha’s young Brahmin prince learns to appreciate happiness during his journey to self-discovery.
Eternity is a mere moment, just enough for a joke. So true. Once our eternity concludes at the end of our lifetime, all we can recall is either the happy moments that made us smile or the triumph we felt after successfully resolving an ongoing conflict. What was really thrilling to see, when visiting Hesse’s house in Montagnola, was him at his best, painting like a child and making silly illustrations on a post-card. For an author surviving both WWI and WWII, the ability to relax, and to take time to complete a task, regardless of how trivial it is, is a notable achievement, a big step forward for humanity. Admittedly his work was honored by the Nobel Prize institution, which awarded Hesse with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. But all Hesse really did to inspire us all is document on paper his practice of inner awareness, metabolizing every emotion, whether good or bad, just like a boat at an open sea storm copes with one wave at a time.