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In Italy, the Sun Sets Twice at Village of Orasso

March 09, 1986|NINO LO BELLO | Lo Bello is an American author and former newspaperman living in Vienna.

ORASSO, Italy — Better clean your reading glasses, because what follows is neither a printer's error nor a gag. Every day, during part of the winter period, a place on this globe has two sunrises and two sunsets.

When it was first told to me one day over a lazy cappuccino by a Rome scientist not known for delving into easygoing inexactitudes, I showed a proper 99.44% skepticism, jotted down a memo and then, months later, went off on my own safari to track down this place called Orasso.

No small endeavor this, for Orasso was not on anybody's map and no one knew where it was except an eager, alert librarian at the Biblioteca Nazionale. She let it be known that the bit about two sunrises and two sunsets was either a figment of a deranged mind or somebody's idea of a practical joke.

Easier to Find

By automobile Orasso proved easier to find than one could have imagined. The highway along Lake Maggiore that leads to Switzerland has a turnoff point just outside Cannobio. It is an uphill road, shaped like a paper clip, with nary a sign along the way to indicate that there will be a place called Orasso eventually. But I had asked a gasoline station attendant, and he assured me, sicurissimo , that Orasso would be up there when the roadway came to an end.

Pinned precariously to the side of a mountain and giving the impression it will some day tumble to the bottom 2,296 feet below, this Italian village of fewer than 100 residents virtually hugs the Swiss border, makes no claim to fame and seeks no tourists.

"Yes, it's true," said Signora Beatrice Mazza, owner of the Pensione Belvedere at the entry edge of Orasso, past which no automobile can travel. "We do have two sunrises every day and also two sunsets--that's between Nov. 25 and Jan. 17, a total of 50 days.

"Yes, it does confuse the animals, especially the roosters which cock-a-doodle-doo twice each day when each of the dawns comes. But we who live here, we're quite used to it."

The Pensione Belvedere has 20 rooms that provide accommodations for 30 people, usually filled by Italians seeking rest-vacations during the warm months. But in the winter when hardly any vacationers ever come to Orasso, Signora Mazza keeps things going by running a coffee bar and a luncheon restaurant for workers in the Novara region.

A Lengthy History

With a history that goes back to almost the year 1500, Orasso--which is about 10 miles from Cannobio and even closer to the Swiss frontier--is considered one of the poorest towns in all Italy. Most of the young men have left Orasso to find work in Switzerland or make careers in the big nearby cities of Milan or Turin. Men who live in Orasso commute every day to and from work in Switzerland. Many of the housewives add to the meager family income by making petit point items or sewing children's clothes, which are sold in Swiss boutiques.

At one time smuggling was the main way to make a living, but the vigilant Swiss frontier patrols put the quietus on that operation after World War II.

Signora Mazza had said that at 8:51 the next morning the sun was due to come up for the first time, and indeed it did so with the accompaniment of a chorus of roosters that started to crow as the sun showed its first rays of the day over the flank of Mt. Riga, which measures a respectable 6,562 feet. Then at 12:16 we had our first sunset, as if it were nighttime or a very gloomy, dark day. Lights all over Orasso went on, and it began to get very cold.

Daylight Again

The first blackout continued until 1:46 p.m., at which time the sun made ready to reappear. Daylight came back in full force, Orasso warmed up, and all the street lights and house lights went off. The roosters did their crowing once again, and the "new day" began all over--until the second sundown, which came about two hours later when the long evening settled in.

How do you explain the phenomenon? Mt. Riga is the central player on the Orasso stage. It has two humps separated by wide dips. When the sun first comes up in the morning, it comes over one of the dips. Then the sun disappears behind the first peak, bringing on the first sundown, and it reappears when the second dip houses the sun, and daylight shows its face again.

In the late afternoon the sun goes down for the second time, so that wintertime Orasso gets two of each. During the summer months, Orasso reverts to normal. The tiny town makes a marvelous headquarters for hikers and persons needing a good rest.

So who said there was nothing new under the sun?

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