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Themes:     Opinions & Politics (21)  
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Michil Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Dancing on bricks starring Reinhold Messner

One hot Sunday afternoon. The time of year has not come whereby one can easily approach Val Mezdi and fix one’s stare on Piz Boé, not so far away as the crow flies over the peaks to Sassongher. Snow and ice are still the order of the day. There up high where larch and pine give way to stunted bushes chamois can for a little while longer remain tranquil. Man for some weeks still to come will be obliged to stay lower down the mountains and fortunately even the hunters still have the limitations of man. We decide to take a walk together...
Dancing on bricks starring Reinhold Messner
 
We pass by a farmstead which dominates the open clearing. A blue electric tractor has taken the place of the oxen. These large agricultural apparatus seem like some prehistoric monster. True that the work once done by farmer with his horses is now done with less fatigue and the very existential relationship enjoyed with the land is not what it once was. However certain elements cannot be ignored, neither in sentiment or reason. The land requires and demands to be cultivated with dedication and passion.
The farmhouse which would have been a splendid focal point has long been abandoned, its windows broken, its splendid gothic style door in disarray. I recall those days long ago when construction was functional and purposeful and yet the land itself would not be damaged for ever. The very earth of the land was recognised for the richness it gave – in simple words the age of and the obsession with brick was yet to come.
Cast your mind back to those joyful times when noisy and chuckling kids ran amongst calves and baby deer, pulled the horns of the goats and chased after the geese. And then the evening when, as the men finished off their daily duties in the barn, the women of the household and the young ones settled down in the warmth of the ‘stube’. Families were always numerous. There was always a frenzy of activity around the home – sewing and knitting and general clothes repairs were a constant, the young ones had their nose in the tales of books – books used generation and generation over – and names and titles would be assigned to the objects and manners which governed a life so straightforward and embracing. And then in the working day in the fields the very language invented at home would find its practical use in a farming chore or a problem to solve. Crystal clear was the order of the day.
And now as we pass by we can only dream of those times gone by. Now the reality ìs a very different one. Even the cat on the doorstep is lonely, bored and at a loss. Grass growing wildly out of control threatens to cover the once proud wall.
It comes to mind that everything we have and have had needs to be seized, observed, diagnosed so as to draw out, recover, and appreciate its very identity and meaning. With this in mind I try to trace and reconstruct the life of the fireplace and stack, once so integral to family life in its warmth and purpose. Now a pungent smell is the immediate characteristic I am faced with and the wholesome loaves and many treats it once produced to sustain family life are but a distant recall.
I cringe a the thought that it is the advent and rise of the brick and all it stands for is part of the modern day dilemma which will reduce this one proud home to a ruin and with its passing another part of the Tyrolean identity, once so firm and proud in this land blessed by God, will disappear.
My thoughts have accompanied our stroll and we have now reached a more built-up area but the scene does nothing to bring back my smile. Rows of houses, devoid of style and any form of expression absent, meet my gaze. Cold steel and an impersonal aluminium provide a contrast of sorts but they do nothing for me. A clear wooden fence circumnavigating all reminds me of some sort of Toy Town construction and serves only to divide land and people, lives and traditions.
A mother of three fidgety children, perhaps noticing our look of disapproval at the clinical setting, throws us a look and if looks could kill we would no longer be!
All is not lost for our eye is caught by a balcony whish stands proud and is resiliently resplendent right opposite the scene I have just described – what a contrast of worlds is caught in this moment. Majestic is the balcony’s form in that it is linear, elegant and functional. The generous roof covering is made of shingle large and small, round and square, and displays its battles with the natural elements. The wooden balcony certainly shows its age but its splendour remains and even the burnt effect of thousands and thousands of hours of exposure to the scalding sun do not detract. What a celebration it is of the house itself and the red geraniums shine brightly from its heart. We also take in the wall below winds away from the house, its irregular form and stone composition full of appeal – and not so difficult is it to think of happy times experienced here. An old lady is at work, hanging out sheets and linen, and I guess she knows them intimately having sewn and repaired with care and dedication over the years. She notices our presence and sends us a nod and a wave – a little recognition which fills us with joy.
Our survey of the scene goes on and another ping to our sensitivities is not far away. Brick like constructions have been added to an existing structure of old and the proliferation of windows large and small, some oblong and some square, have all been adorned with salmon style shutters. What an affront to any notion of style and it is immediately an image of Disney World which is conjured up in our mind. A monstrosity in the valley is a theme which we would rather not explore!
Even in the mountain village so-called progress is keen to have it say. A young lad is lost in thought washing away at a high-powered car complete with a never ending antenna. True that life is often a question of priorities but is this what we really want?
Not to be deterred we walk on and there is a spring in our step as we come across several farmsteads that show great vitality and are full of the rhythms of life both in the form and harmony they celebrate. Even the vegetable patches are a joy in their own right. Of course the inconveniences of modern necessity are never too far away and occasionally we are hit by a TV satellite dish and our dream is disturbed momentarily. And when we come across a cube like structure feigning to be a home and complete with an onion shaped door true dismay comes to the fore.

So here we have it and here it is. Our South Tyrol has come to this. Vignettes of beauty and unparalleled nature but all interwoven with horrible and sometimes horrific examples of modern warfare – I exaggerate but my point is clear. Sure. Some say that we can get used to everything and that the indescribable becomes part of our reality. Even the ex environmentalist Reinhold messner tends to agree. A few weeks back he declared, and I quote, “ that chatterbox Michl Costa lives in a hotel built entirely of reinforced concrete and it one of the ugliest buildings in the whole of The Dolomites” (see the article in Italian). Shall we just put his statement down asa point of view?.

But in the larger scheme of things I cannot help but protest. If we are not able to safeguard something of what is beautiful and something of what is dear to us it will certainly not be the remote controlled garage which saves the day for us. True that our wealthy Province has constructed roads, bridges, aqueducts to help us prosper. But it is the obsession with grandeur that is also removing the identity of the mountain villages. Vast civic authority structures large beyond function and other structures built yet utilised for only a few days each year contribute to cancel something of the past and something of important in the village community – the very nature of tradition and appreciation of things which binds us together. The danger is that if we are not able to maintain strands of our history, tradition, and past we run the risk of not caring and almost subconsciously losing that which has always distinguished us and filled us with joy. If we are not able to find a way to preserve the old style homes, to remember how to produce bread from the oven, to maintain the paths through the woods, to rejoice in the small squares of the villages, to protect the proud larch trees of a certain age, to meet in traditional places of life and culture, we will not even be able to ask ourselves the essential questions which have always been a very part of us. Imagine if we all become identical and are no longer capable of questioning that which is within us. To pass the responsibility to museums and to mummify all - an approach which is adopted in many parts - is not the solution. And neither is a constant journey in nostalgic dress the solution. It is only through behaviour and action of an open and receptive nature that we can truly achieve the necessary. It is only with soft and tender actions which take into account the real life in the Ladin valleys, our distinctive Nature and our proud past where history and work and Nature and culture have always found fertile ground, that we will be able to make a vital contribution in safeguarding and promoting all that is distinctive and essential to our people and to our visitors.
I use the words ‘soft’ and ‘tender’ for Theiner said “ It is necessary to do all in a soft and caring manner”.
The only way forward is to help each other along the way and take each other by the hand and accompany all with a smile for notwithstanding all it will always be a smile which saves the day and in certain instances the world itself.

And now the really good news: The Regional Administrative Tribunal has in a final move blocked the development of the Antersasc road. We thank you for the many messages which have been sent in consequence. The road was wanted by The Provincial Government and was also wanted by the friend of the Province’s Presidentand those merchants of the merchants of cement mix – that wheeler dealer Reinhold Messner. How sad!
 
 
 
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