Monday, 6 August 2012

Not German but Italian, experiencing the South Tyrol.

I enjoyed the differences between Italian Verona and German south Tyrol.
I found the jubliee overdone so i was delighted to escape to Verona for a dermatology conference. Verona is a lovely city and walking around one sees the marks of past civilisations. The Roman arena is used for concerts and this design template is visible 20 centuries later in the Olympic stadium with stands for merchandise as well as sport tracks. There are wonderful 14 century frescoes in the St Fermo, the ceiling has 400 saints heads painted on it which reminded me of the saints heads one sees in Ethiopian churches, notably Gondar. The Venetian occupation can also be discerned in the pillars with the Venetian lion and the shapes of the windows. The imaginative new photography gallery (Sacvi Scaligeri) combines old and new with subterranean galleries built around the roman foundations and one walks over roman roads, drains, and swimming pools. The ancient cobbles were hard to negotiate with the buggy carrying Joan, Steve and Eglantine’s 8 week old baby.. The exhibition was of Robert Capa’s war photos and we experienced war in Spain, London, France, Germany and then Vietnam. He captures emotions brilliantly, the steadiness of men under fire, the dejection of refugees, the fear created by a rogue sniper in liberated Paris, firing on the celebrating crowd. The exhibition ends with a series of portraits of Capa’s friends, William Faulkner crossing a river in Wyoming, Picasso on the beach holding up an umbrella for his second wife, all capturing the person’s character.
 Verona at night was very Italian with people sitting outside the arena drinking and much promenading going on. I think one gets the best Italian ice creams in Verona, we had excellent ones from a long established shop and then even found a shop open after midnight for that late night ice cream.
I then headed to the south Tyrol with a train ticket costing 8 euros for a journey of 312km, and not even bought in advance, unlike British tickets. The train goes along the Adige valley up to Bolzano.
I first came to the German speaking south Tyrol in 1994 when my friend Jorg came as a summer locum family doctor in Kurtasch/cortaccio village. The area was in the Austrian empire and ceded to Italy in 1919.  The houses are Alpine with sloping wood roofs, and the towns have a Germanic look with large houses. The area feels prosperous, the orchards on the flat valley floor are neat and tidy, even the vines on the valley sides are neat and the area oozes quiet efficiency and prosperity. It feels more German lite than Italian. Jorg is German, married to an Italian doctor Tina, their kids Martha and Frederico are fluent in Italian, german and English as well as being passionate about modern dance and football respectively.
We went up towards the Brenner Pass and walked around a small lake surrounded by pine trees, the meadows were full of daisies and buttercups. The village church (Durnholz) was tiny with medieval frescoes showing the day of judgement. Outside were the memorials for the soldiers killed in the two world wars, they all had Germanic names and they had died all over the Austro-Hungarian empire (Germany, Italy, Ukraine). That afternoon there was a terrific storm and which was followed by beautiful scenes with light coming through clouds and water glistening on steep rock faces.
On Sunday morning i woke to the sound of a village brass band and a Tryolean village procession was celebrating Corpus Domini. The women were all in dirndl skirts and the boys wearing lederhosen and the men had hats with feathers. They all then tucked into wurst and beer sitting in the village.
These borderlands are interesting places where cultures and boundaries clash. Geography really defines the inhabitants of a place. Here the Alpine climate defines the housing, the food and the transport but it is the historical associations that define the language and the ethos, so the South Tryol for me feels more German than Italian. At least one can transcend these geographical and national differences by being a European and i came home laden with Italian cheese.

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