November 3, 2007

The Northern divide

Today I can only reaffirm a well-known fact -- Northern Italy is different from its Central and Southern cousins. There are certain traditions that unite the two ends of the boot -- ricotta, the language (more or less), mid-day shop closings, an obsession for shoes-- but there are many others that set them apart. The differences are rooted far back in history -- that in Italy tends to divide instead of unite. Before 1860 (1870 if you live in Rome), Italians had to look back to 300 A.C. to find a common historical base under the Roman empire. Even today, pre-1860 history works its way into many aspects of daily life and helps define the North/South divide.

In search of traditional local cuisine, we left Trento this morning and wandered up past Pergine and into the Valle dei Mòcheni to find the family run trattoria, L'Aquila Nera. The day was spectacular -- sunny and filled with crisp fall air -- and we wound our way up curve after curve, maso after maso, view after view. Along the way we found an elderly woman walking with her dog and stopped to ask directions, later we did the same of an elderly man further along the road. We couldn't understand a word they said, although they smiled and nodded with comprehension while kindly responding. They were speaking the Mòchena language -- one that only exists in this valley, even in 2007. The Mòcheni people have ancient origins in this area and still carry with them a language that is based on "medio-alto bavarese" german . It has survived since the middle ages as an oral tradition through schools, regular commerce with Germany and mainly a practice of inter-marriage among locals (maybe that is why the two elders we met were smiling). The guidebook says that the language is currently under protection.

At the other end of the boot, down in Basilicata, there are communities up in the mountains in which the locals still speak a version of Albanian. Both of these mountain areas are part of Italy, but their historical roots lead to other places.

Being an East-coast native, US history for me while growing up centered on the American revolution. On a trip down South and a visit to historic Charleston, I discovered that history for them centered instead on the Civil War. Then this summer while passing through Santa Barbara, I discovered that history in California began with the Spanish missions. Then there are the local Indians, with their pre-US history. So we also have our different historical bases, but they grew one out of another and are all part of a common whole, US history. Instead of dividing, they unite.

At a recent Sunday brunch I joined a table of Americans from California, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas, plus one Italian (my husband). While I can spot a Californian immediately by their certain way of being, a Southerner by their accent and hospitable ways, a Mid-westerner by their solid and planted stature and Texans as, well, Texans, I didn't feel the same kind of distinctiveness that I would find between a Sicilian and a Milanese. Our cultural roots as Americans (in addition to those of our origins overseas) are very closely intertwined and they don't go back quite so long and far away.

What do you think?

a domani,
E

P.S. lunch was indeed a typical Trentino feast -- salad and local salame, then cannederli and strozzapreti, followed by an assortment of: stinco di maiale, coniglio, cervo, luganica (local sausages), crauti and polenta. Finally came strudel and....., un espresso. Whew. I must say, we did a good job on it all.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth,
Massimo d'Azeglio once said: "Fatta l'Italia, bisogna fare gli Italiani". That pretty much sums it up I think.
Forgive me if this is beyond the scope of your blog, but I'm curious about your comment on Texans: what are they like?
Enrico.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Enrico,
I know d'Azeglio's saying well, and it is true still today.
Texans, hmmmmm, I guess (from an East Coast perspective) they are somehow expansive, sure of themselves, they exude a sense of space and sky. How is that?

Anonymous said...

10 e lode in diplomazia!
Enrico