“This is a piece of heart I give to my daughters”. Gianna, a mother who listens to the mountains
Tonadico (Trento) – “All I really dream to do now, is to live in a tiny chalet. All I need is a cozy crackling fireplace and two wooden chairs: one for myself and one for anyone who stops by for a visit”. Proudly wearing her short cropped, salt-and-pepper hair, Gianna tells me that after such a number of years of hard work and commitment, to have such a dream is bliss. It is a simple dream, and in the end, it is a way to “thank” who or that something that entices you to love the place and environment you have grown up in, the land where you planted your roots and where have become who you are today.
In this story we find ourselves in Trentino Alto Adige. Gianna nurtures her happiness up in the mountains of the Primiero district, in Val Canali, which is also known for being home to the little alpine farm watched over by the pink summits of the Italian Dolomites blushed with alpenglow. This is Gianna’s alpine farm, Malga Canali, where she first arrived at the age of three months old, carried in a wooden fruit-crate by her parents.
“I was the youngest of three sisters and my dad treated me like a boy”. “The first time he asked me to go out and chop the wood for the fireplace, I replied unwillingly: “What if I hurt myself…” “Well,” he said bluntly, “You can also hurt yourself sitting there crocheting”. “Those were the days when the mountains and I became as one”.
Day after day, cutting the firewood, harvesting the hay, milking the cows, preparing the cheese, collecting the eggs, leading the goats to graze on the green slopes lit up by the reflections off the Pale di San Martino, Gianna slowly transformed her father’s solitary little alpine farm into an agritourism where people now queue up just to get in. She raised her daughters Rita and Lucia, who in turn have their own children.
It is now her daughters turn to run Malga Canali. “Let’s make way to the new generations, – says the lady of the mountains – Rita and Lucia have grown up with a passion for the mountains, the very same passion my parents passed on to me. Time has come for them to start running the place and keeping it alive and thriving”.
Following her example, her daughters will definitely continue serving customers, who have reserved a table well in advance, Tosela cheese, sausages, red wine and polenta with gooey melted cheese made from the cheeses, eggs, meat, and milk they produce on the spot.
If you go visit them, don’t bother to ask for a menu, or even order a beer or a Coke. “One Saturday many years ago – Gianna tells me – a gentleman came up here and ordered a pasta. Well, there were no guests here at farm that day, but I tore a corner off a newspaper and wrote down the address of a restaurant where he could find what he wanted”.
“When I opened the agritourism thirty years ago I did not even know the meaning behind this word – she goes on – but I have always believed I should offer my guests a window into my life rather than I adjusting my style to meet theirs”. “Indeed, one climbs all the way up here to experience life in a farm in the Dolomites, why on earth should I serve pasta, hamburgers and French fries?”
Today, there is a steady stream of guests that arrive here by car, red flushed mountain hikers resting on the benches after the long climb, children gleefully playing chase among the haystacks, and Gianna’s two busy daughters and one niece buzzing in and out of the kitchen carrying trays filled with food and plates, and glasses. And, by the looks of it, her strategy has worked. “For years this place was empty – Gianna recalls – it was heart-breaking, but I never stopped believing in what I was doing and in how I envisioned it to be like; a place where people come to have a real first-hand experience of what a mountain farm is like and taste food made from the produce of the farm itself”.
Gianna has only left Trentino Alto Adige twice in her life: once to visit Rome and once, a couple of years ago, she attended a press conference in Munich. “This is my home and I don’t really see a reason to go anywhere else”.
“You, my guests, are the world for me when you come visit and tell me about what it going on down there”.
Anyway, I find that her stories are more interesting; you learn that the best moment to chop wood is on a waning moon because the wood releases the sap and dries faster.
“The Moon, influences events on Earth – says Gianna – and it is better to follow its cycles before cutting down a tree, maintaining a farm tool, or even before making decisions”.
She also tells me something that sounds like a page out of the “good old days”: “We have to go back to the basics the old folk taught us. My parents gave me everything, they taught me to listen to nature, to its cycles… and to its silences”.
I like seeing my life as a story book where only the first page is written in the present tense, while the rest of the book is devoted to the past, a past I am lucky to feel thankful for every single day.
WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY Silvia Zanardi