Sunday, March 11, 2012

Balancing and Packing

Fifty eight days until our next trip to the Mountain.  We received a long update from Andrea yesterday giving us many details of the work that has been completed this winter.  Two barns repaired, one wall, windows in the kitchen, new water lines and the purchase of two tons of roof stone as well as larch beams for the soon to be new roof on the main house.

Winter Work on the Stairwell
Progress for certain all thanks to our nephew Andrea.  I have mentioned him several times over the past year, but it bears repeating and also telling a bit more of his story.  Andrea is a remarkable young man.  His parents met while working the summer holidays at a mountain resort during their college years.

Both Giovanni(my cousin) and Mareka had deep Alpini roots.  They both valued education and college took them to Torino and Milano.  He a doctor and she a journalist, they initially settled in Milan as the center of cultural and economic power in Northern Italy.  Milan gave them nearly everything they could want in terms of restaurants, jobs, shopping, the opera to name just a few. 

But they also longed for the beauty of the mountains, the community of the small villages, the rich traditions and foods and simpler life that was their family’s for hundreds of years.  Like so many of us who came of age in the post-war era, it was the aspiration that was the default path.

Andrea is their only son and from the start a curious, very bright one.  As they tell the story, there was much debate around the kitchen table in Milan on the fork in the road between the city and the country.  Should they remain in the urban area where the finest schools in Italy and the world could be found?  Does it make sense to spend more time with the family in Preglia?  Jobs would be much harder to find in the mountains and even with a medical degree and additional training, economic success would not be assured.

In the end, they returned to the homes that had been built by each of their parents in the middle of the last century.  Giovanni became a trusted, country doctor who is often found in his little jeep driving through treacherous, winding mountain passes to see patients. Mareka has written and translated but also done many other jobs to help with the family including sewing and gardening.  It has been the path less taken but without them knowing, they have also been the curators of the lifestyle and traditions that had been passed on for generations.

Each time some of the American family has come to visit their roots,  they have taken time to share the stories over wine and the table overflowing with food from the three gardens that provides most of the fruits and vegetables they eat.

Andrea Putting Milano Polytechnic to Work
And now it is Andrea’s turn to face the decision of the fork.   He attended architectural school in Milan and completed graduate school in Germany last year.  His thesis was approved and he also took his State examination for his license in architecture.  And now the decision must be made to stay in the valley and pour his heart into the restoring of the villages or to leave and pursue a career in the major centers of Europe or beyond.

Striking a balance between community and commerce, simplicity and challenge, possessions and experience.  This is the struggle of modern life, at least it has been the case for me and many of my friends.   Technology was supposed to make it easier.  Just have an Internet connection and you could live wherever you choose.  That worked for a while until the reality of millions in India, Romania and China doing the same thing for 1/100 of the price.   Trade-offs must be made.

While the answers are different for each person and Andrea’s answer may be different than his father’s, there does seem to be some things you can do regardless.    Resist the temptation of debt and complexity that come too easily in the path of the City.  In the name of aspiration, we too often sign up for the lure of things that ultimately weight us down and remove our choices.

The Canova Art Colony(town where Grandma was born)
Find the time to remain curious and committed to a life of learning.  Avoid the danger of being isolated in a rural existence or overly worried and hurried in the urban setting.  Technology does make it possible to learn wherever and whenever.   In fact, there may be even an advantage to learning in the relative solitude that is found in the country.  Some of the great colleges of the American West or New England are tucked away in small towns.  Just down the road from Veglio there are two colonies that are growing as centers of traditional arts and crafts. 

My Grandmothers circa 1975
Draw the thread from your past.  Find out what drove your ancestors to do what they ultimately did.  Whether they left it all behind to chase a dream in Alaska or California or New Zealand or chose to build a better life where their grandparents lived.

This is ultimately the purpose of Veglio.  To make the strongest of connections to our ancestors and to also provide the place of beauty, quiet and learning.  That regardless of the paths chosen by our children or our children’s children there will always be a place to remind them of simple truths.