The fascination of this place
is not about what there is
but about what is missing.

This is not a cliché.

December 2011

01 December 2011

Ain't it all so beautiful?!

The powerful V6 roars like a prehistoric lion before coming to a halt and restoring a semblance of peace to the mountain landscape. The young guy, jeans torn in the fashion of the day and a cube patterned polo shirt to match, dismounts. He takes a crate of champagne from the boot and hands it over to the young lad standing beside him. I myself am seated on the terrace of the mountain refuge at a height of 2,000 metres and am taking in the majesty of the Sassolungo range which as always holds me spellbound. I order the fresh range eggs and the South Tyrolean speck which I know to be the speciality of the house.
Dobbiamo pretendere un mondo migliore, un “noi fortunati” più consapevole, sì proprio noi che facciamo parte della ristretta fascia dei superfausti di questo pianeta.
The speck is more than good for it is of local origin and not the imitation sort which sometimes arrives from the Low Countries as far as our mountain home. True to say is that the existence of local networks promoting regional agriculture, providing a sustainable tourism and assuring a high standard of quality is well developed in the Dolomites. A young waitress dressed in Ladin traditional costume and with an accent recognisable as eastern European origin serves me in a correct and friendly manner. The yuppie style young man, owner of both the Suv and the refuge, is now dressed in neatly embroidered leather trousers, South Tyrolean shirt, and a decorated apron. His shrewd eye tours the tables and he offers a standard style smile to those present. It is not long to go to midday and there are still plenty of tables free. His look becomes a little more concerned as he realises that there will be no double sitting this day. After all it is not yet winter and high season is still a way away. The frenzied hedonism of Dolomite winter pleasure is a 50 year old story now and seems to know no limits but this said, it is possible, and will always remain so, to be able to find places uncontaminated and distant from the noise and fury of too much construction, too much speculation and too much of this and that – too much of everything indeed. The era of development has been fast and furious but without tourism the negative effects would have been catastrophic – the farmers would have abandoned the fields, the youngsters would have migrated to the cities, the Ladin language would have been a thing of the past. Compare this scenario with that in which there are Ladin schools, care is taken to maintain the language, publications espouse the Ladin way and the Ladin identity in general is much respected and even requested and wanted by the tourist, and certainly thriving amongst those who inhabit the valleys.

The economic phenomenon we witness today is a realisation of what we have been able to realise in a dynamic and inventive manner. Look back to the late eighteen hundreds and the early exploits of the English mountaineers in the Ampezzana area and then further on along the road to the Olympic Games in Cortina in 1956 and so on the emergence of 50,000 beds in Val di Fassa, 20,000 in Val Gardena, and 17,000 in Val Badia. In our valleys the particularity of the terrain and the total of its offering have laid the base for a spectacular entrepreneurial success. Thanks to the sound and integrated relationship between farmers, handcraft artisans and tourist operators it has been possible to invest in in innovation both at the level of the products and processes to provide an excellence of service. The final result is of an offer both rich in terms of experience and client satisfaction. One outstanding example is the Dolomiti Superski consortium comprising of 12 ski areas and 1,200 kms of perfectly snow-covered slopes. Add to this the high standard and variation of hotel offer and a much appreciated cuisine and you have something special.

My host brings me a grappa, takes a seat, and almost inevitably the conversation turns to the ‘how is business going?’ and ‘what are the prospects for the season?’ topics. After the third grappa however the more sober aspect of mankind emerges for we talk about how things used to be in this land of ours and no longer are. Not so much I may add for satisfaction in the pure pathos of nostalgia but more a shared feeling that the real value of our work needs to be measured in terms of just intent and respect for ideals, so as to create a worthy outcome. We are both convinced that a single isolated style tourism will damage both man and land. Without too fine a gloss we must look for a better world where we fortunate ones are able to be more knowledgeable and realise the privileged position we have in influencing things around us. Contemporary we may be but not sufficiently so to abandon any role in the present sort of post modernism spiritual void we have today.

I make my way down through the well organised fields. I greet a farmworker, glad to see this representation of our mountain community. Sure, the ox, the haypick and rake are not his standard work companions any longer. To a great extent they have been replaced by large local government funded tractors so as to render this demanding and not immediately rewarding work viable. I stop a while and we engage in conversation. He relates the difficulties of the work in the woods but also his enthusiasm for a new project to start in 2012 whereby a newly formed cooperative society called ‘Wertholz’ will rent his wood, order it and sell the logs. An important initiative this when you realise that there are almost 300 hectares of woods in South Tyrol, and half of these are abandoned to themselves.

One thing is for sure. We need to eliminate the car from the Dolomite passes. It can be done: make use of electric shuttles: use the lift systems (yes, I know that they can be an eyesore and worse so when illuminated at night showing off a web of steel and glass). And whilst talking about eyesores let’s not forget to mention some of the hotel structures seemingly built with Alpine porn in mind. What place do miniature replicas of the Taj Mahal and baroque domes have in our mountain home? And to complete the mayhem they serve cosmopolitan cuisine on tables made of African mahogany. ‘The clients like it all’ is the cry in defence. Well I guess you get the client you deserve is the only worthy risposte.

We are witnesses to a conflict of reason now well underway – points gained and points lost as we look to a future which, as night is day, will surely come to be. The battle has commenced and who will win? Will it be the builders, the mixers of cement to bring economic success or the ethical movement, opposers of excess and blessed with reason or will the eventual winners be those who believe in consolidating the excellent progress made over the years and not spoiling all through undue excess. For all parties one thing should be clear: we all need to reason with the interests of the local community at heart.

The Sella massif is the embodiment of Beauty and it is as if this marvellous creation asks of me as a grateful and undeserving inhabitant of The Dolomites, a patrimony of all mankind, not only to be grateful for the honour afforded me as a temporary resident, to enjoy and marvel at its nature but to go further and not rest on my laurels but to question, to think and project for the future to come.

Who does not remember the film “The Dead Poet’s Society” when one of the young College guys comes out after the suicide of a friend and declares ‘And it’s all so beautiful’.
I cannot help but feel the same sentiment in many ways.