On Wednesday I decided to go and check out Val Rosandra – a valley and natural reserve that straddles the Italo/Slovenian border about half an hours bus ride from Trieste. I brought along my violin to experiment with playing in an unpopulated area and vast open space without an audience. I was also planning to make a video response to my friend Tom Vinall’s PIC project. I wanted to follow the Sentiero Dell’Amicizia (path of friendship) – a hiking trail through the valley that links the Italian and Slovenian communities as my project touches on ‘border identities’ and how different places influence each other culturally.
I was a bit lost when I first arrived (turns out I got off the bus at the wrong stop.) I had ended up in a car park but saw signs for Carso (the name of the mountains) pointed towards a wooded area. I got talking to a couple who were interested in my violin – after a while I asked them if I was heading in the direction of the pathway. They looked at me in horror and told me I was heading towards a 10km up-hill climb complete with steep drops and rocky ravines. Not quite what I was looking for. They walked me through the village and pointed me in the right direction but said that the walk was ‘un po’ pericoloso’ and to be careful.
I made my video response shortly after this section (I tried it by the waterfall too but my camera could not take the sound of water!)
Signs and information in Trieste and around are mostly in both Slovenian and Italian. For some reason I found it quite hard to work out which was which here. I assume the singular titles in the middle must be the same in both languages.
This is where I arrived – the village of Bottazzo or Botač, inches away from the border.There was another (undefiled!) sign at the end of the trail.
I found small cafe in the village of Bottazzo, which appeared to be the ‘hub of the community’! Having seen only two other people on my walk and being in a very quiet corner of the world, I was surprised to see the garden bustling full of people having a hearty lunch. I quickly realised they all knew each other and thought they were some kind of German hiking club. I was very wrong. Feeling a bit lonesome, I paid for my drink and said goodbye to the couple who owned the cafe. They looked at me and then my violin aghast and declared ‘but you haven’t played yet!’ As though they had been somehow shortchanged – I suppose there must be very few people who ‘hike’ with a musical instrument that end up in their cafe! Of course, I wasn’t going to turn down their request but I was suddenly feeling slightly nervous to play unannounced for the huge audience outside! So I played for them and they turned out to be a very appreciative audience – then, whilst everyone was still listening, one of the leaders asked me where I was from and about my project etc. We spoke in Italian and he translated it into German for the rest of the group. I couldn’t find a point to interject that I could speak German, or I assumed everyone spoke English anyway – to kill two birds with one stone. It felt a bit like an interview, it was quite surreal suddenly having (what seemed like) a huge audience listening to me.
As I spoke more with the leader, I found out that they were, in fact, a group of experimental art students from the University of Linz doing a trip through Slovenia, Croatia and NE Italy! He told me that they had chosen to visit these places to explore the effects of the constantly changing borders over the last 100 years on art and culture, languages, traditions etc. They were particularly interested in Trieste as it is, geographically, a place of extremes – being a coastal city also surrounded by the Carso mountains, located right on the Slovenian border, hence the visit to Val Rosandra. And its also affected by the infamous Bora wind, which I am yet to experience. It was extremely reassuring to hear that other artists were working within the same context as me and it confirmed to me that I’ve chosen a context that is universal yet also quite pioneering and not a strange, niche interest with not much research! This meeting also led on to me joining the group for their itinerary while they were in Trieste for the next few days – very kind of them to let me tag along – I’ve had a really enjoyable and informative few days! I found out more about their area of study – they have a theme for the year of ‘Nations, Notions and -Scapes.’ They gave me a copy of a kind of ‘module reader’ which has given me some good sources and things to research. I am becoming interested in the term -scapes, coined by Arjun Appadurai, in relation to global culture.
So after the impromptu concert, I was presented with a plate of pancakes and a small glass of grape and honey liquor by the chef. Hooray! I started on my journey back through the valley – I had arrived feeling a bit ‘billy-no-mates’ and left with an abundance of new friends and a newfound assertion in the significance of my project. It was all made possible because of the presence of my violin. My violin has become a kind of ice-breaker or magic key to connect and get to know people. The encounter was so spontaneous and such a coincidence it was almost unbelievable – it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t had my violin with me, if I didn’t speak Italian, if I didn’t speak German. I felt reassured even further that my previous skills and experience suit the chosen context perfectly.
Feeling so confident, I decided to take a different route back through the valley. This was cut prematurely when I was greeted on the path by two enormous goats with huge horns (this is where I can’t hide my urban upbringing – there is probably a name for enormous goats!) They were probably more afraid of me than I was of them but I didn’t want to risk upsetting them! Other routes will have to be saved for next time – there is so much more that I’d like to see here – maybe I’ll go as far as to cross the border. Back on the ‘path of friendship’ three women approached me from the opposite direction. One of them said something which roughly translates as ‘Girl! What are you doing out here by yourself? Aren’t you afraid?’ (Ha! this could be straight out of a Grimm’s Fairytale) I said no. Another of them saw my violin and said ‘she’s come out here to play music in the beautiful nature.’ The original interrogator was satisfied with this response and seeing the violin said ‘oh yes, of course she has.’ And then they scurried off, as though the violin explained everything.