Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to be invited to visit the folkloric group in Resia Valley.
Resia Valley is situated in the mountainous Carnia region of Friuli in the North-East of Italy also know as the ‘Pre-Alps.’ As the valley is situated right on the Slovenian border, there is a very old Slovenian dialect spoken here. Though, due to the remote location of the valley and Italian and Friulian influences, the dialect is not really similar to Slovenian at all.
The folkloric group began in 1838 to kind of ‘officiate’ the traditional music and dances of Resia. I was greeted by Pamela, the president of the group, at the train station. It was my first time in a mountainous area, so I was amazed by the snow-capped mountains and couldn’t stop looking up and around at the scenery – it felt quite surreal to be so close to them. We took a walk around the town of Venzone (not actually in Resia but near) and she explained to me that in 1976 there was a massive earthquake in Friuli that destroyed many of the towns including Venzone. In this time, many people were left homeless and had to move away from Friuli for a couple of years while the towns were rebuilt. As a result of this lots of the traditions and customs were lost or changed – so when people were able to return to Friulian towns and particularly Resia, it brought their attention to the fact that they have really unique traditions that they should try and save as best they can!
The border location of Resia has caused some political represssion, really affecting the customs and traditions. After the 2nd World War, it was part of Zone A in the Free Territory of Trieste. Tito and Yugoslavia wanted to claim this area due to the Slovene population but it became a part of Italy with the rest of Zone A in 1954. This left Resians in a difficult situation as authorities did not recognise the area as an official minority and they were forbidden to speak Resian when dealing with authorities. Italian was enforced in schools etc. so thus began the decline of the Resian dialect. It wasn’t until 2001 that the government recognised the area as a Slovene minority.
Later in the afternoon the folkloric group were performing at an event in Moggio, so I was able to see them perform in their traditional costumes. The musical ensemble is usually two violins who play a melody and a kind of cello with three strings that plays a plays line. The violin in the Resian dialect is called citira and the cello, bunkula. On first sight, the bunkula looks like a cello that has seen better days(!) but when you look closer you can see its quite different – the lowest string is made of a pig’s gut and the bow is enormous – like a saw! The tunes they play are all quite similar – they play an A tune in d major and then the B tune is the same but in a major. This is repeated until the end of the dance. Sometimes the musicians sing along with the melody and the dancers echo them, like a call and answer. I was quite excited to try and play some of the music later on.
In the evening we drove to the cultural centre of Resia – kind of like the group’s headquarters! In the winter, the group doesn’t have so many performances so on Saturday evenings they organise talks and events as a way for everyone to spend time together. nice. The evening I was there was a presentation of two Resians who had trekked across iceland this summer. It was very well attended – maybe 50 people came and there was a huge mixture of ages. I was quite curious as to how they had managed to keep young people interested in such old traditions. I was informed that now, everyone learns the dances in primary school and it is optional to learn citira or bunkula, so young people are familiar with and fond of the tradition. The group also makes regular trips around Europe to folk festivals and have also been to Japan and Peru – so there are quite a few perks of being a part of the group!
After the presentation, the president congratulated and thanked the trekkers and then grandly announced my presence to the audience, telling them I’d come to see some Resian songs and dances – to which I was given a round of applause! Then everyone gathered for what looked like some civilised drinks and nibbles – it actually turned out to be quite a party! After everyone had had a few drinks the musicians began to tune up. I whipped out my recorder and asked if I could try and join in. When they started to play, a space was cleared for the dancers. I quickly realised that the Resian instruments are tuned a tone higher than the standard tuning… so I was hideously out of tune for a while! Another thing that characterises the Resian music is that the players stamp their feet in time with the dancers and at the end of a phrase there is a particularly big stamp and then you switch foot to start the next phrase. Here are some of the recordings I made. I’m playing in these recordings too – sometimes you can hear that one of the violins is a bit behind and out of tune! It was a mega fun evening and I felt really lucky to be able to take part.
I stayed in the house of one of the members of the group in Gniva or Niwa – in the Resian dialect. The next day she showed me around Stolvizza – another village in Resia. It was quite a grey day – so the pics aren’t so clear!
I caught the train back to Trieste that evening after a home-made Polenta lunch. To cut to the chase, I was absolutely spoilt rotten by the people of Resia! They hosted me, fed me and moreover, gave me a ton of merchandise from the folkloric group archive – c.d’s, books, tapes, leaflets – literally a whole bagful! I am so grateful for these things and can’t thank them enough. I haven’t really had a chance to have a look yet as I shot off to Milan first thing the next day. But that’s another story. Anyway I cannot wait to delve into my presents! I really enjoyed my time with the folkloric group, there was a huge sense of community and collaboration that I had not experienced before. Hearing and seeing the traditional performance of Resia is something that I will treasure for a long time – it was a real privilege. I really hope to return in the future – maybe to the infamous Resian carnival!