Being at loss in my own country

Everyone has the right to migrate – and everyone has the right to remain in the place they were born.
Because leaving and staying are two poles of humanity.

I don’t feel at home – sometimes – in this beautiful country. I’d like to flee – sometimes. I’m not sure what home, my country, is any longer. The Germans have a wonderful world for this: Heimat. It describes a concept, a story, belonging to more than just geographical boundaries. Being part of something more rarefied. My roots are South Tyrolean and Ladin: my mother is a German native speaker and my father Ladin. You may argue that I don’t understand what Italy is because I have no direct roots to it. But you’d be mistaken. The language itself isn’t the problem. Italian is my third language, a language I use when I read, listen to songs, think, and even dream – it’s the language my heart beats in, the language of my beloved companion. A language which, today, has been mistreated and corrupted.


I feel at loss when I think about the current political instability, carelessness, the ever-growing hotels, neglecting our planet, favouring the consumption of goods over the creation of values. And what of our land? It’s being constantly consumed, pushing us to speak about energy transition before green transition. It breaks my heart, it ruins the sense I have of my Heimat.


Where does the idea of Heimat begin and end? Which are my roots? Do I even have any, if Heimat is nothing more than a feeling? The answer is to reconsider what our roots are: not static, somnolent constructs, rather a fluid motion which grows and grows. The Ladin valleys live within the UNESCO bubble and, oddly enough, will never be the valleys of years ago, circumscribed by the finite limits of geography. They keep on growing, inside a country – Italy – that keeps on growing, consuming, never satisfied with what it has. While living in the Dolomites doesn’t make it easy to see what goes on in our country, what’s certain is we should always be vigilant and never let our guard down.


And no, looking at what surrounds me – Corvara, our beautiful Casa, people who come here and see no fault at all when wearing their rose-tinted glasses – isn’t enough. Being happy with this idea of Heimat isn’t enough.


That doesn’t mean we have to uproot our whole existence. You can still inhabit more than one world – a sense of pride in Italy and the Ladin Heimat – without them squashing each other’s toes. You can still enjoy beautiful art, Mediterranean cuisine, and the Italian language. You can still live in one place, then travel to New York or Taiwan (although maybe not in this day and age…) – this will make you love your Heimat even more while at the same time dropping you in a pit of melancholia. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but distance makes you feel that absence more keenly.


What’s worse then? Living in a foreign country and seeing how your Heimat changes, sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better? Or living here and putting up with the fact its current image doesn’t fit with who you are as a person any longer? Our home, our heimat, is not a means to an end – it’s a patchwork of history, culture, centuries-old thoughts, and feelings. By living here, be it in the Ladin valleys, South Tyrol, or Italy, we have to shape it. How? By putting in a lot of blood, sweat, and passion. And by using the right words, ensuring they carry the right weight and aren’t watered down into mere buzzwords and white noise. The art of dialogue may be the right way ahead. Giving space for everyone to talk, respecting their (different) opinions. And if we’ve managed to do so here – speaking in German with my mother, in Ladin with my brothers and father, in Italian with the love of my life – then we can use it as an example. Words have meanings, and these meanings shape reality. Therefore, beautiful words, meaningful words, can make our Bel Paese even more beautiful and meaningful. And we all have this wonderful power resting within us. I love the Dolomites’ valleys and Italy. And I do so deeply. Fleeing is, therefore, not the answer. We have to rebuild our identity and to do so, I’d like to rephrase the words of Italian anthropologist Vito Teti. He says that the act of leaving a place or living in it are two opposing poles of humanity. Everyone has the right to migrate – and everyone has the right to remain in the place they were born. Remaining in a place doesn’t, however, mean allowing it to necessarily remain the same. We can feel at loss in it and yearn to protect its soul while also wanting to drastically give it a fresh, invigorating shake. Hear, hear!