That’s the name of my region. The land at the feet of the mountains.
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In my region, topography is binary. Clear cut. It’s either flat, or mountainous. No middle ground, no rolling hills. Round where I’m from, it’s often less than 12 miles from where the rice paddies stand, smooth and levelled with the aid of lasers, and the 9000-footers where steinbocks jump from rock to rock and fight with each other. Rocky façades rise up unexpectedly, as if they’d forgotten something home and had jolted up to go and fetch it.
Clear, cold winter days are my favourite; that’s a bad thing, because they’re so damn rare over here. But today is one such day.
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At 3 PM in this season the sun is already low, casting lights between, rather than above, the woods and fields. Long shadows play between the trunks and nature, caught in the stasis of winter, glows golden in the dying light. Specks of snow from the storm of a couple of days ago still glint from the shades.
Above us, the vertical walls of the Alps beckon; above them all towers the Monte Rosa massif, its fourteeners looking positively Himalayan, plumes of powder being blown off the ridges by the wind. Must be snowing in Switzerland.
Today is my favourite kind of day and I’m heading back to the airport. My normal route would be leading me far from where I am at the moment, cruising on the motorway to the south, the mountains hiding in the rear-view mirror behind me. Instead, today I’ve taken the smaller provincial roads, the slow route, past villages I haven’t driven through in five, ten years. I’m damn glad I’m doing that, for the mountains are just to my left; the road all but hugs them.
The drive back to the airport used to be rather gloomy, filled with the dreading expectation of a flight, a long wait at immigration and a commute into a dark, damp city, to an empty flat and emptier fridge. I’d drive listening to music and reminiscing of the times I’d driven on that particular road, at those carefree times, or so they seem today. I’d be thinking at what could’ve happened had I not left, had I not chosen the path I did. But today I’m not reminiscing.
I’ve been upbeat all weekend and I’m still upbeat now. I’ve got loads of time before the plane, a car and the freedom to stop wherever I fancy, to get down on the ice and take photos of the mighty Rosa massif. A factory car park might do the trick, and so might the empty lot before a supermarket, or the bit of scrubland before the fence ringing a flooded quarry. In fact, they all do.
My region isn’t a tourist hotspot, but to me she – for yes, she’s a lady – is pretty, I think as I stand knee-deep in the dry, frozen scrubs next to the fence, wind blowing in my ears the sequential quacking of dozens of geese flapping about above the waters. Biella, Pray, Piedicavallo, Massazza, Masserano, Candelo, Quittengo and many more names. I might no longer live there, I might never do and, let’s face it, in some cases I’m damn glad I don’t, but they are, and always will be, “where I’m from”, I think with a smile.