Friday, January 23, 2009

Dolomite photos: yes, books can change your life

Two photos of the Dolomites from the garden in front of the Villa Madruzzo. Note the lack of snow: I'm told it's not been a very snowy winter. E. also told me that I arrived in Trento for the warmest day of the winter--for which I and my thin Californian blood are grateful.

My greatgrandparents may well have come from the Alto Adige/ Dolomite region. Their last name, Zeisler, is apparently very common in the Sud-Tirol/ Dolomite area, according to any number of local folks. (Several have even suggested I grab the phone book and start dialling Zeislers until I find one I'm related to. But I don't quite have enough chutzpah to do it yet. Maybe another trip.) Plus my dad maintained that my greatgrandmother, Rosie, spoke fluent Italian. I do remember my greatgrandmother, and a little bit of my greatgrandfather, as they both lived into their mid-90s, but Rosie never spoke any Italian to me--at least as far as I can remember.
I have always loved the Alps, and have felt a special affinity for the Dolomites. So perhaps it's true.

Why else do I love the Alps so--beside their incredible grandeur and beauty? What's not to like, right?

Well, the underlying reason is a prime example of the power of books to change a person's life.

When I was little, I read "Heidi" and adored the descriptions of the Alps, the simple cheese and bread--everything about the book. There was an inner and outer coziness about it that warmed my heart. I didn't want to live Heidi's story, but oh, how I was in love with the it all! As a result, when I decided to do an exchange program as a teenager, I chose to go to Switzerland, and I spent the summer in the French-speaking part of the Swiss Alps (the next summer, too--I had to go back). I'm still friends with my former host family and go back periodically to visit them and their special corner of the world. That summer influenced me in many ways, both long-term and immediate.
Had I not read "Heidi," who knows where I might have gone instead? And who knows whether or not I'd feel any affinity for the mountains, beyond any potential ancestral Ur-memory?
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