By Allen Eugene Rizzi
(see also From The Val di Non To Rock Springs And Back Again)
y first exposure to the Val di Non was through stories told to me by my father. I was very young and many of the words, the names and the places seemed to run together through these early years. The Val di Non became a sort of magical, far away place with high mountains, clear lakes and tall trees; a place that held hundreds of little secrets known only to the Nonesi. As I grew older, the stories and names focused a bit. My father, Eugene Valentine Rizzi, was born in the small village of Tret in the Val di Non on April 1, 1913 under somewhat unusual circumstances. Seven months before he was born, his own father, Eugenio Rizzi, died a young man of 38 years. He had married Anna Flor from Brez after going to America to seek his fortune in the Wild West of Rock Springs, Wyoming. Like many other immigrants from Trentino, Eugenio found a measure of fortune in his new country, becoming successfully involved in the sheep ranching business. Sheep ranching was a brutal business then, as it remains today. While tending the sheep, Eugenio fell through the ice on a winters evening and never recovered from the event, dying some months later. Anna Rizzi, soon to give birth, returned to Merano, where she and Eugenio owned two houses. There she found herself alone and with nowhere to go to have the baby. She turned to her sister, Armida who had married Emmanuel Bertagnolli and moved to Tret. In Tret, Armida and her husband owned an albergo and it was there, in a small room on the second floor, that my father was born. The albergo has now become an alimentari and the building itself is featured on Trets official postcard.
y father had two older brothers, Rinaldo and Giorgio, and a sister, Rosalia. Rosalia died in 1913 at the age of only 15. Rinaldo died in Wyoming, like his father, at the young age of 38. Giorgio moved to California and lived there until his death at age 70. Anna, il cuore della familgia, also lived for many years in California, dying in 1956 at the age of 79. She lived a full life, filled with the personal tragedies of losing her husband and daughter as well as the triumph of seeing her youngest son become a man of extraordinary accomplishment. Throughout her life, Anna certainly saw much more of the world than she might ever have imagined as a young girl in Brez. My father, Eugene, was perhaps the most promising of the surviving children. He studied music at the Music Conservatory in Vienna, Austria and became a violinist, playing professionally both in Vienna and San Francisco, California. Music, however, did not pay the bills. After turning to a short career as an actor in such movies as The Outlaw, Crash Dive, and Ten Gentlemen From Westpoint, my father found his niche in sales and marketing, working most of his career with the Brown and Bigelow Company. After a long and very successful career, he retired and moved to Oregon where he still lives with his wife of over 50 years, Barbara Allen Rizzi. In 1972, my parents traveled to Europe together for the first time and visited the Val di Non. When they were in Tret, my father had a very heartfelt surprise. While on the street, a very old woman recognized him and with her arms made the sign of a rocking baby. Unbelievably, she was my fathers nursemaid from 60 years ago! After this tearful reunion, they met others from the past, including two of my fathers cousins, Mario and Livio Bertagnolli. Tret had not changed much at all, it seemed. They visited the old houses in Merano that Anna had owned years ago. Everything was as it should have been. Time had not disturbed the South Tyrol. When they returned from this trip, I looked at the photographs and listened to the stories with interest; however, I was 24 years old and knowing the "old country" wasnt my first priority. The years went by and I would hear the often repeated stories of the Val di Non; the walk over the Passo Palade before the time of roads, plum wine and polenta. The picture began to focus more and more, and yet the land was still distant and foreign. The picture was still blurred by second hand narrative and a lack of the immediate. Suffering from this inferior vantagepoint, I would often say, "Ill go there some day and see for myself."
any years had passed when finally, in 1997, my wife Rachel and I decided at last to set aside the time to visit Trentino. We planned a trip that took us from Munich to Innsbruck to Merano and on to the Val di Non. A great sense of delight spread over both of us as we descended from the Brenner Pass and down the Val dIsarco. Everything looked strangely familiar. We used our hotel in Lagundo as sort of a base camp for exploring the surrounding areas including downtown Merano. We visited the old Rizzi houses on Via Monestero and found them to be completely as we anticipated. Nothing had changed. Moving about Merano and the surrounding countryside, we had a strange sense of déjà vu. Every detail in the landscape, every building was exactly where it should have been. We soon tossed the map aside and proceeded unguided up the Passo Palade from Lana and down into the Val di Non. We stopped at the top of the Passo Palade long enough to sample krapfane, a local pastry. It wasnt nearly as good as those of my nonna, which I still savored from my childhood. However, it set the early morning mood and the late September air was cool and filled with anticipation. We proceeded slowly down the Val di Non, past Senale and stopped by the side of the road near San Felice. There before us in the early morning mist lay a green plateau dotted with a small number of rooftops. "That has to be Tret," I exclaimed, although I was viewing the entire scene for the very first time. We embraced Tret completely, spending a great deal of time meeting new friends and extensively photographing the surroundings. I even tried my hand at fly-fishing Lago di Tret, which sits above the village at the end of a very pretty hike. We visited the house where my father was born and met the new owner and her daughter. They both were very charming, warm and hospitable. We moved about the village not as tourists, but as though we just returned home from a shopping trip down in the nearby town of Fondo. It felt comfortable and extremely right. Whether it was the warm late summer afternoon or the culminating experience of a lifetime of stories, who is to say. We would return to Tret a couple of days later for an extended stay, but for now it was off to Cloz, farther down the valley. When we arrived in Cloz, we immediately sought out the old church in an effort to locate the grave markers of my nonno Eugenio and zia Rosalia. We found them easily. Eugenios grave marker features a full-face relief in stone and to this day remains a work of art. There in the quiet of the late afternoon, I sat and stared into a face from beyond time; a man who never lived to meet his youngest son, let alone imagine that I, some 85 years later, would sit in awe of his stone visage. I entered the old Cloz church and listened to the generations of my family speak to me of times and deeds gone by; of struggle, happiness, sorrow and ultimately the pride we all feel at being part of something large and grand . familgia. We traveled on to Brez, where we made arrangements for the restoration of my zia Rosalias grave marker and then started back up the valley to Tret.
Just as we reached Tret, Rachel and I stopped at a point where one can see both up to the top of the valley and down into the he heart of the Val di Non. It was getting dark and a soothing warm breeze fanned us with the faint scent of apples from far down in the valley. As I sat there that night and listened to the quiet that characterizes the upper valley, the picture had at long last become complete. The Val di Non had passed from myth to memory. Those who looked upon me that evening might have wondered at the tears in my eyes and asked, "Whats wrong?" Nothing was wrong. Indeed, it was finally right. For beneath the shadow of Mt. Ori, high in the Val di Non, truly I had finally come home.
Per mio padre. tamo!
Allen Rizzi may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org