I wrote a piece about a study trip we took during my MA studies, following the Tevere river from its sources in Emilia-Romagna to Rome. I call it a “gastro-historical portrait” because it doesn’t quite fit any style or genre. There was so much to talk about, so much indeed of history and culture that we encountered on this 10-day trip that it would have ballooned in length had I written it as a straight-up re-telling. Worse though, I found that it lacked narrative coherence and became a boring “and then…” list of things. Often, in travel writing, it is the traveller herself who provides the coherence, but this trip or this story at least was not about me, or us as a group. It was about the river, and so I had to put the river at the heart of it. It ended up becoming quite a lyrical piece, returning again and again to the motif of the river, water and movement. As the focus is not on any particular person or community, these became often nameless, supporting actors. It reminds me of what Anna Burns did in Milkman (2018), her novel set in late 1970s/early 1980s Belfast, in which she does not name a single character with a name, only by their relationships, characteristics or nicknames (“maybe-boyfriend”, “older sister”, “real milkman”). In her story, the technique captures the secretive and cautious way of life in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. In my article, it is not about secrecy but about, I suppose, unimportance. The smallness of individual lives and stories against the eternal story of the river.
***Along the Tevere (excerpt)***
“On the first evening, over dinner in their beautiful restaurant, the hosts explain how their work is centred on memory and tradition. But 82 years ago, their tradition abruptly changed, as they ceased to be Tuscan, and became Romagnoli. People are polite here, or is it careful? The carefulness that comes with having been ruled by many lords, with never much to say. Careful not to offend anybody, because who knows who will be the next masters? So people are cautious, stick to the facts: Yes, we used to be Tuscan. Now we are Romagnoli. They call it Tuscan Romagna. That’s us. Never a word about the power-hungry man from Forlì1, who thought he could influence destiny through geography2. A forced syllogism: what springs out of the sources of the Tevere must end in Rome. I am from Romagna. If the sources of the Tevere are also in Romagna, therefore, what springs from Romagna must end in Rome. In fact, he ended at the shores of an Alpine lake3. But that is a different story.
The story of the river is not one of destiny. A river has no destiny. The water never stops. It enters the sea, only to rise up again into the clouds, then fall down as rain on the top of the mountain, seep through the rocks into the underground reservoir4, and out again through the cracks. A little stream, trickling through the beechwood forest5, downhill, towards the valley and the city. An endless cycle, forever repeated. A river is movement. And in the movement, there is force. The force to carve a valley out of these mountains, or just to transport the heavy loads of the upstream harvests to the city. Grain and oil, milled with the force of the river. Wine. And people. Always people…”
1 Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), Prime Minister of Italy 1922-1943
2 In 1927, Mussolini decreed that the borders of Romagna and Tuscany should be re-drawn, in order to include Monte Fumaiolo with the sources of the Tevere into Romagna, his home region.
3 Mussolini was executed by partisans at Lake Como, April 1945.
4 The sources of the Tevere spring from an underground reservoir on Mt. Fumaiolo.
5 There are many beech trees on Mt. Fumaiolo, because they are especially adapted to the local terrain – it is very sandy, and so only the beech, which has sprawling roots, about as many as it has branches overhead, can find enough hold to become very old there.
Read the full story here: https://arrow.tudublin.ie/tfschafart/212/
Unfortunately, all my own pictures from the trip were lost when my laptop crashed a while ago, so these pictures are from the Creative Commons, with thanks to the photographers.