From Chapter 9
Bolzano, August 1937
The hours of rocking in the train had lulled Annamarie to sleep. When she awoke, the landscape had changed some, the mountains a little softer, with vineyards and apple orchards on the slopes of a much-wider valley. In the haze of her sleep was still the picture of her mother’s sad face, and Annamarie imagined her parents were already coming after her. She’d been envisioning the scene the whole way south: her mother kneading dough with tears streaming down her face, her father angry and perhaps reprimanding himself for either being too easy on Annamarie or for using the switch on her at all. Then there would be that passive silence Annamarie hated—that repression of thoughts and things one really wanted to say. They’d say nothing about the money even if they were angry that she had taken it. It would not be enough to support her studies at the pedagogical university for even a semester, but she’d searched her conscience and decided it was hers to have and make use of it as she could.
Marco Grimani had opened her eyes to the possibilities, to a life beyond the Reschen Valley. It was time to join the brave new world. She wanted to dress smartly, become a member of the youth group Marco had told her about, free the world of barons and monarchies, free it of authority and men like Marco’s father, who’d had no right to forbid them the love they’d felt for one another just because she was Tyrolean. The new Italy would be one where no one would be able to tell them apart. Each of them would be recognised as simply Italian and not Ladin, or Tyrolean, or Austrian.
She thought of Bernd and smiled bitterly. She could hear him making the most noise about her leaving. “Italian imposter,” he’d call her. He was part of the whole problem, had begun to talk like some of the other farmers’ sons, about Tyrol being a Reich in its own right. It had even caused clashes between Mother and him, her mother, always in the middle. Now, here she was, Annamarie, the runaway renegade, off to find her Italian boyfriend. The idea made her stomach feel as if it were floating.
As the train slowed down and the sign for Bolzano appeared, the conductor called last stop. He flashed her an overfriendly smile again. He’d been doing it since Merano each time he passed by. “You’ll be getting off here, miss. Or you can stay on and ride back with me to Meran.”
“Absolutely not,” she muttered as she pushed past him.
On the platform, she hit a wall of scents and noise. Worsening her hunger were the sweet scents of melted sugar and nuts from the candied almond man standing beneath a pink-and-white-striped awning. When she turned to watch the train pull away, there was the stink of something acrid in the air, and when the last railcar had passed her, it revealed a line of factories on the other side of the station. Thick smoke rose from what seemed like hundreds of chimneys. This was the BIZ, the industrial zone Marco had told her about.
A woman bumped into Annamarie, carrying a pink silk purse and a disgruntled white dog. Annamarie had never seen an uglier dog and so pretty a purse.
“Excuse me,” Annamarie said, “could you help me?” But the woman cast a look at her and hurried off as if Annamarie were a leper.
A station conductor was heading into the building, and Annamarie caught up to him. “Sorry, sir. Could you please tell me where Monte Fulmini Electrical is?” The man gave her the same look Purse Woman had, and Annamarie straightened her hat, staring him down. “Please.”
“I don’t know any Monte Fulmini Electrical,” he said, and disappeared into the ticket office, shutting the door.
She had not expected this. She caught a reflection of herself in the glass. Two days of traveling had made her look rumpled, but there was nothing to differentiate her from the others, was there? She looked around her and moved to a bench in the middle of the station hall. After a few minutes, she realised that indeed, there was.
People from the hinterlands were entering the station, dressed in traditional smocks and breeches, some even wearing wooden clogs. Farmers carried in baskets of apples, bundles of kindling, grapes, chickens, and wheels of cheese. These were the people she had left behind, and when she looked beyond them, she recognised what she wanted to become. A distinct second group moved amidst the farmers and country folk: handsome men in single-breasted suits, soft-soled Oxfords, Panama hats, and wide lapels. Some wore trim moustaches, clean compared to the bushy Tyrolean beards and moustaches. The women wore a variety of dresses and feathered hats, each looking like a different species in a flock of exotic birds, and all wearing high-heeled shoes. Annamarie looked down at her lap, at her drab grey dress, the scuffed boots, the woollen socks sagging at the ankles, and removed the straw hat from her head. No. She could not go to Monte Fulmini Electrical this way.
She looked at the small valise she’d taken from her father’s wardrobe. Even the one change of clothes she had was not going to help her with this. There was nothing else in there save for her box of paper and pens, the photograph of her brothers and her, and the tobacco she’d taken from Papa’s tin because she liked the smell of it. She had to find a way to earn money, and quickly, because what she’d taken from home was not going to be enough for the necessary makeover. She looked at the women again and touched her braids. Marco’s aunt Francesca—the one he said was of movie-star quality—the salons she went to…
Annamarie rose and left the station.
On the street, oxen dragged Tyrolean V-carts at sluggish tempos whilst automobiles whizzed by so quickly, Annamarie jumped each time. She stood on tiptoe to look over the street and at a park. A troop of girls, dressed in berets, white shirts, black ascots, and black skirts, marched in a square surrounded by plane trees. They carried banners. Annamarie shifted to follow them. Finally she could put the letters together. Giovane Italiane Bolzano. This was the girls’ Fascist pioneer group Marco had told her about!
Feeling as if Lady Luck were on her side, she hurried across the road to a bench. The girls were led by a tall, straight-backed woman with dark wavy hair. Everything about her was as neat as a pin. Annamarie listened carefully, took in the obedient and disciplined way the young woman moved, and Annamarie felt her own spine straighten as she mouthed the woman’s commands. Her shoulders fell back, and in her mind’s eye, she put herself before that troop of girls. When the troop leader noticed Annamarie, her stern look dissipated for a moment with a brief smile and a flash of interest before turning her attention back to the other girls. With quick orders, she marched them from the square. One, two. One, two. The banner, swaying in the breeze, was the only thing that did not comply to the beat. It was, Annamarie mused, the only feminine movement in that march.
She wanted to follow them. She did not dare follow them. Instead, she sat under the plane trees, their leaves turning colour in the early autumn sun, and wondered what to do next. A whole summer of asking Iris Hanny questions about Bolzano, about Italy this and Italy that, had not prepared her for this. She thought she’d had an idea of what to expect, but being here was entirely different from her lessons on Italian and city culture. She would have to become a spy.
Annamarie stayed in the park to watch the city people coming and going, how they talked and how they walked. She watched the men interacting with the women, the women interacting with other women, the Italians interacting—or not, to be more precise—with the Tyroleans, and vice versa. When she felt she had enough information, Annamarie slipped behind a group of fashionable women and followed them through the market, watching and copying the way they fingered the clothing, the purses, and negotiated prices with the merchants. Eventually, one group she followed led her to what she was looking for. Propped up against the building on the pavement, the sign outside the parucche read: We Buy Hair. The price was more than adequate. She stepped in, her fingers already unravelling her braids.
With these extracts, I hope you are able to decide for yourself whether to begin the series at Part 3 or start it from No Man's Land. A sample chapter of No Man's Land is available here.
Bolzano: Extract 1/5
Bolzano: Extract 2/5
Bolzano: Extract 3/5
Bolzano: Extract 4/5