Reschen Valley, April 1937
The grasses were just ankle high as Annamarie ran through the meadow. Her mother’s last words, You’re a young woman—behave like one, dispersed on the spring wind.
Being a young lady meant no longer playing house but keeping house. It meant everyone else had only one plan for her future, one wrought in tradition and old-fashioned beliefs. And a man. Another farmer.
She imagined her family discovering that she’d fled the Hof again. Mother would smell the scorched milk, find the kitchen empty, and move to the doorway, the ends of her headscarf flapping like a frantic truce flag in the Föhn. She would ask Bernd, as he pitched manure, if he’d seen his older sister, and Bernd would complain that Annamarie had again shirked her chores to find escape in running. Manuel could look up from the garden and still see her.
“Annamarie,” her baby brother might call. “Wait for me.”
She waited for no one. She had no time to wait. Her father, cleaning out the milk pails, would hear of it, and he would be resigned. “She’s sixteen,” she imagined him saying, as if that should explain his position on things. That thought made her laugh, and every impact with the spongy ground created a gasp, a sound not unlike sobbing.
Yes, she was sixteen, and she was running because she still could.
Down the back road leading from Arlund to the valley below, she anticipated the tree roots, her arms outstretched with each hazardous leap. At the wayward crucifix, she stopped long enough to make the sign of the cross. Graun’s Head, the peak that marked where their summer alp was, was still covered with snow, and as she continued to run down the road, she felt the rest of the alpine mountains closing over her. On the valley floor, the lakes shimmered in the spring sun, still crusted with ice and snow on the shady sides. The air was warmer when she reached the bottom of the road, and she slowed as she passed the police quarters, where none of the carabinieri paid much attention to another milkmaid. As long as she did not run, they did not whistle or shout, “Where are you off to, fidanzata?”
On the road between the two towns, she turned left towards Graun and slipped past the bank, then the seamstress, where Annamarie ought to later be for her home economics session. She ducked her head when she saw Podestà Rioba. He and the balding segretario nailed a banner onto the front of the town hall.
She slowed down to read it: Mussolini ha sempre ragione. Mussolini is always right.
Why did they have to hang up a sign to remind them? Il Duce, she’d learned in school, was not to be disputed in anything.
When she moved on, she decided the banner was for the “others.” Just like the signs in every authority’s office: We speak Italian. Or the one above the classroom blackboard: It is forbidden to spit on the floor and to speak German. The other day, she saw Jutta Hanny get a two thousand lire fine because she’d written Welcome to South Tyrol on the front of her inn. And then, even worse, underneath: No Walscher, the derogatory name for the Italians. All this in German! Someone had really made her angry for her to have gone so far.
Annamarie was just outside the Foglios’ butcher shop when Sebastiano Foglio came out with a loop of smoked sausage in his hand.
“Where you going, Annamarie? To the Planggers’ tree?”
“Maybe.” Where else was there to go but to the Planggers’ tree?
“I’ll join you.”
“I might just go for a walk.”
“Suit yourself.” He went back inside but was untying his smeared apron. The smells of garlic and smoke drifted out behind him.
The bakery was right down the street, and Annamarie went in, keeping her eye on the road through the window, watching for Sebastiano.
Frau Prieth waddled out of the back and stood behind the baked-goods counter. “Griaß-di,” she said in the Tyrolean dialect. “Was hosch, Annamarie Steinhauser?” What have you got?
She cast a look at Annamarie’s feet, and Annamarie wiped her boots on the mat.
Annamarie had but one coin, and as Sebastiano passed the shop, she turned her back to the door and faced the glass case. The Gipfel, filled with hazelnut paste, were lined up in even rows. “I’ll take one of those, please.” Annamarie heavily accented her German to sound like an Italian.
The baker’s wife wrapped the pastry in silence, her mouth turned down. With the Gipfel in her smock, Annamarie stepped outside again, guessing that Sebastiano had taken the direct way to the Planggers’ tree.
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 4/5
Bolzano: Extract 5/5