“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” Dorothy Day
Tucked away, deep, in the Carnic Alps of the Italian area of Friuli lies Pontebba. Just over 1000 souls populate the town whose name stems from the word ‘ponte’ (bridge). I had the pleasure of calling Pontebba home for five years when my husband and I were still in our twenties and collecting wood in the forest for the winter was a fun chore. Come to think of it, it’s probably just as fun at forty-five. Why not? Clean air, fresh water and exercise. Maybe we should consider moving back!
In 28 years of roaming about Italy never did I feel part of a community like in Pontebba. We made life long friends and learned the true sense of coming together in adversity (among other things we survived a major flood ).
The mood was cheerful as I walked through town savoring the crisp morning air that gave everyone a rosy complexion. ‘Buongiorno!’(Good morning!). A slight bow of the head came naturally when greeting the coffe shop owner, or ‘barista’, in Italian. My daily venture then took me to the grocery store. Standing at the meat counter and renewing a ‘ciao’ to the same people I had crossed paths with five minutes before was like trying to resist laughing while being tickled. At 8.30 a.m. the hotel’s restaurant tables were set and ready to greet noon time customers. On a sunny day, the sound of children playing in the school yard made it’s way through the tiny streets, as though to comfort the apprehension of mothers by letting them know that all was well, that their children were safe and happy. The hairdresser was busiest on Saturday mornings. She served coffee and chatted with the elderly ladies who were the first customers lined up outside the door ten minutes before opening. The doctor was available only on certain days and the waiting room was always full. Without doubt, it was the best place to be for those who enjoyed engaging in conversation about life and personal experiences. In alternative, it was just as interesting to listen in silence. A real, built in, community self-help group!
Yes, we were isolated but we never felt lonely. Opening the windows in the morning to the stunning view of mountains, listening to the river flow behind our house and rarely having to use the car seems like a dream in today’s world. Pontebba is where the pace of life is set to the rhythm of nature. Though nineteen years have passed since we left I remember names, faces, voices, gestures and kindness. I remember Friday evenings out at the pizza parlour. The owners were husband and wife, in their mid fifty’s. Josette was French. Inevitably her husband Primo had picked up a little of the language. ‘L’ argent fait la guerre!’ ( Money makes war! ) he would exclaim while tossing our pizzas in the air and commenting the latest in world politics.
Moments like these created a sense of community. Yet, moments like these are disappearing from our lives, leaving us to cope with sadness, forcing us to find solutions and cures for spells and bouts of depression and stress that mute into chronic illnesses among young and old. We are so caught up in worrying about ‘I’ and ‘me’ that we no longer remeber the good and beneficial effects that come from ‘us’ and ‘we’, from being together and seeing happiness or sadness in another human beings real eyes, rather than from a social media page.
Recently my friend Anna Lisa sent us pictures of an annual event called ‘Snow Art Pontebba’. Artists from many different countries travel and reunite in this off the map nook to create sculptures made from blocks of snow. They create beauty from diversity. They help people come out of their homes and feel warmth in a smile, in a cup of hot tea shared with a new friend. If this can happen in Pontebba, if social relationships have been preserved there, why not everywhere? Why has it become difficult to be friendly, to say hello to one another when we walk down the street? Why do we have trouble making time to listen, to be with each other?
If the vision of a global community began with hearts instead of economics would it make a difference?
Maybe everything boils down to our intentions, to the things we strive for and value as important in our lives. Could those same things be contributing to creating a sad and lonely society?
I was three months pregnant with our first child when we left Pontebba. The mountains we grew to love closed behind us. It was like reaching the last chapter of a book meant to be read forever. We watched our friends fade in the distance. A new journey had begun. It’s funny how many people tie the image of a mountain to desolation. The only time I felt empty in Pontebba was the day we told her goodbye.
Originally published at medium.com