Sunday, May 31, 2015

‹tran·su·màn·za›

Gias Sutan d'Sestrera, Valle Pesio (Aug 6, 2014)

When I was a little kid, I had a cow. Her name was Frôla, which in piedmontese means strawberry, because of a strawberry-colored spot on her forehead.

Well, to be precise, Frôla was not really my personal cow. Up until my sister was born, my parents were renting a small apartment in Depot, a tiny village in one of the Occitan valleys between Italy and France. The apartment was part of a farm, and the farm had cows. I don't have many direct memories of that period (I was 5 years old or less) but I do know that I liked to spend time with Frôla in the pasture of the farm. I also remember, though, that I could enjoy my favorite among all the cows only for a small part of our estive vacations, because for most of the summer she was sent with her sisters to the high pastures on the Alps. Because of transumanza.

Valle Pesio
Transhumance is the practice, still very much followed, to move cattle and sheep to the high pastures during the summer. If you have read Heidi (or seen the excellent Japanese anime with the same title) you know what I mean. As soon as the snow melts the cows are taken out of their stables to graze on the fresh grass near the village. As the season progresses they are moved higher up in the valley, until by the end of the summer you can find them climbing all the way up on precarious slopes in the shade of the rocky peaks of the Alps. The whole system is supported by a patchwork of paths cutting through the woods filling the bottom of the valley, and a network of stone building (gias) where the shepherds could find shelter at night, and leave the cheese to age.  Paths and gias are part of the "commons" of the valley, owned by the community for the benefit of everybody. Speaking of the shepherds: at the time of Frôla the task to take care of the herd during the summer fell to the three brothers owning the farm. Now this is a job mostly done by workers hired from outside the valley, often from far away countries in eastern Europe.

The photos in this post show some of the gias in Valle Pesio, which is where my parents now live. The valley is part of a State Park, which is now in charge of maintaining the paths and the gias, and ensure that this tradition will live on. Unfortunately I could not find any photo of Frôla.

Gias Suvran du Margüareis, Valle Pesio (Aug 6, 2014)

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