The Lime-tree River: Rethinking the Role of Borders, Starting from the Tagliamento

4 min read
Credits: Eugenio Novajra
Credits: Eugenio Novajra

I believe that anyone born in Friuli, in this land of primroses and storms, in Pasolinian and still realistic definition, has some experiences etched under the skin that naturally differentiate them from others: one of these is the border.

The most tangible border next to which I grew up is the Tagliamento. I have always lived in Codroipo, in a hamlet of 400 inhabitants surrounded by cornfields and mulberry trees, and right after a flood of branches and dry twigs with many small puddles of water. Above it, a 1 km bridge connecting the province of Udine with that of Pordenone. In Codroipo, we somewhat look down on those who live beyond that bridge, as soon as we hear a slightly more open vowel, an e that turns into an a, a slightly different accent, the response exclamation is always a sharp “ah tu ses di-là-dal-aghe” (“ah, you are from beyond the water”). “Di-là-da-l’aghe,” on the other side of the water, has never seemed to me such a discriminatory image; on the contrary, going beyond, expanding, building bridges and not walls, is an image to which I am very attached. But we are somewhat rough-hearted people in Friuli, just think that phrases like “I am happy” and “I love you” don’t exist; typically, we say “eh al va al va” and to express love, we say “va a cagà” with the most affectionate tone possible. Every image is both a bit cruel and hides a soul of simple and immediate depth.

Pier Paolo Pasolini grew up in Casarsa, beyond the water, and although he spent only a few years in Friuli, he was able to describe the relationship with this land very precisely. Like in this text, which I report verbatim:

FORTY-FIVE. Dragging their feet in the dust, blinded by fatigue, the Germans leave, sheep in the mist. They go amidst the rubble, through wet acacias, dragging their rifles in the mud, through the most hidden streets. In the village, a bell tolls the Morning Prayer, and the days return as they were before. Bells ring in celebration in the villages, for well-swept courtyards, for the fresh countryside, where swarms of girls, with shining braids, in rows of vines, happily go to mass. And behind the little boys, just confessed, with white socks, and their blonde heads shorn. Monday, Easter Monday! When the most beautiful young men run laughing on the Tagliamento bridge, with their bicycles and white shirts, under English jackets that smell of oranges! A little drunk, they sing, early in the morning, and the north wind freezes their breath on their scarves, down through Codroipo, Casale, through the meadows full of stalls and companies, of people playing, shouting, under the platform, inside the blazing halls of the first dance of the year. The Lord has clothed us in joy and pity, a crown of love has been placed on our heads. The Lord wanted to lower cliffs and mountains, fill the valleys, make the whole world equal, so that His contented people could walk through the quiet land of their quiet destiny. The Lord knew that in our hearts, behind our darkness, His splendor was there.”

The hidden splendor in misery, in a land torn apart by wars. It crosses the bridges, builds them, but not in the mere sense of cementing, but to create brotherhood. To create community. That when I remove my border, when you have access to my essence, and you do the same, we come out enriched and not bombarded.

And if, as children, we all feel a visceral attraction to adventure and the discovery of the small universe around us, and everything taken for granted and usual for a modern adult is an electrifying novelty. If as a child you climb trees, put your feet in rivers, discover that after that imaginary line of ‘beyond-no-you-go’ imposed by parents, there is a vast world. If as a child, you can’t understand the border, if at the border with former Yugoslavia, where we continue to refuel to pay a little less, you hear voices change but only feel curiosity, it is that desire to learn new things, of knowledge, to go on an adventure, when did we put aside this desire? When did we stop embracing the bark to climb up to something a bit higher, enough to pick seasonal fruit and swing our legs, taking some shade? Have we really convinced ourselves that it’s so uncomfortable and childish?

The term Tagliamento has two etymological roots: besides ‘source,’ from Celtic, it derives from the Indo-European ‘Tiglio’ (Tilia). In fact, in most countries, a linden tree was planted in the center of towns, serving as a gathering point, a meeting place, an exchange.

This is the wish: to replant trees, whether lindens, mulberries, birches, poplars, rivers, and recreate humanity, community, exchange, and see the border as something to build bridges upon, and then destroy that border because it no longer initiates something frightening and terrible but a new part of oneself in continuous expansion.

Let’s expand. Let’s create. Let’s engage.

If we truly want to live in harmony, it must start from every place, every country, and every presumed border.

Co la sera a si pièrt ta li fontanis

il me paìs al è colòur smarìt.

Jo i soj lontàn, recuardi li so ranis,

la luna, il trist tintinulà dai gris.

A bat Rosari, pai pras al si scunìs:

io i soj muàrt al ciant da li ciampanis.

Forèst, al me dols svualà par il plan,

no ciapà pòura: io i soj un spirt di amòur

che al so paìs al torna di lontàn.

Ester Parussini