This summer, I’ll be going to Italy with my family to help with the first-ever workshop we’ll hold in our restored family home. To learn more, visit my dad’s blog, Journey to Veglio, or the home of our workshop co-producers, Restoration Agriculture Development. As we get ready for the trip, I’ve been revisiting my journals and experiences. Today, I want to introduce you to two people who are at the heart of everything going on in Veglio.
Meet Arianna and Andrea.
The sun and clouds play peek-a-boo as I work in the garden with Arianna one sunny day in July. More like – she shows me the garden and I find some sticks to hold up the tomatoes and she works, and we talk. Past the house where Maoro lives, where she stops to chat and I attempt to keep up with the friendly Italian conversation. Arianna grows zucchini and tomatoes and many types of lettuce and leafy greens, and carrots (eaten up by slugs, better luck next year) and strawberries (done for the season). She plants tall blue lupins with her tomatoes to protect them from pests – a trick she learned in a biodynamic gardening class – and they buzz with bees.
Arianna is in her late 20s, with long dark hair set against light skin and petite features. She’s soft-spoken when she speaks English, and bolder in her native Italian. She also studied German. Arianna’s thesis involved new models of economic development in Alpine villages. She works as a sustainability architect in Canton Valais Switzerland, dedicates lots of time to organizing Open Air Trontano, a venture she co-founded, and spends time in Veglio putting the principles she studied to work with her boyfriend, Andrea.
Andrea is the heart and nervous system of the Veglio project, the grandson of the family who lived in the Veglio house when it was alive and thriving for hundreds of years. I first met Andrea 8 years ago, when my dad (Joe) and I visited Italy for the first time. It was just after my mom had passed away, and Dad and I were both frayed at the edges, grieving and tired, and we set off on an uncertain trip to “find our roots.” Domodossola was the town that my dad had always said his family hailed from, and a couple of phone calls through the family tree, two flights, and a rental car later, we waited at the train station not knowing what to expect. A cousin, Andrea, was to meet us.
I was 20, shy, reeling from loss, and nervous about meeting these strangers, who spoke another language and had tenuous connections to us at best. What if they didn’t like us? What if we couldn’t understand each other? “We’ll see,” Dad said in the parked rental car.
Soon Andrea barreled up to meet us in his Jeep, greeted us warmly with kisses on the cheeks, and swept us away to his family home, where we were greeted by Giovanni working away in the kitchen, Marika and an array of other family members who had gathered to meet the Americans. Everyone wanted to meet us, talk to us, and show that famous Italian hospitality. They asked how long we would stay – a week? a month? – and were disappointed when we said we were there for the day.
After a long, wine-soaked lunch, Andrea drove us up to see the ruins of the family home in Veglio. It was a heap of rocks at best, but Andrea, and soon my dad, saw something through it. They saw the family — our family — that had lived and grown, struggled and thrived there for a thousand years, and they saw the potential for a new community.
Eight years, several trips, and lots of emails later, our families are again one. Andrea, my passionate, bold Italian cousin and friend, leads the Veglio project with his extensive network of local builders and artists. We joke that he’s the “Mayor of Veglio.” He works part-time in Italy and part-time in Bern, and teaches as well. Andrea and Arianna both use their knowledge of sustainability and deep respect for cultures and the earth to inform the restoration of the house, and the broader vision for Veglio as a new, sustainable community.